It’s finally here. I made it. This morning, I finished my last entry, ‘The Other Circus’, in this marathon project of 52 things in 52 weeks. It is, fittingly enough, one of the best I’ve done so far.
It’s been an utterly exhausting journey. Too many times I thought, I’m not going to be able to climb this mountain. Maybe if I hadn’t been working and studying full time, it might have been easier, but I’m not sure. Honestly, if I hadn’t changed the paramaters of the project, I probably wouldn’t have made it all.
I started out intending to write 52 short stories, the logic being that I would then have 52 entries in my portfolio at the end of the year, 52 things I could show to people and say, ‘look what I can do.’ Well, turns out my creativity, that rampant beast, doesn’t take direction quite as well as I’d like it to and somewhere along the way, it decided it wanted to write a novel and nothing else would do.
A novel based on one of the short stories I’d written, no less. It was too compelling a world, and annoyingly enough, I’ve had the same thing happen in one of my last stories. I’m very good at creating new worlds but almost always loath to leave them. It makes for flawed short stories, this abundant world-building, where too often I let the place take my focus and not the story itself, not the characters. It has led me to the realisation that short stories – at least in the vein of anything less than 5000 words – really aren’t my thing.
I am a long story writer, a novelist. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought myself a novel writer, I’d have laughed at you. Short stories are my first love, I’d have said. That’s what I do best. And I’d have been wrong. Nor am I a writer that does well within the framework of a week. I like to spend time on my stories, like to spend time in each new world, and I write slowly – these are the realisations that have come from putting myself on a regular deadline and they’re absolutely invaluable.
I know more about my own writing style, about what works and what doesn’t, than I ever have before and I’ve learned more about the craft itself in this year than all other years combined. I’ve learned that I have what it takes to actually sit down, to sit still and write, to really dedicate myself to writing. I can live this life. Even so, that comes at a cost. I didn’t go out anywhere near as much as usual this year, didn’t spend as much time with friends as I’d have liked.
My evenings and weekends were mostly filled with writing, or reading. This writing-shebang is exhausting, it takes more effort and work than I had previously imagined – and believe me, I imagined a hell of a lot – and it’s incredibly lonely on top of all that. What’s more, I’ve yet to see a pay off. Nor, I think, will for some time to come. So why the hell do I keep doing it? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. Not a satisfying one, anyway.
I do it because I must. Because I have stories to tell and stories are where I feel most at home. Not here – somewhere else. So I’m trying to make feeling at home, feeling comfortable in my own skin – a living. Launching myself into the world of spoken word poetry has shown me that much and more. Which is the other dynamic that to came to bear on this foolhardy trip – poetry. It poured out of me in an incredible six-week period where I wrote some 7-8000 words of spoken word poems.
It came at a time when I physically couldn’t bring myself to write anything else, so I had to include it in my List, in my portfolio. My creativity wouldn’t be tamed and once it had been tapped in a week, I often couldn’t do anything else. I was just too tired and had too little time. Nonetheless, I’m incredibly happy that I have such a diverse portfolio now, such a large body of work, however flawed.
In the last year, I’ve written 22 short stories, 18 chapters of a novel, 2 personal essays (well, 4 but I counted them as 2), and 10 (15, really) spoken word performance pieces. Also, two short film screenplays which I didn’t count. All of which came to about 90,000 + words. Not to mention a dozen or more little poems and fragments I never quite got round to piecing together. It’s been an absolutely incredible effort, especially considering the year before this one, I’d written maybe 3000 words in its entirety.
I have quite a long way to go and I hate that I’ve wasted so much time not-writing in previous years. If I had done this even two years ago, I think I’d have achieved many of my goals already. As it is, I’m only 23. I have time yet, I hope, to correct this mistake. I’m going to take a week off and begin again, as before, but this time, I will craft a schedule and a deadline that reflects what I’ve learned about my own process.
It will be 26 pieces in 52 weeks now. My hope is that with the extra time, the final products will be much more polished and require much less work. For now, I’m just going to enjoy this moment and reflect on the man who inspired me to get here, the wonderful, the inimitable Ray Bradbury.
I owe him everything.