Three hours of undiluted housework. It doesn’t matter how many hugs I give my children, how many times they’ve been in bed within half an hour of their bedtimes, that they start the day with clean school clothes, or that I’ve attended two parents’ evenings in a week, and come up with tech solutions for my son, if the house is in chaos (untidy is a given), I get crosser and crosser with myself, sure under those piles of papers there are permission slips I’ve not returned or incomplete homework sheets.
Work-life balance isn’t the issue. As a mum-freelancer hybrid, life is work and vice versa. I need to find the writing-housework sweet spot where I’m producing as many words and doing as little tidying-up as I can without any Nixon-like guilt.
Today, I have a sofa full of clean washing (albeit none of it in its right place) and clear surfaces in my kitchen. I’m just about to pick my children up from school feeling like Mother Theresa.
Well, hello again! Remember me? Yes, I know it’s been a while.
I knew summer was coming, as it did last year and the years before that, so why didn’t I prepare meal rotas, online deliveries and continuous activities in advance? Why, when I had the time, did I prioritise reading reports, and getting to end-of-term concerts and plays?
But in Norfolk last week, while the skies were often blue, the air was cool. Overnight, the edges of the tree in front of our window turned ocre. Autumn’s coming with its promise that this year I’ll perfect the after-school routine. The children will develop self-discipline and consistent consideration for each other. And I’ll make that courgette cake I’ve been thinking about for the last eleven years. Perhaps by next summer, my home will be so ordered and beautiful, other people will ask to come and write there.
And the laws of procrastination mean it’s been so easy to work on my novel. It has been a joyful escape rather than a discipline, partly because my fictional world is much better organised than my real one. My characters’ lives might be a mess, but they manage to keep their couches free of washing.
I don’t have any deadlines at the moment. I am grateful (in a slightly anxious way), as life has become about deciding which of the children would forgive me most easily for missing a concert/ end of term celebration/ play/ rock climbing session.
About Zadie Smith and Maggie O’Farrell. The reader in me luxuriates in cleverly written books like This Must Be the Place and Swing Time (I’m only halfway through that one, but I assume the rest is as good!) The writer despairs. How do they do it?
And about editing my novel. I won’t meet my CampNanowrimo goal, but I have chipped away at it most days. So that’s something. I hope to produce a thing of beauty in the end. At the moment, it’s a big mess.
…Like our home. The one thing my life is not about at the moment is housework, though it almost certainly should be. I’m not honest enough to post pictures. There isn’t a corner I don’t mind you seeing, and my phone is refusing to transfer photos. So this is a (boring but appropriate) re-post.
I should stop mulling over post ideas and just communicate. I really should.
We went to London this weekend for my birthday. It was possibly my best yet (at least a tie with last year’s where there were gluten-free pies.) We had the use of my husband’s boss’s very nice flat. So, on Sunday there were poached eggs and salmon on a rooftop looking out on the Shard and Walkie-Talkie buildings. Then we travelled around central London trying to find art. This was easier said than done, even once we were inside the Tate Modern. Eventually, we realised the speakers on the wall were an installation. We then legged it round the National Art Gallery, going for quantity rather than quality of experience- how many old masters could we appreciate before the children’s patience with culture finally wore out.
Anyway, I’m back, three days behind target on Camp Nanowrimo, but still hopeful the discipline of editing for an hour a day will push my new WIP forward.
I did hope I’d return to my laptop inspired with plenty of article ideas. However, it appears I am useless at creative multi-tasking. I can either concentrate on my novel or pitching features. Sometimes, there’s an overlap and wrestling with the novel suggests an article for Writing Magazine.
I’m in novel mode again, a pleasurable, guilt-ridden state. I’m not quite sure who flicked the switch from hard-working freelancer to dreamer. Slowly, very slowly, I’m understanding how I work best…
…and why as a responsible parent, I don’t write fiction all the time. To do it, I need to fully immerse myself in the world of my story.
At the moment, for instance, I have an image in my head- one of my main characters is stroking a kitten. She was a gift, but from whom, and why? And why was the character’s reaction so negative at the time? It’s all I can think about as I go to sleep or load the washing machine.
Making sure it still feels like fun
I hardly noticed the work I put into my first novel. I was a mum at home; there were many other things I should have been doing with that hour in the afternoon. Because of this, writing rarely felt like a treat in comparison to my other options.
I’m trying to think of this manuscript as socialising with interesting (albeit imaginary) people when I could be earning money or doing something about my laundry pile. Allowing the housework to build up really helps foster that sense of indulgence.
It is common sense to sure up your structure before you try perfecting your sentences. After all, you may be chopping that carefully worked prose later. However, looking at the story as a whole overwhelmed me. So, as working anyway round is more productive than pontificating about process, I’m editing at the micro level before the macro. And I believe I’ve found my stride.
It’s half term. In my humble opinion, I’m not doing too bad a job as a mother. The children have been outside in the garden more than they’ve watched telly. But I did turn a blind eye to an unauthorised water fight yesterday, which I lived to regret seeing mud on my newly cleaned floor, an extra storey of washing on the pile and hearing the misery of younger siblings. As I yelled at the instigator, even he admitted it had all gone a little too far.
If you’re local, Gary Dalkin, Steve Cox, John Pegg and I have been asked to run free creative writing sessions at Gateway Church’s ‘School of Life’ ( 128 Alder Road, Poole, Dorset). They’ll be at 7.30 pm on 21st and 28th June, then 12th and 19th July. We’re hoping they’ll provide aspiring writers with a mixture of inspiration and guidance. Unfortunately, there will only be eight spaces. Booking beforehand is essential, but I hope to post a sign-up link here later in the week.
And if that isn’t enough self-promotion, my latest article, ‘The Jane Game’ is out today in Writing Magazine- 10 reasons why Jane Austen might get overlooked by an agent or publisher today.
Other writers are often shocked by my family’s low-brow tastes. We have DVDs, not books in our sitting room, and those are more often rom-coms than foreign language films.
But we do like our Radio 4 comedy, particularly John Finnemore. My eldest son could win the specialist section of mastermind with his knowledge of Cabin Pressure.
The crew of the fictitious MGM airlines play Yellow Car. The rules are very simple: say ‘yellow car’ when you see one before anyone else. And if you listen to the programme, you’ll know you’re always playing, even in the middle of a crisis.
We play the game on the school run. I was going to say it’s a lot of fun, but today I realised how seriously everyone is taking it. People argue. Worse still they cheat- calling yellow car before they go round corners, and counting yellow number plates.
Yellow car! You’ll have to take my word for it.