You may recall that earlier on this month I blogged about NaNoWriMo.
I didn’t have one project to concentrate on during the month – I had a competition entry I wanted to write, a 3,500-word serial I needed to write to fulfil a commission I had been given and two novellas to finish off. I am nothing if not ambitious!
Predictably, I fell short. The competition entry got ticked off the list and submitted and the serial was created, written and polished by the deadline (yay!). The novellas did not even make it on to the screen.
There were two reasons for this, one I always reach for the stars and two life just got in the way. I normally work a four-day week in my day job. In the midst of this month an emergency at work meant I had to work six days on the bounce. Ouch!
As writers, life will always intervene, and it should because the trials and tribulations of life provide so much material for writers to work with. We have to find a way to push through and carry on and so I would like to pay tribute and say congratulations to all those who stayed the path of NaNoWriMo and made it to the end of November with the skeleton of a novel ready to shape and hone.
More especially, however, I want to say well done to all those who gave it a go but who fell short. Committing and trying is every bit as important as finishing and succeeding. Writing is a marathon and not a sprint.
As some of you will be aware we recently had an election in the UK. We didn’t need it but due to political expediency on behalf of Theresa May and the Conservative Party we got it anyway. Oh how I bet they wish they had given that a bit more thought. Prideful and arrogant they assumed not only that they would win but that they would win BIG. Pride comes before a fall and that was certainly the case here.
I am not normally given to commenting on political matters and don’t worry it will not be a regular feature but one thing struck me about the almost Shakespearean drama unfolding before our eyes: the inevitability that Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy would be expected to take the fall for their boss’s misfortunes.
For those of you who do not know, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy were two of Theresa May’s closest advisers. They have jumped before they could be pushed in order to hold on to a little bit of self esteem but their demise was writ large as soon as the night’s results were in. It was only ever a question of when.
There is very little loyalty in life but in politics there appears to be none at all. Riding high one day and thrown under the campaign bus the next. It is a ruthless arena to work in. Snake pits would be easier to negotiate although comparing politicians to snakes is probably unfair to snakes. I am tempted to say Hill and Timothy are best off out of it but I doubt they see it that way.
It seems to me that loyalty ‘a strong feeling of support and allegiance’ is an undervalued concept in today’s society. We would all expect and hope that in the face of adversity loyalty would be shown to us but do we show it to others when the crunch comes? Loyalty, particularly at our own expense, seems to be a disappearing trait.
The trend towards identifying once an individual is in trouble and then moving in for the kill – sharks circling in bloody water seems to be gaining in prevalence. ‘I never liked them anyway’ says someone before putting the metaphorical boot in. Ganging up to put down someone who is suddenly perceived as weaker is unedifying for all who take part. Perhaps we fear being associated with someone who is done down in case it rubs off on us or maybe we strive to be associated with the many in that instance because we hope when it is our turn the gang will not turn on us. They will.
When next you have the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone whom others are deserting put yourself in their shoes and extend the hand of friendship, instead of the one wielding the knife. Next time it could be you.
I finished my novel last weekend. High fives and glasses of wine all round. It’s gone off to my editor. Before I know it, it will be back with a myriad amendments to be made but for now, I have planted the words ‘The End’ like a flag on a mountain top.
Whenever I reach the end of a novel I always feel a huge sense of relief. Relief that I went to the well and there were words there to find. Relief that I had an idea and a half decent novel emerged from it. Relief that those characters that I thought about and worked so hard to create have taken on lives beyond those I imagined for them. I gave them wings and away they flew. Relief that I can still do it. I can still pull it off. I can still spin a plot and weave the magic. The muse hasn’t abandoned me. Yet.
Am I alone in my feelings of relief? I often wonder about that. Do other writers experience joy, happiness and pride when they reach the end of their novels? I am always so drained by the end of the writing journey that those feelings occur further down the road to publication. At the instant I finish and for the immediate days after, relief is all I feel.
It is not relief that the writing is over, you understand because I am always writing. There are always a dozen ideas waiting to be developed and explored. It is relief that I can still do my job. I am still a writer.
The relief comes hot on the tail of the fear that stalks me: that one day the words will not come, that the plot will not gel, nor the characters take flight. One day I will have an idea and not do it justice. One day I will not be able to capture lightning in a bottle. One day I will fail.
As some of you will know who follow my blog I am in the midst of rewriting a novel I wrote some years ago. It needed bringing up to date – smartphones have rather taken over our lives and I needed to address some inherent problems with the plot. I blogged about it here in Easy Option – https://goo.gl/qPP5SO
Now I am deep in the heart of the rewrites and my confidence is sometimes high but mostly low as I grapple with the mess that was once a cohesive novel albeit a troubled one. I am sure you are all familiar with the saying ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. Well my desk is covered in broken eggs right now and it is hard to keep the faith.
One part of the story was giving me more trouble than any other and I spent a couple of days beating myself up at the keyboard wondering why I just couldn’t make it work. Sometimes you can just be too close to a piece of work and all it takes is a little distance to see where you were going wrong.
Exhausted by the process of getting nowhere, my brain aching from turning the same problems over in my mind and not reaching any satisfactory conclusions, I decided to take a complete break from writing for a couple of days.
It was a brave thing to do (some might say foolhardy) given I had a self imposed tight deadline but that in itself was adding to my stress levels. When you can no longer see the wood for the trees your writer’s spidey senses are hardly going to be at their best. So I decided to pull the plug for a while.
