Cramp

img_6582

Healthy work habits

If I continue the analogy that I used in a previous post, of this year being about swimming away from Mummy towards Amanda, I think it’s fair to say that I now have cramp.

I’ve always been a bit all-or-nothing. My therapist said it was the cause of my poor mental health, that I see everything and live everything in black and white.

January was no different.

As well as working on the project I managed to secure through Findaproofreader, and planning and executing my daughter’s 8th birthday party (you know, making a glitter ball pinata and glitter jelly and glitter ball cakes and a playlist and all that jazz), I’ve also been buying and selling furniture to get our house where we want it.

pouffe

Knitted pouffe

Oh and knitting my daughter’s pouffe for her birthday. And trying to stay on top of all the domestic stuff like cooking and ironing (yawn). So, in the end, there’s been no time for actual swimming.

It turns out proofreading someone else’s novel takes a hundred times more energy and concentration than editing your own. To begin with, I only managed a couple of hours a day before my head was ready to explode. Thankfully it’s a good story, and so I wanted to know what happened next. I sent the finished work off today, on time and on budget. Hurrah.

But what’s really giving me cramp? The juggling.

I have always known how very lucky I am not to be a working parent. But there is one thing knowing you’re lucky, and another living the other life for a while. Especially at a time the school decided to double the kids’ homework (grrr to homework full stop, but especially for six and eight year olds), never mind Beavers and Brownies and karate and clubs and parties and play-dates. Oh my goodness, I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Easter (or whatever that lovely phrase is).

img_6585

Amazing space

But it’s also great. I love having work to do. I am living the saying, ‘if you want something doing ask a busy person,’ as I’m getting much more done in a day than I used to. And I’m managing to work for more than a couple of hours a day, as my brain adjusts. New glasses help! (Turns out my eyes are getting better – there had to be some compensation to getting older.)
The best bit is spending my wages on a new wardrobe for my daughter (although that caused its own drama), not just to make her happy, but to sort out her room to make me happy.

Of course I’ve probably spent my wages about eight times over, but that’s not the point! The point is I have wages to spend. And let’s hope there is more to come, because I’m so jealous of my daughter’s fabulous wardrobe, I want to do our room next!

But in the meantime, I’m actually glad it’s half term in a week. I could use the rest, and perhaps, finally, get a chance to go for a swim.

Proofreader: Found

img_6456

All lovely things I’ve bought

It’s no secret that I’m a complete shopaholic.

It’s a terrible thing to admit in a world devastated by frivolous consumption. But I am a true child of the 80s and shopping makes me happy. Especially finding charity shop bargains or nabbing a deal on marketplace sites.

But life as a self-published author is not exactly lucrative. It’s a good year if I break even between what I make selling books and what I spend on editing and cover art.

What to do?

Well the obvious solution has always been get a job. But it isn’t that straightforward. Our life works because I don’t. We’ve made choices to allow me to be at home, running the house, and my reward for large amounts of tedious boredom and no income is huge amounts of time to swim, read and knit.

But oh, the shopping.

img_6459

Cutie Caramel

I miss guilt-free ‘it’s my money, I earned it, I’ll spend it how I like’ shopping. It doesn’t matter that I know part of my husband’s income is due to me for the cooking, cleaning, ironing and childcare. It’s not the same. That’s just pin money.

Until now.

Through a series of marvellous coincidences, I started working last year, transcribing audio, and then editing a memoir.

This year I decided to take a risk and pay to advertise on Findaproofreader. And, what do you know, it worked! And now I am working too.

So if you or a friend need a proofreader, editor, audio-typist, or writing buddy, look me up. You’ll be helping me make my house beautiful and my kids and guinea pigs happy. Of course, I’d still rather sell books than time, but both are awesome.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shopping now…

Cake and Karate

Karate.jpg

Karate Exam

Once again I have had a heap of blog post ideas floating around my head, but life keeps getting in the way of me writing them down.

