On struggling with the writing life – again

writing
writing
My thoughts, indeed.

I still seem to get a fair few hits on this, my blog. Not that I deserve them. No wriggling out of writing has been sorely neglected of late as I struggled with the first edits of my forthcoming book, (Death, Disease & Dissection to be published by Pen and Sword Books in October). My mum has been poorly too, and my sister and I have been spending more time with her in the hope that she can find at least a little joy in her life.

I have to be honest though. I have been endlessly wriggling out of writing, procrastinating at every opportunity and finding any excuse not to write. I have watched social media carefully, comparing myself to others and finding solace in their dilemmas, or berating myself for my lack of productivity. Author after author seems to have celebrated the release of yet another book or highlighted an article they have written. My pitching arm – the one that writes down the ideas that should be winging their way to commissioning editors has been, of late, disabled by the mental equivalent of a frozen shoulder.

I am an author and a published one, but it is hard to call myself a ‘writer’ unless I am writing so I need to get the word count up again. My imagination feels stifled, the door into the part of my mind I use as the boiler room for my creative work is firmly locked. Writing is an expression of myself, and has been used as therapy more than once, when I have really needed to speak to the world about something that is important to me. The love of it must come back.

The world has been, and still is, an emotionally exhausting place to live in recent months, but with little hope of improvement in the near future I can no longer use the horror in Syria, the abject misery of Brexit or the hideous injustices perpetrated by Trump as a reason not to write.  But writing about those things seems too scary.  I sit with fingers on the keyboard ready to respond to the most recent news item and have literally to stop myself from exposing the raw edges of grief I feel to the whole world.

I have, as always, turned to poetry when feeling most frustrated. John Keats , in Endymion, wrote ”In spite of all/ Some shape of beauty moves away the pall/From our dark spirits.’ and I have to hang on to the thought that this fallow period will end. Only I can end it after all. I am, at least, reading a lot across different genres and still booking new writers onto my Talking Books radio show.  Other authors inspire as well make me feel, quite without intending to, like I need a good kick in the pants…

So, if there is still anybody out there reading this, rather self-indulgent post, here is my attempt at a plan. Some parts, driven by my publisher and the looming of deadlines, will be easier to bring to fruition. Others are all down to me, and I am hoping writing them down will help:

  1. Death, Disease & Dissection WILL be out in October of this year.
  2. My anthology of blog posts relating to John Keats(with a foreword by Lynn Shepherd who has published some of them on The Wordsworth Trust blog) will be completed by the autumn.
  3. I will post at least once a fortnight here on No wriggling out of writing, even if it is just to share a favourite poem or poet, or review a book.
  4. I will enter two competitions (short story or poetry) by the end of this year.
  5. I will update my website and get that newsletter OUT.

Does that sound a lot? Or not enough? How can I possibly know? I have to get proofreading work in, articles pitched and written and blogs for business done to earn at least something to pay the bills, but as someone who describes herself as a writer, I know the first step is to WRITE.

Brace yourself…

 

5 ways to make the most of precious writing time…

Time Flies2016 has been one of those years that has seemed to offer very little  in the way of peace of mind, space for contemplation or periods of calm. The horrors of the world, along with political upheavals, have absorbed our attention and created an environment many of us feel uncomfortable with. I have certainly found it hard to concentrate on my writing, which not only helps us pay the bills but would normally keep me just on the right side of sanity. Even afternoons in a local coffee shop didn’t help me focus, as they did when I wrote Shell Shocked Britain.

However, I have recently been lucky enough to spend a week away, staying with friends in Liechtenstein. It was great to see them, but it wasn’t exactly a holiday. I was going to write, and if I didn’t, not only would it have been a waste of the £100 it cost me to get there (about the same as the travel costs for a weekend in London, from here in the SW…) but I would, in all probability, miss the deadline for my next book – Death, Disease & Dissection (to be published by Pen and Sword books in October 2017).

How often does anyone get the luxury of five free days to concentrate on their writing? Or on anything that means a lot, but which gets put to one side as day to day concerns and worries fill our time, and make the weeks fly past in a blur?

So, having had my week away, and finding it really helpful, I thought I would share those things which gave the 14,000 words I wrote the chance to flow:

