(even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever get published)
Top tips for finding time and inspiration
I’ve read a few blogs on this subject, but they always seem to be from someone who has already published their book. That makes sense – their being published is what gives them the authority to speak – but they always refer to writing under pressure of deadlines or signing a contract with baby sick on it. They say things like ‘I got my publishing deal when I was pregnant and then wrote book two as I rocked the baby bouncer with one foot’… Ok pretty impressive… But you had the publishing deal! I’d be motivated too if I thought anyone else believed in me actually making this dream a reality.
The fact is, there’s an awful lot of us juggling kids and work and writing without any promise of success – now that’s a real challenge! (and I have no idea why people say ‘juggling’ that makes it sound like there’s some sort of order to it all. There isn’t. It’s chaos!).
I admit it’s a challenge that defeats me some days; one that brings with it guilt and questions about my priorities and leaves me wondering whether I’ll look back in ten years and be sad I wasted all those hours deluding myself that I could do this.
Some days I return from work (where I write all day), feed my 2 year old, bath him, greet my husband, read the little man a story, put him to bed, cook for us (my husband does share the chores but that doesn’t help me make my point so ignore that for now!), attempt adult conversation… and then start writing. And I haven’t mentioned the tantrums, the second toddler dinner I made as the first went to the dog by mistake, the washing, cleaning, bills and correspondence or the fact we’re all meant to be on social media constantly to promote our platforms in the hope that one day we can flog all our followers a copy (sorry followers!) – by then any teens I had following me will be too old to enjoy it so I’m confident I’m wasting my time but hey! Ooh badly structured tangent sentence alert – should probably rewrite. Nope. Too exhausted!
So yeah, it’s not easy and it’s not ideal. I mean we’d all love a week long writing retreat, or days holed up in sunlit attic writing room, but if I waited for that there’d never be a single word produced. And yet, somehow, I have 85,000 words of my first novel, 5,000 of my second, several children’s stories, a few prizewinning short stories and a pile of new ideas brewing, all since my little boy was born. It’s not because I’ve been especially organised or good, it’s more because writing is a bit of a compulsion and even when I think I probably should give up, I can’t. But I have developed a few strategies over the past couple of years and thought it may help to share them…
6 windows of time I exploit wherever possible:
- nap times – these are gold. Of course there are other jobs that need doing in this time like, housework or perhaps you have other children, but if you can manage a minimum of 20 minutes free it’s ideal writing time.
- 30 mins in the evening – either as my husband puts him to bed (which is so lovely as I can hear them giggling or discussing the bedtime story as I type) or just after I’ve done it (which is often the case as he travels a lot for work so I’m frequently a single parent – in case some of you are trying to do this alone, it is still possible).
- Plan a tv programme’s worth of writing -whatever the concentration span of your child, you’ll probably manage a minimum of 20 minutes and that’s a window of time you can work in, but you need to plan. Know what you want to achieve and as soon as they are settled – scram! (or get the laptop out and hope they don’t notice and want to ‘help’). No time for making tea or just folding the washing first. Sit down and write!
- Find a weekly activity for dad or grandparents to do with kid(s) – this pretty hit and miss in our house due to my travelling partner, but signing them up to Sunday swimming sessions definitely gained me a few clear hours about every other Sunday, so it was worth it!
- Get up early – I struggle with this one. I already have to get up at 6.30 to get my boy up and fed and ready for nursery and me all set for work, so anything much earlier is a lot like torture, but just occasionally the sacrifice is worth it.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and clear your head – this one works for me every time. I often can’t sleep for things buzzing around in my head, I just get up and write it all down (which can generate useful story or character material later) and then possibly take 20 minutes of writing time on the book as well. By the time I’m done I’m sleepy and my head is clear.
In the meantime, whilst you are actually doing the parenting stuff…
5 tips for inspiration
- use the notes section of your phone (or the voice recorder if your hands aren’t free, or a notebook if you prefer low tech) whenever inspiration strikes mid-nappy-change.
- Read your child stories and watch their favourite tv shows with them to get inspired with characters and settings and plot lines. No matter which audience you’re writing for there’s a wealth of ideas out there, plus it’s good positive parent time.
- Talk to them about your story- sometimes kids have the best ideas.