Typing, housework, birthday cakes, after school club forms, karate exams, a new book idea.

So this is just a quick update to keep the blog plodding along!

I passed my first karate exam last Saturday, and my son passed his latest grade easily this time too. Despite feeling for my little girl who I think regretted choosing not to Grade with us, I was very proud of us both, particularly my son. Even without his sister, he walked in with head high and 100% focus and breezed an exam I was sure he would fail. His drawing of his exam shows how much it meant to him.

On the flip side I didn’t do so well on my first Proofreading paper. I got a B- which doesn’t sound too bad until you know that I need a straight B to pass. It turns out I edit too much. Ahem.

Cake.jpg

Wobbly Cake

I made my son the requested Lego cake. It didn’t rise and was nowhere near the image my son picked out, but he liked it and it tastes great!

But oh my that lettering was far harder than it should be. Despite my many talents, manipulating fondant icing isn’t one of them!

I’m trying to make space for writing something new. Not that there is very much space at the moment between the school run, paid work, and party prep.

But I have an idea and that’s a start. I’ve challenged my husband to write something for the Chicken House competition (deadline December). Not sure if either of us will manage it, but the race is on.

Thankfully I’m at the ‘carrying an idea around in my mind and world building’ which is just as well. I don’t know if it’s the antibiotics (my ear infection came back and it’s definitely made me feel bleh – MTMcGuire I think you’re onto something!) or whether it’s an excited child getting out of bed at 5am yesterday, but I’m definitely a bit fuzzy. Writing a dystopian novel probably requires me to be a bit sharper.

In the meantime I’d better get back to typing and party prep. Who says SAHMs have it easy? 😀

June Journals #7 ~ Routine Rocks

FullSizeRender (8)

I even cooked last night

I always thought I wasn’t a routine sort of person. When I quit my job (nearly a decade ago now, frighteningly), it was like being reborn. Here was a life without schedule. No 9-5, or 8-8 as it was most days. No boss, no one to please, no one telling me what to do.

I was an idiot.

I hate not having a boss. Being self-employed, or even unemployed, as I effectively am these days, is not for the fainthearted.

Being the person who gets you up every morning, keeps you moving through the day, makes you knuckle down when you’d rather sleep. That takes will power.

Turns out I don’t have a great deal of that.

I wanted to be an artist. I left my job as a Marketing Manager to sell paintings, not realising that marketing and sales were oh so very different, especially when what you’re selling is you. I sucked as a sales person, and had to return to the office. But I made a good contractor.

Well initially anyway.

Contracting is the ultimate in doing what you’re told, even if what you’re told to do is not what you think should be done. Turns out I wasn’t much better at that either. If something was daft, or if someone claimed they’d asked for x when actually they’d asked for y, I found it hard to keep my mouth shut.

Then I had kids.

Suddenly I had a boss, and then two. And they were the most demanding, unreasonable, dictatorial, loveable little tyrants I’d ever worked for. And I’ve had dozens of bosses.

But doing what you’re told also becomes a habit, and now I have to be careful that I don’t let the kids treat me like a doormat. I catch myself jumping up to get things they can quite easily get themselves, or fetch them something while they sit comfortably watching TV.

Anyway, that drifted off point slightly. My point was, yesterday saw a return to routine, at least for the children. My day is topped and tailed by the school run, with homework and after school clubs squeezed in. There’s a routine, of sorts. And I love it.

I still suck at organising the five or six hours in between. I still sleep more than I should. But I’m determined to crack this proofreading course I paid for, and nail my 5k run, as well as finish painting the garden fence, so at least at the moment I have targets.

Targets are good. That’s a bit like having a job. Being a parent is a lot like having a job. And while most of the time I think I suck at that too, I look at my children and realise I’m not doing too badly.

Although being paid would be nice. Especially paid leave. Guilt-free time off. I miss that the most!

