Living the Booklife

I have let my Boxing Day be consumed by reading. I can’t really think of anything more wonderful. I will try and give a full review of my new Sony Pocket eReader, but I need a little more time to digest the experience. (It is good, but not without issues)

Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife is, as advertised, filled with strategies and survival tips for 21st Century writers. I can’t think of a writer more qualified to talk on the subject, as Jeff has carved a career out of the quickly evolving landscape of the internet in a way that few writers would be able to emulate. Divided into two halves exploring first Public Booklife (roughly concerned with surviving and thriving in the internet jungle) and Private Booklife (methods for maintaining a creative space in the face of all the pressures to the contrary), with a Gut Check section sandwiched between (a few basic questions you need to confront yourself with if you are going to take on writing as a career). I read Booklife today in a giant gulp, and with a sense of absolute recognition. Regardless of where writing takes me in future, I’m at this moment in time one of a generation of writers who are very much engaged with navigating the turbulent but exciting waters of a writing career in the 21st Century.  And every page of Booklife brought out a new grunt of recognition as I recognised my own strategies and tactics being reflected back to me.

(I’m still not entirely certain I believe in writing as a career, any more than I believe in street preacher, revolutionary leader or polar explorer as careers. But I’m happy to be persuaded.)

Booklife came as a timely reminder that I need to redefine my own Public and Private Booklife, in particular the balance between the two, in the coming year. As 2009 turns into 2010 I will have been writing ‘seriously’ for five years. I measure the point of seriousness from the period I started sending work out, and educating myself about the business of writing. In that time I have made some headway. I have had roughly two stories published a year, plus a few reprints here and there. I’ve been read by Douglas Coupland, won an Arts Council grant, been professionally mentored by Graham Joyce, broadcast on BBC Radio, blogged for The Guardian and been to the Clarion writers workshop and back.

(Where Neil Gaiman told me the audition was over and I needed to show what I could do when I took myself seriously)

I have not: finished the half dozen solid short story ideas that I know I can do and would get published. And I have have not: written a novel. I can offer the excuse that over these five years I have been learning. It is a true excuse. I was technically good enough to finish a novel three years ago, but it would have been a very different novel than I would write today, or a year from now. It’s only in the last year, assimilating what I learned at Clarion, that I feel I have a grip on how to tackle the (technically more demanding) short stories. But really, this is an excuse cloaking a deeper truth.

If you walked up to me on the street (or more likely in a coffee shop) and asked me what I would be doing in five years, I don’t think I would say ‘being a writer’. I take writing very seriously, but the reality of being a writer still seems eternally distant, a destination I will forever be struggling towards but never arriving at. So despite good advice to the contrary, I still don’t, quite, take myself seriously. And, if I’m going to continue, I need to.

A few idle distractions for those of us living the booklife:

Notes on being a grown-up, Year 2.

If you too unwrapped an eReader for Xmas, load up on free content at Feedbooks.

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