New Year’s Eve 2014, Mhairi Simpson and I concocted a madcap plan whereby we set ourselves a series of ridiculously ambitious writing challenges in the belief that even if we failed, we would still accomplish far more than if we’d been more sensible. At that point, I was halfway through writing Miranda’s Tempest, continuing to build up my blog and teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook College. What happened next?
• Early in 2014 I ran into a brick wall with Miranda’s Tempest with just over half the story written. I realised there was a major faultline running through the current structure and the manuscript would need a long rest while I figured out how to fix it. So I turned to the first two books I’ve written in the Sunblinded trilogy Running Out of Space and Dying for Space, which both needed further editing. After getting ROOS up together except for the Spanish phrases, and having DFS at the stage where the plot anomalies, character inconsistencies and general overwriting had been heavily pruned, I started writing Breathing Space, the final instalment in the trilogy, which also sets up Jezell as my science fiction private investigator who will be flummoxed by a number of unusual crimes in a new series I plan to start in 2016. So I shifted my Challenge to complete the first draft of Breathing Space before the end of the year.
I didn’t succeed at this one. I’m between 10,000 and 15,000 words short of the end, so should have the book completed by the end of January. I also know where I went wrong with Miranda’s Tempest, so will be having another go at completing it in 2015.
• The Challenge was to read at least 120 books and write 100 reviews for my blog.
I actually read 143 books, and started another 20 which I didn’t bother to complete and wrote 126 reviews, most of which are already published on my blog. This rather random Challenge was the most successful of the year and has also resulted in a steady increase in my viewing figures on my blog throughout the year. Thank you everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read my reviews and articles – and that goes double for those of you who then actually comment on the content. One of the reasons why this Challenge was relatively easy to achieve is that I really enjoy reviewing books and interacting with other readers.
• The Challenge was to have the notes and lesson plans completed for the first two terms of the 2014/15 academic year’s Creative Writing course I teach at Northbrook College before the end of the summer break.
This didn’t happen. August ended up being very busy, which effectively holed that plan. But I managed to complete both courses in plenty of time, thus avoiding any last-minute rush – a state of affairs I loathe as I don’t produce my best work under pressure. So while I missed this particular Challenge, I don’t regard this as a Fail.
• The Challenge was to submit all my unsold poems and short stories to different publications.
Complete and unmitigated failure. I submitted one poem and a couple of stories and when I received the rejection emails, I let them lapse. Even to the editor that said while the piece wasn’t what they were looking for – he would be happy to consider any other work I had available… I know, I know – you don’t have to say it.
Why did I fail so disastrously at this particular Challenge? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought – and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I want to be a published novelist far more than an acknowledged poet and short story author. As the year progressed, I’ve been increasingly focused on my books – and while I hated letting this Challenge slide, succeeding would have meant spent days poring over submission guidelines. And that was time I couldn’t afford to take away from writing or editing my novels.
So one important lesson I learnt this year – take care to ensure any future challenges are relevant to my goals. In the meantime, I wrote a total of 325,700 words last year split between my teaching commitments, my blog and my WIPs – and yet if I’d had to guess, I would have estimated that I’d written around 100,000 words, which just goes to show that I’m shockingly bad at estimating my work rate.
Overall, my Shoot the Moon Challenge was a success. Not due to my having failed or achieved any of the particular goals I set – but because it kept me focused and the monthly round-ups forced me to confront those goals I was missing and work out why I kept missing them. Therefore Mhairi and I sat down a couple of days ago – New Year’s Day – and wrote another set of ambitious targets. More about those at the end of January…