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Writing

Following my dreams; slowly

10/01/2018

My biggest ambition for 2018 is to write.  More specifically, it’s to finish the novel I’m writing.  And by finish we really mean finish the start, start the middle and finish the end. Then it’s going in a virtual reality drawer for several months before I even start to think about editing it. I know roughly where I’m going with it, even if over the course of December the prologue got itself tangled up in knots, and it’s a story I’m enjoying, a daydream I’m writing down, 500 words at a time. On week days I write for as long as I can in the morning before the children wake up or it’s time to go to work, and then I write in the evening for as long as it takes for the word count to tick over. And then I stop.

It isn’t the traditional picture of someone following their dreams is it?  If you read any newspaper article on keeping your New Year’s resolutions, or pick up the vast majority of personal development books they all seem to subscribe to one model, one construct of a success.  Scrolling through Pinterest the other day I saw a quote that summed it up:

“Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week to avoid a 40 hour work week!”

Conventional wisdom would tell you that if you are really serious, if you have the drive and the passion and the tenacity that will see you reach your goals, climb your mountain and push past every obstacle, then you’ll throw everything you have at it.  You will not stop, you will not rest, you will not let go until the prize is within your grasp.  You will sacrifice everything possible to follow your dreams and to live your best life.  And if you say “but I can’t” then you’re obviously letting the fear of failure block your path, not opening up yourself to the life you could be having.

I know there is truth in there, and I know that for some people the only way to get to where they want to be is to take an enormous crash-or-burn leap, but when you look at it all written down in little black and white letters it strikes me that it’s actually a very linear approach and, dare I say it, an inherently masculine approach; “me see big stag! me take!”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is absolutely a time and a place for selfishness and singular focus, particularly as it pertains to your life’s best work, but I don’t think it’s the only way; just the one that gets the most noise.

If I were writing a book with that level of wholehearted breathtaking whirlwind intensity, I should be writing every moment I get; I should write before dawn, head out to do the day job and write on the train, write at lunchtime and on the way home, and then I should write on into the wee small hours of the morning before it all starts again.  Better yet, I should give up the day job and ‘take a chance’ on myself to be discovered as the next JK Rowling.

Believe me there are times when holing myself up in a hermitage to simply create sounds incredibly tempting, but I’m a 37-year old working mother of three, and that’s just not an option for me.  I can’t throw in the day job, because we have bills to pay.  I can’t spend my every waking moment writing because I want my children to remember me as more than a big pile of paper.  I can’t entirely neglect my husband and expect my marriage to thrive.

And yet my biggest fear is that this tiptoeing towards a goal in tiny increments, somehow means that I’m lazy, or that I don’t want this or any other goal ‘enough’, or that I’m not as driven as I think I am.  My head whispers it to me in the middle of the afternoon when all of my get up and go has got up and gone, an invidious thought, curling softly through my thoughts like smoke from a blown candle.

But my life is not made up of one single thread that runs through me that says “Writer” down the middle like a stick of rock. My life has so many threads I lose count, all tangled tightly together so that to pull on one snarls up the rest.

I am a Writer, and a Writer with goals and dreams and ambition and drive, and I am also a lawyer who wants to advance in her career as far as possible and help to shift a few preconceptions about working mothers along the way.  I am a Wife, a Mother, a Daughter, a Sister, and Aunt and a Niece, a Knitter, a Crocheter, a Quilter, a Reader, a Singer and a follower of Jesus, and every one of those is precious to me.

I know that I will finish this novel.  I know that I will write more short stories, and I have faith in myself that one day I will finish a novel that I think is good enough for proper publication.  But I’m not prepared to miss out on my life in the meantime.

So I think there needs to be another model; one that doesn’t require sacrifices that are too high a price to pay, and one that doesn’t involve boiling back our lives to the bare minimum either. One that says that we can live our best lives now, and be chasing down our goals. One that recognises that I’m following my dreams; slowly.

 

 

Writing

Writer with a capital “W”

12/09/2017

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post.  In one sense I’ve been waiting since April, but really it’s been the best part of 37 years coming, since a tiny little version of me first settled down to play let’s pretend.

I promised myself that this was the year when I was going to claw back some time from all the busy chaos of job/parenting/house selling/everything else, and pick up my pen and write fiction.  Something, anything, it didn’t have to be good, but it did have to be finished.  More than that, it was getting submitted for publication.  Sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen with no plan and no idea what to write about is possibly the best way to make my brain freeze, so I bought a few magazines (procrastination: check) and flipped through them looking for something to help shovel the cobwebs out of my brain.

