Tag Archives: juggling

Peaks and troughs

After a positive start, I’ve been feeling a little less optimistic this week about the beginnings of this new novel. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the writing – I really am once I get into the flow. But between me struggling to get myself going in the mornings and Arthur deciding that maybe 7.30am is a bit late to start the day after all it’s been trickier and trickier to concentrate.

Instead of the 1500-ish words I’ve been aiming for, I’ve been managing about 800. And there’s been one morning again when I just couldn’t face getting up to write at all, partly because that target suddenly seemed just so completely out of my reach.

The business of target setting is a funny one, and one that (for me) is so important to get right. I am fully aware that there is an awful lot more to this novel-writing business than just getting the words out. But if you’re not even getting the words out then the likelihood of ever writing a novel is, well, slim at best. And I find that the words are much likely to be forthcoming if I have a sensible, achievable target to aim for each and every day that I sit down to write. It can’t be too low, because otherwise this first draft would drag on forever: I’ll lose momentum and consistency and probably never get it finished at all. But it can’t be too high either because otherwise (as I’ve proven to myself this week) I’ll get all defeatist about it and begin, little by little, to give up.

I had to have a serious chat with myself this morning to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. And in doing so I decided I should probably cut myself some slack.

There was no way I was going to be able to magic any more time out of the ether – not in the immediate future anyway. And with the way I’m working with this particular novel – feeling my way through it rather than sticking to a rigidly worked out plan – there was little chance that I was going to manage to squeeze many more words out of my mornings. The only solution was to aim to write less – to put back my self-imposed deadline just a little.

This means my daily word count target is just a little less daunting, and hopefully therefore will be able to do it’s job as a motivational tool rather than scaring me off. It worked this morning: in fact so much so that I wrote more than I was aiming for, building up a buffer for days when things don’t go quite as well.

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My new deadline has the added advantage of coinciding with an extended weekend trip we are taking to Florida to celebrate the wedding of one of my bestest friends: I’m hoping that in itself will be enough to motivate myself not to push things back any further.

We shall see…

But however things unfold, I think an important part of keeping going when the going gets tough is knowing when to keep on pushing forward and when to ease off a little, to allow yourself to ride the waves and find solace in the troughs as much as you revel in the peaks.

I think I’ve got the balance right now – and if not, well, I guess I’ll just need to keep tweaking until I do.

 

Writing Bubble

Rejigging my routine

I’ve been really rubbish at taking my own advice this week.

The first draft of my next novel is still oh-so-nearly ready to go, but I have not yet taken the plunge. I have managed to set up a new project in Scrivener – the word count target is there, and the slightly cursory deadline of the end of April. Essentially those are both contrived by how much I know I should be able to write in a day: 1500 words. And if I could do that – if every day I could sit down and just write – then in three months time I would have a novel.

Except to do that I actually need to carve out some time in my day for writing.

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People are always really impressed when I tell them I wrote two novels before my son was eighteen months old. But do you know what? That was easy. Sure I was sleep deprived, but he napped twice a day! And other than keeping this blog ticking over during novel number two I didn’t really have all that much else to do.

It’s different now.

I sat down yesterday afternoon to write. I told myself I had to make a start – it didn’t matter if it was rubbish, I just needed to get some words on the page. But they just wouldn’t come! I had the setting and the characters, I knew vaguely what was supposed to be going on in the scene – but there was just so much going on in my head that I just couldn’t focus. More than that, I just couldn’t hear what it was my characters wanted to say.

My mind kept shifting to my to do list, fretting about the press release I have to write for the Town Council, the GCSE specification I need to appraise for Ofqual, the increasing numbers of unread emails in my inbox. And in the midst of all that, my characters stayed silent.

If there is going to be a novel number three, I need to accept that things are going to have to be different this time round.

