(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.
This is one for anyone planning a safari. Lots you are experienced safari-goers, so feel free to add your own hints and tips too.
You see, it’s travel season – The school holidays are upon us; the migration has gathered in the Serengeti; ex-pats’ families are in summer-mode and anticipate visits, and basically many people will be hitting the road.
It just so happens that I’ve done more than my fair share of insanely long journeys recently and, as a result, I think I’ve become rather good at it (if you can be good at just sitting in car/bus/boat/plane – ok not a skill I’d include on my CV, but still!). Anyway, in preparation for the travel madness I thought I’d share some of my safari etiquette ideas in an effort to help you survive your holiday with several of you all in one vehicle for days at a time!
Safari is a pretty unique travel experience and I thought maybe some of these points would strike a chord with you. As far as I’m concerned there should be proper etiquette rules when it comes to beaches (like ‘no flicking your towel near to sunbathers’ – it’s so annoying!) or when carrying an umbrella (like short people have to carry them up high so as to avoid poking people’s eyes out’!) I thought I’d attempt a similar list for the African bush! Be warned, these may be presented in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style, but they’re also deadly serious as well! (except maybe the khaki one, that’s really up to you!). Here goes:
1. Wash! Cars are airy but you’re in close proximity and no one likes BO!
2. Excessive amounts of khaki are allowed, encouraged and celebrated!
3. Share your goodies (and don’t forget your driver/guide!)
4. View hogging is not on – views are 360 degrees in most safari vehicles and there no best seat since game might appear anywhere, but if you do end up in the prime spot then have a look, get some pics and then offer to move!
5. Loud swearing is perfectly acceptable around tsetsi flies but absolutely banned around large game – in fact volume of any kind is banned in proximity to large game.
6. Which brings me to music – Music is not for game parks, that’s the birds’ job.
7. Never moan when someone wants to stop for a photo, even if it’s of a boring grey bird!
8. If someone is sleeping always wake them up if you spot good game (but not for gazelle or zebra!)
9. It’s perfectly ok, indeed often necessary, to discuss poo on safari!
10. On that subject – toilet breaks: help each other out and watch for game whilst one person is doing their business. Also, please either bring toilet roll back with you or at least bury it.
11. Mosquito spray should always be sprayed outside the vehicle or room and away from anyone eating!
12. Trying to get a suntan on safari is not cool – bikinis are for beaches, after your safari!
13. Telling other cars where to find the good game is good safari karma.
14. Begging your guide to find one particular type of animal is bad safari karma.
15. Be patient! Guides can’t instruct game where to be; if you want guarantees go to a zoo. Enjoy the landscape, the space, the sounds and smells and don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions if things are a bit quiet.
16. Don’t ever leave any litter, of any sort, anywhere except in a bin.
17. You are not safe! Don’t get too close, don’t wander around, listen to the guide – these animals are wild! (May sound silly, but you’d be amazed at some of the stories!)
18. Enjoy every minute!