What stops you writing? A tale of two weeks….

Procrastination_by_diablo2097Fourteen days ago I was packing up my laptop, articles and library books ready to make the journey home after five days of writing. Well, I had lunch with a mate and went to the cinema to see Life of Pi with my brother-in-law (who had kindly put me up), but other than that – no excuses. No housework, only myself to cook for and a dining table in a quiet house on the edge of Horsham in Sussex to spread out on. I wrote loads, collected my thoughts and did some planning. Shell Shocked Britain, the book I am writing for Pen and Sword Social History benefited hugely from that concentrated attention. Like a toddler, it felt it had me all to itself and with me, it settled into a healthier pattern.

The week that has just evaporated – a vapour trail behind me as I have rushed from one task to another, has been doubly frustrating knowing as I do now how much I can get done away from my home environment. I sit down to undertake some research on the ‘first blitz’ on Britain in WW1, or how the conflict between ‘manliness’ and ‘masculinity’ impacted on the view of those men who broke down in the face of war trauma and the dog will need to go out. My daughter will ring with earache, my son with news from London – I am glad they still turn to me of course, but another 30 minutes will be gone. I start typing away, marveling at the word count as it increases by the minute, and an email will pop up about another job that needs doing NOW. In all likelihood it could wait, but of course it has broken my concentration and suddenly becomes more important than anything else to hand. Sometimes it is very hard to take a deep breath and resist the temptation to email them back and say ‘you aren’t the only person I work for you know!!’ or ‘get to the back of the queue…’, but that is not the way to run a successful writing life and when the spell is broken I find it best to get the ’emergency’ off my mind. The average word count falls again.

I know quite a few of my readers are also writers, authors, journalists, poets. Wordsmiths all, generally working from home. Many of them find that an opportunity to procrastinate lurks in every corner of their own household. Children are, of course, bound to take your mind off the moment – however creative it might be. ‘Mummy I need a wee’ followed by ‘hang on a minute dear’ can only result in disaster. Even those with older or no children find  the phrase ‘I’ll just do…’ or ‘maybe a cup of coffee before I get started’, come all too readily to their lips. Even the hoovering can sometimes seem more appealing than staring at a blank page. Social media can take over your life, masquerading as it does as ‘raising your profile’, or keeping up to date with your mates. The lowest of the low is, of course, resorting to Bejeweled Blitz or similar online, mindless game. It does reduce stress, honestly. But it also reduces the amount of potentially productive time in the day. I have written before of my mild addiction, and the realization that the score board shows I am up against many of my online writing friends.

Sarah Cruickshank, a writer friend who is also terrific on the administrative and time management side of working from home, gave me some great advice about prioritising my workload and is one person I know who can block out tranches of time in the diary and stick to the plan. I try to follow her example, but have found that the only way to run a diary is to fill it all in with pencil and get used to rubbing stuff out and moving it on to the next day…

I love writing. This blog post for example is really getting the grey cells fired up for more serious work later on this afternoon. Research is part of my way of life, even if it doesn’t relate to work. But I live with my family of non-writer types – a husband and daughter who are athletes, interested in sports and who consider reading as a pastime for those who have nothing better to do. I find myself excluded by virtue of my sedentary job and the need to write when they are chilling, just because I haven’t managed to get myself motivated earlier in the day.

Procrastination-busterSo what stops you from getting creative? How do you divert yourself away from actually getting the work done? Short of leaving home, what do you think is the solution to the writing conundrum? How do you ensure that your time is well spent?  Do you get up early or stay up late? Listen to the radio, music or simply sit in silence? Have you found that holy grail of the freelancer – a 36 hour day?

Let me know your views – I would love to write another post in a few days full of your issues, or tips to keep you on track.

As long as they aren’t ‘don’t write blog posts’……………….


I don’t know what it is but I’ve lost it…the evaporation of the blogging mojo

Over recent months visits to my blog have doubled, but the number of posts I have written has halved. What could the explanation be?

It is easy actually, to know why this has happened. I am not sure how to see my way through the position I find myself in.

A few weeks ago a very popular TH antiques expert died suddenly and I quickly put up a post admitting to a love of daytime auction programmes and expressing my sadness at the loss of someone who was always able to cheer me up for a few minutes with a cheeky smile and a love of beautiful things.

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Do I have to change my personality to market my book?

Dandelions and Bad Hair Days will be published in the early autumn of this year. That is great news and I am looking forward to seeing it in print and using it to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise funds for nominated mental health charities.

