Grow Up and Get Back to Work

Back to work (crochet away!)

Back to work (crochet away!)

I’ve really struggled to get back into writing this January. After six weeks of Christmas planning and the children being home for the holidays, my brain is foggier than the dull winter skies outside.

I have started several blog posts in my head in the last week or two, but none have made it further than that. They’ve had titles like “Christmas Chaos and Crochet Stole My Voice” and “Farmville Is Evil”. But that’s same ol same ol.

I’ve written before about how my addiction to knitting and Farmville has derailed my writing, how having the children home from school causes me to sleep non-stop (I was asleep at 4pm on Christmas Day) and how hard it is to get the balance between Writer and Mummy. It’s time to stop making excuses and get back to work.

Another post that floated in the unwritten ether of my mind at 3am, as is often the case, was a review of 2014, and how I found inner peace.

Happy children

Happy children

It’s a bit late for end-of-year reviews and, anyway, my new year starts in September, not January. But it is true nonetheless. I might still struggle with depression and the more negative aspects of being HSP. I might have struggled with having hubbie home for four months while he found a new job (he did, hurrah). I might have realised that being self published, self employed, is harder than even my pessimistic view of the world could have predicted. But still, peace was found.

Somewhere between Sertraline, Mindfulness and Good Enough Parenting, somewhere between my children telling me they love me All The Time and being able to be at home with my husband for four months and still look forward to retirement, somewhere between five-star reviews and knitted toys, I found me.

I’m reading a children’s book called Winterling by Sarah Prineas at the moment, and the main protagonist finally finds a place where she fits, where she feels she belongs. This year, especially this Christmas holiday, between making bread from scratch, hosting Christmas play dates for nine and five children, learning to crochet, and being there for my children, I realised I have found where I belong.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. My family and I thought I’d be a terrible parent. Turns out we were all wrong. For all my doubt and shoutiness and crying and constant need to hide, I am a great parent. My children are kind and happy, healthy and full of love.

Writing didn’t come naturally to me. My parents and my tutors at university said my writing was dull. But hard work beats genius every time, and six years in to my writing journey some people (not all!) love my stories. I began to doubt my writing after Class Act and Alfie and the Magic Arch but I need to realise I’m still learning, and not give up.

Huggable creativity

Huggable creativity

My writer’s blues, my lost voice, came from doubt and impatience. Knitting and Farmville are far more instant. I can make a toy in a few days, I can make cakes on my farm in minutes.

Writing is invisible and definitely the long climb to creativity. It’s intangible. At the end of each day I can’t measure my progress with a ruler, or gets oohs of delight from my friends. Just like parenting (my children thank me for working on their Farms, they never thank me for clean clothes or floors), you have to accept the results are a long way off and keep slogging anyway.

I reread a post from this time last year, and discovered I felt exactly the same. Lost, melancholy, restless. It’s January, dark, rainy, and exhaustion is rife after Christmas. Time to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.

So today my laptop is charged, my crochet bagged (except for the photo!), the farms switched off. Today I will return to Lucy and Edan, Andrew and Graham, and I will find their story. I will write until they find their happy ending and, in doing do, I will find mine.

Searching For The Next Novel Idea

A book of ideas

A book of ideas

I’ve decided to park Finding Lucy for now, as I need to start writing now to get back into the swing of things and the draft needs far too much analysing to write anything more on it yet. So today I ran through my scribbled list of projects looking for inspiration. I didn’t find it, even though the list is rather long!

Current Drafts:
Finding Lucy (needs too much work)
Bonds of Love (ditto, plus has overlap characters with Finding Lucy)
Annie and Phoebe (about a Georgette Heyer novel that isn’t in public domain, so a no go for self-publishing)
Dragon Wraiths part two (don’t have the energy to pick through the hot mess of the last few chapters)
Alfie and the Arch (don’t feel qualified to write kids’ fiction at the moment)

Pencilled in Sequels
Sequel to Two Hundred Steps Home (don’t have energy to re-read the 200k original to pick up the story thread)
Sequel to Baby Blues following Ben and Sharni (isn’t grabbing me, lots of cultural research required)

Totally New Ideas
The Pudding Club (an idea that floats around every time I catch up with my old colleagues – a novel or play written just through dialogue at regular catch-ups. Bit worried my friends will try out work out which one is them or take offence.)
Dad Starts Dating (a YA about a girl whose divorced parents start new relationships – based on personal experience; I worry I would end up offending my mum!)
Colony on Jupiter (YA? – one of the dream stories I actually wrote notes on rather than immediately forgot. A bit like the TV series 100, although my idea predates watching it, but where the space station is a functioning community with shops, school etc)

So far NONE of these is remotely grabbing me. I want to write something with a bit of pace; I’d love to write a series, to help sales and because I loved spending a whole year with Claire last year, and I’d love to write something fantasy/sci fi, even though that’s considerably out my comfort zone.

