The Writer As Mommy

 

sandbagged

Awwww, I wish that every time I spoke of the little critters it would be with the enthusiastic, emotional, lip-trembling adoration I imagined it would be before I had them. Alas, welcome to the real world of the writer as mommy.

Half-term break (last week in October) was one of those times I only just managed to keep my sanity while handling the babies. I wrote here about the new project that’s been burning at my brain cells, and somehow I thought, with the kids at home and otherwise occupied and no school-runs or packed lunches to attend to, I’d have some time to write the chapters I’ve been dreaming of.

What was I thinking?

When the teen wasn’t asking me for everything from a football to a new gaming system to an all-expenses paid trip to football academy, the little one was asking me to turn the TV to Peppa Pig, or get her a snack, or wipe her butt, or take her outside or something. And when it wasn’t either of them pestering me, it was both of them squalling at each other. To make a long story short, I finally threw in the writing towel around day 2 of the half-term holiday and decided to put my all into enjoying them, and making sure that they enjoyed the break from school. (Read: no writing) We had a good time, but I admit to those moments at the museum when the teen wanted to share his enthusiasm about one or other machine and I looked at him as if in a daze, my mind diving deep into the next two chapters of the new book. Sigh….

The challenges of being both writer and mother have been written about before. An article in the New Yorker summed it up best, I think, by saying that it isn’t the sum of her children that influences a woman writer’s success or productivity, it’s the sum of her free time. Arguably, a woman could have five children and consistently produce work of high quality, but in such a case she’ll probably have a husband and at least one helper, if not more.

There have been quite a few days since I got here when I’ve let the housework and the child-minding go to hell while I worked on something. My kids haven’t lacked for good basic care -but if there’s been a choice between getting a chapter down and them helping themselves to cereal versus making them eggs and bacon and writing a line… well, I’m sorry, reader, they had cereal.

Nowadays I wonder sometimes if you really can have it all. I’ve taken a renewed interest in my health and fitness recently, which takes time. The children aren’t going anywhere and their wants and needs seem to get ever more complex and demanding in terms of what is required of me. And then the deadline for my MA certificate submission looms closer and closer with this one particular story that’s been winning our WWF-worthy smack-down! To say I’m stretched is an understatement but, somehow, I can’t see that I’d want it any other way. I want my children with me. Full-stop. Not being cared for by Granny. I want to excel in my writing programme and produce the book I’m dreaming of. And I want to be in the best possible health when I do it.

So if anyone out there has this particular struggle and is winning …. drop me a line and let me know your secret!

 

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AUTHORS: Prepare For Negative Feedback From Your Non-Target Audience

Really inspirational blog-post, and right on time!

Creative Writing with the Crimson League

At some point in our ongoing discussion about style and fiction, I knew I needed a post about reader response to style, because it’s such a tricky subject and so difficult to plan for.

The most important points from today’s post aren’t novel ideas. In fact, I’d be shocked if this is the first place you’ve heard them. Still, every now and then it’s important to remind ourselves of the obvious, lest we find ourselves slipping into the trap of perfectionism or trying to be a “pleaser.”

The major things to remember concerning your readers and your style, whatever that style may be, are these:

  • No matter how you write, or how well you construct your novel, you will never, ever please everyone.
  • I repeat, no matter how good your book is, some people who pick it up won’t belong to your target audience or won’t like on principle the…

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Itch Got A Glitch

a-brand-new-day

Itch was supposed to be published by now.

Whether that meant clicking the magical button on Amazon KDP, or getting an offer of representation from an agent, I was supposed to have finished ‘Itch’ and be ready to launch it into the publishing world.

What can I say, life happens. Failures to focus, re-assignment of priorities, rethinks and new beginnings are a part of life. I’d mentioned in a previous post about what happens when a series of projects vie for attention in my creative imagination. Things get put down, put aside or reassessed for their relevance to who I am and what I’m saying now. It took me a couple weeks to accept that ‘Itch’ is one of those projects. I’m still excited about Coco, Tasha, Chama and the drama they’ll be getting into in the second instalment of the Coco Devine series, it’s just that I’m more excited about something else right at the moment. I don’t know whether that makes me fickle, or lacking in discipline or … wise, but Itch is on the back-burner for now, and I’m working on the project that leaves me breathless when I think about it.