  1. Have nothing beside you that is not helpful, or necessary – I cannot believe I managed with my laptop, just two reference books and two printed articles. I was constrained by my one, cabin, bag but since returning home I have kept the amount spread about my desk and floor to a minimum. I was nervous about this new approach, as I am a messy writer, flicking through books and articles and referencing websites to the point where the information becomes overwhelming and I lose heart or go off at an unhelpful tangent. Minimalism kept me focused, and the prep time required before I  set off was well spent.
  2. Set yourself a target…and stick to it – I wanted to write 12,500 words in the five clear days I had, alone in the house. That was 2,500 a day. I write non-fiction, so I was rarely able to follow that helpful maxim ‘just write’. I had to have some idea of the facts to include in the chapter I was focusing on, and that made the process more difficult, for me anyway. But I realised early on that what I was lacking was confidence – I knew more than I thought, and had absorbed more from my reading than I realised.  In the end, I exceeded my target and came home with a little more confidence in my memory…
  3. 15129415_1316465248384782_8424600699653398176_oGo for a walk! – Even if you don’t know where you are going. I didn’t, and I can’t speak German so if I had got lost, I may have stayed that way until I could get in touch with  my friends. The town they live in is quiet, with steep hills and wide grassy stretches to tempt you to get a good lungful of the very fresh air. There was a dusting of snow on the highest peaks, so even if I were fit enough I wasn’t going to risk a climb, but a wonderful network of paths and quiet residential streets offered enough exercise to keep the blood flowing and the fingers tapping at the keys. I couldn’t survive on caffeine alone.
  4. Don’t worry about the time – I didn’t. It was November, and the days were short enough, but in the mountains where I was staying the cloud came down occasionally, leaving the house shrouded in mist that never seemed to clear. My friends did not have fixed working hours so I could not be sure when they would return, or whether they would want their dining room table back! I quickly realised that I just had to get on with it, and ignored the clock on my computer, especially as it was still suggesting I was back in the UK.
  5. And on a similar subject – listen to your body – I have known for some time that I am an ‘owl’ rather than a ‘lark’. Getting up an hour earlier every morning to get more writing done simply isn’t a useful option for me, but I can still write on into the wee small hours if left to my own devices. My body might wake to an early alarm but only feels ready to go from about 8.45.  Whilst I was away I could let my body work like this, as I wasn’t under pressure to go to bed at the same time as my husband, and risk waking him at 2am by crawling under the duvet and pushing him back to his own side. I let everyone go to bed and wrote on. Bliss.

I know I was lucky to get this time away. I can’t afford an Arvon or other formal writing retreat, and I had to accept that time and funds did not allow me another week away in the Lake District. I was nervous about the journey, but I can’t believe how easy it was,  the Swiss bus and rail system being so much more efficient than the British experience.  I have also got the lovely Cornelia Marock and her family to thank for having me to stay, and looking after me so well. My only disappointment was how expensive the chocolate now is, owing largely to the way the pound has plummeted against the Euro, and the Swiss Franc in recent months.

Of course, I have tried to bring as many of these habits home with me as possible, although other work and family commitments impose their presence. The walk is happening, but I still find it hard to carry on after Peter, and the house, are asleep. I have reached the word count for the book and now have the editing to do, which is another challenge entirely, but one I now feel better able to face.

So if you can take some time out, do. If you can’t, then I heartily recommend adopting a more managed routine, and a little more time to write might just appear somewhere in our crowded days.

 

Running hard to stand still: Anxiety, writing & a world of confusion…

images (2)I sit at my PC. My hands hover over the keyboard, my mind trying hard to focus on the letters. I will them into words, sentences, paragraphs. I flick through my folders of research; the articles I must read, the chapters I have identified in the books taken  out of The London Library. But it isn’t right. It is never right. The words are there but they are not fit for purpose and refuse to get into shape. I switch to the internet, searching for inspiration on twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Nothing but distraction, they only add to a sense of frustration and an anxiety that increases as the minutes and hours pass.

I turn to the social media and blogging work I do for others – that is fine. My editing and proofreading work is going well. I am not letting clients down, just myself.

Continue reading “Running hard to stand still: Anxiety, writing & a world of confusion…”

Mock Orange – a poem for work & the summer weather

Mock Orange

Watching, as the waxy flowers fall
into the scattered gravel of the summer
garden; it seems the world, the weather and
a clouded view conspire to damp
the spirits. Her fingers leave the glass.

She turns into the room to work
another minor, tepid miracle.

Suzie Grogan 2012

I have been struggling to concentrate on any one aspect of my rather heavy workload at the moment. Marketing Dandelions and Bad Hair Days is a priority and I have another book to research but there are lots of those more routine things that seem to sap the life out of the working day. Time management is a real challenge. Procrastination is the very devil to resist.

Earlier in the year, when we had a spell of fine weather, I got far more work done than I have recently, when I am forced indoors by teeming rain and cold wind, rather than sitting at the keyboard voluntarily. I can’t sit out in the garden with an afternoon cup of tea, catching up with the reading I long to do. My mood lowers with the cloud, which then obscures my ability to see what is important and get it done. The simplest tasks are made harder by the fog that seems to creep onto the pages of whatever I am trying to write.

Continue reading “Mock Orange – a poem for work & the summer weather”

Lets focus on the day job….On life coaching, creativity & the local economy

There are very few writers, even those with published work on the shelf, who can say that they earn a living wage solely from that writing. A few articles, the novel-in-progress or in my case the fund-raising anthology don’t pay the mortgage. Very few websites or books advising would-be authors suggest you throw up employment before you see how far your work will take you. I was made redundant almost two years ago now, and if it hadn’t been for a husband on an average to good salary and a couple of freelance administration jobs I couldn’t even have afforded the proverbial garret to starve in.

A poem I love, but which I find a little troubling at the same time (possibly because I don’t understand it well enough, or am not a middle-aged slightly alcohol dependent man) is Aubade by Philip Larkin and most particularly the last lines:

The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Continue reading “Lets focus on the day job….On life coaching, creativity & the local economy”