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.
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’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.
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.
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.