And so in January I sat down with a short video on the Battle of Britain Memorial, the names Tom and Bernard, and asked my imagination to find their backstory.  I don’t think a single paragraph of the first version survived even into the second edit, but I liked the second better, and as I wrote and re-wrote, both characters started to get under my skin and I’d find little post it notes littering the corner of my desk with clues written on them, “they go to the pub”, to be deciphered at home in the evening.  On the last day for entries it was nearly finished, but not quite.  It was a long day at work, Pip took forever and a day to settle to bed and there was a huge part of me that was tempted to chalk it up to experience, know that I’d at least had a stab at some fiction, and try again later in the year, maybe when I wasn’t so tired.  Except that I’d put a lot of work in, and I have three small children; I’m never not going to be tired.  Two hours to the deadline. Bum, meet seat.

As an editing technique I’m not entirely sure it’s got longevity, but I can tell you that when you’re trying to bring the word count down to under 1700 with the clock ticking away, nothing is precious, and I slashed away great chunks of text, no matter how many pretty words were in it.

At quarter to midnight the text was done, I added the spacing and the cover sheet and we were good to go.

Never has making an account on a website felt like it took so long.

Five to midnight: the website doesn’t accept Apple’s Pages, we need a PDF.

11.58: I grabbed the PDF, uploaded it, paid the entry fee, pressed submit, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as it landed just inside the deadline.

12.01: there was just one problem.  That story, the story I’d worked so hard for, the story I’d pushed myself to finish and pushed myself to let out into the world, that wasn’t the one I uploaded.  What I uploaded was a PDF copy of a page of scribbled thoughts and half finished sentences, blindingly obviously not the right thing. Cold dark fury at myself ran down my spine.  I did the only thing you can do at five minutes past midnight; I emailed Writing Magazine, explained I’d just entered their competition but sent them the wrong document, and asked if there was any way they could swap it.  What did I have to lose?

Two weeks later, when I got an email to say that they had sent the right PDF to the judges I was pleased and relieved in equal measure.  All I had been trying to achieve was to write a story and submit it; success, for now at least, was measured just in taking part.  And so I promptly forgot about it.  I didn’t read it again, certain that I’d find something I wanted to edit a bit more, and life was busy enough.

Until one day in April, I opened my inbox to find a message headed “Writing Magazine Battle of Britain Competition”.  I was so certain as I clicked on it that it was a nice standard, “thank you for your entry, your story is free to go” sort of a message.  It wasn’t.

And now there are no excuses, no possible justification for listening to any inner self doubt, and while I’m sure I’ll have many regrets throughout life, this will never be one of them.

I am a published Writer, with a capital “W”. But of course, this is only the beginning.

Pause for Thought Photography Writing

On writing: Does how matter as much as what?

24/03/2016

Space for the Butterflies - Does how you write matter as much as what you say?

I have a weakness for Persephone books. It’s not that unusual to find a publisher whose style of stories you adore, I grant you, but in this case it’s not just that they publish forgotten gems (which they do, and it’s awesome), it’s the books themselves that I love, the soft grey covers, the beautifully patterned endpapers and matching bookmark, and lovely crisp smooth pages that are such a pleasure to hold and read. They are a tactile pleasure, as well as being great books.

The tactile pleasure of a good book or a beautiful magazine are to the content what our sense of smell is to taste; you can taste most things with a bunged up nose, but it’s never the same as when the aroma has built up all your expectations for the first bite.

It works both ways of course; how often have you rejected a pretty piece of paper for scrawling a random shopping list and gone for the back of the envelope instead? We choose the materials that we associate with the task.

I came across this very powerful case in point recently in an article from a Jewish parenting website; the story of a little girl coming home from school and asking what a swastika looks like. To me, and to the little girl perhaps, it’s a symbol of a very dark time in human history, but I don’t have any emotional connection to it, merely academic. To the mother though, daughter of two holocaust survivors it means so much more, and so she searches through the pencil box for the very nastiest pencil, digs in the bin for her daughter’s thrown away lunch bag, roughly sketches it out, and throws pencil and bag back into the bin. In answering her daughter’s question in that way she told so much more of the story of that symbol.

So what about when we write? I love beautiful stationery; lovely notebooks and colourful pens and I do make myself use the notebooks and not just save them.

Space for the Butterflies - Does how you write matter as much as what

(this one (from Esmie) is one of my favourite and prettiest that H bought for me on the way home from a business trip because he thought I’d like it better and it would last longer than flowers – he knows me well)
My pretty notebooks hold plans and ideas and random thoughts and sometimes even shopping lists and having a pretty planner definitely makes the world a happier place.

But for writing blog posts and anything else of a serious length, I’m bound to technology. I write on my iPad, in a cheery red case, balanced on my knee as the train whistles through the countryside on my way to work, tap tap tapping on a screen whose slight stickiness rather suggests that at some point in the last 24 hours, one of my children has tried to carry it off as treasure. It’s not exactly the romantic view of writing is it, all candlelight and flowing ink?

20160323-DSC_0130

This blog is my children’s baby book, and it’s a truer statement than you might think. I own physical baby books for each of my three children but I have been astonishingly bad at filling them in. I think Kitty’s might still be waiting for her birth story, and Elma’s peters out after the first five weeks, although I did do those very diligently. The truth is that my stories of being their mother are here. All those little milestones from first smiles, first steps, first words, right up to first day of school are in this little corner of the internet. It has allowed me to pepper my words with more pictures and snippets of video than I could ever print, and to share them, and in sharing, make connections and find friends.

