Tag Archives: focus

Start: write

So despite all of my self-directed pep talks and statements of intent, the last couple of months have been a bit of a damp squib as far as writing is concerned.

Not necessarily in terms of the bigger picture – things are fizzing with potential there on all sorts of levels – but definitely in terms of the actual getting-new-words-on-the-page part of this whole writing lark, which ultimately is the only thing that keeps it sustainable.

It’s been getting me down, if I’m honest. I’ve been so busy doing stuff, some enjoyable, some less so, but all eating up my time. And the sitting down and writing creatively thing, the thing that was my priority (baby aside) when I decided to not go back to teaching after having Arthur, has just faded into oblivion.

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I think it was partly meeting up with all my lovely writing buddies that reminded me how much I missed it, the writing. And I don’t mean the blog – between here, Connecta Lives and eye-wateringly epic grant application forms I’m doing plenty of that kind of getting-words-on-a-page.

I’ve even managed to tie in my local lido obsessed campaign work with the building skills for blogging thing, having set myself the target to create a self-hosted wordpress blog for the pool which will (hopefully) teach me how to do it for myself.

But it’s all a bit too grounded in the real world. I’ve been missing my imagination. And I think especially in a year as crazy as this one has been that imagination is frankly the only hope we have.

So.

I have decided that I am going to bring my creative writing to the foreground again – to give it priority over all of the other jobs I have to do. I can normally convince myself that they are way more urgent – generally because in a coldhearted cut and dry way they are. The writing is, of course, important – but it gets totally lost when the pressure of time is applied.

It is time, though, to override that urgent-important matrix, or at least to elevate the creative writing bit so high on the importance scale that it doesn’t matter if no-one notices if I get it done.

Because I do, and actually maybe that’s the most important thing of all.

I have a bit of a plan, which involves my creative project being the very first thing I open when I sit down at the computer. Not necessarily at the start of the day – I might try to get back to the blissful state of crack of dawn writing, but given that we’re in the depths of winter I don’t want not managing that to be the excuse for not doing anything.

The other excuse I’ve been giving myself is that I’m not working on a novel. I should probably get into the edit of the third one at some point if I’m honest, but for now I have various short story ideas swimming around my brain.

So the first thing I did yesterday was catch them, and put them in a Scrivener document. Much as I love the thought of scribbling in a notebook the past thirty six hours have taught me that I get many more words down on paper when it’s the virtual kind.

I realise that this is exactly the wrong time for resolutions, what with Christmas and Arthur’s birthday to contend with over the next few weeks, but at least this way I should be going into 2017 with a much clearer idea of where I’m at.

And might just have the chance of getting out of this annus horribilis with at least a scrap of my sanity…

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The perfect fit

So I have finally this week managed to begin the process of getting my head around this whole getting published malarky.

It hasn’t been easy: my to-do list seems to be expanding almost as enthusiastically as my veg patch, and I am still finding the political car crash so horrifically compelling that it is taking almost all my energy to secure the headspace to think about anything else.

But part of my post-Brexit survival plan was to be just a little bit selfish, and with that in mind I sat down in the garden one sunny afternoon with the two books that have sat forlorn and unopened since they arrived in those innocent pre-referendum days and took a look at what they had to offer.

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A lot, is the answer.

I started with the Mslexia guide to Indie Presses (thank you Teika for the recommendation). The world of independent publishers is fairly new to me, so I was keen to see what was out there. I scoured each description, marking any that seemed a good fit for either of my completed novels to come back to later.

Once I was sat at my computer, I started a spreadsheet. I wouldn’t normally be quite so rigidly organised about something like this, but the careful structure of the columns and rows helped to still my chaotic mind, and made me believe that I might just possibly be able to do this.

For each publisher, I noted down their web address, the relevant genres they were interested in, submission guidelines, and whether they were in fact currently accepting unsolicited submissions. That last column narrowed things down a bit, but of the ones that were left I explored their websites a little further, deciding which of my novels I would approach them with before adding that to the table. The final columns, yet to be filled, are for the date I submit, the date I intend to follow up, and what feedback, if any, I receive.

Its funny, but even just going over that process here has calmed and focused me again. If feels like a big thing, to be preparing to submit my work to people who might be able to help me get it out into the world. There is still lots to be done before I actually get to the point of submitting – honing and re-honing those crucial first chapters, reworking my synopses, crafting an elegant and engaging covering letter. The more I think about it, though, and the more I discover about independent publishers and why they are there, the more I believe it is the right route for me.

My writing is not mainstream. It is not easy to fit into a box. I can completely see why the ‘Big Five’ publishers might not think that my novels are worth the punt.

But I do.

And I’m sure, with time and effort and plenty of willpower, I will eventually find a publisher who is the perfect fit.