I’m really lucky that Arthur still has one nap a day – though the fact he’s finally shifted from the sling to the sofa makes it more tempting to use the time for things less static than writing! And even when I am at the computer there are so many other things I need to be getting on with. My life has taken on a new and interesting shape over the past year or so. Vague ideas I had when I first went on maternity leave – like getting more involved in my community and taking on some education consultancy work – have come to fruition. Alongside that my increasing interest in Unschooling, and general reluctance to rush Arthur into formal education, means that he’s still with me most of the time.

So I’m going to need to find some more time, somewhere.

I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to write in the evenings. I might yet be able to do that, but if my brain is starting to sag by mid-afternoon I’m not sure how much creativity it’s going to be able to muster after dark. Besides I do need to fit in spending time with my husband at some point…

So I think, despite this testing my own perception of my abilities to the limit, I’m going to have to do my writing in the mornings.

I am saying this here mainly so you lot can hold me accountable. Ordinarily, I am pretty useless in the mornings. But I figure with Leigh getting up for work at 6am and Arthur tending to sleep till 7.30 there is chunk of time crying out to be used more effectively.

It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m beginning to think it might not be impossible. And to be honest, it’s either that or something else is going to have to give. And I haven’t worked out quite what that might be yet…

So pre-dawn writing sessions here we come. Wish me luck!

 

Writing Bubble

Broken beginnings

broken beginnings

I have been trying to get started on my third novel for what feels like forever.

The idea began to germinate almost two years ago, inspired by a dedication on a local bench. Since then I’ve written various scenes and character studies, carried out a fair amount of research, and even began to think about how the novel might be structured.

But it seems that every time I’ve been close to actually starting to WRITE something else has got in the way. Novel number two, mainly: I hadn’t anticipated quite how many redrafts that would need, and I’m pretty sure I’m still not done on that front. I don’t begrudge that, though. I’m not writing these novels for them to sit on my hard drive after all – and I know it is getting better and better with each wave of work I do.

I’d thought I might be able to get stuck in to this new idea in the gaps between rewrites. I don’t think I could manage to juggle both concurrently, but I could probably have managed to get a fair amount of writing under my belt whilst waiting for feedback and allowing it to sink in. Naturally, though, life had other ideas.

Like successfully standing for election to my local council. Something which has satisfied a lifelong urge to become more actively engaged in my community, but hasn’t left much time in the day (or in my head) to birth a new novel.

I’ve found it impossible not to worry about what this all means in relation to my ambition to be a successful novelist. Surely I need to be able to knuckle down and focus, to actually write rather than just think about it, to move between projects in different stages of development? But then, as a new window of writing opportunity opens up in front of me, I wonder whether this novel might actually benefit from being so long in gestation.

My first novel was swimming around in my mind for several years before I was finally able to thrash out a first draft, and by that point I knew the characters so well that everything fell into place pretty seamlessly. There were a few niggles, of course, that needed ironing out – but so much of the novel had essentially written itself in my head that often it was just a matter of sitting down at the computer and the words would flow through the keyboard and onto the screen.

There is, after all, so much about writing that happens when you’re not actually writing. I’ve found myself in idle moments mulling over certain turns of phrase, deciding which is most apt for the voices of my two main characters. And there’s the plot too – the story I’ve been telling and retelling myself as I’ve been yearning for the time to write it down. Each time it has got a little more detailed, a little more interesting. And hopefully that will be borne out in the draft to come.

Despite all this, I do need to get writing soon. My plan this week is to use the index cards I bought months ago to note down all my different ideas for scenes, characters and settings and begin to map out how the story unfolds. I know its structure isn’t straightforward, and whilst I haven’t decided yet exactly what order I’m going to write it in it would be nice to have some sense of how it will all hang together in the end.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Wanted: a cave, no wifi

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You out can tell that winter’s setting in because it’s all about hibernating in our house: hiding away from the world, feeling the comfort of a small space to cosy up in. We made a sofa fort one particularly rainy day last week, but Arthur’s just as happy with simpler residences: cardboard boxes, suitcases, laundry bags… Especially laundry bags.