Too Scared To Start

A Book in Card Form

A Book in Card Form

I know it’s been ages since I wrote a post. What can I say? My fortieth year seems to be a time of change. Looking for a job that pays actual real money, de-cluttering the house and fixing things we’ve put up with for ages, trying to lose some of the 30lbs I’ve gained in the last decade without actually going on a diet because, cake.

And, despite my last post, trying to write a book for adults.

After my defeatist post, saying I wasn’t going to write for adults anymore, I decided that was a bit crap. So I downloaded a book I’ve heard great things about, called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on how to write screenplays, rather than novels, but the principles are the same.

It’s brilliant.

Snyder uses a 15-Beat plan to plot a screenplay (or novel) and it’s the first time I’ve seen a beat sheet that actually helped create the plot, rather than just lay it out and break it into acts.

For the first time ever, I have planned a complete novel from beginning to end, set out in 45 scenes, with word count targets, turning points, characters, motivation, conflict and resolution. I usually start writing with a character and an ending and that’s it. This time I didn’t even really understand who my lead character was until I was some way in.

So, I have these cards. This plot. This complete story. And I’m scared.

I’ve never written to a plan before. What if I can’t flesh out the story to do my plan justice? What if I try too hard and it’s stilted, because I usually seat-of-pants my writing, which gives it great vigour and flow. What if, what if…?

Even though I have a complete story there, ready to be written, I have writer’s block. It’s horrible.

I forced myself to write a couple of scenes this morning, just to get going. But it was HARD. To make it worse, I have accidentally written a plan for a story that is tough. Difficult scenes, not-very-nice characters. Grief, angst, worry.

As part of his lessons, Snyder recommends that you choose a hero that, “offers the most conflict in the situation, has the longest emotional journey, and has a primal goal we can all root for. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, and fear of death grab us.”

I don’t normally do conflict. I don’t like writing tough scenes. Writing the suicide-attempt scenes in Two Hundred Steps Home made me unbelievably miserable. But somehow, Snyder’s book created this tense, conflict-driven storyline. And now I’m too afraid to write it.

I get very affected by what I write. I remember being horrible to my husband when writing about Daniel in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I go out of my way to avoid arguments and upheaval. Just being around my constantly-squabbling children at the moment is exhausting. So why would I write a book about horrible things?

Because it should be a good book, that’s why. Moving out my comfort zone, upping the conflict, should make for a page-turner. If I can do it justice and make a character I can root for.

While I haven’t started, all that is wonderful potential. As soon as I begin, I will realise I don’t have the skill to pull it off. Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser at heart: not because I can’t plan, but because I don’t have the self-belief to put a plan into action. Pantsing involves a lot of writing from the subconscious, switching off the critical, analytical part of the brain. Writing to a plan is going to make that so much harder.

But nothing good ever came easy, right? So I’ll plod on. Like losing 30lbs, it has to start one day at a time. One biscuit fewer, one mile more. One paragraph, one card, one page.

My book is called, “It takes courage.”

It certainly does.

Trying Not to Quit

Waiting for Ears

Monkeys Waiting for Ears

September was crazy, October is turning out to be (tries to think of a PG word) challenging. Despite having a lovely birthday, with lots of new wool to tempt me, so far the reasons to smile are becoming harder to find. The kicker is I can’t even blog about most of it.

The bit I can talk about is probably more a symptom than a cause. I want to quit. Again. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself all done with trying to be an author, but it’s the first time I’ve found something else (temporary I’m sure) to fill the creative void. Knitting.

Not that I don’t get frustrated with that as well. If I have to make another monkey (especially for the children) I might weep. Again! There were tears of frustration when I sewed a leg on back to front. But I am loving the creativity of inventing patterns as I go, seeing what I can create with my extremely basic skills and having something to hug at the end of it.

Critical as my children are (“Mummy, why doesn’t the bottom on my monkey squish like my brother’s does?” “Because Mummy used the wrong material to enclose the beads and, no, I’m not unpicking it to change it.”) it’s much easier to ignore. I can see the end product and decide if the critics are right. Same with my paintings.

