What time is it please?

I’m starting to think I need to be a bit more like Margaret Thatcher. Not in the sense of turning the country to ruin; more in the manner of surviving on a few hours’ sleep every night.

Everyone seems to lead a busy life these days but I just don’t know how to fit it all in, especially when I want to write. At the moment, I want to edit and re-draft a short story I’m working on. I’m writing this instead. Last week it was easy to find some writing minutes as I was off work for the week (and, also, elsewhere; I am discovering that I don’t write well at home…).

I loved being in the habit of turning my attention back to my work-in-progress every day. But, now I’m back at work, I’m scribbling this down in my lunch break which I usually spend wishing for a winning lottery ticket so that I can employ someone to attend to the cooking, ironing, washing, washing-up, shopping, tidying and cleaning. I already don’t bother with some of those. Three of them actually. And I’m the sort of person who, if there’s a long way round to do something, I’ll find it. Plus, I need a lot of sleep. Simple as that.

I already try to get up early – 6am – (I’m not saying I actually manage it) so that I can walk (to combat my weight and my anxiety), meditate (to combat depression), do some exercises on my painful Achilles tendons (to combat my painful Achilles tendons) and get myself on the road in time for work with my packed lunch (OK, all-day food supply) and at least one item of clothing over my underwear.

I asked a busy freelance writer last week how he fits everything in and he says he has lots of late nights. I just can’t do that; I’m in tears by 7.30am the following day after just one of those.

Never mind all the other things I actually WANT to do like seeing friends and family, reading, watching plays and films, knitting & crocheting, swimming… I lied about the last one but I OUGHT to be doing it… Then there are the things I need to do but don’t – Pilates (for my bad back), singing (for pure enjoyment), de-cluttering (for the ability to walk from one room to another in my home), job applications (for a higher salary so that I can employ someone to do all the cooking, cleaning, ironing…)…

I’m going to have my tea now and go straight to bed, so I can get up at 4am tomorrow, without even checking my emails, Facebook or Twitter. (Like that’s going to happen.)

Thank goodness I don’t have a dog. Or children. Or a country to run.

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Guest Blog from Alex Davis

Today I am hosting a guest post from Alex Davis, writer, editor, publisher and teacher of creative writing whose first novel in the Noukari trilogy, The Last War, is out this month. Here, he has some excellent advice for writers embarking upon a novel. You can see my post on his site at alexblogsabout.com.

Last War Cover HQ

Writing a novel, eh? Some of you reading this may have done it already, some of you may be in the process of writing one, some of you might just be a bit uneasy in taking the task on. It’s one of those things that can inspire a real ambivalence – in some senses it’s easy, and in a lot of senses it’s a real challenge. I’ve taught a host of classes on the subject of how to go about writing a book, partly inspired by my own experences in putting together The Last War, which I initially wrote to a deadline of three months. Not entirely my own decision – that deadline was given to me by the people who were originally going to publish the book – but I do genuinely feel like a learned a lot from that process. So I wanted to share my top five tips here for writing a novel – the marathon of the writing world!

  • Develop a plan. Consider a novel as being like a long journey from one place to another. You don’t simply set out in the car and hope for the best – you decide how you’re going to get there, the best and most efficient route. A novel is much the same – decide where you’re starting from, where you’re going to and how you’re going to get there. A good plan of the storyline of your book will stand you in good stead throughout.
  • Chip away at it. It’s a rare writer that has the chance to turn out 5000 or 10000 words a day – most writers work through their novels very steadily. Personally I aim to write 1000 worda a day – not a huge sum, but each day I can see that there is progress and that I am getting there bit by bit. It’s also easier to focus on a smaller sum each day than thinking about that big number you need to get to in the end.
  • Set yourself a deadline. When you’re writing without a publisher’s deadline, it can distinctly take away some motivation and encourage you to put writing off and do other things with that time. So what I’ve always found useful is to set myself a target and challenge myself to make it on time – it keeps you dedicated to your task!
  • Give yourself permission to write below par. Writing a novel is hard enough without you fixating on making every word of your initial draft absolutely impeccable. The nature of a first draft is that it is rough and ready and ragged around the edges. If there are days you don’t think you can write all that well, so what? Get the words down and edit it later! It’s OK not to write at the very best of your ability every day.
  • Share the process. Writing can be a very isolated activity, so I’d argue it’s really important to bring some people into the process with you. Have some beta readers, or join a writing group, or an online forum. Even sharing your progress on Facebook or Twitter is a great way to help your keep on it – other people asking you about your book can be a real motivational factor.

Fancy seeing what can be written in three months? Then check out The Last War at  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00YQICMHQ

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves.