One day I will print out the blog for the children, and when I do, it will be with pretty paper and a lovely binding but, in the meantime, have I just stumbled upon the perfect justification for ever more beautiful Apple products?

What impact does how I write and how you read them have on what I’m actually saying? And is it less somehow because they’re just on a computer screen?

My answer is that I hope not. When it comes to what I’m writing I’ve written rough drafts of blog posts everywhere from pretty notebooks to the side of an envelope and an increasingly solid stack of post it notes, without it changing the nature of the content, or at least I don’t think so.  Perhaps because I know the words will always end up here.

The actual tactile pleasure of reading may depend on how you’re reading, but as bloggers we get to choose the font and the colour and the size and the banner, and do everything we can think of to make is pretty and readable. And if the real answer is that yes, of course it changes everything, perhaps being able to share in a way that just wouldn’t be possible if I was trying to post you all letters is compensation enough – what do you think?

This is the second of my posts sparked from a Writing Map that I picked up last summer – this week it asked about the tools of my trade and last week we were talking about when writing is easy and when the words dry up; that post, and the fascinating comments that followed it, is here.

Blogging Family Pause for Thought Writing

On writing: when you love it and when it just won’t work

17/03/2016

Space for the Butterflies - on writing

I was once so pole-axed by grief that I couldn’t write. I opened my mind to find the words, to sort o it in my head what had happened to the ruins of my world and they would not come. Not the words I wanted anyway, the ones that would make sense of what had happened, that would find a silver lining to the suffocating cloud that blanketed over me, that would let me find myself and set me free.  All that was there was  a twisted bitter ghost, skulking in the corners, waiting for the merest whisper of a crack in my defence to pour out a torrent of vitriol; to let all that hurt and anger and sadness come hurtling through, and I wasn’t going to let it.

Angst laden tortured prose will never be my genre.

When I am unhappy, or angry, or just utterly grumpy and fed up, the words scuttle away from me, and chasing them down is like one of those dreams where you are straining with every fibre of your being to run, or even just to move, and yet you stay put.  I hate those dreams, although the last one I had when I started to dream that I’d left me work bag in an office and I was going to need to run to get back to where I’d left it and then try to catch up and still be on time for a meeting and I was starting to get cross with my dream self for having left it in the first place when my subconscious kicked in and dream invented a person who’d already brought it to me. I was wildly impressed with myself for that one.

But I digress.  The truth is that I write in the happy moments, of which I am pleased to say, there are many.

That’s not to say that it’s never hard work, I think I’m chirpiest in the morning so I’m usually tapping away on the train on the way into work and by trialand error that seems to be my best time of day to be that sort of creative, but there are definitely times when it takes a while to get my brain up and running too. But then there are the times when it all clicks, and the work document or the blog post or the whatever it is I’m trying to say just seems to dance straight out of my mind and onto the page.

Years ago H and I ran a marathon, and although most of the training was marked for me by dark, cold, wet, hurt and eventually, missing toenails, there was one run that stood out for me. I’d arrived back from visiting my parents just in time for the club run but on that chilly winter’s night there were only the three of us so we set off together down our usual route.  By that point I was used to it being hard, used to having to work at my technique and manage my breathing and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Except that evening it wasn’t so hard; my feet moved easily, I could chat a little to the people I was running with, and for that one run I got why people could really get into it as a sport.

When I think of a time when I really loved writing perhaps the first thing that comes to mind are those rare but wonderful moments when it’s like that; when an idea arrived fully formed and all you have to do is write it down. But that first thought was quickly followed by a second; I love writing when what I’ve written resonates with someone.  When I write a blog post and someone replies to say “yes, this it what I’ve been trying to make into sense”.  And the first and the second don’t necessarily run together.

All too often good is equated to easy, and yet any parent will tell you that while your children may be the centre of your world, it doesn’t make it any easier to be calm and consistent when it’s got to the witching hour and all you’ve heard for the last hour is one or more child grizzling (not that that ever happens to my super special snowflake babies of course!!).  The same is true for a marriage, less the grizzling (hopefully).

And much as I’d hate to admit it, because who among us wouldn’t like life to be nice and easy and straightforward, I think that if I’m truly honest with myself, the time when I really love writing is when I’ve worked for it, and the hard work has paid off.

Last summer I had a rare afternoon pottering around London with Pip and I picked up a Writing Map, a little interactive map of writing prompts and questions.  I love it, and I’ve been carrying it around ever since, thinking, I’ll start that when I get a minute.  Of course the minute never comes so I thought I’d write some of them here and see where they take me.  I knew when I can’t write before I started, but the times when I truly love writing surprised me, I thought it would be the first until I got started.  And now I’m curious about you; when do you find yourself truly loving writing, and when do the words dry up?