Upping my game

Hey, how’s your week been going? Mine’s been surprisingly productive and positive. I’ve been trying to up my game this week – trying to get back into the writing mindset when I have free time during the day, and actually making some free time as well.

That said – I really don’t have a lot of free time. Most of it is taken up (quite willingly, I should probably add) with my small person, and all of her trials and tribulations. But lately I’ve been going up to playcentre with her, hanging out together until morning tea time (10am) and then (on my non-duty days), once she’s settled with her lunch box and drink bottle, “popping out” for some me time. I usually get back before 11:30, so this isn’t a wild/crazy sort of break for me, but I’ve been wandering down to the local cafe, or even just heading back home (5 minutes around the corner). And writing.

For a while I was thinking (mostly due to my time shortage, and also because I hit a part I got stuck with in the novel-in-progress) of giving myself some short-story assignments. Write one, sub one, sort of thing. Wind up with four stories each month, and something to do – submitting to journals, and the like. But then I was watching some of Brandon Sanderson’s videos (oh my god, have you seen these? They’re amazing), and in one of them he’s talking about what a good idea it is to write what you like to read.

Real duh moment, huh? While I like short stories (and have a select few that I positively drool over), I’m definitely a novel person. Reading a book of short stories can often be interesting, but ultimately I find they don’t fully satisfy. Probably a big clue there.

Novels and I do have some history (the writing of, I mean), and it all feels rather tumultuous when I look back. But you don’t need the whole drama. I’ve got one I started earlier in the year – notecarded, seven or so scenes written – before I got stuck, and then the family got sick, and it all went downhill from there.

But I’m back in the middle of things again now, yep, and trying to up my game. Not in terms of insane word count, or anything like that, but setting comfortable goals that I can hit every day. Wanting to think about the book every day, even if just for a little while when the little one’s sleeping. Finally realising that there’s not much I’d really rather be doing. Taking steps to keep myself organised amidst the chaos. Trying to shake the belief that I’ve held for so long, that outlines are anathema to my writing. Taking the time to sit down and brainstorm, and analyse my ideas a bit, and holding out for something that’s a little more original than the first idea that comes along.  It’s like my brain’s emerged from some sort of weird writing fog-of-war and I’m finally able to think clearly about my approach.

I’ll write more later about what I’m actually doing, but just thought I’d make a “for the record” sort of post about this. It feels like a revelation, but really all it is is the act of getting back to the work. It feels good.

Does my face look big in this blog? And parental stress. And publishing.

Hullo – time for a new theme, I reckon. Is my face too big up there?

It looks big. Ah well, blog design is really not my forte. I like good fonts, lots of white space, and that’s really as far as I usually get.

I’ve had a rough couple of days, mostly to do with my little one growing up and suddenly wanting to do everything herself. Quite forcefully. She had her first public tantrum-thingy yesterday, as we were getting on the ferry to come back home. She wanted to walk down the ramp by herself, with me waiting at the top. Water on both sides, a reasonably steep incline…hm, sorry love, but I’m going to have to insist here. You’re only two and a half. Good on your feet, but not always. Plus the platform is moving with the water – you get the picture. She wound up lying down in the middle of the ramp, crying. One poor guy tiptoed over her (“I’ll just slip by”) and I’m there trying to get her on her feet without looking like a child abuser. Bah.

Then we got home and she would not take a nap. Kept coming upstairs (“I up!”) and grinning like wasn’t it the coolest thing in the world? I was trying to have my instant noodles (a bad habit for lunch I seem to be unable to extricate myself from), and read some online news (so out of the loop these days), and recover a little sanity after the morning’s excursion. I made the mistake of suggesting we go lie down on the bed (the “big bed”) downstairs. She was keen. We lay down under the blankets…and Steve rang.

Up she pops, and that was it. I was so tired, I thought to myself surely it’s reasonable for a two and a half year old to potter around while I snooze here. There’s nothing that dangerous around the house, if she needs anything she’ll come and get me and so on, and so on. The sun was hot on my back and all I wanted to do was sleep. Sleep for a million years.