- Take them to inspiring places. It benefits you both, even if it means an hour of Prep before you go, a battle to get them into the car and a meltdown in the gift shop! If you can’t find a story in the Pitt Rivers museum or the local woods, for that matter, I’ll eat my… cliche.
- Be present – try to put the writing aside and actually play with them sometimes! Sometimes a rest is refreshing for the mind, and being childlike feeds your creative well.
Finding time to write is always tricky – so many of us have a regular job to go to, a family to take care of and friends that occasionally require attention (!) – but I don’t believe that anyone can genuinely claim not to be able to find twenty minutes in their day. Of course it’s true that no one who loves writing fiction would actually choose to produce a novel in 20 minute sections. It’s definitely not the most productive or easiest way to work, but it does get the job done if that’s the only choice you have.
Here’s a quick-look list of writerly tasks you can easily squeeze in between everything else that needs doing. Please feel to add more suggestions in the comments – I just wrote this in twenty minutes!
- draft a buzz blog
- Edit a blog
- Update/write your bio on your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook
- Make a meme and share it (try free sites like memedad.com that are super easy to use)
- Draw and label one of your characters
- Map out a section of your story
- Research (actually having a twenty minute limit can be helpful and stop you going off on tangents)
- Review/edit a chapter
- Plot a short story
- Draft a cover letter (but never send it until it’s been redrafted, edited, subbed, etc etc – you’re after perfection here)
- Work on your synopsis
- Study an agent’s submission guidelines
- Submit to an agent – if you’re ready, why not? (must take my own advice some day!)
- Make notes for your book’s thank you page (it helps to dream positively and actively prepare for print!)
- Take the time to go through each of your Social Media platforms and like, respond, comment, share – anything that actively engages in a positive way with your followers
- Just write! Even if it’s just a few paragraphs (though it could be as much as 500words when you get into it!)
Who am I to say all this? Truth? No one really, but I genuinely hope it helps and in case you need me to justify myself here’s the bio: Melissa Kay is mum to a two year old, works as a copywriter, is a sometimes single parent (due to a travelling husband) and attempts to occasionally have fun and see friends. She’s written and been published (mostly in magazines and newspapers, but also some short stories) and her YA novel opening was shortlisted for the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016. She’s managed to write consistently since the birth of her son and returning to work.
So yesterday two TIA things happened that made me think again about where we live… a cheetah was shot round the corner from our house (bear in mind we live in a city and it’s a 2 hr drive to the Serengeti that’s pretty unusual)… and my gardener found a huge pile of snake eggs in our garden. Add to this the fact that there have been recent reports of hyena attacks on small children (I have a friend who works at one of the local hospitals who told me of the of the horrific injuries it caused) and it reminds us that we are in their territory, not the other way around.
During my time here I have loved hearing tales of how it was ‘before’ – when towns and cities were merely settlements so that the human/wildlife conflicts were frequent and shocking, and – let’s face it – thrilling. I interviewed a 90 year old author from Arusha once who’d grown up as a white boy with the Loliondo Maasai and he told tales of lions tearing at the canvas on the back of his truck, of a hyena stealing the just-amputated leg of a man who was accidentally shot whilst in the bush, and of climbing the rim of Ngorongoro Crater before it was an allocated conservation area. Even my (much younger!) father-in-law has tales like these, of camping and exploring the areas unrestricted as a boy. A local Mwanza man once told me that the hill I live on was cut off by water less than a hundred years ago and wild animals lived all over it. It seems that poor cheetah wasn’t so confused after all.
Anyway, it got me thinking about people’s stories and how unbelievable they sometimes seem when they are so removed from your reality, and yet they are quite true – I have lived to tell some tales myself! One story that always sticks with me was told to me by my good friend Bill. I recently took time to fictionalise his experience for a competition and he very kindly said that I could use it. So, with the recent events in Mwanza, I thought it was appropriate to give you guys a sneak preview (of course if it doesn’t win the competition it’ll be more of an ‘exclusive view’ but whatever!).
I got out. It’s hard to imagine how I could have done that now, but back then we thought we were invincible. I was in my twenties and it was a time of rolled up safari-shirt sleeves, hard physical work, and endless cigarettes.
I’d been contracted out to Tanzania to build a safari lodge in a small game reserve. After the War work was limited and I was happy to travel. I’d helped to build hotels before – mostly in Europe – but I was not prepared for Africa.
