Update: February 2018 – this initiative was eventually superseded by dedicated volumes of fiction and poetry. I leave the entry here for Posterity’s sake!
I have always felt that, in many respects, a year is a somewhat artificial if necessary construct. It does not, of course, mean that things really change as we move from the last day of December to the first day of January – especially as soon as, after repetitive failures, you become mature enough to cease to kid yourself with ‘New Year Resolutions’. You can extrapolate the same premise when thinking about moving from one month to the next, or one week to the next – or even one day to the next. We are riding the treadmill of time and, if you like, it just ‘is’…
But the construct of a year does undoubtedly have a place in writing. Diaries are the most obvious example perhaps, where writers have used the annual cycle to close one book and open the next (and physically too!), or to close one chapter and embark on another. If nothing else, it provides a frame of reference I suppose, a framework against which we can lean and in consequence inject a little discipline into our writing – especially for those who struggle to find enough self-starting motivation.
Personally I have always liked the idea of a diary. The idea, mind you. I have never been able to execute one adequately on those few occasions that I have tried. And why is that? Perhaps the bonds a diary creates are too tight. Every day? Really?! You can get a sense of guilt / failure very quickly (maybe by day four!) if you commit yourself to such a course – and where is the positive value in beating yourself up over that? If it works for you, that’s fine.
I suppose the other reason I have shied away from diaries, apart from the regimentation of them, is a concern that if you were putting too much energy into a diary, then might not the rest of one’s writing suffer? And that would be a bitter pill indeed if you were having a hard time generating material in the first place. I suppose I was always fearful of a diary becoming a ‘one trick pony’ – and something that became almost instantly artificial; a chore that became mechanistic only, and actually ceased to be creative. And isn’t it popularly called creative writing?
And if it became a singular endeavour then that wouldn’t work for me at all. I like to have a little variety; a number of projects on the go at any one time; the option to flit from fiction perhaps to verse or non-fiction if the mood should take me. Doesn’t that help you stay fresh? On your toes? I assume it may be a little different if you reach the heady status where you are – in one sense – ‘employed’ to be a writer and where your income depends on it; but then I also imagine that there are a whole new set of daemons and challenges to be faced there!
Yet having said all of that, and with all the questions and challenges and caveats and objections to ‘the year’, I must confess there is still something strangely comforting about it. I have lurking a notion that ‘the year’ could actually be my friend…
There are many fields – and not just in writing – where a year is a useful and potentially necessary way to draw boundaries around things. I think particularly of sports writing where ‘a year in the life’ of a team of a person can be highly meaningful, especially where there is a prize to be won (or lost) at the end of the cycle. Undoubtedly in other fields – naturalism is an obvious example – the year also imposes other realities on to an individual, animal or ecosystem (the seasons!) which means that when considering them it makes sense to do so within the an annual cycle.
So, taking all of that into account, should I really give up on ‘the year’..?
I have recently been through an intensive process of self-publishing via the excellent Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing service – and more specifically the new facility to actually create your own paperback books. I have, in the first three weeks of January, published six books (two novels, three novellas and a ‘collected poems’, all material already written) that people can choose to buy – though whether they do or not is another matter entirely! For me, the most significant part of this journey was the physical outcome. I have these texts – and more – already published as Kindle ‘books’; but I confess to not being an “e-book” fan. I don’t even own a Kindle. But when you are able to hold a tangible, physical thing in your hands, with your name on the cover, your words printed inside… There is a rush there like no other. A few years ago I had three books ‘properly’ published by third parties, all relating to my ‘professional life’. These are great, and the experience of seeing those in print was good too – but it was almost as nothing compared to the tactile output of my truly creative side.
And here’s the clincher. Having published six books that I can buy, hold, stick on my bookcase etc. I now want to publish my seventh. And eighth. Etcetera.
But that means finishing something. And if that sounds a little obvious or bland even, then its not meant to. What I mean is that there is an implication there that I will need to be dedicated to one thing (probably) in order to achieve my goal – and that is a problem if you like variety, as I do. It is also a problem of duration if, in the case of a novel, it might take two years to write, when will I next get that sense of holding a new ‘my book’ in my hands again? How long am I prepared to wait? Really?
And that’s when I had the notion. Why not embrace ‘the year’? Why not use that as a trigger for publication, rather than the full and final completion of something? Why not? Why not keep going with all those individual projects; they’ll finish when they finish won’t they, and if some some reason they don’t – because you suddenly hate the novel you’re writing when you’re 60,000 words into it (that’s happened to me before!) – then it won’t feel like time wasted, creativity wasted. And it won’t feel like creativity wasted because you’ll have included what you’ve written in your ‘Year Book’. Because that is the conclusion I came to.
Why not write a book that is the completion not of one thing but rather an accumulation of many things, many intermediate but suitably ‘finished’ things, the majority of which will hopefully be on their way to becoming a cohesive whole in their own genre. That way variety is maintained, momentum and interest is maintained, nothing is lost, there is a publication home for all those good little things that simply wouldn’t see the light of day in any other way because they just don’t ‘fit’ anywhere. And that way I know when I will hold my next publication baby in my arms – at the latest about a year from now, and potentially before then if the volume of work suggests something more frequent, perhaps quarterly. And when logical, cohesive, coherent things do get finished through natural accumulation over time, then they can get published anyway. ‘Win-win’, as people like to say…
So here it is. In progress. My first ‘year book’; “2017-H1”.
It will contain fiction – potentially chunks of a novel or two, or a novella or two, or short stories – and verse – again poems from a collection, or on a theme, or simply occasional pieces. And maybe it will contain odd little nuggets from Writing Group exercises or even – heaven forbid! – what might look like diary entries. Who knows?! Something of an adventure. I’m excited already – and that’s worth its weight in motivational terms.