Breaking the Block

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Teacher

Blimey it’s been ages since I’ve written a blog post.

It’s not that I haven’t had things to say, or even occasionally five minutes alone to get my thoughts down. Well, actually, that bit’s not really true. There has been time this summer to knit and garden and read, but mostly only activities that don’t require much higher brain function.

But now the children have been back at school a whole week (and oh my goodness doesn’t a school week fly by compared to a holiday week?!) I’m just about starting to think straight.

The only problem is, when it’s been this long since I wrote a blog post, I have no idea what to say.

Shall I talk about the weather? (muggy and humid, oscillating between autumn at 7am to high summer by midday.)

My writing? (Just submitted an entry for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition again. Same novel as last time but revamped. But mostly I’m in a writing funk entitled ‘what’s the point?’)

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Knitted Cat

Birthdays? (My son’s is in September – with a Lego theme for his party this year – so invites and paper mache pinatas have been the order of the week. And I hit the big one starting with a 4 in a few weeks. We were going to go away, but now I’m thinking of sneaking off by myself for a spa day. Autumn is too busy for birthdays.)

Gardening? (I’ve shoveled more loads of sand and soil than I care to count this week, as we revamp the front garden and add a flower bed and a pond.)

Reading? (I’ve just finished the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. Fast-paced, thought provoking.)

Knitting? Oh yes let’s talk about knitting.

I’ve had a creative summer. When I can’t write I must still create. It was Art in August two years ago and then loom bands and knitting.

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Zumba Doll

This year I’ve discovered Alan Dart knitting patterns. Oh my.

It all began with my son wanting a jester. Then my daughter wanted a cat. Then I decided to knit dolls for my son’s teachers. And a zumba doll for a good friend. And now I’m knitting a koala bear.

Creativity where you can see the progress and everyone thinks it’s cool and no one says ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’. No wait, they do say that. In that way knitting is like writing, and both is there for the taking if you’re prepared to put in the effort.

So anyway, that’s me.

Now I’ve got the boring update out of the way (in rather a hurry as I’ve just spotted it’s time to collect children) hopefully the next post will be a bit more interesting!

Gardening

Tidy front garden

Tidy front garden

I did some gardening today, for the first time in about two years. I realised it was open gardens in our village this weekend and I didn’t want to have the scruffiest house in the entire village, so I decided to tackle and tame the front garden.

Pre-kids I did a fair amount outside, although I’m not a massive fan of gardening (plus I have black rather than green fingers). Since becoming a parent? Not so much. I used to mow and weed the day before our annual family barbecue, followed by a trip to the garden centre to buy bedding plants that might live for several weeks after the family had left. The garden looked amazing for a month, tops.

We didn’t have a party last year, so it’s been a long time since the trowel and strimmer have crossed my path. Turns out there’s a good reason for that.

Things I’d forgotten about gardening:

  1. Blisters are painful
  2. Just how evil-prickly our hedge is (we don’t own a hedge trimmer)
  3. How hot and cross gardening makes me (especially when it’s 22C and sunny)
  4. Children are not good assistants and may try patience beyond endurance (see point 3)
  5. Making the garden tidy is addictive but impossible
  6. Plants are expensive and generally come to our house to die
  7. Discovering muscles I forgot I had and knowing it will hurt more tomorrow and the day after
  8. Maximum effort only achieves minimum visible results
  9. Only retired or unemployed people have time to garden how they want to
  10. I’d rather be writing

Gardening and Planning

The garden after much levelling and grass-sowing

Last Thursday afternoon I took some time off to tame our feral garden. The sun made an unexpected appearance and I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

We’ve been faffing around inexcusably regarding what to do with bits of our lawn. One large section is a mess, after we had a boat standing there for years (a long story). We sold the boat a few months ago and since then the whole area has been an eye-sore and child-trap: full of bits of rubbish, holes the dog dug under the boat and many vicious weeds.

Husband wanted to fill the holes with top-soil, roller it flat, make it as gorgeous as a cricket pitch. I want somewhere the kids can play without getting stung or covered in mud or breaking their ankle.

In our family, husband is responsible for all things outside and DIY, while I do all things indoors and domestic. I have recently taken over lawn mowing while husband has been away with work, much to my 3-year-old daughter’s bewilderment.

The first time I dragged the lawnmower out of the shed she looked at me as if I’d grown horns.

“Mummy, that’s daddy’s job.”

I couldn’t figure out how to get the mower started and after twenty minutes I was sweating and cursing. Her response was:

“Better leave it to daddy.”

Needless to say she had a quick lesson in woman’s lib and not giving up and I was given the motivation required to approach the task more calmly and find the dead-switch.

As well as mowing this Thursday I decided to tackle the ugly-eye-sore spot. First thing was to shift a giant tarpaulin and wood pile, trying not to scream too loudly when I uncovered a nest of tiny mice. (I covered them with a plant pot and they were later relocated by their mummy.)

As I was moving planks, filling holes, scattering grass seed and generally trying to reclaim half my lawn for the kids, I got to thinking about writing (as I often do when my hands are busy but my mind is not.)

I see metaphors everywhere; it was easy to get distracted by what it symbolised to leave baby mice safely hidden, only to trap them later when they venture into our house, or the futility of planting grass seed for the birds to eat. Maybe the wasted effort of reclaiming lawn when it hasn’t stopped raining for three months and the long-term forecast isn’t much better.

In the end what stuck in my mind the most was the conflicting lures of planning versus getting stuck in. When I write, I generally just get stuck in, and the ideas follow (hopefully) one upon another as I type. I’ve often thought I should plan more. One writer I know sketches every scene before writing anything and has a prescribed number of chapters in a book and so on.

That fills me with awe and terror.

Awe because I can’t write like that and terror because I feel I probably should. How can I call myself a writer when I stumble along hoping a story comes to me as I type?  Except I recently read that even well-known published authors occasionally have the same approach.

Looking at our garden my conclusion was it’s okay to just get stuck in, although a little planning doesn’t hurt. If I had got stuck in at the beginning of summer, without worrying about a plan, we’d have lawn by now. A lumpy lawn, full of weeds and holes, but a lawn nonetheless. In this case planning equalled procrastination (to be fair, mostly it was due to my husband being just too busy). However I did lose an hour of gardening time on Thursday having to go buy grass seed, so some planning might have helped. The main thing is, when I look at the flat seeded area now (see photo) I am filled with a huge sense of satisfaction and progress, no matter how uneven the end result.

I have reached deadlock with my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, because I have to create a new world and a history. I am dealing with two planets and two timelines, and planning really is essential to keep it all straight.

But I hate planning.

I don’t like reaching the end of a day with no increase in word-count. There is no sense of satisfaction, just a growing confusion, and sense that I could probably plan forever and never be fully satisfied. My creativity doesn’t function unless I am actually writing. I may as well be doing school essays.

Reading what I’ve written so far I realise that lack of planning hasn’t held me back from writing some good stuff.  I mostly know where the story is going, in my mind, I just don’t always know how it is going to get there until I start writing it down.

So, I could fart about worrying about the details of my world and have no story to enter in the Mslexia competition in September. Or I could break a dozen rules, just keep writing, and add the history in the second draft.

Maybe sometimes you just have to get stuck in and not worry if it’s lumpy and full of holes. After all you can’t edit a blank page any more than you can mow dirt.