I stopped being Ellie Holmes the writer and just enjoyed being me. It took a few hours for the white noise of a busy writer’s brain to calm itself. A dose of reality TV and comfort food helped. And once peace reigned, I lived for a few days like normal people live. You should try it some time. I highly recommend it.
As you can tell from this blog, it didn’t last long. A brief holiday from my writer’s self was all I needed to recharge the batteries and rev up the creative engine. But as with a traditional mini break I came back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready for the challenge.
So here’s the thing, my next full length novel White Lies is due for publication next summer. It is a story that I wrote some years ago. It needs a general update, a good edit and a polish which is what I expected.
I was aware that there were also some areas of weakness with it which would need to be addressed and I formulated a plan to tackle those.
Plan in place I began the rewrite. So far so good.
Then on my way to my day job I had a thought. You know how it goes, you are turning the plot over in your mind, aware of the areas that need more attention and then you suddenly think ‘Hold on! What if…’
The brainwave addressed the weaknesses and concerns I had with the original version but the simple fixer-uper approach would have done that too with a lot less time and hassle. The new idea would take a lot more work but the book would be so much better for it.
I’ll admit part of me gave serious consideration to taking the easy option. If it will be good enough then do it. But is good enough, good enough? Especially when the new version could outshine it. So what if it’s more time and effort. I am a writer. If I wasn’t writing this, I would be writing something else. Besides which I want every book I put out to be the best version of that book it can possibly be. If I had settled for the easy option I would have known that I had sold myself, the book and my readers short. Other people may not have noticed but I would have known and that in itself was reason enough not to do it.
There are two things to take from this. One is listen to your gut instinct because it is so often right. The second is be prepared to do the hard work because good enough is never good enough when it comes to writing books.
The thing about writing is you have to sit down and get it done. There are no shortcuts. Just you and the keyboard in harmony or despair – sometimes both in the same half an hour.
I have discovered the key to finding time to write is not to go looking for it in the first place. Your life will already be filled or else your natural instinct to want to relax will kick in. There is no free time to write. That is why you have to carve it out of your everyday routine. It is the only sustainable way to achieve your long term goals and call yourself a writer unless you have invented the ability to stretch time in which case call me.
I happen to be a morning person. I love mornings! I am an early riser, the earlier the better. I love the solitude the new day brings when it is just me, my dog and a cup of tea as the world wakes up around me. I find writing early in the morning easy. Mentally, I get out of the way and just let the words flow. I do keep one eye on the clock because I have a forty-five minute window to make the magic happen. The reason I have a wonderful forty-five minute window? I get up early just to write.
It’s no good asking an evening person to do what I do. It would be like asking me to write good stuff at ten o’clock at night. It’s not going to happen.
Once you know what suits your natural rhythms you will know the best time of day (or night) to write. Then you will need something to aim for – a set period of time or a word count target. I have both. I try for 1,000 words in my forty-five minute window.
If I have had a break from my morning routine I know that the first few mornings back in the saddle will take some adjusting to. I did this a couple of weeks ago – the first day I managed no more than 300 words, the second day it was 750. By the third day I had hit my stride. I didn’t beat myself up about not reaching the target on the first two days. I was simply pleased with the quality of what I wrote and the fact that I had SHOWED UP.
Sometimes writing is all about demonstrating your commitment to the project and in yourself as a writer. Showing up for a writing session, day after day, is what gets a book written. We can all hit a rich seam of creativity for a few hours at a time but it is the sheer slog that pushes a writer over the finish line.
So my tips for getting the writing done are simple:-
Find the time of day or night that suits the rhythms of your body best and carve out writing time from it.
Set yourself a realistic limit on time and/or word count for your writing sessions.
Show up, day after day, week after week.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your word count target, just be pleased you still showed up.
If you break the routine of showing up, get back to it as soon as you can.
When you reach a milestone in your work in progress choose a little treat for yourself.
Keep showing up until the book is finished.
Before you know where you are, you will be ticking milestones off your list and your writing sessions will be incorporated into your days as if they have always been there.
To find time for all the things we have to do in life is bad enough. For a lot of writers the situation is even worse. Writing often isn’t the day job. Writing is the job we do after/before/around the day job. It may once have been a hobby but has become, often to our delight, another career. If you are an indie or hybrid author, you also have to balance all the business demands that have to be met. If you are not careful that delight can turn to overload and then panic which usually results in you being less productive and extremely stressed. Not the position you want to be in when you are trying to make your dreams come true.
The work of a writer is labour intensive. The business side of it equally so. Most of us don’t have the luxury of employing staff or even have willing family or friends to whom we could farm out some duties. In any event, most writers are control freaks who even if offered competent help would probably turn it down in fear of what might happen if they relinquish the reins of control.
When your one time hobby becomes a job, especially a second job, how do you ever find time for a new hobby that takes you out of yourself and gives you a chance to relax?
We are not designed to be Duracell bunnies, happily banging cymbals together without any down time. It may be sustainable for a short stretch of time but you cannot live like that for long without the cracks starting to show either in your health, your relationships or the fact you start making mistakes.
We are all familiar with the timeless plot of many stories. You know how it goes – our hero/heroine finds themselves downtrodden and put upon, then has to find a way to improve their lot and achieve a happy ending. A lot of writers are living that plot but without the happy ending.
Next week I will share some of the tips I have adopted to help me get the work done but not lose my sanity along the way.
All writers deserve a happy ending to the work/life balance conundrum and there isn’t a one size fits all answer so I am keen to hear how you manage your writing time and what strategies you adopt when you feel your work/life balance getting out of control.