But a) I worry that straying from the stye of Class Act and Baby Blues will be a mistake (although I can’t give Class Act away, so there isn’t much to break) and b) I’m really not sure I have the imagination to pull it off without plagiarising something. It’s no coincidence that my characters are loosely based on me: my biggest fear is stealing someone else’s idea/style/world. I found it happened a lot with Dragon Wraiths, whereas it was easy to imagine the settings for Class Act and Baby Blues.

I feel like when I can’t decide on a new book to read, which ironically is also a problem I’m having. I have three or four good novels half-finished on the kindle and have reverted to the failsafe of Harry Potter just to keep reading. It feels like I poured all my creativity into loombands and knitting and art in August and now I’m empty (and have RSI!)

Arrgghh. Writers out there, where do you get your ideas from when you’re stuck? How do you choose your next project? I have been working on old manuscripts for so long I’ve forgotten how to start something new, and I’ve never started something without a glimmer of an idea from a dream or a character or an idea how the story ends. Maybe it’s time to get an early night and hope I remember my dreams!

Stepping Back From The Brink

Not giving up yet

Not quitting yet, although putting this MS to one side

My psychotherapist once told me I see everything in black and white. The world is either coming to an end or it’s fantastic – there’s nothing in between. Unfortunately, true as it is, she didn’t give me a way to tackle it.

I have become better at keeping perspective, finding the positive, crawling away from the pit of despair (with a little medicinal assistance). But when I’m sleep-deprived and premenstrual all bets are off, drugs or no drugs. Then, a day or so later, I look back and roll my eyes. Get a grip.

And so it is this morning. When I think about my point of nadir yesterday – triggered by thinking I can’t write – I realise what went wrong. I took someone’s judgement of my first ever children’s book – and an early draft at that – as an indictment against ALL my writing.

Who did I think I was? Did I really think I could work on a novel for a couple of months – in a new genre – and it be anything other than pants? Particularly a novel written for a reason, rather than because the story demanded to be captured. My other novels took months, often with a big gap between first and second draft. The characters lived with me and demanded a voice.

So, I’ve eaten a snickers and stopped being a Diva. I got my first short but charming comment on Class Act today (“A very engaging romance”) after offering it free for a few weeks to get reviews. Phew! And I’ve come up with a new plan to fill my time until the end of term. It’s a crazy plan, but it’ll keep me busy.

I just wish I hadn’t involved the editor in my should I/shouldn’t I dramatics. I doubt she’ll ever work with me again, and she was really very good. I’m trying to remind myself of the phrase What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.

Hmmm. That one might need some work.

Losing My Mojo

By Amber Mart, aged 5

By Amber Martin aged 5

I have spent the last few months trying my hand at writing a children’s book, to enter into the Chicken House competition in October. I tried to start last year, but didn’t get past an idea and an opening. This year I managed to complete the first draft (including writing 30,000 words in two weeks).

Unfortunately my idea stinks.

I began to feel it during drafting, and it was confirmed as I started editing. Chicken House are looking for a fresh new voice and, in the words of the editor I lined up to help me, my writing is, “flat, almost formal, and not successful for Middle Grade fiction.” Apparently the tone is more Enid Blyton than J K Rowling. Much of that is because my fantasy world is dismal and boring, my baddies two-dimensional and my protagonists predictable.

It’s all very obvious. Just because I love reading kids books, from great picture stories all the way to young adult, doesn’t mean I have what it takes to write them. I could learn, of course.

The editor suggested I perhaps didn’t have the work ethic to draft and draft until I had the story I wanted. Maybe that’s true. It isn’t that I’m afraid of hard work, but I have to confess that extensive editing leaves me demotivated and exhausted. The more I work at something the more stilted it feels and the harder it is to remain objective. Eventually everything stinks, or everything is bland or derivative.

It happened to my paintings. The abstract my daughter did this weekend might be a bit whacky but it’s much more vibrant and original than mine these days. They used to be like that. But then I overworked them, trying to make them into something that wasn’t me, and they became so bland and boring I didn’t want to paint anymore. But I couldn’t recapture that unselfconscious freshness.

I feel the same with my writing. I used to write multi-pov stories that had a bit of whacky freshness, but I trained myself to write strict limited POV with accurate grammar and not too many similes. All the things that kill children’s stories. And now I can’t write anything else.

Working Hard

Working Hard

What’s the answer? Hubbie asked me, as I sobbed yesterday that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, whether it is really what I want to do. I had to pause. What I want is a creative job that fits in with the school-run and might eventually make money. I hoped it was paintings – it wasn’t. I tried web design and marketing services to small businesses, but didn’t have the enthusiasm or skills.

