A week spent in Jersey has proved to be creatively refreshing, largely because I made a conscious effort to stay offline as much as possible. I checked in on Twitter a couple of times, and kept tabs on my new friends at the Alliance of Independent Authors on FB, but that’s about it.
The volume of stuff I usually deal with was highlighted this morning when I opened my email inbox to be confronted by over 400 messages. And none of these were just junk – I have a filter for that. I have three Twitter accounts, run a couple of FB pages in addition to my personal account, and have half a dozen blogs/websites that I try to maintain in addition to this one. And of course, that doesn’t include the stuff that’s actual, productive work, such as producing Miniature Wargames every month and trying to get books and short stories written, websites built or corporate identities designed.
Something’s gotta give.
I’ve been reading a lot about productivity lately. Clearly, my need for advice on the matter has become acute. Since I already work long hours – I’m no stranger to working 24/7 if the need arises, such is the nature of a deadline-driven career – advice of the “get up earlier, stay at your desk later” variety is utterly useless to me. Moreover, now I’m in my fifties, I’m conscious that simply becoming a slave to the keyboard is unsustainable and, frankly, counter-productive. Digital martyrdom achieves nothing except exhaustion and ludicrous stress levels; the decline in my health over recent years is proof enough of that.
So, it’s definitely a case of needing to work smarter, not harder. Part of this process involves goal-setting and time management; but an equally important part is being ruthless about what I do and don’t take on, and the promises I do or don’t make, both to myself and to others.
I’m lucky to be a creative person. I can make a pretty good fist of most things I turn my hand to. Coupled with the fact that, much to my own surprise initially, I was also able to get to grips with computing and mastering software, pursuits that may just have remained hobbies for the rest of my life became core income streams. A talent for calligraphy and illumination translated quickly into graphic design and typography; the ability to take decent snaps was transformed, thanks to digital cameras, into semi-professional photography; and a hankering to run a hobby magazine since my childhood became a reality in 2006 when I self-published the first issue of Battlegames.
But such diversity can be a curse as well as a blessing, because the real calling, the one I’ve had since I first bashed the keys of my father’s black lacquered typewriter in the mid 1960s, was to be a writer. Many of my oldest friends have been subjected to my attempts at fiction and poetry over the years.
And that’s where it gets really tricky.
Because the older I get, the more I realise that there are so many different things I want to write about!
When The Wargaming Compendium was published last year by Pen & Sword, I’m sure that many people who know me only through my involvement in the miniatures wargaming hobby would have justifiably imagined that I had achieved my ambition. The editor of one of the market-leading monthly magazines on the subject writes what is now often referred to as ‘The Bible’ of the hobby – that’s quite an achievement, right? He must be satisfied with that?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, of course I’m proud of my 520-page monster: it encapsulates pretty much everything I ever wanted to say about the hobby I love. And of course, I’m incredibly grateful that within its niche, it’s become a best-seller and growing numbers of reviewers have, by and large, said wonderful things about it. And yes, I’m going to write more books on the subject (and have just received the contract for the next one).
But that represents just a part of who I am, and only a fraction of who I want to be.
Not only are there more non-fiction subjects that I want to write about – history, travel, language, cuisine, marketing, design, to name but a few – but most importantly, I want to tell stories.
Stories of many kinds. Long, short, epic, intimate, historical, fantasy, science fiction, crime, perhaps even romance. They may appear separately, or in infuriatingly category-defying combinations. One of the great strengths of indie publishing is that you don’t have to worry about which shelf the bookshop staff will try to stack them on.
This, of course, flies in the face of much of the advice given to writers. Don’t abandon your niche! Stick to what you know!
But I don’t intend to abandon anything. I intend to write what I want to write, but in multiple genres, and I’ve come across a number of notable writers who have managed just that. Indeed, one of my role models, Joanna Penn, writes in at least two, and I just bought Discoverability by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who writes in several. I’m sure you could come up with your own examples.
Besides, you should never underestimate your audience. After all, we’re all members of multiple audiences. I enjoy reading about my hobby, but I also read fantasy, love sci-fi movies, am currently obsessed with Scandinavian Noir TV crime dramas and have lately been consuming vast numbers of books about marketing and the writing craft. And if writers only wrote about what they actually knew and had experience of, then there would be no fantasy, no science fiction – and not a lot of happy ending romance, either…
If I’m going to manage any of this, it’s going to take a lot of discipline. And a lot of writing. In order to do all this writing, I’m going to have to surgically remove anything that might prevent me from achieving this goal.
It’s going to be uncomfortable, and I don’t just mean for me. I’m going to have to ask understanding and tolerance from those around me. Sacrifices will have to be made, and some people might misinterpret the changes I’m going to have to make. That’s a shame, but I can’t afford to let that hold me back.
I remember that when I quit smoking many years ago, some people kept offering me cigarettes: they didn’t want me to quit, they wanted me to remain a smoker, just like them. Most people don’t want you to change, because it reminds them of their own inability to change.
But right here and now, I’m making a commitment to change. We have one life. This is not a rehearsal. And I could never forgive myself if I didn’t give achieving my writing ambitions my very best shot.
What sacrifices have you made to achieve your dreams? Was it worth it? How have those around you reacted? Are you glad you made the journey? By all means share your thoughts in the comments.
Photos of St Ouen’s Bay, Jersey © Henry Hyde 2014