The sweet spot

The sweet spot

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.

 

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The new organised (and slightly more courageous) me

The new organised (and slightly more courageous) me

This is not saying much, but I have never been as organised as I am now. Not since A level revision anyway.

The obvious reason is the children are now all at school. I have time, not just to go through files and washing but to think what I need to do and how best to do it. I’ve also space for trial and error.

I thought I was keeping records for the tax man. I do have a spreadsheet detailing articles, when and to whom they were pitched, when they were accepted, the fee agreed, when they were published and if I’ve sent an invoice. But not when they were banked- one of the few things HMRC actually want to know. I can look at my statements, but it’s another case of learning as I go along. I dreaded my first tax return as my own boss, but I now have a workable system. I’ve gone retro and have a paper cash book and a pencil case for work receipts inside my handbag.

Perhaps reasonably, given my medical background, I’ve been terrified of making mistakes or courting criticism before. Now, I find that’s how you learn. And as you learn, you gain confidence to try new things and make other errors.

It’s raining heavily outside. I was thinking about going for a run, but…

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Is it OK that all is so calm?

Is it OK that all is so calm?

I have no idea whether my life is going well or not at the moment. Six weeks ago, I had little time to eat. But now my next official deadline is May. Though anyone who looked at the pile of washing on my sofa, would assume I’m still desperately busy:

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Or the washing piled up in the sink:

20161206_143747Am I wasting time when I should be pitching more article ideas? Or am I doing the sensible thing- not panicking – getting the house under control after everyone was sick, catching up with abandoned friends before they shop for new ones and drafting a novel while my brain’s not cluttered with “proper work.”

I am writing my novel. Working on a story no one except your sister cares you write, is not proper work. National Novel Writing Month has been immensely helpful however, declaring November the month to write for the sake of being creative, because it’s a good thing to do. Now I have a work-in-progress.

And my attic is down six or seven bags of children’s clothes. My Christmas cake is made. Yes, quiet has been good. (Note to editors: busy is nice too!)

Look my cake (I did have help- thanks Beth!)

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Season of sharpened pencils and mellow productivity

Season of sharpened pencils and mellow productivity

Decades after leaving school, September is still my favourite time of year. It means crisp air, clean skies, oversized uniform and the intention my homework will always be beautifully presented and handed in on time.

As Tom Hanks says in You’ve Got Mail: “Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.” It’s Autumn in Bournemouth and I want to learn something new.

Last week, I told an editor to say no if I ever offered her any of my own photos. It might be my phone. I suspect it’s me. My pictures seem little better than they were when I was first given a camera at ten. And so I avoid taking them, and the ones I do are impressionistic.

old photographer at work

But yesterday, I downloaded a book on Kindle- Photography for Writers. In an hour, it demystified frightening terms like shutter speed and pixel, and inspired my September challenge – to take a photo a day for a month and see if I improve.

 

 

Learning on the job: Follow-up

Learning on the job: Follow-up

Agents and publishers are deluged with submissions from people like me who think they can write a novel. Out of hundreds, even thousands a year, they usually choose one or two to represent. The odds of being selected are minimal. Sometimes they send rejections. Often they don’t. As weeks turn into months, you guess they’ve passed, probably in a couple of seconds.

The first time I chased a batch of article pitches, I assumed it would be the same. I felt like a nuisance- nagging editors on the off chance they could be worn down to “Oh go on then! If you have to!” Within an hour or two however, I’d had a couple of even apologetic responses seeking more information. A few days later, I had a new feature to write.

I’m slowly learning, it’s always worth following up pitches. Some people answer with silence, but many respond. There’s no way of telling which idea will take an editor’s fancy. And even rejections usually come with explanations- practical ones I’m happy to believe.

Who’d have thought the ultimate antidote to submitting a novel, was pitching magazine features?

 

Frog-eating

Frog-eating

I often vacillate between thinking  I should find difficult things to do for discipline’s sake and flirting with the idea it’s possible to find a life entirely devoid of the unpleasant.

But now thanks to the American productivity blogs (to which I might be a little addicted), I’ve learnt the useful term “eating frogs” to describe what I’ve been doing today.

Everybody has unpleasant things to do. JK Rowling has staff, a castle and Ian Rankin as a neighbour, but she still has to read her Twitter trolls and work out whether she’ll respond. Or listen to heart-rending stories and decide where she’ll give her money.

There is some controversy as to whether you eat frogs first, or leave them until you’ve momentum in your day. I tend to leave mine until they’re passing their expiry date. They’re usually about to go off by Thursday.

They tend to be housework and admin (and at the moment running-related). My toads, as I think of the stuff I really hate, are making phone calls, and after that emails I don’t know what to do with.

The interesting thing about frogs and toads is they look really unpleasant on the plate, I might worry about choking on something that size and texture, but they have a surprisingly nice after-taste. Today I found the last few days’ dirty cups, separated washing from lego and went for a run along the prom. Of course, I feel great and legitimately allowed now to write with my next chunk of available time.

I can’t remember what age I was when I decided I wanted to be a writer, but it had nothing to do in my mind with handwriting. Forming letters used to hurt my hand. I still associate the smell of ink with my italic pen scraping and digging into the page in junior school. But the writing I used to avoid is now a pleasure- the gratification to delay while I count frogs and work out which one I should stomach first.

 

(featured image by LiquidGhoul at English Wikipedia)