Like most of my projects, I believe this new one has a finite incubation period. It’s like childbirth, for those of you who know. Specifically, it’s like labour: there’s a finite amount of time you’re given to get this baby out before somebody has to help you or you risk losing it altogether. I can’t let that happen to the new project, and being on the MA programme right now is like I’ve been placed in the right place for it to happen. The rest is up to me.

So right now I’m shutting the door on my other projects (Itch included) until this one is done.

I’ll be keeping you posted on the progress of the new WIP as I work on it. Meet me on the other side with your love and well-wishes when I’m done, OK?

Has anybody else ditched a work-in-progress recently?

 

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The One That Got Away

teal-typewriter

Today I went into the town-centre to run an errand and came across the perfect turquoise vintage typewriter I’d never known I needed. It was in the Samaritans charity shop in a quaint little cobblestone street you’d miss if you weren’t looking, and sat atop its equally quirky carrying case, along with a sticker asking for the princely sum of £10.00.

On seeing this 1950’s beauty, I had visions of the writing-room of my dreams. This typewriter would sit on a shelf, or a low coffee-table next to a peace lily and sepia photos of generations of my family’s women. I might keep the carrying-case in a box and sit it on a stack of big, old books, with greying spines and yellow pages. Buying it was a no-brainer – but first there was the errand to complete, the groceries to pick up and the heavy gym bag (with the added cargo of newly borrowed library books) to drop off at home. It seemed logical, right? Errands done and cargo ditched, I could come back to the shop and have a closer look and a little browse without the physical weight of my bags or the mental weight of the (sensible, practical) things still left to do.

I swear I went back to the shop less than an hour later. You guessed it, my typewriter was gone. The lady behind the counter was so apologetic, so understanding. Things get snapped up in a minute, she said, if I see anything in the window it’s best to come in right away, lots of antiques enthusiasts come in several times a week.

When I talk about the one that got away, however, I’m not talking about the typewriter (traumatic though it was!). I’m talking about the perfect word, the ideal sentence that comes to you on the train, at the cocktail reception, in the middle of aerobics class. The one that you let slip because you’ve got something more pressing or important to do, the voice you silence because it’s just inconvenient to hear it at the time your character decides to talk. At least for me, sometimes when I let that word/sentence/voice go, it’s gone for good.

The typewriter was the universe’s way of having a laugh while teaching me a lesson – if you want it, write it now.

This week I had at least two instances of writerly inspiration come to me when it was inconvenient, to say the least. In both cases, I didn’t record the thought, the idea, the sentence. Up until now one is still lost to me. Maybe this forgetfulness is to be expected while I try to live at warp speed, but just in case one or more of those precious titbits  will take a work-in-progress from good to great, I’ve decided that I will use whatever is necessary (cell-phone, cocktail napkin, back of lecturer’s handout) to record what comes when it comes. I’ve even coined a phrase for it: guerilla writing.

The next time I hear a character’s voice, I’ll be dropping everything else and giving it five ….words or more, that is!

In the interim, I’m trawling e-Bay for a vintage typewriter. 1960 or earlier. Must be turquoise.

Photo credit: Amanda Schutz / Foter / CC BY-NC

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Does Rejection Never Stop?

Was sitting in one of my writing classes recently, a class being led rejection-is-a-part-of-life-just-learn-to-deal-with-it-and-keep-moving_lby a real-life, accomplished novel-writer. She has an agent, a publisher with a promotion budget for her work and she got an advance for her published book, which was short and long-listed for a number of respectable prizes.

She was talking about her current project – a script for a comedy series, being worked on in partnership with a no-less-accomplished writer-friend. While making a point about the new project, she mentioned that it was currently doing the rounds of producers, and, as always, the rejections were coming in. She then joked that rejections were part of the terrain and to be expected.