But you can’t ‘see’ a novel. You can’t swiftly and dispassionately judge it against the criticism or the praise and decide if the comments are fair. I’m struggling as much with the five star reviews for Baby Blues as the two-star ones for Class Act. With the former, I feel I can’t write with that freedom and passion any more. It was a story close to my heart and one I rewrote many times.

Knitty Cats

Knitty Cats

Many of the good reviews talk about the emotional roller-coaster, and I know Class Act and now Finding Lucy lack that. Partly because I’m drained and medically subdued and partly because I’m writing much more self-consciously. It happened with my paintings. I started to try too hard to paint ‘right’ or ‘professionally’ and lost the spark that made them special.

I know I won’t quit. Writing is in my blood. Life will (hopefully, eventually) settle down, and I’ll find a way through. Find a story that needs me to tell it, so I can ignite the passion again. Maybe I’ll be brave and join a writing group, get more feedback to help me find that objectivity. But not right now. I need a layer of armour before I subject myself to that.

In the meantime I’ll go back to my Knitty Cats, and carpel tunnel pins and needles. Christmas is coming. If I can’t sell books, maybe I can sell cats (and definitely not monkeys!)

Life, Love, and Looking for the Positive (with Bon Jovi)

The view from my 'office' this morning

The view from my ‘office’ this morning

Reading the latest post from The Belle Jar yesterday, and from Miss Fanny P this morning, about how hard it is reconciling being a Mum with being a person, I couldn’t help but pour out a long heartfelt reply of agreement.

I spent the entire summer holiday sleeping in defence against being in a situation I couldn’t change, even though it was a situation of my choosing.

This was my comment on Miss Fanny P’s blog:

“Ah, I can so relate. I spent most of the school holidays ‘napping’ and I thought it was a virus. Only when it went on for two months did I realise it was my body’s way of escaping an unwanted but unavoidable situation.

There was a great post on The Belle Jar yesterday about losing self when you become ‘Mummy’. It’s so true. We make our choices but from a really limited set of options. Hubbie was telling me this weekend that he read some of my old work notes and realised how very good I used to be at my job and it made me so sad, because even though I didn’t quit to become a mum (rather to be an artist, which didn’t work out) I lost all ability to go back as soon as the children got used to having me at home.

If you’re a working mum from the beginning, fine, because that’s the child’s normal. But to take kids at 4 and 5 and say, ‘Mummy’s going to leave you with a childminder at 8am and pick you up at 6pm’, that doesn’t feel fair. So when hubbie says I could go back, start at the bottom rung because of my seven years out (yay!) and the kids will adapt, that doesn’t really feel like a choice.

But I know in my head how lucky I am, and that most working mums wish they could drop their kids at school and go write novels in the coffee shop (because they tell me all the time, like working 30 hours a week to make £20 a month is so great). I yearn to be Amanda Martin, instead of Mummy. Of course I’d feel different if my books actually sold, but still I feel I’m making the best of the crappy options rather than steering my own craft in the river of life. And so, when despair takes hold, I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.”

"There's no going back on the highway of life" Bon Jovi

“There’s no going back on the highway of life” Bon Jovi

I meant every word, at 9am this morning, having survived the weekend with chunks of time hiding in bed. But as I left the coffee shop in the sunshine, and walked through shadow-patterned pavements and a summer scented churchyard, stopping to order a balloon for my son’s birthday, I realised the feelings were fading. I smiled, with sun on my face and a blue sky behind the trees above.

Even driving to my Gyn appointment (because that’s what every woman wants on her first day of term-time freedom) listening to Bon Jovi, I realised I’m not unhappy with my lot. Frustrated, yes. Struggling, definitely. But not unhappy. I did make my choices, possibly for the first time. For the first time life didn’t dictate my path, I did.

