Over a year ago, I had an idea. It was bold, and audacious, and a little bit silly. It grew out of insecurity, and a single bit of nagging self-doubt. “You like to think of yourself as a writer, don’t you? But you really don’t seem to have written all that much.” And it was true. A dozen or so short stories. A novel stuck in revisions for the last 2 years. A notebook full of ideas I’d done nothing with. Something clearly needed to be done.
I remembered a story a friend of mine once told me, about the time he got some advice from a man he thought a fraud. I read an article, by an author I admire. And I decided on what I had to do. The only way I could honestly call myself a writer was if I wrote. And the only way I could write was unremittingly. I decided that I was going to use the power of public shame to force myself to write. I was going to create a website and a blog to document my writing. I was going to tell everyone I knew about it. I was going to write something, anything, every single day, no time off for good behaviour, for a year.
Of course, I’d done some writing before. I know producing words is only the half of it. I wanted to get my novel done, so revision counted. And I love researching stuff, so that and planning both counted. But the heart of it was to be just writing things and putting them online. I wrote about my favourite piece of my family history. I wrote about Victorian ships sunk by ancient curses, which eventually turned into an entire section about my home county of Donegal, and how it’s a very odd place indeed. I wrote pitches for websites, and none of them got published, but one of them turned into the most popular page on this website, which in turned spawned an entire section on Byzantium. I wrote reviews of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, because I’d always wanted to but never had, and in the process I learned a lot and loved them more. I wrote about English Civil Wars, and though I’ve covered what I consider the first and last of them, there’s a lot more still to come. And I did finish my novel – thanks in part to that gem among friends, an honest critic, I revised, deleted and rewrote, and eventually wound up with something I felt confident in sending off to a publisher. (No, I haven’t heard back yet. Fingers crossed.) And I started work on a second novel – which is already longer than the first, and not quite into the endgame yet.
The site grew, by leaps and bounds. People were guided here by search engines – mostly to the historical sections (I’m quite proud that I have the first non-Wikipedia entry on Google for the search term “Byzantine Politics”) or the Sherlock reviews, or the pages on Donegal, but some to the other sections. I’m not sure what the person searching for “clang the knees golf” made of me being sarcastic about books I was giving to a charity shop, but I hope it brightened their day. I had fun, writing this stuff, and I learned a lot. The Odd Side of Donegal, especially, taught me quite a few things I never knew about my home county. The story of the Navvy Poet, Patrick McGill, was especially inspirational and remains possibly my favourite thing on the site.
So where do I go from here? Honestly, I don’t think I can stop. I’ve made daily scribbling such a central part of me that it would feel like failure not to do it anymore. Besides, I’ve still got a new novel to finish, a sequel to the first novel to start, an English Civil War section to finish, and a million other things to get done. (I’m still determined to get published by Cracked, for starters.) So I’m still going to write, and I’m still going to blog it. (I’m not going to keep tweeting it, though, unless I have some actual content to share, so you will be spared that noise from now on.) I’m probably going to redesign this site at some point – add an actual home page with section links, and move the blog to a back corner. But the scribbling will continue.
So, in summary. I made a resolution. I kept the resolution. I like the person the resolution made me turn into. And I am going to stay as much of that person as I can. If you are like I was – if you want to be a writer, but aren’t quite sure if you are one – then I urge you to try some daily scribbling as well. It just might change your life. And even if it doesn’t – you may have fun trying. I sure did. 2013 will remain, in my life, a banner year. The year I stopped talking and started doing. The year that I wrote.