|Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I've been thinking about how I spend my time recently. After a couple of months with no real routine, the freelance day-job has settled (temporarily, at least) on a more regular arrangement, and it's made my writing time feel a lot more precious and finite. It's been a bit of a wake-up call, to be honest. I've found it difficult to work on my novel at the same time as producing new short stories for competitions. On top of that, I've been thinking of new ways to promote Somewhere to Start From, as well as trying to ensure that my output on this blog, Twitter, and Facebook are actually of interest to other writers and, ideally, readers.
It would be easy to look at all that and say, It's too much, something has to give. But saying it's the easy part. It's not just a question of priorities; I can't say I'll work on my novel at the expense of everything else, because I know I don't have the stamina or dedication to devote all my time to just one idea. My mind wanders, seeks out new challenges, and in the end I get so disillusioned with it I have to shut it away - I know this because it's happened already. I had to put it aside for well over a year before I could even think of working on the damn thing.
I don't want to give up on the short stories, either, because I enjoy writing them, and because I know that using short fiction to test out new ideas and play about with styles has made me a better writer. I'd also like to enter the Scott Prize this year, as I didn't have enough material of sufficient quality to submit a collection last year. That means I have to keep producing and submitting the short fiction: trying, failing, learning, and - I hope - improving as I go.
So, if I can't cut back on the writing, how about the Being A Writer stuff? Is the self-promotion justified? Is a "platform" genuinely important for a writer without even a completed manuscript to his name? The truth is, I don't know. What I do know is that this blog is a good 'signpost' to have for people looking to find out more about my writing, that Twitter has introduced me to a huge community of writers and that many of them have been terrifically supportive and helpful, as well as making me feel like I have something to offer, too, and that promoting the anthology has resulted in sales to people who I've never met, which is ace. Facebook, I'm not so sure about. In fairness I don't use my author page that much and I'm still trying to work out exactly what it can do that other places can't. I'd love to know about any author pages that work really well.
The question of whether a platform is necessary is impossible to answer. Whenever I read an article or interview with a newly published author, there's always some mention of how much promotion writers have to do for themselves, even when they're backed by a big publishing house. I doubt an agent or publisher would ever decide whether or not to take on an author based on how many Twitter followers they have. But, all else being equal, I can imagine an author with a great book and a legion of engaged, supportive fans will stand a better chance of getting a contract than somebody who would have to start from scratch. I've never heard anybody say the publishing industry is actively looking for complete unknowns.
So, as somebody writing with the aim of being published, what's the answer? I'm going to try being more disciplined, to keep doing all the stuff I do but to keep better track of time and try to ensure Writing always comes before Being a Writer.
What's your approach? How do you prioritise your time? I'd love to hear any tactics you have for making sure you're always working on the thing that matters most. It can be done, I'm sure!