So, there we were, returning from gathering supplies. Just me and the lodge manager. She’d been out visiting her boyfriend – a Rhodesian wild animal vet based in Arusha city. I couldn’t compete, so I pretended I wasn’t interested. We’d been making good time, sliding through the red dust at the top of the ridge on one side and then dropping into the darker, black cotton soil in the base of the valley, but it had rained the night before.
Slow motion sliding and then locking suction saw all four tyres trapped deep into a pond-sized patch of black mud.
The day had been a hot one and the air was lying slumped against us; fat with dust. By then we had tried everything of course: Attempted to dig ourselves out; fiddled with the radios – though we knew we were miles out of range; stood on the roof and shouted. But the day was starting to fade, I had smoked my last cigarette and the mosquito clouds were beginning to froth up from the muddy puddles surrounding the car. Their high-pitched malarial malice became too much for me. I got out.
“Ali, I’m going to get help before it’s dark.” I said coolly. “The lodge is only over that ridge and no one’s going to drive past us on this road today – we both know that.”
She’d nodded weakly. Too hot and frustrated to argue with me by this stage. She was in the passenger seat, her bare brown legs stretched up onto the dash board as she scratched at her ankles. She was muddy and her skin was damp with perspiration and I noticed with a stupidly smug sense of satisfaction that she was beginning to show signs of fear. It spurred me to see through my ridiculous hero role.
“Take this,” she smiled gently, handing me a bottle of water.
“Thanks. I won’t be long,” I said confidently. Naively. Sinking in the mud and attempting to maintain some dignity and stay upright as I hopped from patch to patch until I reached the other side, now filthy from the knees down. I could hear Ali laughing as I turned to wave.
When I started walking it was hot and bright, the viscous air was thick around me. But the minutes melted into evening. A blood red sun seeped into the horizon to my left and suddenly a soot-soft black began to gather. I had not noticed, until then, how quickly the equatorial sun set. I had anticipated being at the site by now. A ring neck dove crooned and baboons screamed in the distance.
I stayed on the road, with the bronzed grasses high on either side of me; hiding me from predators, and predators from me. But I could see nothing bar the path ahead by this stage anyway, so I focused on making my way onto the ridge, where I knew I would look down onto the lights of our building site.
I was conscious that Ali was over an hour’s walk behind me by now, somewhere in the dark, hoping for the best and fearing the worst. I turned to squint into the blackness, wondering if she might have used the vehicle lights, but I could see only a few meters in front of me. In those moments of realisation, the mood of the bush changed. She shifted on her haunches and bared her teeth. I was alone and defenseless in big cat territory.
I paused to drink my water, laughing at myself for bringing that and leaving the knife I had in the glove compartment. Not that I’d have known what to do with it. Not really.
There was only one thing to do – push on; keep moving until I saw the lights of the camp. It had to be close now.
But in turning around to strain my eyes for our car, I had lost my bearings and all around me now was black. Thick and hot as tar.
I stumbled blindly on, aware that I may not even be moving in the right direction, though the ground under my feet felt dryer so it seemed I must be moving upwards at least. Not one star broke the perfect dark. The curving whoop of a hyena floated over the plain and a zebra barked its hysterical answer.
The back of my shirt was wet with sweat, and as I walked into the night it grew cold and clung to me, as though it too feared the worst. I thought of home, and of my parents: How they would hear about my death in this alien place. I recalled stories of men taken by leopards, of Tsavo’s man-eating lions and I picked up my pace, in a hurried shuffle.
I landed sharply on the hard packed earth.
I had not even had time to put my hands out.
It was my head that struck the ground hardest. I felt my eyebrow split and the thick blood roll down into my right eye.
I pushed myself up, touching the cut and adding gritty earth to the sticky mess. Now they can smell me I thought with sudden clarity, pushing myself to my feet more quickly than I might otherwise have done. I thought of a fact I had once heard about how a shark can smell one drop of blood in thousands of litres of water. I wondered if a lion or leopard could do the same in the air. I loped ahead, sure I had now lost my bearings entirely.
Was I imagining that? I felt rather than heard the presence. Something behind me. Not close, but within the radius of my senses. My ears strained. I had been thinking of wild cats, perhaps I had summoned one in my imagination. Perhaps it was my heart thumping out the rhythm of my footfalls in my chest. Or perhaps there was a slight echo on the night air. I slowed my step.