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I can totally see where he’s coming from. And it’s not just the chill in the air, or the increasing amounts of rain, or the fact it seems to get dark soon after lunchtime. As I watch Arthur taking such pleasure in climbing or crawling into tiny spaces, I find myself longing for a cave. Preferably one far away from anywhere with no phone line, and most definitely no wifi. Somewhere I could block out the world, work on my novel uninterrupted, and get this redraft finished.

I’m still managing to snatch an hour a day – sometimes two. And it’s going pretty well. Very well, even. So much so that it’s an an almighty wrench to tear myself away when my time is up. I find myself clinging to the keyboard as Arthur tugs on my jumper after his nap, desperate to finish my train of though, or at least one more sentence, one more word…

It’s not really Arthur though, if I’m honest. He is so much fun at the moment, and it’s hard to begrudge time spent with him. But all the other demands on my time seem to be piling up, just as I want to hunker down and write!

Council meetings, securing the future of our local lido, researching education provision for the Neighbourhood Plan, deciphering the impact of the mayoral budget, Governor meetings, presenting certificates at prize giving, helping to raise funds for refugees. Then there’s all the normal household stuff. And December, with Christmas and Arthur’s birthday, rearing up over the horizon.

All that has to be dealt with too, but as I try to focus on it I have the niggling voices of my characters in my head, imploring me to decide their fate, to put them out of their misery, to free them from the conflicting prose that I am in the midst of untangling.

I’m not complaining, not really.

I know that I’m privileged to have so much going on – so much that is stretching me and challenging me and (hopefully) making a difference in my community.

But still sometimes, selfishly, I just want to shut it all out. To lose myself completely in the world of my novel. To write.

And it is then that I hanker after that cave – with no wifi.

 

Muddled Manuscript

 

Dear daddy

It’s so good to have you to myself again. I know you’ve been busy, making people’s ouchies better in the hospital. I know you’ve been working hard.

But I’ve missed you.

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Life is so much more fun when you’re around.

I love going on adventures with you and mummy – I asked her where you were, every time, when we set out on our own. We had lots of good times together just the two of us, but it’s even better when you can come too.

Your shoulders are broader, and your hair doesn’t tickle so much.

I always got so excited when I saw your car pull into the drive: clamouring against the window, nose pressed to the glass as it misted up with my giggles. You would come right up and put your nose against mine and draw love in the cloud of our breath. When you disappeared again I would worry for a moment, but then I would hear your key in the lock and run as fast as I could for cuddles in the kitchen.

Thank you for always having time for me, even when you had been up since before dawn and had been ground down by mean consultants and endless traffic. Thank you for not even waiting to take off your coat before kneeling down to play train tracks, for finding the patience to do washing things before bed even when you would rather be having a glass of wine and collapsing on the sofa. Thank you for making me laugh and reading me stories until we both fell asleep in the chair.

I love it when you read with me.

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Thank you for the tickles and the Gruffalo cuddles and the prickle kisses.

Thank you for making mummy smile.

I know that sometimes I am hard work with my throwing and my hitting and my frustration at the world. But every time you listen to me it helps me begin to work it out, and every time you hold me it helps me remember how much I am loved.

I love you too, daddy.

Thank you for being.

Top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow

The last few weeks have been pretty bonkers. So much so that this week, now that everything has started to calm down just a little bit, I’ve found myself struggling to focus and teetering on the edge of panic at the slightest thing.

It’s a tendency I recognise from periods in my life when I have been overcome by anxiety. Not the anxiety that is borne of a genuinely nerve-wracking situation, but rather the insidious and potentially overwhelming feeling that the world is about to spiral out of control.

It’s frustrating to say the least – there was so much I wanted to get done this week, and sitting here now at the tail end of it there is so much I haven’t achieved. But most of what I wanted to do required focus, a clear head – and those are the things that have been most elusive.