In fairness, she did potter around a bit – brought some books into the room and read to herself, all while I was lying there thinking I need to get up now, really, only the sun feels so good… but things eventually came to a head. I can’t even really remember what happened. She got cranky, then accidentally headbutted me, then started crying, and crying for “Daddeee!” over and over. I was sore, then crying, and then she was trying to get into a bag of books I’d just bought while we were in town (stressful with a little person in the bookstore, but I was so determined to use my store credit), that yes, I snapped. Picked her up and roughly put her on the bed, on her back. Nothing dangerous or nasty, I swear, just a bigger sort of bounce than usual. But I think I may have growled at her. Something like “keep out of my things!” Something ridiculous like that. Of course she’s going to be pawing through everything that’s at her level. Duh mama.

More crying. I think the books whacked her as I picked her up. Daddeee! Daddee!

I’m the worst mother ever. I cry. She cries. It’s horrible. What have I done? We have such a good relationship. She and I don’t do this. But I felt so terrible that she didn’t want me (usually I’m the first person she reaches for if she is upset) it’s all came to a head. Felt miserable. Heartbroken.

We both came right, on the couch, having chocolate chip cookies and watching Peppa Pig. An afternoon of indulgence. I still felt horribly guilty for losing my cool, even though I do know it’s totally normal for everyone.

A lot of my stress lately has come from thinking about me and wondering what I’m going to do with myself. I need some sort of thing, apart from being a mother, but lately it takes up my whole day. Some sort of job? Writing project? I’m feeling really discouraged in that arena as well, truth be told. Lots of submissions, lots of rejections. I feel like what I write doesn’t fit into usual genres. I can’t find homes for my stories. People want strong genre, or literary fiction. What I write is usually neither. I’m so awfully confused. I want to keep writing, I enjoy writing, and love finishing things and sending them off. It’s not the rejections in themselves that I am particularly worried about. It’s the not-knowing if I have found a good fit. Not knowing if there is a good fit for them.

Self-publish? I don’t know if I have the balls. A very large part of me wants someone else to say to me “yeah, this is ok. We’ll publish it” rather than making the call myself. I know we are long past the days of “vanity publishing” but it still feels like a huge expression of ego, rather than fitting into the “indie”, “handcrafted” movement that would be awesome to be a part of. Maybe I just need to grow a pair. Stick something out in the world, knowing that it’s not likely to be my life’s finest work but doing it anyway. Seeing it as a place to start.

What do you think?

A note from new me to old me

Sitting outside, down at the beach, on a green bench, the car’s ticking engine off behind me. Half an hour to sit and think a little bit, while Leila runs and plays up at playcentre. She doesn’t like it when I leave her there, even if only for a little while, but I think I need to try and resume our little breaks – especially if she is starting to resist naps!

I want to think about my writing. How I write, what I think of it, what I want to do with it. What I can make with it. Think about my blog – my blogs – the few short stories I’ve written, and the five or six long pieces that are drifting around, flawed but wonderful. Think about my mental attitude towards books, and the rarefied atmosphere of publishing, something for other, talented, literary, serious folk who know what they want to say. (Uh huh.)

And what to make of blogging? I feel a strong tie to my blog – started over ten years ago now (edit to add: good grief, has it been twelve years?), as a bit of a refuge from work. Now blogging is commercial, sponsored, marketed. I don’t much enjoy reading blogs these days. Especially ones with guest posts (to keep the posting rate up) and sponsored links. I hate feeling like I’m being sold something. So is there still room for me and my blog in the world of blogging? All this sharing, this oversharing. I think I have reached the point where I really don’t care all that much about looking at photos of other people’s kids, other people’s artfully-arranged table settings, styled reports on completed crafting, or curated anything. It’s all too artificial. Every man and his dog now has a lightbox set up so they get just the right lighting. It’s too perfect. I feel myself resisting.

