I’ve been struggling to find time to write, recently. (Hence so few blogs.)

Work is busy. Life is busy. There are a load of little things going on that seem to suck the time from my day – dogs to vets, picking up kids, shopping for the kids who never stop eating, etc etc – and, over the past 4 weeks, I’ve been squeezing writing around everything else (but, ironically, still keeping up a reasonable editing count and still on target to finish the edit of what is now Callisto Forgotten by the end of October, when I’ll know better what I’ll be working on next).

Which means this is probably the moment to bemoan the fact I’m not a full time writer.

Two things feed into this blog.

Firstly, at a workshop last week, when I talked to two full time writers (one is, one is about to be) and we compared writing hours – and mine are similar (albeit not these last 4 weeks…). The difference is their sales bring in an income and mine bring in a lower one. But to bring in that income, they’re managing newsletters, they’re managing promotions, cover art, editors, writing more and more and more, and keeping to that release-visibility scheldule. I’m doing a very flexible day job that allows me writing time and pays me.

Secondly, I woke up to an newsletter from an author who has done tremendously well over the past few months. They’re on holiday and they’re writing. They have another book out, and another due. The words must be made.

And this is the thing. On the self publishing model – and, increasingly, the trad – the words must be made, the visibility must be upheld, the blogs and articles and Patreon pieces must be produced. It’s one exhausting grind of words.

But, for me, that exhausting grind does not deliver the product I want. I do several drafts of all my books. These drafts go like this:

1st hated draft. No plot, no plan, learning as I go. This one takes a while. (Inish Carraig 2 is about 30% of the way through this stage, Abendau 4 hasn’t reached the start of this stage, the New Possible Thing hasn’t reached this stage)

2nd draft – now I know my plot, I’m building the structure and ensuring the chapters I have fit with that. (I have nothing at this stage at the moment, but Inish Carraig will move to this once I nail the rest of the first draft)

A break. I’ll go work on something else.

3rd draft – a review, and making character voices clearer. Heightening the plotting, finding any plotholes I missed before, enrichening the world. I often make the mistake of submitting at this stage, thinking things are right – but they’re not. The book is often very polished about now. But it’s not polish that makes a Jo Zebedee book, in my mind.  (The Wildest Hunt was at this stage a few months ago)

Another big break. This one is the important one, where my sub-conscious works its magic. When I go back, this is the one where I inhabit the characters. The little nuances of thought that make them come alive. The big conversations I love writing, when things pivot on what people say to each other, and why (scenes like John and Henry’s various one-to-ones in Inish Carraig, where the final one, where John needs Henry to understand what he can’t tell him, and Henry does because the earlier ones were built to that mutual-understanding point; things like in Abendau’s Heir, where Kare confronts Rjala and all the raw pain of his childhood is finally revealed and we see her in the light of that pain, and see her guilt).

These scenes cannot be written by me – and that’s just me, others may well be able to, and kudos to them – until the characters and world have had time to mature in my head. And those scenes are why I write – I love writing them. They enthuse me. They’re why I batter through hated first drafts.

At this point, I’ve returned to writing Callisto Forgotten. It’s been years in the making, from a 75 word story called A Galaxy of Flowers, through a hard sf that was neither Leda nor her mother’s story, but a mess of both, to a novella for submission to Tor that was ill thought out and lacked any balance, to what I’m currently seeing slowly emerging – a challenging, exciting YA story that is exploring so many areas of identity, of acceptance, of personal courage and inter-dependency. I’m seeing Leda and Dex emerge and they’re not in the shadow of Leda’s mother anymore (the story is a mixed story, of Sylvie, the mother, on the Callisto colony, linked to Leda, on Earth, receiving her mother’s memories. Like a SF Freaky Friday. With added Space Sex.)

This story would not have been right if I had released it before that maturing time. It might well have been polished. And quite good. And with interesting concepts. But it would not have been a story that felt like mine.

Which means, my way of working is not sustainable for a full time writer yet (not until I get the six figure advance and retire to Donegal). And it also means – I don’t want the model that would make it sustainable.

It’s been a year since my last release. I have nothing imminently on the horizon. (Although next summer is still an aspiration for one release). But I don’t care. I don’t want to have to churn something out to keep my visibility up – and, if my income depended on it, I would have to. I want to enjoy writing, and work up to those scenes that I love writing.

I wish more people would see that part-time writing can be just as aspirational as writing full time. That writing full time isn’t, actually, writing full time for many, but running a small organisation – the writer, the product, the marketing and promotion, the events, the stuff around all the corners that is work and not putting the words on paper.

Which doesn’t mean that, sometimes, it doesn’t all get a little exhausting! 🙂