There was a slight swish in the grasses some way behind me, to my right. I moved again.
For some time I heard nothing, though that was almost worse. Every molecule of mine stretched to prove a presence I was hoping was not there. I placed my feet as carefully, as silently as possible, whilst covering the ground as quickly as I could. Blood caked on the upper part of my cheek.
Then there it was again, in perfect unison with my own foot steps. A soundless matching of my pace.
No, there was something with me.
I thought then that I heard breath. Just one huff of hot breath slinking between the grasses. Hairs responded on my neck. I knew I must not run. Some random gem of a survival technique I had read or heard somewhere. I moved off quickly though, taking short quick steps. And sure enough, the padded echo followed.
This time the slight cracking of a leaf or twig confirmed that there was weight behind this animal and now my blood was booming in my ears as I fought desperately to quiet my breath and keep my feet from stopping still in terror, or – worse – breaking into a terrified sprint. A race I knew, without exception, I would lose.
On, on I walked. My every step echoed by the almost silent pads of feline feet. I had no idea what species, but I knew it was a cat.
The rest happened all at the same time.
In front of me a sea of lights, for a moment my addled mind thought of cats eyes shining in the darkness, but it had to be the camp.
No time for the relief to flood my adrenaline drenched veins, though.
From behind, a mighty roar shattered the night.
I threw myself forward, hoping to avoid the invisible predator. Imagining muscle sinew, claws sinking into flesh and teeth tearing. I assumed the scream that went up was my own voice, and I hit the ground ashamed, still waiting for the impact, but the sounds were all around me. Spitting. Squealing. Ripping.
It took some moments to understand that I felt no pain myself.
I was up and running, skidding and bouncing down towards the camp with an instinct I had no idea that I possessed. I am not sure it would have caught me then, even if it had been in pursuit.
I burst into the camp and slid to a stop beside the camp fire. Wide eyes and the bottoms of beer filled glasses looked down at me for a moment.
“What the -?”
“Are you ok?”
“What happened? – you’re bleeding!”
Everyone talked at once and I could process nothing.
“Lion!” I managed.
“Is Ali..? Oh God!”
“No, she’s fine… I think,” I answered, pulling myself guiltily to a sitting position now. “I left her at the vehicle. Stuck.” I panted. “We got stuck in mud.”
“So you walked?” Everyone stared again now, incredulous.
“Yes,” I said, drawing myself up now, proud of my bravery, despite my embarrassing entrance.
“What were you thinking?” I read their faces clearly now, they were not impressed, they were amazed… by my stupidity.
“I…I…” I could not finish.
“We’d better get Ali. Mark, grab the truck keys from the bar!” They hussled into to two large vehicles, throwing tow ropes and a spare tyre into the back and I stepped meekly into the back seat of the first.
As we climbed the ridge I went through it all again. No one spoke. But as we reached the top I broke the silence. “Here, can you just pause a second, shine your headlights there.”
The vehicle reversed and turned a little to the right. Our yellow spot lights were met instantly by yellow eyes. A golden cold that assessed us coolly and then returned to tearing at its prey. A large, fat zebra. The red of its insides in stark contrast to its sharp black and white stripes. It’s eyes were open, dull and glassy. The lion shook blood drops from its mane and continued, dismissing us entirely.
“You were lucky,” breathed Matt from the driving seat. And we drove on.
Just minutes later we approached the truck. An abandoned carcass, marooned. It was so quiet it did not seem that Ali could be there. What had I done? Would she have tried to walk as well? Or could something have taken her while she waited?
But as our lights lit the inside from the edge of the swampy mess, I saw her blonde head lift from the back seat.
“You took your time!” she yelled.
“Next time I’m sending you!” I grinned.
To choose a career in words is not an easy option. I mean it’s not as though it’s a skill no one else has. We all have a vocabulary and can construct a sentence. In fact we each speak an average of 17,520 words every day to an average of 7.4 other individuals! Using words is not a skill that people value particularly, and they certainly don’t want to have to pay you for them!
But as my days have developed and this has become a full-time job – leaping from editing my book, writing a short story, coming up with PR angles for a client or working on my latest piece of journalism (ooh that reminds me, don’t forget to buy The Independent on Sunday the 21st!) – I have become increasingly sure that this is what I really love. I love words.