I didn’t hear too much of anything after ‘the rejections (are) coming in’. I was surprised at the revelation that the journey doesn’t get much easier even after publication of a book that, by most standards, was a resounding success.  In the writing career of my imagination, the publication of a book like the one this writer had produced was a ticket to higher and easier ground. ….. agents with the ability to secure future book deals on the basis of the success of the last book alone, booming sales figures, and invitations to participate in lucrative projects. Surely rejections become a thing of the past after the first big success?

Apparently not.

Apart from reminding me that any writer seeking publication is a type of mad-person, her delivery also emphasized for me that one of the achievements every writer should probably go after is the grace and resilience to face each new ‘no’ with the continued pursuit of the one yes that changes everything.

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When To Run From Your Writers’ Group

gather-round-kids-its-story-time_lI was sitting in an absolutely fantastic novel-writing seminar yesterday. The kind of seminar that you leave with goosebumps, all fired up, ready to write the novel that you haven’t dared to in all the weeks and months before that. I left that seminar reassured that taking the time out of my life to do this MA was the best decision I could have taken for myself, despite what anybody might have to say about it.

Being so inspired by that class got me thinking about all the other ways and means there are for practising writers to get the support of a nurturing community that understands and values their work. The writers’ group is one of them.

If you’ve never heard of a writers’ group (where have you been living?) or you’re not sure about why joining a writers’ group is a good idea, have a look at this article from Writers’ Digest for a concise statement of all the reasons why a writers’ group might be just what the doctor ordered. Assuming you’re already sold on the benefits, and may even be in the market for a circle of like-minded scribes to give  and receive feedback on works-in-progress, I thought you might like a few pointers on when to run from a writers’ group. That’s right. RUN.

I remember all too well my first hopeful visit to the twilight meeting of a certain writers’ collective. I should have gotten a clue from the moment I walked through the door and saw the solitary microphone standing on stage, the clutter of assorted chairs in front of it, the donated hor d’oeuvres in the corner. For the next few hours I endured everything from the first tentative limmerick of the neo-scribe to the angst-ridden, alienating rant of the hopelessly academic. At the end of every offering, the super-stoned and motherly moderator would take to the mic to encourage more applause for whatever had just been offered and more assistance in devouring the hor d’oeuvres on offer, with which she battled the munchies during open mic. For those few hours my manuscript stayed undercover, along with an overwhelming desire to get up and just …..leave.

Surprise, surprise, I never visited that particular writers’ group since. Here’s my take on when to run:

1. When you have no idea what the goals and ideals of the writers’ group are, its objectives aren’t clearly defined, or there aren’t any. Rule 1 of finding a good writers’ group is knowing what you want to get from it. ‘Good’ here means ‘good for you‘. Are you at the start of your writing journey? Then perhaps you’re more in need of support than detailed criticism. Already published and working on something new? Then you might need a group with more dedication to honest and detailed critiques. Does the group sit in a circle and discuss your work in a serious and engaged manner or are you ushered towards a mike with the enthusiasm of  a group of teenaged boys at Hooters? The point is, you won’t know what type of group you need until to assess where you are and what you’re after. And you won’t be able to tell if any particular group is it, if the group is unable to give you a clear statement of its purpose, objectives and expectations for its membership. Ground rules about giving and receiving criticism are especially important to know. Point is, if the group appears to be as free and fluid as an Angela Davis dashiki? RUN.

2. When the group dynamics are off or the group is run by a wanna-be therapist. Let me explain. You go to a meeting and there’s this one exceedingly bossy, sensitive or conceited person to whom everyone else panders, caters or bows. It’s established quite early on that X’s work is not to be criticised too harshly or in too much detail, and the chatty travel-writer sitting next to you lets on that she always calls X after meetings, just to make sure that X hasn’t made good on his threat to off himself because he can’t get Chapter 8 right. Worse, the apparent group leader doesn’t just want to hear your poem, she wants to hear about your day, your dog and your date. Who has the time or the inclination? Not you. RUN.