 

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Writing in transit

Up until recently, I have been very much tied to my desktop when it comes to working on my novel. My trusty Scrivener is not available on the iPad, and besides there is something about this space that focuses me. Both of my first two novels were written here in their entirety, and there is an energy and an association of success that makes it (relatively) easy to get the words on the page.

Except…

Lately it has got harder and harder to find the time to write. Even with getting up early, my progress towards my word count target has slowed, and various excursions to London and further afield have meant my desk has been a very long way away just when I needed it most. So I have finally got round to dusting off my old laptop, dredging the (limited) depths of my technical expertise to get it working again, and setting up the Scrivener and Dropbox combo that means my novel can be with me wherever I am.

It’s taking a bit of getting used to, but it seems to be working. I’ve had a couple of writing stints, one on a train, the other on a plane, where I have found the words pouring out – so much so that arriving at my destination has ended up being quite frustrating!

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It seems there is something about being on the move that is quite conducive to writing. I have always found the ambient noise of trains and planes quite hypnotic, and in this instance it seems to have shaken me out of my comfort zone and help me see things differently. It is as if the physical shift in time and place has helped me get over the initial stumbling blocks that the changing landscape of my story had presented.

Whatever, now that I am back on solid ground I am very much closing in on my end goal. Even the tricksy issues of structure are beginning to find some sort of resolution in my mind, and I have some ideas that I’m really looking forward to exploring when this first draft is done.

Most of all, though, I’m looking forward to the potential freedom in my future writing life – one where the inability to be at my desk does not translate into an inability to write, where I can use my environment to my advantage as I develop different aspects of my stories.

I have always envisaged a life as a writer where I can be free to travel, and work wherever the mood takes me. Suddenly that possibility seems closer than it ever has before.

 

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Keeping focused

For once, this isn’t actually a blog post about the struggle to focus on the novel in the midst of everything else that’s going on in my world. That is still (and will ever be) a challenge, though the early mornings are definitely keeping things ticking over.

My latest issue, though, is keeping my focus where it should be within the novel writing process itself. Since I’ve jumped almost twenty years into the future, picking up with my teenage protagonist as she navigates her way through adult life, I’m finding my mind increasingly drifting towards structure.

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I think it’s partly because, 75,000 words in, I can begin to taste what the novel might be like in its finished form. It is still a long way off that – far more than either of my first two novels I have really let myself be liberated by the first draft, and I know what I’ve ended up with is much rougher around the edges. Still, though, I’m finding it hard not to project a response onto future readers, trying to imagine how satisfied they will be with how I’ve told the story, how much they will empathise with my protagonist both now and in her past.

And actually, ultimately, what is seeping in at the corners of my mind are those questions about how exactly am I going to tell this story.

I’ve written it chronologically, starting when my main character was ten and peeking into every summer until she was sixteen, and everything began to come tumbling down. There’s loads I’ve left out – some I’ve alluded to in dialogue, some that is there in an exchange of letters. And then of course there’s a whole seventeen years that’s missing between the two different phases of life the novel covers. The bulk of the story happens – and is told – in the past, but the ‘present’ is vital to understanding its significance.

I always imagined that I would structure the final narrative in a way which travelled between those two phases, and that is still my goal. I told myself just to get the story down first, and to worry about that particular (albeit major) detail later. And that is ultimately still what I’m trying to do. But it’s so odd writing something when you’re not entirely sure what your reader already knows at that point – or what they don’t. So hard to think about building suspense when you know that you might already – intentionally – have given the game away.

I’m not expecting any answers here. It’s an interesting process, and one which I think I just need to hold my course on if I’m going to be able to find out whether it will work. There are a handful of key scenes that remain to be written, and once I’ve done that the solutions may well emerge all by themselves. Even if they don’t, I’m quite looking forward to the jigsaw puzzle challenge that the next phase of this novel looks likely to present.

I just need to make sure that I have all of the pieces on the table first before I try to see the bigger picture.

 

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Why early mornings are good for my wellbeing as well as my word count

My efforts to be an early bird have ground to a halt since coming back from holiday. It was only a week, but I clearly did such a good job on getting away from it all and relaxing that I have completely forgotten how to motivate myself to get up in the morning – and it’s not just my writing that’s suffering.

Before I went away I had a post milling around in my head about how many unexpected upsides there were to getting up early to write: now seems like a very good time to get it down, and remind myself of all those reasons in the process…

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It makes for a much healthier start to the day

I’m not entirely sure why, but waking up earlier seems to reduce my desire for coffee. I find myself feeling all virtuous and full of good intentions, so my early-morning typing will be accompanied by hot water and lemon and a large glass of berocca – saving the all-important coffee for later. My mum has long extolled the benefits of lemon water first thing, and it certainly seems to have some sort of magical properties! It might just be that I’m taking time to hydrate myself properly before starting on the caffeine, but for whatever reason that just doesn’t seem to happen when I’m getting up an hour or two later with a toddler scampering around my ankles.