But if this is the case, what do I have to add to the whirling plethora of information? Surely in the world of blogs, every subject under the sun has already been covered. Why try to even go there? And if so – what is left? A picture of my experience, snapshots of life…? Who for? Who is my audience? Why do I feel like I should continue to blog when I write still in my paper journals? Is it just because it’s still the thing to do? Where does the impulse come from?

You could argue that at least writing a blog is regular writing, and I’m not particularly regular at that. Perhaps the blog helps to keep me honest, in some shape or form. But is that what people like to read?

I have such a desire for the libraries of my youth, with card catalogs that held such secrets in their yellowed leaves. Poring over shelves, wondering at titles, cover illustrations, and author names. There are no secrets any more, not now in the world of Goodreads and google search. Has it taken all the surprises out of life?

And yet, and yet. At ten years old my blog has taken on a bit of an identity of its own. It’s hard to decide to pull the plug. I don’t think I’m quite able to do that. Instead I will apply layer upon layer, changed me on top of changed me, until it becomes a weird stratified pile of selves, that go away for a while, and come back again, still wondering at what this thing really is. But the compulsion to add to it, to add just one more stone on the pile, remains.

So too, does the desire and compulsion remain to make things up and write them down. To accrete pages, words, thoughts, meanderings. To pull out my barely-started novel (nearly 20,000 words) and discover what it holds. It’s novel #6, or something like that. I feel like I should have tried to publish one of these things by now. But the others are just too strange, too meandering. People now like hooks on first pages, and three-act structures that would make Syd Field blush. We like our information bullet-pointed. Is there room for strange stories about vampires during the gold rush, or clones in an alternate-New Zealand, or a necromancer who’s struggling with her own impending death? What about an intergalactic novel about the fight for water, and a computer who was once an actual pirate from the 1600s? I dunno. I need to pull it all together (not into one novel, obviously!) and do something with these things. Even just turn them into e-books and stick them up on my blog. Would I then feel like I was getting somewhere with all of this?

A seagull’s standing on a log nearby, watching me. Wondering, I suppose, if I have any food for it. I said hello and it opened its beak at me, wide. Wondering what on earth I have on my lap and why. It’s just about time to head back. Back in the car, back up to playcentre, to meet my little person with a huge body hug and have my hand grabbed and pulled in the direction of something interesting. Sweet little love. I’m here for you always. But at the same time I need to find a new direction for myself, in this current new-self that’s come back to the page.

Camp Nanowrimo

Been busy! A trip up to Taupo (loong road trip with a two-year-old) and more personal organizing. Been reviving my index cards/zettelkasten (of which I plan to write more in the near future), and also more work through How To Think Sideways. Lesson eight (the pre-plan worksheets) is taking me an age to go through. I think it’s because as I start to ask questions I suddenly want to go back and tweak other things, or something will start to become clear which means I need to organise it in other places as well. But so good to be having this internal conversation at this stage, rather than after I have written the thing.

I’m thinking of doing Camp Nanowrimo this year. It’s been a long time since I touched a toe into Wrimo-waters, but I think I’m ready for a kick-start to my project. I think all up I’ve completed five Nanowrimo months, and have, as a result, five franken-novels sitting in my virtual desk-drawer. I have no idea what to do with them. Last month I hauled one out (my gothic western) and went through it, making index cards, doing a reverse outline, planning what I would do with the thing. And then when it was time to write it – I stopped dead. Couldn’t convince myself to start on it. Strange? I think it just feels too old, even though there is some great stuff in there. (Well, stuff that made me happy, anyway.)

Generally, I find revising a really strange experience. Your mind has to make weird leap from writer to… well, not reader, exactly. A sort of “I’m pretending I’ve never read this before” mindset crossed with an English teacher. The cold, calculating part is hard for me. I suppose at heart I’m a feeler. An impressionist. Although, in fairness the scalpel isn’t hard to keep out when I’m reading other people’s writing! So strange.

