Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Some slice of life writing challenges


The latest post on Joanna Penn's excellent blog features Andrea Pearson, who offers some essential advice on time management for authors who are also the mothers of young children.

... And who happen to have the privilege of a cleaning lady, an assistant, budget to outsource things like editing and layout, and a fantastically supportive husband who is totally on board with their writing business and actually lends a hand with some aspects of its management.

Now welcome back to the reality of a frazzled author mom on a shoestring budget, who doesn't have a peaceful moment in a day and whose husband believes that if today is the 27th of the month and she has a deadline on the 29th, rearranging the pantry is still WAY more important than anything writing-related.

Please understand that my snark here is not directed at Ms Pearson, who does sound like a fantastically organized and competent author. She has three children and homeschools, so any help she can get is definitely warranted and I can imagine she is not spoiled with an excess of free time either! Many authors with fewer commitments struggle with time management. In fact, as Ms Pearson rightly says, being busy forces us to make good use of our time.

But here's the thing. Many authors are struggling so hard to keep their heads above water that they wouldn't even have the time or energy to give an interview like Ms Pearson's. I was one of them. Like a miser lovingly clutching his coins, I would snatch every available moment to write - on a pad while being stuck in traffic, on my phone while lending myself as a pillow to a child who was struggling to fall asleep. I was literally clawing out those moments out of an overworked, unappreciated existence.

Getting my own laptop was a game changer. I used to write on the family desktop PC located in the middle of the living room, which meant I was always in the eye of the tornado. It would also often crash and my work would be unsaved.

Often, I knew that the baby wouldn't nap for long, and I needed to choose between a shower and writing. A snack and writing. Answering a call from a friend who was going through a hard time and writing.

And I chose writing.

I was that perpetually hungry, crazy-haired, lonely individual who resented her bladder for stealing a few moments that could be spent in front of the screen typing. Does that sound nuts? It is. I was nuts.

It's just that I wanted to make it really, really, REALLY bad.

And I am making it, because I still make the same choices every day. I'm more efficient in a lot of things, but my work doesn't just happen unless I put my foot down and say "Now everything waits while I meet that deadline".

What about support from your spouse or extended family?

A couple of years ago, an author told me concerning family support: "A clean house, cooked dinners, and the full-time paycheck I made didn't matter. What mattered to them was that not every single moment of my day was focused on them and serving their needs".

She was not alone. And if you are going through the same thing, neither are you. This isn't because so many spouses and children are big meanies trying to sabotage the author who happens to be their mom/dad/wife/husband. It's just that many people genuinely don't get it. And children are, by nature, selfish - you have to teach them otherwise.

If you are surrounded by an environment that all seems to conspire against your writing dream, you have to stand up and assert that dream. Take up spare moments and hoard them until you have an hour. Take those words, one by one, and put them together until you have a novel.

Things do get easier. You manage to carve out your writing corner. People learn not to drop in on you unexpectedly. Your children learn to respect your boundaries. You become more efficient at what you do and are able to do more in the same amount of time.

You rise, baby. And then you laugh in life's face, and say, "Ha! I made it despite everything!"

You can do it. I can do it. All it takes is getting up, each day, with the determination of following your dream.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Downside of Discipline, or why I allowed myself to loaf for a bit

Feet up in Paradise - Time to Relax (XXXL) : Stock Photo

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that my biggest point of writing advice is: Consistency! Consistency! Consistency! Write 1000 words a day, every day. I don't believe in writer's block. My "writer's block" consists of a kid or three blocking my way to my laptop because they want to watch cartoons on it.

I do know, however, that there is such a thing as burnout. I was quite alarmed, once, at my sudden intense aversion to books and daydreaming of never having to write a single darn thing again. Was this me? Me, the one who has identified as a writer and storyteller since the age of six?

I give myself more slack now. Well, perhaps "slack" is not the right term. I work as a fiction editor, so basically, my whole life revolves around books. Every month, I edit the equivalent of two full-length novels. I read no less than 50 pages of fiction, sometimes written so poorly it makes my eyes water, every day just for work. Is it any wonder that when night rolls around I often feel so run down I can't bring myself to read anything but crochet patterns?

In 2017 and 2018, I released four books per year. In 2019, I released two, and my output is not about to increase in 2020 if the volume of work I perform each month remains the same. I enjoy what I do, but I just had to come to terms with the fact that it takes up, in addition to time, some of the "writing space" in my brain.

So I just had to let my brain lie fallow for a while. Remember the concept of the Sabbatical year? Not working the land and just leaving it to soak up the rain and dew and letting the worms work their magic? A year might be a bit excessive, but after the release of The Breath of Earth in September I stepped back and allowed myself to slip into hibernation mode. Read for fun, no review copies. Watch inspirational videos (Antarctic scenery. Who doesn't love to watch whales frolic and call it research?). Just sort of vegetate until writing started to be fun again, rather than a lifetime penance.

Now that the mojo is back, it's time for some discipline again. Time to tell myself, No, you won't just 'check your email for a moment'. You won't get up to get yourself another piece of chocolate, you glutton. You'll keep at it until your 1000 words are added to the daily word count, you lazy slug.