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The difference though this time round is that I’ve recognised my symptoms for what they are – my sometimes fragile mental health crying out for a little attention after a relentless period where I was embroiled in the unknown territory of election campaigning (it worked by the way!), and my core support network of husband and mum have themselves been tied up in finals revision and preparing for my brother’s wedding respectively. But my anxiety hasn’t got the better of me, and I have made every effort to make sensible choices to enable myself to keep going.

Being accompanied by a toddler pretty much every minute of every day has definitely added a different dimension to that process. And not necessarily in a bad way.

It seems pretty apt, with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, that I share a little of what’s been on my mind. So without further ado, these are my top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow.

1) Catch up on sleep

I reckon this is possibly the most vital, though also the trickiest, part of the plan. I have tried to get to bed a bit earlier this week, though I’ve never really been very good at the discipline that involves (especially as we’re deep in the midst of season five of The Walking Dead).

For me snatching sleep has mostly happened during the day – taking my iPad up to bed so in the morning the toddler can snuggle up with a movie whilst I get a few extra zzzs, and for the first time in ages trying to nap when he naps.

I realise I’m lucky he still does, else I’m not entirely sure how I would have coped…

2) Eat healthily

I’m ordinarily pretty good at keeping a healthy diet going for all of us, but it had certainly started to slip over the last couple of weeks. I couldn’t face the battles that potentially ensued if I moved too far from toast and pasta, and didn’t have the energy to prepare something different for myself so ended up having my diet dictated by a two year old.

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It’s silly, because I know how much good food makes the difference. This week I’ve been upping the fruit and veg, cutting down on carbs, (mostly) remembering to take my supplements – and feeling all the better for it.

3) Get some exercise

There’s been an awful lot of walking involved in the election campaign, but that was accompanied by a sense of drudgery in the later stages. This week I’ve, albeit tentatively, started reintegrating yoga and hula-hooping into my routine. With that and the Friday trampolining sessions that I’ve just about managed to keep ticking over I’ve started to feel the spring returning to my step.

4) Get outside

I have a real tendency when I’m feeling overwhelmed to go into hibernation mode – even opening the doors to the garden can feel like too much at times. But having a little person around who would ideally spent every waking moment outside definitely comes in handy.

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We’ve had lunch outside a couple of times this week, and spent time just lounging around and looking up at the sky. The sunshine has helped – but actually the fresh air simply works wonders whatever the weather.

5) Tidy up!

Now this is something I’m rubbish at, and I still have a long way to go, but it is amazing how getting rid of the mess and the clutter makes the world seem so much more manageable!

I had a bit of a manic afternoon on Wednesday getting the kitchen ship shape as yesterday morning we were visited by a reporter from our local BBC News to interview me in relation to the local elections. It felt a little bit like torture at the time, but the kitchen is now definitely my happy place, a little oasis of calm amongst the widespread detritus which has come from just not having a second to get things under control (at least not without the toddler wreaking his own brand of havoc).

6) Tick some things off your to-do list

Now I have to admit first of all that the ever-increasing list of things I have to do is still residing mainly in my head. I know this isn’t helpful. My poor diary, that gave me such satisfaction when I first filled it in back in January, hasn’t had a look in for weeks.

I’ll work on that…

But in the meantime I have been having stern words with myself about just getting things done rather than ruminating over how much I need to do them. Writing blog posts, for example. Or emails. Or paying bills. All sorts of little bits and pieces that have literally felt like a weight off my mind once I’ve actually achieved them.

(It still took me until this evening to get round to writing this post. I never said I was perfect.)

7) Be kind to yourself

This is another biggie, and is one that is challenging to put into practise when your head is full of noise. But in order not to be consumed by it, it is vital to work on your internal dialogue.