When I really write the words come almost through me, like I’m not really doing it. It’s a sort of letting go, or an immersing – a tea bag relaxing in warm water, releasing its flavour with no effort at all. And that is a magical feeling.
Of course it isn’t always like that. Often it’s a slog. Forcing yourself to face the page. Taming ideas to land softly, but sharply in the shape I wish to paint, gathering the shards of the world. But it turns out that writing is rather like using a pencil that, instead of getting worn down, is actually sharpened by use. The more I work with it, the more I feel the shapely shavings sliced neatly away to reveal the lean and pointed lead. You literally get to the point! In the end it becomes easier to write succinctly interesting sentences than flabby, stubby paragraphs.
But really it’s the words themselves I truly love, not necessarily the process of the writing.
I love the way they carry meanings in their history. Just yesterday I read that ‘Remorse, etymologically, is the action of being bitten again.’ The word carries the same root as the word ‘morsel’ with both French and Latin origins. How very igenius our language is.
I also love the way they can play with each other. I was listening to two teenagers not so long ago. The American child exclaimed ‘Sweet!’ in response to the chance of a swim, using the slang to express his pleasure at the prospect. The Tanzanian child responded ‘sawa’ (meaning ‘OK’). I had to smile – one says ‘sweet’ the other ‘sawa’ (pronounced sour) and the joke was just for me.
As a totally different example, I wrote the other day in my note book, in response to rejection of another article pitch (a significant part of the life of a writer is rejection and I am trying to toughen up!): ‘I must remember that they are called ‘slights’, because they are slight. I must not let them make me feel the same way.’ The layers of multiple meanings in words interact with each other, they are not there by mistake. Words have magic. Words have history. Words have power.
Words in a drawer are not contained. They seep out, float up, unbidden in your mind, attack the senses. They cannot just be put away or hidden. Once they are strung together into sentences they have combined to form the DNA of a living thing and that is part of the magic.
There is a theory that each word we learn carried with it the association of where you first heard it and every time you heard or used it from that moment. We build a personal history with that word and thus it carries meanings not only defined by a dictionary but defined also by our relationship with that word. If that is true of each and every word, what multitude of meanings might be hidden when you combine two words, or three ,or any of the average person’s 11,000 word vocabulary? It is mind blowing. And as a writer, trying to pin this down so everybody hears just what you wanted is a task that is both terrifying and thrilling, impossible and yet somehow worth attempting.
isn’t it wonderful that the combination of just a few words, even in the face of all that variation in possible meanings and interpretations, can still leave us with a feeling or image – like ‘The soft wing-beat of sadness’ or ‘the way that morning shadows stretch awake’.
Even as a child, at night when the world was dark and silent I would read in secret torchlight. Sounds were louder, shadows were shapes, and the air was full of dreams. How could I want to sleep? No, no. I wanted to imagine. I wanted to dissolve myself in other people’s words.
So here I am now, at my computer again on another sunny Monday morning, preparing to face my book again (the teenage readers have finished going through it and I am working on putting their suggested edits in place before facing the group of adult readers who have very kindly volunteered to help me get this right), preparing to write an article on Pemba, to pitch an editor about a local charity and write my grandmother a letter. But before I deal with each heap of words for each of those, first I’ll get this blog post live. An odd sort of post, I suppose, not quite in keeping with the usual tales, but it just happened to be what I felt like saying today! I hope you found a sentence or two you that sparked a thought or made you nod or smile or pause.
Have a great week.
Why is it we will make absolutely any excuse not to do what is good for us? When it comes to the gym I am amazing… at avoiding it. Too much work to do, aching from the last session, the friend I go with is away, it makes me tired so I find it hard to work once I get back, blah blah blah. We all know the avoidance tactics and sometimes I even get as far as wondering if this magical myth of being slim and feeling fit even feels as good as people say it does – I don’t remember, and anyway when I did have that feeling I was in my early 20s, of course I felt great! So what’s the point?!
This little illustration isn’t really all about the gym of course, it’s just that the gym makes an accessible metaphor to explain how hard it is to write sometimes. I think a lot of people who’ve thought about writing a book (and there are a lot of people) or doing anything creative will identify with thoughts such as:
• Let me do the housework/other jobs/phone that friend/have a shower/check my emails first so I have a clear head [oops the whole day’s gone!]