Is writing one more fancy and unrealistic dream to avoid getting a real job? I’ve stuck at it much longer than the other ideas (though it’s made less profit) and have published half a million words. I’ve even sold 200-300 books (although not a single copy of Class Act!) But it’s not earth-shattering and certainly not a career.

Parenting is such a thankless, soul-destroying pass time (for me) that I need to feel good at something, to feel successful. Something to offset the endless criticism and contrariness of a three and a five year old. Part of that includes making money and getting positive feedback. Feeling like I’m actually good at something I enjoy.

To be honest I probably need an agent, a publishing deal. But if my writing is flat, formal, clichéd, I’ll never get one. And if I ‘m not prepared to tear a manuscript apart to its bones and rebuild it, am I just another delusional wannabe?

Don’t answer that.

Holidays are Great but I Love My Job

We had the beach to ourselves

We had the beach to ourselves

We got back from a wonderful week in Italy yesterday, happy and exhausted (and a little sunburnt in my case after forgetting to get hubbie to put cream on my back.) I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours unpacking, washing, ironing, cooking and trying to survive the tantrums of four shattered people.

The weather was glorious for most of our week – unlike back in the UK where they suffered days of torrential rain. The dog came back from kennels a little rounder than she went, instead of the kilos lighter she usually is after a week of long walks and no table scraps. I’m guessing there weren’t many opportunities to walk dogs in that weather.

Not that we didn’t get any rain. Our second day on the beach saw us sheltered in the nearest cafe when the heavens opened for an hour. There is something rather cool about sipping a cappuccino in twenty degrees heat watching the soft sand getting pounded and water flooding across the patio because the drainpipes empty onto it. It left the sand with the texture of a wool carpet.

The downpour

The downpour

Our trips to Italy are family visits rather than holidays and we spent plenty of time with aunts and cousins. The children and I don’t speak Italian, so it’s always rather chaotic and overwhelming, although lovely and heartwarming. With our family spread all over the world it always means a lot to catch up with them and spend time together.

That said, we were glad to come home to our own beds. The children find it hard staying in an apartment, unable to go outside whenever they want and constantly being told to be quiet. I feel trapped, too, because I can’t drive the hire car and it terrifies me not being able to talk to the locals. Plus the apartment is in town and rather noisy! I haven’t slept properly for a week.

Mind you, coming back to a foot-high lawn and a messy house, I can now appreciate the beauty of living in a small flat and spending all the time at the beach!

Beach babies

Beach babies

The best part about being home for me is being able to get back to work. While hubbie and the kids are dragging their heels and not wanting the holiday to end, Monday morning can’t come soon enough for me. The only difficulty is choosing between working on Class Act or my kids’ book.

I’ve opted for the latter and have printed out the manuscript in readiness. I spent some of the holiday reading middle grade fiction (after re-reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a fantastic book,) and I can see all the things that are so wrong with my Alfie book. Not that I think I can fix them – I’m still not sure Middle Grade is my genre – but I’m excited to try.

Me, excited about editing? How did that happen? I used to hate it. I still don’t feel I know what I’m doing. But already having sourced an editor has made a difference. I know what she thought was wrong with my sample and so I know what I’m looking for in my redraft. It’s like writing an essay for a university tutor, and that’s something I’ve had lots of experience doing. I used to love writing essays. (I know, I’m a freak!)

Of course I’ll probably end up sleeping instead of working tomorrow – the danger of working from home! Best work in the coffee shop. Talking of which, it’s definitely time for bed! Night night.

Writing Research and Pre-Holiday Blues

Birthday boy (a week early)

Birthday boy (a week early)

I’m supposed to be packing for holiday this morning but I am beyond exhausted. In the last two weeks I’ve written 30,000 words, done four hours of live art, spent a whole day arranging a fundraising site for a friend with much more on her plate than I have. I’ve had children home poorly from school, sourced an editor for my children’s book, had the edits back for Class Act and lost a day’s childcare to a ‘bonus trip to the zoo’ to which I had to escort my own child and pay to get in. (Don’t get me started…)

And to top it all off I spent Friday chasing prescriptions and getting lost when I was meant to be finalising my Montegrappa Scholastic competition entry and doing ten loads of laundry and ironing for the holiday. Saturday was out because we celebrated hubbie’s birthday a week early so the house had to be found under the weeks of accumulated dirt, and lunch for six needed cooking.

The only upside of the chaos was that getting lost was great research for my children’s novel. A large part of the action is set in an over-grown bramble-buried forest, and that’s not far off where I ended up for an hour on Friday. I only stopped to let the dog have a run. She’d had to sit in the car for an hour after I ‘popped in’ on the way back from the vets to get hubbie’s prescription and discovered it hadn’t been ordered.

Ready for editing...