3. When everything you do is magnificent. Alas, it will take a few meetings before you decide whether to put on your Nikes and make like Usain Bolt for this one. There is nothing more annoying (or damaging to your writing) than a group of sedentary cheer-writers. Get a clue if the chapter you’ve been mud-wrestling with each morning at 6 comes back from successive group critiques with nary a scratch. According to the group, your characters are wonderfully complex and complete, your setting descriptive and metaphorical, your language and delivery inspired and assured. So why the bleep isn’t the chapter working then, folks? Worse, your sincere, heartfelt and polite deconstruction of a colleague’s free-verse earns you the kind of looks best kept for paedophiles and puppy-killers. If you’ve found yourself in one of these groups, leave well enough alone. Emphasis on ‘leave‘.

I found this useful article with some answers to questions about writers’ groups. And you might find some useful pointers about giving feedback once you’re actually in a group here. Yes, I was talking about book reviews, there, yes, it’s still relevant.

And now I need to get to that novel I was inspired to write ……

 

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Places I Like to Hide

Places I Like to Hide

The (English) Literature and Literary Theory Aisles at Uni Library

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Technorati, I Own This Blog

1944-sometimes-a-torpedo-is-just-a-torpedo

Yes, Technorati, I own this blog, it’s all mine! And here’s your code to prove it: 4CSX3QWV4EVJ…..

Into the stratosphere!

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Social Media Is A Jealous Mistress

Jealous - Wordle

I’ve been out of commission for almost two weeks. After managing to catch the mother of all colds, I wandered through each day in a maze of meds, vapour rub and snotty tissues (TMI, I know). It was all I could manage just to do the school run and make dinner, far less read and respond to email and make my usual rounds on Twitter, my blog and the rest of my virtual network.

A few days ago I started to emerge from the haze and realised that my social media stats had Bloggingsuffered right along with me. No posts? Well, blog visits dropped astronomically, until my WordPress page cryptically advised under ‘Top Posts and Pages’ that there were ‘no posts to display’ and helpfully asked if I wanted more blog traffic. Things weren’t much better on Twitter. Far from the 50+ new followers per day I’d started to attract, new followers dropped to about 3 per day and unfollowers increased. Sigh.

It’s a cold, hard truth about social media, I’m afraid – she withers with inattention!

From the moment I failed to tweet, blog and pin, I started to be …. forgotten. Remember that post about my blog being a cannon? Well, not only was I no longer projecting my brand for the attention of the the virtual world, but even the people who already knew I was there began to pay about as much attention as they would a rusting relic in a museum! Unless you like museums, that means none.

It’s time for a turnaround.

I talked a bit about what I’m trying to do via social media here. It’s impossible to connect with anyone if there’s no content. And, as this article reminded me, consistency of content is vital for social media interest to stay steady, and grow.

So what does a girl do if life gets in the way and generating (new) blog content is temporarily impossible (or too hard to contemplate)? Here are my 3 top tips:

1. Find free content on-line and blog it!Duh, why didn’t I think of this last week? We Can Do It! Rosie the RiveterFind content worthy of your blog on a site like Articlesbase, and away you go! If you don’t have the time or the inclination to search for an article, what about posting an image that expresses what you’re feeling or what you’re up to? No words required. Check out Foter.com or Wikipedia Commons (both free). Make sure you credit appropriately, of course! You can also look for interesting sights or scenes as you go about your day, take a snap with your mobile, and post. Fifteen seconds or less. Guaranteed!

2. Re-blog! – You know that stream of blog-posts on your WordPress homepage with the latest posts from all the blogs you’re following? Well, there’s a re-blog button at the top of most, if not all of those posts. One click and you’ll generate some good blog-karma by sharing someone else’s post with your readers. Perfect way to connect with your followers if you’re pressed for content, and great exposure for the other blogger. One of these days, someone will do this for you, and garner your blog some new followers to boot.