• What if I’m not good enough and people laugh at me for trying? [if you have the grace to be a beginning and the humility to learn people are actually surprisingly kind]
• What if it changes my life and I’m not ready [how can it change your life if it doesn’t exist – hmmm cart, horse?!]
• I’m too old, or I don’t have time, maybe when I retire [opposite excuses for the same inaction – somehow young and crazy or old and crazy it’s socially more acceptable to try something crazy, whilst we’re somewhere in the middle we really ought to be more sensible!]
• Perhaps it’s self indulgent, egotistical, ridiculous, _________ (fill in the blank!) [believe me if you wanted to do something to indulge and big up your ego, well it wouldn’t be this – receiving rejections, criticisms and other’s opinions is not for the feint hearted! As for ridiculous – why’s it ridiculous to do what you love?]
• What if I spend all that time and it never actually amounts to anything? [the truth is you’ll probably have enjoyed the time you gave it]
And the one that recently really got me was this:
Do you have any idea how old I will if I start to learn x or y now?
I’ve asked it many times as I wonder what on earth I’m doing trying to write a book, but this time someone [who had written a book] gave me the answer: As old as you will be if you don’t!
So here I am. I know the answers to all the stalling tactics… but I can still achieve nothing in a day in style!
Hang on. I say that, but in fact I’ve written over 70,000 words and completed my first draft of my book (thanks guys – yes I did do as I promised last month, no you can’t read it yet!), and so far this month I’ve written five commissioned articles. You’d think I’d be more positive about it all. More professional?
See the fact is at every stage I am a beginner – which is great, since I have the openness and the excitement of a beginner, but I also have the fear. Most people start a new career in their twenties and then don’t change that career for most of their lives. They might change jobs, even roles, but they don’t start completely from scratch. If they do they might take a course first, or they’ll be guided through the system by colleagues. Not really an option in my situation. So I’m poking about in the dark! There are positives, it means I earn my lessons in a whole new way, and when the positives come they feel great (for about five minutes, before I’ve discovered the next hurdle!).
The truth is I’ve recently realised that it’s not the Philosopher’s Stone that was interesting (I really am not a Potter fan), what’s worth noting is that philosophers have stones! Brave New World was brave because Huxley was brave. Artists, dancers, actors, sculptors, designers, writers – regardless, they are putting themselves out there ready to be shot down, in public, against the odds, against their own inner voice. No wonder they are recognised as inspiring. I always thought it was their work that was inspiring – well it is of course, but it is also the characters that have achieved the work. Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that I am amongst those! – only that perhaps this journey is shaping me.
It’s very tempting to write a FaceBook page presentation of it all – you know the smiling photos of the best parts of our lives – ‘look guys I’m writing for this magazine, this newspaper, I get to travel and write and take photos in beautiful places, I’ve written a book!’ It would be true. It’s not fake. But there is so much more to it. The Facebook photos are of the great moments and that simply doesn’t reflect the daily slog or the rejections or the days you just wake up in a crap mood and there’s no one around to change it for you, no one to make you sit at your desk anyway.
This blog has been a little bit like the Facebook world… funny tales of African madness and mayhem. Well, they are funny sometimes, and I hope I’ll get my sense of humour back so I can continue to cover some of that side of life, but also after almost eight years in Africa I have stopped finding it so funny, often it covers a symptom of something much more concerning – lack of education, lack of self-respect, corruption, poverty. It doesn’t need writing about particularly, everyone knows that stuff – just like someone who’s constantly moaning in the Facebook statuses becomes tedious very quickly. But to consistently tell only one side does get tiresome too.
The past two weeks I’ve been avoiding writing my blog because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Actually I think it was really that I didn’t have anything funny to say. It’s been three weeks of writing articles, and editing photos and re-working the book and I was starting to get tired. I’d meet my deadlines, do the ‘important stuff’ and then make excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that job I’d set myself on the book.