Ready for editing…

I decided to try a new walk I’d seen before, that looked like a straight forward walk across fields into a wood. When I got there it was beautiful – all meandering tracks shaded from the hot sun, with bracken and woodland flowers. So off we went. But I have NO sense of direction and before long I was starting to panic. I headed in the direction I thought would take me to my car, but ended up at what looked like a disused quarry. Unlike Claire, in Two-Hundred Steps Home, I don’t have a smart phone with GPS. So I rang hubbie and he tried to work out where I was and to give me directions. Unfortunately he couldn’t work out my location (turns out he was looking at the wrong quarry.)

In a panic I hung up and decided to follow the dog in case, you know, she turned out to be Lassie or something. She led me towards the flooded quarry so I climbed a barbed wire fence and headed in. Of course I forgot she loves puddles and hates trees and her only motivation was to get out in the open. When we got in she jumped in a puddle and looked at me as if to say, ‘now what?’

The disused quarry looked remarkably like an off-road course and after I’d scrambled up and down a few sheer muddy tracks (in a skirt and sandals) I realised where I was. And it was a long way from the car.

Panic was escalating: being lost terrifies me, especially when I have a zillion things to do and the kids to pick up in three hours. So I ran back across the land-rover off-road course, having realised it was a dead end. I climbed through a bramble bush, catching my long skirt and nearly falling down the bank, and badly stinging my arm. I raced across a sheep field, realised I couldn’t get out, and walked the full length to the gate.

Being a field for livestock there was no way the dog was scrambling under the wire. So I picked her up – all 28kg of her (the vet told me off for her being overweight) – and I threw her over a four-foot barbed-wire topped gate. She landed on her back and for a moment I thought we’d be going back to the vets. Thankfully she was fine. We were about a mile from the car in 25 degree heat and inappropriate clothing. But we made it. My ‘quick walk’ took over an hour.

No wonder I find myself too tired to get out of bed and deal with the hyped-up mega whining children this morning.

I need a holiday.

A Bio, A Synopsis and The Danger of Distraction

Back at Nursery Today

Back at Nursery Today

My son went back to nursery today (hurrah!) and I was able to get back to work. Unfortunately a night of broken sleep has left me a little dazed and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. So, rather dangerously, I decided to do something different. I’ve just read Julie Duffy’s guest post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog, about 15 Fixes for Your Worst Writer’s Block (worth a read!) I decided to combine ‘Work On A Different Part Of The Project’ and ‘Change Projects’. So today I’ve been working on the extra stuff I need to enter my WIP in the Independent’s children’s novel competition – the bio and synopsis – and I got out an old manuscript that I want to work on next.

It was a shock looking at the old manuscript and realising I started writing it in 2008, before my daughter was born. That’s five and a half years ago! Where did the time go? It’s also tough reading something that you remember as being quite good and realising your writing has come on some way since then. Which is of course fantastic – I’d hate to think my writing had got worse – but as I wrote the manuscript whilst also studying a Creative Writing degree course with the Open University, I kind of assumed it might be okay. Actually the writing might be – I didn’t get much chance to go into it – but the formatting and grammar are awful!

I spent the morning roughly reformatting it because I’ve programmed myself to write ready-to-publish documents, after doing Two-Hundred Steps Home last year, when everything had to be ready to publish at the end of each month. Formatting and layout, styles and chapter headings, all have to be to Smashwords standards (easy enough to convert to Kindle formatting). It did mean that I noticed things like how many bits of dialogue start with, “So…” Which is how I speak, but no longer how I write fiction. It’s nice to know I have grown a bit as a writer in half a decade.

I had to quickly put the manuscript away before it dragged me further in. It’s probably a blessing that it needs so much work: I’m not tempted to start that particular challenge when I have two big deadlines looming: finishing this children’s book by the end of next week, and getting Class Act out by the end of June.

So I wrote my Author Biography (see! I started another sentence with ‘so’!) It was rather gratifying. I was able to put:

Amanda Martin is a self-published author and blogger, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog, Writermummy, has accumulated 550 posts in two years, and she has published four novels. Amanda’s women’s fiction novel Two-Hundred Steps Home was written in daily instalments and published in monthly volumes in 2013 as part of a challenge on her blog. A section of the novel has been selected to appear in a Cambridge University Press study book. Amanda’s Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel award in 2013. George and the Magic Arch is her first Middle Grade novel, although MG fiction is her favourite genre.

All of which should hopefully be true by the time I put in the competition entry, or at least by the time someone comes to read it! It’s nice to feel I’ve been doing something with my time at home these last five years.  I even managed to write a one-page synopsis which, although it will need tweaking, takes a weight off my mind. I hate writing synopses (if that’s the correct plural?)

Anyway, distraction time is over. As the children have been off sick this week I’m marginally behind on my 15,000 word target, although it’s still in sights. I definitely do better working to a target. I must remember that.