Progress, and Eight Billion Reasons to Mourn

So it’s been October since my last post and, again, as always, I find myself unable to keep any discipline with the blog. It’s part of the reason I let the original webpage die, I guess I’m simply not cut out for the social media posting cycle, but I’m going to keep this page up as long as I am still (trying to be) an author.

My reason this time? I managed to get my wip into a presentable, first draft state and submit it to my publisher. From 230,000 words down to 201,000 it still has a way to go, and while I’m waiting into early 2023 to see if they want it I’ll be polishing it. I think there’s another 5% to 10% fat in there I can trim, so the end point will be around 190,000 words. I think.

So, depending on what TDB come back with, it could be 2023/24 publication through them or a 2023 release otherwise. Look for an announcement early on or the following image in my twitter feed to know which.

So, in the interim, it’s polishing and paying pack some quality time to my long suffering wife.

Speaking of suffering, at times in the last year that’s what I’ve felt writing has been for me; some weird, modern sadomasochistic rite played out each evening locked in my study. Yes, the ugly little black dog of self-pity nipped at my heels while I struggled over the merits of ‘he said’ versus ‘said he’ ad infinitum. But, as I realized then and need to remind myself, of course it’s hard; if it was easy then everyone would do it.

When Sha’Kert came out I had a number of workmates say to me “Congrats Ish, you know I’ve got this great idea for a novel and when I get a chance…” and the like. I guess most authors get this all the time, and also the corollary – nobody who’s said this to me has so much as put one word down. Why? We all have ideas, we all can speak the stories and tell the tales, but to write, to have the discipline to sit and craft the story, then edit it, and then put it out there for the world to see, read, criticize and praise is tough, hard work. Yes, work, even if you love it. So, if you have a novel out there, published as an indie or mainstream publisher, you’ve got my respect – 100%.

Doesn’t mean I don’t still get depressed. Yesterday was bad, the news about the population of Earth. Eight billion (US billion that is, remember that?) people. 8,000,000,000 people. When I came into this world (unwillingly I’ll add) it was around three billion, or 3,200,000,000 for those who like numbers, and that was too many for the Earth to carry sustainably. Think about it (like I did when I was lecturing) – everyone wants a good life, a healthy life, a long life, and the rest of us basically support their aspirations (if not their methods). One of the great development economists said that, in it’s simplest form, everyone wants to live like an average American does on TV – big house, car, large fridge, large waistline.

It’s too much for the Earth to manage at 3,200,000,000 never mind 8,000,000,000 or the (wait for it) 10,000,000,000 expected by around 2050. No matter what gains we make in energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling etc nothing can counter the weight of all those billions of mouths, wants, needs and desires. As a species I fear we’ve demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that we do not deserve to survive; we can’t keep our numbers at a level that allow us and all the other species to exist long term. And don’t misunderstand me, there’s no “it’s the black and yellow hoards breeding us to death” here, it is across all racial boundaries.

If you want finger pointing, then white Caucasian habits are an easy target. Hedonistic, self-centred, narcissistic lifestyles paint a stereotype for others to mirror, and then we go and criticize them for trying? Imagine a world of 10,000,000,000 Kardashians or Hiltons – that’s what we’ve given the future, regardless of our best intentions.

For me, the worst point was the reaction here in Australia to the announcement by the UN’s Secretary General Guiterrez (https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/07/were-on-a-highway-to-climate-hell-un-chief-guterres-says.html) – everyone wringing their hands like it was a bombshell. Honestly? For at least thirty years the warning from scientists have been clear and unequivocal, but nobody listens to the people who know, only to mouthpieces and a ten second media grab. To cap it all off, the dominant news story of the day (and week) was the Australian Women’s Rugby League international performance. Talk about bread and circuses, deckchairs on the Titanic.

So, after that, I did drag myself out of the miseries, managing to finish two things; the first “final” draft of my current wip, and a second reading of Roger Kneebone’s ‘Expert’. Which started me thinking – as an author, what does it take to be an expert? (Warning, spoiler alert – I still don’t know).

There’s an old piece of lore out there that says to become really good at anything, you need to do it 10,000 times; it’s a trope reinforced by sportspersons of all stripes, and I think of Michael Jordan specifically who said (something like) that for every winning shot he made, there were ten fails and a hundred practice throws underneath. All well and good for sports, but for writing? I can’t see myself (or anyone) writing 10,000 books, and some of the successful and best written were first time efforts (think ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’ – and I won’t mention Harry Potter, I promise). So perhaps it’s no hard and fast rule for authors, no exact limit but more an affirmation that to succeed you have to try and, presumably, fail. A few times. Or a few hundred. Or thousand. Ouch.

Then there’s Kneebone’s viewpoint. For him, the 10,000 times is only the start. He posits that gaining technical proficiency only makes you a good Apprentice; that is, someone who can do a task up to standards, with the aid of others to guide and correct, and where the emphasis is on yourself, and building your skills. For him, the next step is the Journeyman; taking responsibility for your own work, developing skills and your own take or ‘voice’ on your trade while changing emphasis towards your audience / customer’s needs, not your own. Kneebone adds a final stage, which he calls Master, where you pass on knowledge and skills, help others develop, and take the craft in new directions.

So what does that mean for an author, if anything? I think most of us look to the Journeyman point as the end goal, to be proficient, market-relevant, and having an identifiable voice; and I think that, with time and effort it’s achievable. But does Kneebone’s take on what it is to be an expert, the ‘Master’, apply to authors? If so, there’s only ever been a handful of them out there (and yes, I’m being harsh); there are plenty of teachers, technicians and mouths prepared to tell you what to do, but Masters? True experts? Is it even a goal to be aspired to? I’m not sure.

So, what does it take to be an expert author? Does the concept of ‘Master’ mean anything as an author, or are we a breed apart and this does not apply to us? What do you think?