And then I realised… it’s not that it was tiring doing the work, or that it was too hard, it was A/ that it was terrifying because people will be able to judge it, real people might read it and form an opinion and B/ because it’s such a bloody long journey and I have no idea where it ends, or if will ever even really begin and C/ because it’s good for me! As hard as it is sometimes, I do actually want to write. I zing with the magic of pairing two perfect words together, and feel complete when a perfect sentence is structured on my page. It’s good for me and therefore that bad angel on my shoulder says ‘why not put on the TV and eat some chocolate instead? No one will know. No one reads blogs anyway, too much text, too much like hard work.’
Then someone said to me this afternoon: ‘I’ve been looking at your blog, I really enjoyed it.’ Simple as that. I avoided the urge to get on my knees and weep thank yous, but it did make me think that perhaps I should be bothered to waffle at you once again. So… these are my thoughts for the week. I’ll find something a little lighter for next time!
Thanks again for reading. Stay motivated, keep learning, be creative, enjoy the journey.
I always thought writer’s block was a total myth. One of those arty excuses for floating about and being aimless whilst you wait for inspiration. A writer must have made that one up! I mean come on – I never have no ideas, plus I usually have something I have to be writing – an article for someone, or my blog, or a bit for the home study course I’m working through – so it’s not possible to have nothing to write. And if you’re writing something, then you’re not blocked, are you!
Well, it turns out that all that is true, but writer’s block is a far more subtle mess than the classic image of the writer at the keyboard of an old-fashioned type-writer ripping useless pages from the roller and crumpling them into balls which are scattered around a waste paper basket, or simply staring at a blank page. When writer’s block tiptoed into my life and stubbornly sat itself down, it wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it was that I couldn’t write the book. On the surface I was getting on with all the work that was coming in, but when it came to the one fiction (and thus creative) project I’m doing I couldn’t form a thought, let alone a sentence.
‘You’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe’ said the voices of doubt in my head, disguising themselves as realists and settling back to enjoy a good bitch.
‘Chances are a million to one – you’ll never get it published, what’s the point?’
‘People might hate it, then you’ll feel silly. Can you really face all those rejection letters or critiques?’
‘You haven’t got the motivation or the focus to manage to actually get through an entire book – maybe two thirds is enough. You gave it a go.’
‘You’ve set yourself a mountain here – what were you thinking, inventing an entire world in the future, with a wide range of characters, new technology, different problems? – You’ll never make it all coherent, never make it believable. Give up now before you embarrass yourself.’
They go on… and on.
Up until mid-way though last year I had them gagged and bound at the back of my head, but all it takes is one set free and that one releases all the others and they don’t give up.
For those of you who now think I’m a weird schitzophrenic with multiple personalities, well… I’ll admit I was starting to worry about myself! But, when you finally run out of excuses for why you can’t possibly write today, you realise that what you actually do want to do… is write! So I had to get myself back on the path to doing just that.
I have begun several activities that have helped me to do that (summarized below in case any one else is feeling stuck, skip this bit otherwise!).
1. Talking! – for those of you who know me you’ll laugh at that being top of my list. But it’s true that talking to family and friends who care just makes you feel better, but more than that I have been able to start to understand this whole experience and, even better, when I finally got to really tell one particular friend the story I was writing and speak about the ending it suddenly became sharp in my mind and writing it seemed far less daunting. (Huge thanks to Sue who gave so freely of her time and helped me do this – asking lots of good questions and prompting lots of great stuff).
2. I’m doing a daily home study course that forces you to understand what stops you and what gets you started again so that you manage your time and energy more positively. (It’s called The Artists’ Way in case you’re interested).
3. Living! It sound silly, but by paying attention to the moment you are in, by planning a mix of activities to enjoy and by taking joy in as much as you can, the light can be put back into the world. Tromping through the daily routine, head down and teeth gritted is not living!
4. Setting goals and deadlines.
5. Reading books and articles by writers, editors and publishers.
Anyway, the upshot is I am writing again and really trying to push through to get a finished first draft by the end of next month.
There I’ve said it.
Now that I’ve said it ‘in public’ it has become a real deadline. Please help me to meet it by adding your expectations of my completion of the manuscript to this blog! If I feel your pressure then I know it will help me do what I said I was going to do!
It is both exciting and terrifying to think of having a completed manuscript. I think I’ve been putting it off because that is the point where you have to really dive in. It’s time to show it to someone, to put yourself out there. Little me amongst all those experienced professionals – how ridiculous! But (if I can maintain this new frame of mind – and I have no idea if I can, it’s my first time through this whole process!) I have decided I’m going to try.
