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 my story world.
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 his 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. I’m not doing that. 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.
I have two articles out today. The first, ‘Productive Procrastination’, is in the June issue of Writing Magazine. I lay out twelve good excuses to avoid your novel. This didn’t require much research. I shouldn’t blow my own trumpet too much, but I’m an expert in this area. As usual, my mate Gary Dalkin provides market news.
(I’m the ‘Don’t fret about downtime’.)
I own to a natural bias towards WM as the editor gave me my break into journalism. This makes the subscription that meant I had some idea of what he was looking for, quite literally, one of my best investments yet. But it would probably have been that anyway. It provides ideas and fresh perspectives, and if nothing else, injects a dose of encouragement every thirty days.
The second article, published in the June/July issue of Discover Britain, is about ‘model’ villages. These include Saltaire, Bournville, Trouse and Port Sunlight- self-contained communities created by industrialists to improve their workers’ lives. It was a lovely job throughout, straightforward and involving research on one of my favourite subjects- Victorian game changers.
I’m theoretically in control of what happens over the pages of my novel. My say-so is required for Zombie apocalypse, Viking invasion or any other horror. And I’m writing women’s fiction. So it would be pretty irrational to be frightened of it.
But I was, mainly because I had no idea where to begin. As soon as I realised I had some time to begin another edit, I signed myself up to improve my French on Duolingo, rediscovered my Freecell addiction and did some washing.
I then remembered Hillary Rettig’s advice not to get hung up on getting everything right in one go, and to do multiple drafts. With some of the pressure off, I bravely opened the file. Immediately, one of its many faults came to my rescue. I needed to change half of it into the past tense. That would keep me busy for a week or two.
Ah! you might be thinking. She’s doing something clever with points of view and structure. No! I just couldn’t decide as I was drafting it which tense it should all be in. And once I had, kept forgetting. So when I say half of it is still in the present tense, I mean there are some scenes with both. I’ve told you this already. It’s a Nanowrimo novel.
I met a deadline yesterday. Relaxing a little today, I had a very pleasant morning and early afternoon with my next one. I’d already done the research and produced a rough draft. Now it’s a matter of making sure it reads well, makes sense and importantly comes in at the right number of words. Hopefully, I’ll manage to send it in a few days early.
This means that tomorrow, I can afford to focus on other things in my life, like catching up with friends. I’m not talking about long lunches, just messaging people to let them know I’m still alive. And laundry. I wish I knew how to drop housework into a writing day, but I don’t really. You’d think it would be easy to put a load of washing on when I’m working in the next room.
If any of you have any tips on the whole freelancing/housework balance thing, I genuinely want to know.
I have changed my mind about voluntary work in the last few years. The term used to conjure up images of motherly women in charity shops or retired men driving minibuses- good people doing things because that’s what good people do.
Until I updated my CV, I didn’t realise I’d done so much of it myself. I may have joined teams because they needed someone, but I stayed because I was having fun.
I’ve picked up skills without noticing. I would never have understood the point of my own blog if I hadn’t written so many run reports for the parkrun website. Or how social media works if I hadn’t needed it to rabble rouse athletes.
It gave me too much joy to count as ‘voluntary work’. I had to check other people’s blog posts conformed with house style (‘parkrun’ is spelt with a small ‘p’ even at the beginning of a sentence; hundreds of people turn up on a Saturday morning for a ‘run’ and not a ‘race’, and no one wins it, although they might finish first.) For a word junkie, there’s nothing ‘voluntary’ about correcting other people’s mistakes. It’s an involuntary reflex.
And that was before I was allowed to process results. Or free reign of the microphone at the briefings.
You may not have noticed, but I’ve been blogging weekly since New Year. I’m quite proud of myself.
There are many benefits, the most obvious of which is my connection with you lovely lot. However, I have to fight perfectionism and vanity to do it. I want each post to be as interesting, as amusing and grammatically correct as the last. And the pictures I’ve taken with a cracked £40 phone to be as beautiful as those in a travel magazine.
But you know that’s not the case, and the fact you’re still here teaches me a lesson: we’re imperfect, fallen human beings with the capacity to enjoy imperfect things.
So, I’m posting this on a Saturday, instead of the Thursday I was aiming for. I’ve not told you the half of what’s happened this week, I can’t see a joke in the last 150 words and I’m showing you a picture of the garden because frankly, the house is too messy for anyone to see. But something is going up because it’s good for me.
Thank you for still being here.