Happy New Year to you!
It’s that time of the year when we all make our resolutions, and authors like me decide what our goals are going to be for the coming year.
I’m not completely convinced that I’ve ever got on too well with the word ‘goals’. For a very long time, goals have felt to me like those things other, more established, well-informed writers who actually have a clue what they’re doing can set and achieve, whereas goals for me have seemed to live in the same make-believe land as dreams.
For me, the last five years of trying to start something that resembled an author business has seen me wading in the mindset of ‘wannabe’ and ‘wannado’. I’m being brutally honest with myself here when I tell you this. I’ve flailed around, experimenting with a couple of different kinds of fiction under different pen names. I spent an inordinate amount of time under one pen name releasing fiction on my website to drive traffic, which it did. The problem was that it resulted in almost no actual reading customers. And, as my partner has pointed out to me on numerous occasions when I became a bit obsessed with driving traffic through unpublished fiction, why would they buy it when they can read it for free? Okay, so, lesson learned there!
There were a couple of things that altered my way of thinking during 2020. One was that I released a book that had been living under my skin, in my dreams and in every part of me for over a decade. It was a book I needed to write. I forced myself (as was possible in the utter nightmare that was 2020) to set myself a non-negotiable deadline and get the book written and published, which I did. And then… nothing. I don’t just mean I heard crickets when it came to sales. I realised two other things: despite this being the kind of book I had aspired to write, very little about it gave me joy. This sounds a bit crazy: I loved the characters, and one in particular for whom I think I ended up actually writing the book, and I loved the process of actually writing it. And more than anything, I loved, and will always love, the story I wrote – for me it will probably always be the book.
So what the hell was wrong with me? It was the story that filled me with passion to tell it and emotion when writing it. Yet it wasn’t the kind of story that made me want to get up in the morning. In fact, I actively avoided writing it for so long that it took a pandemic and a lockdown to put me in a position to write it. I had become so emotionally attached that I felt like I had to rip parts of me out and put them on the page. And when I released it, I felt – nothing. No elation, no joy, not even relief. It was as if it had removed my soul and left me with a shell, and it took a while to get over that.
All pretty weird and miserable, you think (this helped you how, Claire?!). But without this, I wouldn’t have done the next thing. Two things, actually, but they occurred simultaneously. I returned to drawing, which I’ve enjoyed all my life. From this, and through conversations with my loved ones, I decided that I was perfectly capable of creating books in a different way. So I set about creating my very first adult colouring book. Now, I’m the most un-techie person you could ever have the misfortune to meet, certainty if you want to talk about how computer programs work. I’m a ‘tell me what to press and I’ll press it’ kind of person. And this was pretty much how the colouring book came into existence!
I spent hugely joyful hours wading through my sketch books, drawing and re-drawing old and new ideas, and then turning it into a book with the amazing tech help and skills of my daughter and partner. Without them, and their encouragement to go back to something I enjoy doing, I would never have produced it. I can’t remember the last time I focused on a project with such enthusiasm and ferocity, so much so that the book went from initial conversation to release in just over six weeks. After a decade on my previous two books, this was something I never expected, and it really altered how I saw my future in publishing progressing.
The second thing that happened was that I remembered what my first love was. It was, and has always been, mystery fiction. I grew up with it, fell in love with it, and can’t leave it alone. It truly is my obsession. The pandemic really hasn’t needed to be an excuse for me to watch Poirot, but I’ve done it anyway. What has changed is my rediscovery of the mystery book. I have hundreds and hundreds of them at home, but I know that I’ve spent so long trying to ‘be a writer’ that I’ve forgotten that I’m a reader, too, and that I’m actually allowed to read for enjoyment. The latter part of 2020 saw me returning to curling up with mystery fiction – and I can’t believe just how much I’d forgotten how wonderful it is, and how I can get completely lost in a story. In a year which has been so awful is so many ways, spending some time just loving what is going on in my head as I absorb the mystery has done wonders for my mental health.
Coinciding with this are also the discussions I have had with my partner over the possibility for writing a historical mystery series, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Once again, fun came into the equation, as we chatted about how the characters could behave, and bounced around different ideas for plot elements and had a great time trying to figure out whodunnit and why.
So, as I got into the last few days of 2020 and I sat in my flat, still eating up the Christmas food and devouring books and mysteries, something in my brain just clicked. I owned up to the fact that I’ve been spending too many years in the ‘wannabe’ and ‘wannado’ mindset of being a writer/publisher. I was angry with myself, but also forgiving of all the mistakes I’ve made, because without them I wouldn’t have been failing, which means I wouldn’t have been trying, either.
Up to this point at the end of December, I’d told myself I was a professional, full-time indie author. I’m really not sure whether I’ve ever believed it, because if I had, I wouldn’t have felt so unnerved at the thought that I could actually put the work out there and publish it and keep doing it, instead of wasting so much time avoiding actually doing the work that I know I want to do, just in case it fails, or maybe in case it actually succeeds. I went from wondering what gives little me the right to think she is an author to telling myself that I am an author, and that it’s my full time career and it’s also the thing I love, and it allows me to deal with those things I enjoy most in the world, every single day. I told myself that I’m allowed to focus on those parts of an author/publishing business that I know I can do well and that bring me joy and learn the parts that I’m not so good at or that I’m clueless about one at a time, rather than letting overwhelm about all those things I think I should be doing take over and prevent me from doing anything at all.
Most of all, I gave myself permission to enjoy what I want to do and to tell myself that this career isn’t just for those who know what they’re doing, and for those fantastic authors I respect and who I take advice from through their books and podcasts. I can do it, too. Because there is absolutely nothing to prevent me, except me. And I can set goals, even if I play mind games with myself to treat them as challenges.
So, and with apologies for the long-winded arrival at this point, I’d like to let you in on my creative goals for 2021. These are my watch words for the year: focus, content, visibility. Creating content with a focus and purpose is something that will help my books become visible to readers who might like them, and it will take a concerted, consistent effort.[Read more…] about Writing goals for 2021