I’ve been going through my first ever novel this week, with a view to editing it for my next release. Oh my. It’s not a novel it’s a bad biography. My ‘character’ is just me. All her opinions are mine, and boy is she miserable. I wrote the novel between the birth of my first child and my second (and lord I hope it gets better, or it’ll need more than a complete rewrite, it’ll need a miracle!)

I read this section this morning (it’s all this bad, but it just shows how far I’ve come as a writer, that’s what I tell myself).

“That sense of belonging she had assumed she’d find at university continued to elude her. So she had thrown herself into her studies, determined at least to graduate with a high grade and get the perfect job, whatever that was. She had never been clear about that point – still wasn’t really. An accidental career, that’s what her CV should say. She admired friends who had a passion, “I want to be a …” fill in blank. It didn’t matter, Doctor, Dentist, Film Producer, Bin Man. It didn’t matter what someone’s passion was, just that they had one. Hers had been to have a family, to belong somewhere: she had paid a steep price for that knowledge.”

Oh yes, that’s me. It goes on to describe my final year at uni, when my boyfriend snogged someone else on NYE and how I wandered in a fog of despair for months until I suddenly realised I had six weeks to write my dissertation and save my degree. The despair hadn’t been losing the bloke (although I thought so at the time. In hindsight it was a lucky escape), it was losing a vision for the future.

Up until then I’d followed the system. GCSEs, A Levels, University. But I didn’t know what to do once I had to make my own choices. I ended up taking the first job I got, survived four years of mega-stress, broke down and ran away to New Zealand.

I could go on, but really my life summarises into trying to find love, a place to belong and a job where I felt useful and appreciated.

"One man's ceiling's another man's sky" Bon Jovi

“One man’s ceiling’s another man’s sky” Bon Jovi

Fast forward a decade or two and I have a gorgeous husband who I love, who loves me and treats me well. I have a place I belong and a job where I am (mostly) useful and appreciated. I am Mummy. I fit. I belong. I have an identity. And, much as I hate to admit it, because I feel it’s only using a tenth of my brain, I’m actually quite good at it.

And I chose it. I wanted babies. They weren’t an accident, they were a choice. Okay I didn’t have a scooby what being a parent meant or how ill-equipped I was to be one, but I’m doing okay.

I’m doing everything I wanted to do. I’m dropping my kids off at school, I’m writing novels and using my creativity. Three days out of seven I have hours of freedom. Right now (having had my gyn appointment and tried to sell a book to the nurse who has known me since I was nine) my ‘office’ is a parked car on a hillside (because the neighbours have builders in!), with a chill autumn wind blowing through the open windows, a clear blue sky overhead and Bon Jovi on the stereo singing a bunch of optimistic songs full of messages of hope and fight (better still, it’s a CD I somehow never listened to and only found this weekend, so it’s full of new stuff!)

Some Bon Jovi wisdom 😉 –

“We weren’t born to follow”

“Back when we were beautiful, before the world got small, before we knew it all. Back when we were innocent, I wonder where it went, let’s go back and find it”.

“Can I be happy now? Can I let my breath out? Let me believe, I’m building a dream, don’t try to drag me down.” Bon Jovi

A decade ago I would have stared at the blue sky out the tinted office windows, before going to some stupid meeting where actually I was mostly unappreciated. In the evening I would have hooked up for a beer with an ex who definitely didn’t appreciate me.

Then I signed up to UDate, met hubbie, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I’m struggling with my lack of choices, I have to pause and remember how fortunate I am and that it’s all about context. I jokingly said to Miss Fanny P that my life will start when the children leave home and I can set up my Writer’s Retreat in the Welsh hills. But my life is now, I just have to look for it.

“Home is where you are and where I am” (Bon Jovi)

Lately Facebook has become my therapy, strange as that sounds. Between the positivity posts and the Humans of New York UN world tour (seriously, subscribe, it will change your life) I am strangely optimistic. I just need silence and time away from the children’s tantrums and histrionics to remember! 😉

As Bon Jovi says, “You’ve got to learn to love the world you’re living in”

(All lyrics from The Circle album)