I had to laugh when I began, last week, to read a book written by an experienced fiction editor. She opened with a chapter on first time authors and the fact that they: A/ often get stuck around two thirds of the way through their novel…I’ve done that on both my books – the first time I gave up completely! B/ they always want reassurance from agents and editors and frequently write to ask if these exceptionally busy people will review their work and tell them if they are wasting their time or actually have something worth completing… I had just sent a very high level publishing friend of a friend an email basically to that effect. How embarrassing! I am clearly typical in every way – how pathetically needy of me! As the writer of this book very clearly states, ‘if you are a writer you will need to write’. Even if this man told me to give up now, don’t quit your day job (oops too late), never write another word… I couldn’t! I’d miss it too much. I’d be back to random acts of scribbling in my spare moments. I suddenly realised that this poor, very busy man (who I’ve been badgering for a response once a month for three months!) does not need to tell me to get on with it (or not!) – it’s down to me to finish it and polish it until it’s something I can be proud of.
My course has a whole chapter on the fact that is not arrogant to want to put yourself out there, in fact it is the ultimate level of humility. I know exactly what it means now, but I think perhaps I have been struggling with not wanting to seem too big for my boots – after all, who am I to write a book? I’ve been searching for validation or a great big ‘GO’ sign. But then there is that fantastic and very famous quote:
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ Marianne Williamson
So, my mission is to try to shine. I might run out of power sometimes, but hopefully not as often as Tanesco (our TZ power company!), and this time when I do at least I’ll know some strategies for re-charging and I’ll know I’m not alone. Perhaps I really am an ‘artist’ after all – I’ve just survived my first Writer’s Block! (Or should that be writers’ block? – oh I don’t even know the lingo properly – maybe I shouldn’t… just kidding. Whatever. The lingo can wait until after I’m a published writer!)
In amongst all the wedding stuff, I’ve been a pretty wayward writer recently. This week’s blog might inspire a few of you – it’s worked for me.
You see, there was a big part of me that had let the doubts take over. I had the perfect excuse – I’m very busy with organizing. But if I’d really wanted to write I could have. I managed to keep doing the articles and meeting deadlines, why not the book?
I don’t know if any other writer feels this way, but I know that if I finish this book I’ll have to show it to someone, if I show it someone I’ll either get rejected or it’ll be published, if it gets published I invite more criticism. The idea of actually finishing a book is terrifying, it opens you up to everyone’s opinion and we all know we can’t please all the people all the time. Plus I have a few style concerns and structural issues I want to work out… So I froze.
This has been termed The Stuck. It’s not a block, I know exactly what happens in my story, I am not blocked, just Stuck.
During my Stuck I went to have a drink with a friend. I wasn’t feeling like going, I was tired and uninspired, but she’s a good friend and I didn’t want to let her down so I got into the sun-baked car and dragged myself down to the lake side and we started to talk.
It all came out, the whole situation, the story, the questions, and when I finished she looked at me and said “where’s your Knowing gone?”
“Huh?!” (that was me!)
“Remember when you wanted to move to Africa? [I’m nodding] Did you worry about How it would happen or did you just know you wanted to go?”
“Well I just decided. I actually don’t remember it being that hard at all. I had two interviews, got one but turned it down and then whilst I was waiting to hear from the second a totally random one – a friend of the first Headmaster – offered me a job in Kenya. Just like that. I hadn’t even applied for a job there! I went!”
“Right! That’s because you had the Knowing. You knew you were going to go and because of the Knowing you let go of the How.”
My clever, clever friend has just drawn back the bolts and let the fresh air in again!
Now I’m not saying I’ve returned to my computer and written the rest of the book, but I have begun again. I am talking to friends with any contacts at all in the publishing industry in case there might be any hope of a conversation to solve my style queries and I’m editing the first 50,000 words I’ve already done. I am going to finish this book and I’m working very hard to build the Knowing that one day this will get published (and probably criticized but I guess I just have to learn to live with that!).
That’s my lesson for the week, but it doesn’t only apply to writing. I hope it helps a few of you too. Don’t do The Stuck! You are never as stuck as you think, there is always a way out even it seems impossible. (Remind me of this in a couple of months please someone!).