It lets me focus on writing before my head gets too full with everything else

I’ve written about the positive effect starting early has on my writing before, and in the six weeks since then my word count has climbed by almost 25,000 to 38,000 words. I’m not going to pretend those words have always been easy to come by, but they are a damn sight easier to put my finger on first thing in the morning than later in the day. The last two days, having wasted away those precious minutes with the snooze button, I’ve tried to sit down and write in the afternoon – but nothing. Not a jot. There is simply so much else going on in my world that even if I turn over my to do list it’s still glaring at me from the corners of my mind. First thing in the morning, it doesn’t get a look in – I’m pretty sure my brain knows that it should count itself lucky enough that I’m even awake, let alone tackling all the other things I should be doing.

It means I can spend the rest of the morning playing without feeling guilty

Playing is a serious business in this house. Having taken the decision to unschool my preschooler rather than sending him to a childminder or nursery to engage in the early years curriculum, I know that I have a responsibility to tune in to his learning needs – which at the moment are all about play. He is getting increasingly good at playing independently, but he of course loves it when I join in – and we try to get out of the house as much as we can too, to meet friends or do group activities or just explore our neighbourhood. If I’m not careful, I can spend half of this time with my mind elsewhere or my eyes on my phone, trying desperately to fit in little snippets of work. But if I’ve already squared away a good stint of writing before he’s even up then I find it way easier to be fully present for this time, saving up the other tasks for when he’s chilling in the afternoon.

It lowers my stress levels for the rest of the day

This completely links to the point above, but I think it’s important not to underestimate how powerful starting your day with a good dose of achieving is for your self-esteem. When I don’t manage to get up to write, I spend the rest of the day chasing my tail, being eaten away by the niggling feeling that I’ve let myself down.

It makes me less tired

Now this one’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I guess makes sense when considering everything else. My justification for the repeated tap of the snooze button as 6am gradually disappears from view is that if I could only get a bit more sleep then the rest of the day would be so much more manageable. But that never actually seems to be the case. If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been. And it doesn’t go away either – without the boost of confidence and everything else that comes from starting early I find myself sleepwalking through the rest of the day, counting down the minutes until I can collapse into bed again. Until the evening of course, when that second wind creeps over me and makes me stay up way too late. Again.

Now I realise that for those of you to whom early morning chirpiness comes naturally much of this will seem painfully obvious. But it does not come naturally to me: I have, for as many of the last thirty-seven years that I can remember, been a fully fledged night owl.

The time has clearly come for a shift, though. And I’ll be taking these words with me to bed tonight to make sure that at 6am tomorrow morning that snooze button doesn’t even get a look in.

 

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You Baby Me Mummy

Bird by bird

This week, I finally got round to writing some fiction. I’ve been in something of an involuntary hiatus recently, talking myself into a bit of a corner where I was not writing, not very happy about it, and seemingly incapable of wrestling back control.

And then something caught my eye, a book I’d bought back in September which from its title alone had given me the nudge I’d needed to get on with the edit of While I’m Alone. I’d been generally trying to resist reading, thinking that might be one of the things stopping me from getting any words of my own down on paper, but seeing as it didn’t seem to be working I thought I might as well dip in and see what else it had to offer.

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I reminded me of a couple of things that I think I’d forgotten. How not every piece of fiction I write needs to (nor should be) part of some bigger purpose – be it working on a novel, or producing something for the blog, or moving closer to publication. How it’s ok (even important) just to let the words flow at first, without worrying that they seem a bit rubbish. How planning (which I have tended to rely on so far) is not the be all and end all, and actually starting to write something without any detailed ideas about where it’s headed has the potential to be even more powerful.

On one level this got me thinking again about the novel that’s been waiting patiently for months for me to get on and write it. One of the things that’s been holding me back is feeling the need to have a concrete idea of plot and structure before I begin to write, rather than just the key scenes and characters that have set up home in my mind so far. But actually I think just getting started might be a better option.

Having said that, with my world still full to bursting at the moment I’m not quite feeling in the right headspace to immerse myself in a whole new novel. So instead I turned to another idea I had scribbled down in the middle of a night some months ago…

I initially thought that too might have had pretensions to be a novel. But actually I realised, for now at least, it would make a much better short story. And so I wrote it as that.

I’m not going to share it here – it’s too long, and quite possibly a bit too dark… But I’ve written it, felt once again the pleasure of words rushing through my fingertips to create characters and emotions and tension, and that’s what’s important.

 

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