However, whilst emailing round to all the wonderful people who have contributed to what is not only ‘my’ book – it being an anthology of prose and poetry written by more than 20 people who have experienced aspects of mental ill-health – someone raised the issue of marketing. Being helpful, and having published his own book, he wanted to know how I was publicising Dandelions. He was concerned that after it was ‘out there’ so to speak, there would be an anti-climax.

I have been blessed with the people who have been excited by this project. It isn’t only those who have written for it who have been so supportive. Editor Rin Simpson and her sister Ingrid Smejkal from Ingrid Eva Creative  who designed the cover without charging, although she spent a lot of time on it to get it just right; wonderful Sarah Cruickshank of Sarah Cruickshank Admin Solutions  who has offered her time to help me with communications and marketing. But he does raise an interesting point.

Do I really understand what it takes to get this book in front of people and ensure they  want to buy it? And as a person who experiences anxiety at the most inopportune and occasionally unexpected times, how do I get the confidence to do what almost every author has to do now – sell themselves to sell their book?

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When procrastination pays off: Finding ‘Five Ways to Kill A Man’ by Edwin Brock

A quiet Sunday afternoon. Lots of work to do; the house is a mess. I have just looked down at my hands and see the results of a morning in the garden – broken and dirty fingernails and a splinter in my ring finger that requires a pin and some antiseptic. So many things should take priority over sitting browsing the Poetry Archive website, but which of them can’t wait? (Don’t answer that one – I appreciate my finger may turn septic rendering work and cleaning impossible but I will take a chance.)

So I have been looking up some poets I have never read before and came across Edwin Brock. Born in South London in 1927 he was a serving police officer, advertising copywriter and professional poet. The following poem is one I had to share. ‘Five Ways to Kill A Man’ is one of the most important anti-war poems of the 20th century and I was struck by how effective it is in highlighting the true horror of what man does to man. Simple and direct, it doesn’t need any complicated images to drive the point home.

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Crikey I’ve got a website! Taking control of my freelance life…

I have recently received some sage advice about how I must run my freelance business. I need structure, routine and a business plan. I need to market my work efficiently online, keep accurate financial records and get out ‘there’. My ad hoc bohemian approach was causing me unnecessary stress I was told. Get timetabling, project planning, networking. Take regular breaks from the computer screen. Exercise. Hmm…

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Fighting the fear of failure; or ‘stop titting about…….’

I have been a little quiet on this blog of late. I think a combination of life ‘stuff’ has meant my concentration levels are low, inspiration hard to find and that dreaded monster self-doubt whispers in my ear ‘you have nothing of interest to say…’

Alternatively you could say I have been , in the words my sister and daughter often use to describe me, ‘titting about’. Procrastinating. Finding a million and one reasons not to sit my bottom on the chair and WRITE.

Over the past week though, as I celebrated the first birthday of a new decade, I have been encouraged by people who seem to know about these things to look again at the structure (or rather lack of same) in my days and re-evaluate my ‘life plan’ (ugh..). I usually recoil at the mere suggestion that I should be other than a bohemian free-thinker that writes only as the muse strikes, but I suspect I cling to that ‘identity’ only to avoid the moment when a decision has to be taken. Is this good enough to pitch to publishers? Should I self-publish? What if nobody wants to read it? What if those who try ask for their money back in disgust? It is, purely and simply, fear. Fear of failure. Being exposed as some kind of fraud. How dare I consider myself a writer. What a bloody nerve!

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In which I avoid a difficult subject with a poem about snow

Julia Copus

I have mentioned before that I attend a Royal Literary Fund ‘Reading Matters’ group every week. It is a wonderful idea; led by fabulous poet Julia Copus we listen to her read a short story and a poem each week, taking time to comment and express our thoughts about each in a friendly and supportive environment. It has been an inspiration to me – introducing me to short story writers and poets I might never have discovered for myself and teaching me so much about the short story form that I am experimenting with my own.

But this week, Julia inspired me in another area of writing that I have so far held back from. She encouraged us to listen to her Radio 3 piece ‘Ghostlines’ broadcast last week. In it she recounts in verse and her own personal testimony the experience of IVF. It is an intense emotional experience – frank and open about the disappointments, the pain and the actual process of treatment and it made me think very hard about a subject I could write on, but have so far avoided in any emotional sense. My breast cancer.

