Sunk Cost Fallacy
Before I get all in my feelings about writing projects, let me give you three quick1 podcast recommendations.
I Spy from Foreign Policy captures stories from real-life espionage agents. The details are what keep you listening, even if some of the episodes are a little dry. What’s, um, wet I guess, is the great and good Margo Martinadale’s narrator work. I could listen to her 24/7.2
Lauren Ober’s Spectacular Failures was a jaunt through businesses that lost track of how to business. During the pandemic, she had some time to explore a part of herself that she’d never had a name for. The Loudest Girl in the Room is about a (personable) adult grappling with an autism diagnosis. It is a revelation for her and her listeners.
Torn from BBC4 is all about the technology of textiles.3 Which is interesting enough, if you’re the right sort of nerd.4 What I enjoy about it most, tho, is the BBC4-ness of it, by which I mean, it could not be more gentle and British.5
And, now, for my feelings vis a vis writing.6
In January last year, I started writing a novel. I had a plot (sort of) and a character arc and a vague idea where it all needed to go. What works best for me when it comes to writing big things is to write 1500-2000 words per day every day.7 So that’s what I did. The numbers are my weekly word count.
In July, I finished a crappy first draft, printed it out, and started to really think and edit and think some more. Six months went by, then seven and eight. I poked at it. Rearranged the deck chairs a little. Hemmed and, indeed, hawed. I sent it off as a project for a competitive writers’ retreat/workshop. Over the summer, they gave me a thanks but no.
Which is exactly what they should have done. This project is fundamentally fucked up and I am not a strong enough fiction writer to figure out how to unfuck it.8 I may be that writer someday — but today is not that day. Tomorrow isn’t looking good, either.
One of the reasons I started writing that totally made-up story was to have a place to put my frustration about my non-fiction proposal for a potentially amazing bestselling book about Isabella Bird9 being unwanted by nearly every publisher out there.10 WHICH IS SO DISAPPOINTING, given how much time and energy, etc., I’ve put into it. I want to write this book so, so much — but not enough to do it without some kind of promise that it will see other eyeballs than mine.11 For whatever reason,12 this book isn’t sparking joy right now.
In August, it finally sunk in. The work I'd done has value, even if it didn’t get me what I wanted to get from it. It’s OK to have feelings about HOW DISAPPOINTING IT IS but that wallowing will do jack and shit about changing what is. Last week, I cleaned all of the notes, proposal drafts, and reference publications off of my desk.13 Today, I cleaned the word count tally for the fiction project off my whiteboard. Wanting a result isn’t the same as working toward it and letting go is better for my brain. Brooding and bitterness looks good on no one.
Literally clearing space makes metaphoric room, you know? There is another fiction idea I’m flirting with — and now I have a much better idea how to frame the structure before I start filling it with writing. And there are a couple of non-fiction threads I’ve been picking at14 and they might, eventually, be woven into a useful garment. Or not, frankly. But there really is only one way to find out. Onward.
Both the recommendations are quick, as are the individual episodes.
Okay, okay, maybe not 24/7 because even the best voices can wear on you after a while. But you know what I mean.
For example, one episode is all about the development of the colo(u)r mauve.
Which we’ve established I am
Right down to the host’s name: Gus Casely-Hayford, OBE
which is a stupid, broken business and yet a vocation I still find myself pursuing because I am stubborn yet find myself thinking that three published-by-big-deal-houses books are quite enough, thanks, and, besides, writing books is hard and I should do something else with my life that is easier.
There’s a quote from some famous author about writing being like driving a car on a moonless night. The headlights only show the road right in front of you but that is enough to get you where you need to go. And that couldn’t be more true. For me and my process, I have to find ways to make myself continue to drive into the dark, rather than just pull over and have a nap.
these are the technical terms
with whom I am obsessed and you should be, too
To be transparent, it is still on submission to one last house. They will say no, once they get around to it.
You are going to say “why not self-publish.” The long answer is very long. The short version is “because I suck at marketing.”
I have thoughts about why, starting with how the pandemic made clear all of the structural failings in the industry — but that doesn’t really change the reality of where I personally am in that ecosystem.
I still have them because you just never know when an idea’s time might come around. But they are on a bookshelf, not on my desk.