I say dialogue, because at times like this there are two voices in my head rather than just the one. There’s one that seems determined to pull me down – with comparisons, with regrets, with paranoia. And there’s another, the one that needs to fight to get heard, that is trying its utmost to focus on the positive – to remember that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed, it’s ok to slow down, it’s ok not to achieve everything I wanted to, because actually, on balance, I’m doing a pretty awesome job of this whole life business.

8) Make the most of all the cuddles

This is where the toddler truly comes into his own, where having an extra little shadow really does become a blessing rather than just another cause of messiness and having too much to juggle.

I don’t know about yours, but my little person absolutely loves to snuggle up. Not all the time, but certainly more than I normally slow down to give him credit for. And this week I have been making the most of all of that physical contact filled with warmth and love – whether it’s lingering in bed a little longer in the mornings, cosying down together to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the umpteenth time, or seeing off an approaching tantrum by whipping him up into the sling.

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There have been many times when I have been the centre of calm for my child, but it is a wonderful realisation that he can return that favour too.

 

My word of the week this week is anxiety.

The Reading Residence

Also linking up with this week’s prompt of calm. I’m getting there!

mumturnedmom
Mums' Days

Juggling

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This past week has been a week of two halves for me as far as writing is concerned.

Before the weekend, I was really finding myself struggling with the inevitable juggling that comes with being a stay-at-home mum to a toddler as well as an aspiring novelist. The edit itself was going brilliantly – I seem to have way more clarity this time round, noticing things that passed me by as I worked on the second draft and having no qualms about cutting things that I can now see are unnecessary. I’m also really enjoying elaborating where it’s needed, and I definitely feel as though the characters are springing into life much more convincingly as a result. In fact I’m enjoying it so much that actually I wanted nothing else but to hole up with my manuscript and my computer and just get on with it – let myself get lost in the words and the world I have created with them, just work and work until it’s done. And this is precisely where the problem lies.

Because I can only really work in chunks of a couple of hours at a time. If I’m lucky I’ll get two of those in a day, whilst Arthur’s napping in the sling and I can focus all my energies on the novel. More often it’s just one though – and sometimes not even that.

I know that I am incredibly lucky to be spending so much time with my little man. And I want to make sure that I make the most of it – that I’m truly present when we’re hanging out together. I worry sometimes that he’s missing out on the range of activities he’d get from being at nursery or with a childminder, so as well as the music and drama and gymnastics classes we go to I’m trying to find time to do arts and crafts together, to get outside as much as we can. And I think I’m getting there – but always swirling around with all of this is the desire to be writing, to be working on the edit. And the worry that maybe it just isn’t possible to juggle it all, that I’m going to have to admit defeat on one front or another. And that I really don’t want to do.

But then, just as my brain was about to explode, one of my oldest, bestest friends arrived for a visit with her family. Entertaining Arthur took care of itself – her older daughter is only a month younger than him, and it was lovely to watch them spend some quality time getting to know each other. She has a five-month-old too, who Arthur was completely rapt with, revealing a gentle, nurturing side to him that I haven’t really seen before. And us adults got to have lots of much-needed grown-up chats, about how hard it all was but how much we were loving it. And I remembered that it’s ok for the juggle to feel like a struggle sometimes and that I really should cut myself a bit of slack in my quest to be the perfect mum.

So whilst it’s now halfway through the week and the edit has remained untouched since Friday, I’m feeling pretty good about it all. My enthusiasm actually meant that I’d got through more than I’d thought I would before the enforced and much-appreciated break, and I reckon that if I can find a bit of extra time over the weekend I can make up for the time I’ve missed.

The chapter that’s currently staring at me from my desk, waiting for my scribbles before I rehash it in the electronic draft, is one of the most crucial overall. So I’m glad my head is a little less full as I turn my thoughts towards it.

And on that note, I had better stop my ruminations here and make the most of the rest of this nap. This edit won’t write itself after all.

 

Muddled Manuscript