3. Send a note – What’s the right thing to do if you’re gonna be absent from work? Give someone a ring, right? Hello! Why do we think life is so different in the virtual world? Surely you can manage, in 140 characters or less, to tell your tweeps you’re ill! Or travelling….. or about to have a baby … or going through something. Not everybody wants to (or can manage) a full post at times like these. But remember that, while the not-yet-following don’t know you exist and therefore won’t miss you, chances are you have at least one follower coasting by, wondering why the lights are off  at the time you used to offer cake and coffee. If you’re not careful, they might just decide to check out that new place down the road …..

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Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com / Foter / CC BY

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How To Love A Writer

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After the little issue with the summer fling I wrote about here, I got to thinking about the pros and cons of dating a writer. And then I got to thinking about the perfect partner for a writer. If you’ve got your eye on anyone crazy enough to list their occupation as ‘Writer’, or are already married to someone of such dubious sanity, you might want to read the following pointers before suggesting a date  ….. or a divorce:

1. Accept that you’ll be written about, and it won’t always be good. Yes, those are your dog-eaten brown bedroom slippers on page 10 of the manuscript your partner is always yammering on about, yes, that is your habit of scratching the back of your left shoulder while you sleep, on page 15. No, it doesn’t mean anything that the protagonist eventually murders the snoring shoulder-scratcher, or that your writer-partner has given them halitosis in said manuscript. Get more familiar with tic-tacs and suck it up. You’re not alone here. There are lots of friends, family members and mere acquaintances who will find parts of themselves in your lover’s books. All the same, you might want to keep an eye out for incoming rotten eggs when you’re at the off-licence with said writer, thrown at her by the owner who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dim-witted cross-dresser on page two. Hey, at least she only gave you halitosis. For that alone she deserves your loyalty.

2. Understand that the writing comes first. Period. Don’t get upset if your sweetheart doesn’t want to get a day-job, house or car or go on the date/vacation you planned ages ago while he contemplates his muse. As a matter of fact, be prepared to be alone when the writer eventually decides (and they will!) to give up any other activity altogether and shut themselves away in a locked room for days, weeks or months with a computer and crazy music. This can turn out a number of ways, including with a finished novel, a book deal and a big enough advance so you can both quit the rat race. Share the vision, pay all the bills, and always be ready with hot cups of coffee. Pass any necessary communication  (and pictures from the fabulous vacation, done solo) under the door of said locked room.

3. Don’t take it personally. Meaning? Well, let’s say you’re in the middle of a steamy make-out session in anticipation of which you’ve unplugged the land-line, turned off the mobile and ensured alternative accommodation for the kids/dog/ room-mate for a couple hours. Things are hotting up … and then your writer stops and starts fumbling around on the bedside table for …… (sorry guys, it’s not birth control) …..a pen and a notepad to write down the unbelievably delicious plot twist for the dreaded manuscript, which only occurred to her after you started to undress. And five minutes of frenzied scribbling later, said writer is no longer in the mood. As a matter of fact, she’s gonna head to the computer to start weaving in the dratted new plot twist. Do not become murderous when she asks if you would like to make her a cup of coffee while she writes it.

4. Be a perpetual cheerleader. As in, you must accept (post rejection-slips, post shortlist publications and winners announcements and post review publication or beta reading reports)the type of epic meltdowns made famous by Don Music of Sesame Street. Be ready afterwards with encouragement, coffee and your unquestioning agreement that the offending agent/editor/competition judge/critic is shit, doesn’t know what they’re talking about and screwed their way into the position they’re in, lording it over indubitably talented geniuses like your writer. Better yet, intercept rejection slips and offensive mail at the mailbox, shred it and make mulch for the rose-beds. When said writer laments the unresponsiveness of the agents/ competitions he has queried or entered, re-arrange the carefully pruned roses on his writer’s table, plead ignorance, and smile.

5. Get a dog. I mean, no writer has the time, energy or inclination to support, protect and fawn after you – they’re too busy writing. Duh! If you want the kind of love and companionship normal people get in romantic relationships, get an Alsatian. Call her ‘Honey’. And train her to write you the types of love-letters you thought you’d be getting from the writer. Let me know how that goes.

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