Happy New Year!
Two of my children went back to school yesterday, relatives left and my husband went back to work. I went straight to Office World to buy some index cards.
I’d call my relationship with routine “passionate”, rather than “happy”. I rail against it when it’s here, but goodness! am I glad to see it after a long absence? School drop-offs that force me to start my day by half past seven. The sense of purpose I get just writing an invoice. The freedom to catch up with my emails, rather than eating another mince pie.
And not having time to look at the first page of my novel, again!
Last month, I showed my first three chapters to my writing group. After two hours of critique, I was as grateful as I was exhausted. They were supportive, encouraging, but rigorous and my first page received most of their rigour.
There’s so much it has to do: introduce a setting and two characters from one person’s POV; keep to the ground rules of grammar, and interest someone long enough to make them read on.
Whining won’t get it written, but I don’t think working on it at the moment will help either. Like cooks and elves after Christmas, it needs a rest.
I don’t understand the choices my computer keeps offering me. The more updates it has, the slower it gets. Surely, they should improve its performance? I still miss being in halls of residence with people who knew about this stuff and importantly, would help me for free.
We started watching Motherland last night on BBC iPlayer. Everything resonated- the spurious temporary traffic lights on the school run; the child throwing up seconds before other children arrive for a party; the phone call about a child’s forgotten swimming things (parent to teacher on phone- “Just a question- did you try my husband?”and eventually,”You and I both know he’s going to end up sitting at the side!”); envying other women with parents round the corner, ever-present husbands and childcare sewn up for all but one Thursday afternoon a month, and so on and so on. (Husband to wife over phone: “remember when you drop one of those balls I’ll be here to pick it up and hand it to you so you can keep juggling!”)
Apologies to the BBC for the paraphrasing, but you have commissioned something brilliant. I wish I’d written it.
Fantasy: (while having perfectly balanced and secure children) to be part of a comedy team that develops fabulous characters and nails a section of life like that.
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.