It is wet and rainy here today. I’m on my revived macbook (seven years old and I just replaced the hard disk with a new SSD, and it is running like an old thing with new legs!) – finally getting around to ripping old CDs to iTunes (even though I hate iTunes) and generally organising my digital life. Still feels productive. I love weekends.

Mornings

Been getting a lot out of early mornings, music and going through the “How to Think Sideways” course. Lots of mind-mapping, lateral thinking, and even the early starts feel good for my brain.

Feels like a breakthrough of some kind. Carving out time and space. Listening to what I need for myself and trying to follow through with that.

Loving my commitments but also realising I need to be happy, challenged and stimulated.

Feeling happy!

You are in a motel room…

(From 11 Jan 2015)

You are in a motel room and it’s the middle of the night. You’re lying on a huge hard bed, sheets smelling faintly of industrial cleaner. They are both luxurious and industrial, and you’re not quite sure how that works. You lie there, thinking about the rows and rows of other rooms, other people lying straight in other beds. Other rooms – are they all identical? – stretching out in all directions from the elevator hub.

Out of all the people lying in those beds, in those rooms, how many are awake as you are? Are their curtains open or closed? Do their rooms smell of the room-service dinner they had delivered, or did they go out to eat? What do their sheets smell like?

Why are they there? Are they in town for work, or to visit someone? Or did they just need a good break by themselves for a while? Are they there for a tryst, or even to hire a prostitute? Is the prostitute still there, right now? Are they doing it, right now?

It’s hard to imagine something like that happening while you are lying there on your hard bed with your indurious sheets, looking out the window at the building across the street. There is a light on in one of the floors. You think it might be an office building over there, and you can’t help but think of all those rows and rows of unoccupied desks, with computers and phones and stacks of papers on them, and photos of loved ones thumbtacked to the cubicle walls. Is someone working late? Did they just forget to turn the lights off when they were the last to leave the floor? Is a cleaner up there, at two in the morning? Vacuuming and looking at the papers and photos and wondering similar thoughts to you, right now? Or are they just tired and wanting to get it over with so they can go home to their husbands and wives and children, tucked up in bed?
There is something about how children sleep, you think. You wish you slept like a child: taking over the bed, using every inch of it, surrounded with stuffed animals. They should make cribs for adults, you think. White wooden slats to keep you in place. Then you could roam around the bed while you sleep, in complete safety. We’ve all fallen out of bed a few too many times as adults to really let ourselves go in sleep now. But imagine it! To really let yourself go.

You’d really like it if someone would come round and check on you while you sleep, just like your parents no doubt did. That’s the other thing about how children sleep. They know, somehow, that no matter what happens, what trouble they get into in their cots, with their blankets and stuffed animals, that someone will be coming soon to look in on them. To make sure their heads aren’t jammed too hard into the corner of the cot, or worse still, shoved through the bars. Someone will come to see if you are unwell, or if you just need a cuddle or some help to fall back asleep if you’ve had a nightmare.

That would be a good hotel service, you think. Of course you’d need to make sure that these nighttime guardians would be well vetted. No criminal records, that sort of thing. No, what you’d really want is a troupe of grandmothers, the ones that wake up really early and turn on the radio. The ones who knit afghans and doll clothes even though their eyes are failing. The ones who think about their now-grown children and wish they had someone who they could stroke hair from their brow while they slept. Those sorts of people. If a hotel hired an army of brow-stroking grandmothers to come and check in on you as you slept, well, imagine how you could really let yourself go!

Prompts

I’ve been writing a lot lately – just not here in this blog. For a few weeks lately I’ve been waking up at 5:30 in the morning and coming down to the study to write. I start most days with a prompt from Judy Reeves’ book A Writer’s Book of Days. It’s been great.  I might post a couple of them here, unedited. At least just as a little ‘hi’.