My sister’s just been to Scotland for the week. Nothing remarkable about that I hear you cry but let me fill you in a bit more so you can see why I’ve decided to harbour a great chunk of pride.

She’d been married for forty three years and holidayed in Scotland with her husband many times. In fact, they spent their honeymoon there, in the same village from whence she’s just returned. (Yes, I just used ‘whence’ in a sentence. Don’t try and rhyme those two words, incidentally, unless you put the emphasis on the second syllable of ‘sentence’.) My brother in law, being a railwayman, knew the times of most of the trains in his head along with the platform number each connection would depart from. And, if he didn’t know it, he knew where to find out quickly and so led the way, up and down the country, with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

Notice the use of the past tense at the start of that last paragraph? At the beginning of this year, my sister’s husband died. After a long battle with cancer, through which my sister nursed him, he passed away in January.

Since then – and I’m jumping straight to the travelling-on-your-own-aspects-of-loss – my sister has made quite a few train journeys toute seule but never such a long and tiring one as this. Her daughter – who was driving up with her family, and my sister’s suitcase, (never has her life more resembled a scene from Downton Abbey) – met her at the other end but still she was worried about timings, connections and actually arriving at the right destination.

As she armed herself with a sandwich, a Crunchie and a Toffee Crisp (not very much, in my opinion, for a  whole DAY of travel) I reminded her of what our Dad used to say; one of his wise, old, philosophical aphorisms that comes in so useful at times like these: “Yerl never get lost while yerv gorra tongue in yer ‘ead”. (Belper born & bred. All three of us.)

And she did it. She made it. She travelled it. She ATE that Toffee Crisp before, during and after Wakefield. She spent the week with her daughter, son in law and two gorgeous grandchildren by the sea, away from it all and close to some precious memories.

Whilst there, my 4 year old great nephew, apparently, introduced her thus (‘thus’ and’ whence’, by the way) to a local shopkeeper: “This is Granny”.

And I say: here is a remarkable woman who’s had to learn very quickly how to check the air pressure in her tyres, shop for one less at the supermarket and take charge of the remote control.

And travel by herself, all the way up the country and back, which may seem small to many people but, to her and to me, is massive.

Thank You Maureen…

My first blog post, done 3 and a half years ago. Guess what? I’m getting back into it… Please follow my blog on WordPress as Ill be hosting a guest blogger soon…

Middle Aged Musings

I once spent a happy six months living in Hull (not so mutually exclusive, you see) and, amongst other things, discovered that Maureen Lipman had left quite a legacy. I bought, as a leaving present for my landlady, a copy of Maureen’s book, “Thank You for Having Me”. Clever, eh?

Then I heard Maureen on the radio the other week. That may be enough news, in itself, for those with fond memories of proud mother ‘fern curls’ (oh yes, I picked up the lingo while I was there) but it was what she said about writing that bring-bringed with me. She was asked about her enjoyment of the process of her own writing and said that, like most writers, she believed, she didn’t actually enjoy the doing of it. WELL, didn’t I know exactly what she meant, having mostly put off doing any real, actual writing for the most part of 43 years. The THOUGHT…

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Thank You Maureen…

I once spent a happy six months living in Hull (not so mutually exclusive, you see) and, amongst other things, discovered that Maureen Lipman had left quite a legacy. I bought, as a leaving present for my landlady, a copy of Maureen’s book, “Thank You for Having Me”. Clever, eh?

Then I heard Maureen on the radio the other week. That may be enough news, in itself, for those with fond memories of proud mother ‘fern curls’ (oh yes, I picked up the lingo while I was there) but it was what she said about writing that bring-bringed with me. She was asked about her enjoyment of the process of her own writing and said that, like most writers, she believed, she didn’t actually enjoy the doing of it. WELL, didn’t I know exactly what she meant, having mostly put off doing any real, actual writing for the most part of 43 years. The THOUGHT of writing something is nice; the piece I might come up with could always be better… but, hey, aren’t we all slaves to self-criticism?

While you’re doing it, you get the feeling of your feet hovering slightly above the floor only to come back to ground when the (when the pen rests back on the table , I want to say, but it’s all gone modern now. You know what I mean). Well, I do anyway.
I had a similar feeling the first time I went abroad on my own; I felt like someone had stretched an elastic band across their fingers, with me on it, and I would only rest when they had flirted it/me successfully back to an English butchers and then my bedroom.
(I experience the same thing when I have to write-something-hyphenated and can’t breathe until I’ve hit the space bar or full stop. Like just then.)
Writing also makes me feel like this. The doing of it, I mean. I haven’t done an out-breath for at least five minutes now and that hyphen between ‘out’ and ‘breath’ nearly had me reaching for the nearest empty crisp packet.
I haven’t got an ology either. But if Maureen Lipman can write and not enjoy it, so can I.