2018 has been a funny old year – for most of us, I think. The world has felt more than a little nuts (remember when we were all just sad lots of famous people were dying – ah, good times) and it’s impossible not to let that bleed into your everyday life. If you, like me, are even remotely prone to anxiety, it feels positively irresponsible not to worry: after all, if your country and the world seems like it’s genuinely going to hell, isn’t it insane not to be concerned about it?
And anxiety has been a constant for me over 2018. In many ways, this has been one of my most unproductive years (or has it? We’ll come back to that). I’ve felt, for much of it, like I am running to stand still, while all around me younger, more talented friends and acquaintances race ahead, and everyone else lives ‘proper’ lives while I flounder around like an oversized teen, still finding my place in the world. And then of course I look at some of the real issues people around me have faced – including some really life-shaking, heartbreaking losses – and I feel self-indulgent for even thinking that.
But it’s also been a year of enormous, and mostly positive, changes for me. I think – like most of us – I find it easy to overlook or minimize my achievements because they seem trivial, or fleeting, or because someone on Twitter seems to be doing better than I am. Sure, there have been disappointments – some of them properly upsetting. The gigs I didn’t get, the clients who decided to trim me from their budget, the pitches that didn’t land or the stories that didn’t sell. A couple of near misses that really, really stung. But there were definitely lots of highlights – and those, I want to celebrate. And I encourage you to do the same.
Making marketing fun: Like many creatives, I love doing the work, I hate getting the work. I’m still not great at cold pitching, and regularly goggle at those for whom this seems an easy task (this is especially tough in the arts, where you are regularly competing with the glossy confidence of the Oxbridge crowd, buoyed by a network of connections most of us can only dream of). I’m trying to get better – it’s a skill I am determined I will master – but one thing I did manage to do this year was to have a bit more fun with my book marketing. With no new book out this year (I know, I know), I faced the uphill task of trying to get people interested in products that had been out a while, so I thought, what the hell: might as well have some fun with it.
And I did just that. I relaunched The Bridesmaid Blues with a new cover (by talented North East artist, Britt Coxon, tying in nicely to the content) and did a blog tour with book maven Anne Cater’s Random Things blog tours – something I had always held off doing, fearing I somehow wasn’t important/good/’real writery’ enough to do, but which actually turned into a very enjoyable experience.
I also worked with my longtime collaborator Caroline Goldsmith to create some Dark Dates merch – bags and tees to bring some money into the coffers (this year I plan to expand to mugs and notebooks, and find a site that does larger sizes for the tees), and some Dark Dates bookmarks that I could send to bloggers and longtime supporters as a little thank you. I loved the end results – and still use my Dark Dates bag!
Has it made me rich and famous? No. Has it made the idea of selling my books a bit more fun? Undoubtedly.
Got some new gigs: I have actually written for a ton of magazines over my career, and this year provided some nice new opportunities to stretch myself. I write a piece for Mobius about moving back to Newcastle, wrote my first paid feature for Exeunt (and contributed to their Zine for the first time) and did my first feature for The Stage (luckily my interviewee, Live Theatre AD Joe Douglas, was lovely, and very tolerant of the fact I was a bit nervous about the whole thing and kept checking my phone was actually recording!) I did a fascinating piece on the history of horror for The Simple Things magazine, which involved me reaching out to some experts in the field, which was a bit nerve-wracking (they were, of course, lovely: lesson of the year – most people are happy to help). This is all the kind of work I love, and I am hoping to get more of it in 2019.
I bared my soul: I believe writing is nothing without authenticity, so resolved to be as honest as I could in my writing in 2018, and I mostly managed it. My piece about being homeless got an incredible response, and another piece about my doubts and fears over moving cities led to me making some really useful and interesting connections.
I learned how to accept help and praise (or at least be better at it): Like many people, my first instinct in the face of a compliment is to dismiss it or deflect it (“this old thing? I’ve had it for ages!” – or, in book parlance, “Oh, you liked it? I mean, I’m not a serious writer or anything. It’s just a silly book about vampires”). This puts me in a very odd position in an industry where you basically need praise to survive (reviews, recommendations, etc). In my personal life, I’m so desperate to be seen as independent I tend to brush aside any offer of help, seeing it as a personal failing. Luckily, moving cities shook me out of that habit – or at least tempered it (I’m still learning!). I learned to interpret offers of help as expressions of someone else’s generosity, not reflections of my own incompetence, and accept that, yes, there are people who actually like my work and aren’t just saying so to be kind.
I launched a Ko-fi: This seems a ridiculously small thing, and maybe it is: it’s not like I’m suddenly raising thousands on Kickstarter to fund my first album or anything, and I won’t be giving Amanda Palmer any sleepless nights anytime soon. But it also felt a significant step in the whole ‘accepting help’ thing: if people value my writing and want (and can afford) to bung a few quid my way to support it, why shouldn’t I let them? What’s wrong with allowing people to be nice if they want to? Plus, y’know, I got some free money, so that was good. (I actually used a lot of this to buy the bookmarks – so it did help me actually promote my books).
I made new connections and helped others connect: Newcastle has been extremely welcoming to me, which was a delightful surprise. Leaving aside the pleasures of reconnecting with family and old friends, people from the local theatre scene reached out and invited me for coffee, I’ve been to local writing groups, and met some lovely and interesting people – some of whom, I hope, I will be working with at some stage in the future, or, yes, may open some doors for me down the line.
But I have also tried to pay it forward. I’m not especially super successful, but I’ve been doing this a long time and I know a lot of people, so I’ve made a point of helping other creatives where I can: introducing them to connections I think might help, plugging or supporting their work, giving feedback on first drafts, or rejigging CVs, or even just giving them the wisdom of my sometimes very hard-earned experience (if they ask me, of course, I’m not just spouting off at random. Well, mostly not).
Actually did some writing: Oh, yeah, that part. Having not put out a book this year (I know, I KNOW!), I have felt a bit of a failure, but am forcing myself to remember I laid a lot of groundwork for 2019: I have 3 books at the completed first draft stage (including the new Dark Dates), with 2 more potentials in the early stages of development. I started a new blog, Prodigal Geordie, about coming home, and I have a first draft of two plays (one long, one short), and two completed short stories that I am actually pretty proud of.
So, overall: I’ve got more to be pleased about than not, and I need to keep reminding myself of that.
What about you? What were your highlights and achievements? Feel free to share them in the comments…