When “Good Enough” Isn’t Good Enough

Welcome to 2021, where every day is the same.

As part of my government prescribed exercise, I take a walk every week day. I walk the same route. Up the hill, past the church, down through the housing estate and back home. Some days it rains, some days it doesn’t. Sometimes I see the same few people out running, sometimes I don’t.

There’s a reason for treading the same route every day, it takes the thought out of it. I can put music on, zone out and let my mind wander. This route has provided me with numerous ideas for new stories, helped me iron out the kinks in ongoing stories and calmed me from the stress of the pandemic, work etc.

It’s also given me a bit of a realisation in recent days. For context, I’ve come close with a couple of places to getting Lionhearts published, both with indie presses and agents. It’s generated interest but nobody has taken the plunge as yet. In turns the chase for publication can be thrilling, disheartening, maddening and strangely hopeful. The feedback I’ve had on both Nobody Wins and Lionhearts leads me to believe that I’m doing something right, just perhaps not quite right enough.

This is what I’ve been ruminating on. I want to be a writer more than I’ve wanted to achieve anything in my life. At school, I did alright. At college, the same. At university, I found my level and managed to get an OK grade with minimum fuss.

I was lucky. I could turn up and get a B. That’s not being arrogant, I’m not even sure it’s something to be arrogant about. But the point is, I got middling grades with no work or effort. The worst of it was, I was never driven to work any harder. I never cared enough to put the extra work in. I was happy to take my pass and spend studying time on other things. Until now, I’ve never really applied myself, as shameful as that is to admit.

Writing is different. Writing is hard. There’s no ability to master it or to know it all. It’s a constant education. Reading new authors and voices, checking out writing resources like podcasts and YouTube videos, reading books on the craft and taking courses.

Writing has lit that fire under me. Good enough is no longer good enough. No level of skill or ability will ever be enough for me. There will always be something new to learn, to try, or to tell. There will always be more story ideas, some with growing complexity beyond my current skill level. To do those stories justice, I need to level up. Plotting, prose, dialogue, characterisation… There’s always something to work on. There’s always a goal to hit, a place that I want to make it to.

For the first time, I don’t feel like I’ll ever be “good enough” but as long as I’m always improving and always moving forward, that’s something I’m learning to be OK with.

2020 – A Retrospective

Holy shit, what a year. But then, I don’t need to tell you that. You’ve lived through it too.

Bizarrely, this year has been my most creative to date. I’ve read a lot about people being distracted by the pandemic and not being able to read or write as much. To be honest, that hasn’t been the way for me.

I appreciate that not everybody is in the position I’m in, where my job switched online almost seamlessly and I am still getting paid etc. This year has truly been the one in which I learned to appreciate my day job. I’m fortunate and believe me, I’m grateful.

But in this, the weirdest, scariest year on record, I have to say that my writing has flourished. In a world where I haven’t hugged my own mother for nine months, you have to cling to the crumbs of comfort where you can.

This year I’ve clocked up over 250,000 words of fiction. That includes the edits and changes to my first football novel Nobody Wins, all the work on Lionhearts, the abandoned 40k words of Static, the first draft of my second football novel Rangers, a number of short stories and a complete rewrite of my snowbound horror novella Territory.

A quarter of a million words. It seems scarcely believable that I’ve managed such a milestone. I remember attempting NaNoWriMo in 2012 and balking at managing over 1,500 words a day. Now, I’d barely blink at that total.

I guess the question to ask is, what’s changed?

To answer this honestly, I’d say my daughter being born inspired a big change. It felt like some sort of penny dropped. Not only was there decreased free time, which put pressure on me to do things promptly but I want to make her proud and to show her that she too can follow her dreams in the way that I’m trying to follow mine.

I’ve adopted a professional mindset. Sure, my writing earns me nothing right now, but I’m here every day, getting the words down and making things happen. It might be slow going but my muse is tamed now. I can channel it when I need to and make the words flow.

I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield’s incredible book The War of Art lately and have been so inspired and enthralled by his writing about amateurs and professionals. Perhaps some of that inspiration has come from the fact that without realising it, I’ve already adopted most of the professional perspectives and tricks that Pressfield mentions. There’s something validating in reading about habits you’ve already adopted.

That said, creating the words is only half of the battle. Getting them out there is the issue. Of all the words I’ve produced this year, less than 1% have been published. It’s a dispiriting fact but one that comes with hope. I’ve shopped novels for the first time this year, that in itself is a learning process.

Writing a good book isn’t enough, you have to draft the submissions package that will hook an agent or a publisher. That’s a separate skill. One I’m still learning. It’ll come. The ideas are there for more novels. I’ll make them work. It’s just getting a foot in the door.

There’s more news to come regarding upcoming books from me, as I’ve hinted in the previous post on this site. Nothing that I’ve written will be consigned to the desk drawer, gathering dust and mold. There are plans afoot for the books I’ve written this year. 2021 will be exciting.

2020 has been dismal for most of us, myself included. We’ve all suffered in one way or another. I hope by posting this achievement, it can help people to see that despite the darkness, we are all capable of creating our own light.

Have a brilliant Christmas break. Stay safe. Enjoy the rest as best you.

See you in 2021. Let’s hope for even better.