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Advice to writers? John Keats on dealing with distractions

There are very few writers who do not, on occasion, have an attack of ‘the vapours’ – defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘ a sudden feeling of faintness, nervousness or a state of depression’. It is a  general feeling of inadequacy; a point at which all one’s work seems pointless and sub-standard. It was often used to describe an ‘hysteria’ peculiar to females, but in truth it is something that many who write for a living, on whatever subject, experience. For me it comes on me as a feeling of listlessness –  my favourite word is ‘ennui’ – and it is caused by endless procrastination. Stress levels rise and everything seems impossible. At that point I often turn away from my work and read a little Keats, whose letters are full of inspirational passages on the nature of writing and on the power of the imagination.

In this extract from one of his lengthy ‘journal letters’, written over a period of ten days in 1819 and addressed to his brother George, he offers us some sage advice on the best way to deal with listlessness and dissatisfaction: (spellings are all Keats’ own)

To George and Georgiana Keats,

17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27 September 1819

My name with the literary fashionables is vulgar – I am a weaver boy to them – a Tragedy would lift me out of this mess. And mess it is as far as it regards our Pockets – But be not cast down any more than I am. I feel I can bear real ills better than imaginary ones. Whenever I find myself growing vapourish, I rouse myself, wash and put on a clean shirt brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoestrings neatly and in fact adonize as I were going out – then all clean and comfortable I sit down to write. This I find the greatest relief – Besides I am becoming accustom’d to the privations of the pleasures of sense. In the midst of the world I live like a Hermit. I have forgot how to lay plans for enjoyment of any Pleasure. I feel I can bear any thing, any misery, even imp[r]isonment-so long as I have neither wife nor child.’

Later in the letter he says:

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NaNoWriMo: The second half – retire hurt, change tactics or keep the faith?

This is my second blog post about my November NaNoWriMo experience

Half way through November. Fifteen days gone and I am still plugging away at my NaNoWriMo novel. I am afraid I am behind schedule, and will have to write nearly 2000 words a day to make sure I finish this side of Christmas let alone by the end of the month. But will I make it? Well with over 20,000 words committed to paper already it would be a bloody shame not to now wouldn’t it? Still I have to consider all my options. Two weeks is still two weeks and as we are frequently told, every day of our lives is precious. As you can tell, it is crisis time for the Grogan novel. Am I really a storyteller? I am beginning to think facts are more my forte.

The trouble is, that no matter how many pep talk emails you get from the team at NaNoWriMo, it is still a lonely battle. Your own determination and will power is the only defence against the ennui or burnout commonly experienced by those attempting to produce the necessary 50,000 words in thirty days whilst maintaining some vestige of a normal life.

For example, I have spent some of my day out taking photographs of Wellington, with a view to compiling something that makes it look even vaguely interesting to a would-be tourist, day-tripper or anyone quite honestly. I may or may not succeed, but it certainly didn’t get any of my novel written. I watched a history programme about the German invasion of Poland. It was enlightening (I really never knew that Hitler was not only evil but such a lazy man) and utterly terrifying, something we all should watch, but it didn’t get any of my novel written. Then there was the dog to walk, my son to nag and the last half hour of Midsomer Murders to watch. And yes, you’ve guessed it, a blog to write.

My story is not the problem. It is about a man whose life is deeply affected by his experiences in WW1, but it is told from his own and also his mother’s perspective and weaves in his lifelong mental health issues. So I am in London, moving between 1905, 1922 and back to the 1880’s. I fear I may have made it over-complicated, but at least if I have exhausted ideas for one period of history I can start working on another. It is however based on real life characters from my own family and I am finding it hard to fictionalise them without somehow cheapening their real experiences. After all, I am speaking for the dead, in a non-spooky way.

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Bejeweled Blitz, Solitaire, Farmville…..The social network guide to procrastination

This is something of an impulse post. I have had an epiphany. By the side of my bed is a book I am thoroughly enjoying (The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester). On the Freeview box is a recording of last night’s episode of Whitechapel and at least two Wallanders that I am desperate to watch. The dog hair needs scraping off the stairs,  I have loads of admin to get done and my roots need touching up.

So why am I playing Bejeweled Blitz? And why are a fair few of my blogging colleagues doing the same? Facebook has offered us a tool to enable us to avoid all forms of useful endeavour and we can’t get enough of it. There is a competition going on to see who can get to the top of the leaderboard and in the space of ten minutes I have gone down four places. I have just realised I cannot win. My laptop is too slow. But just one more try, after all each round is only a minute long – what harm could it do…? And then every Tuesday the board is wiped clean and you start all over again….

I have come to the realisation that the games available on Facebook are the work of some fiend who wants to prevent the obviously intelligent people I can see on the board getting anything useful done at all. There are writers, bloggers, parents, students – frankly we should all know better. What is it about a game where you get little jewels to match and go bang that is so addictive?

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