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.

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!)

A Ramble About Life

Kids and their new go-kart

Kids and their new go-kart

I’m sorry about my recent silence; I’ve been in a strange world where I’m actually enjoying editing. What’s more amazing is that I’m editing Dragon Wraiths. You’d think that finding anything wrong with a book that’s been published for eighteen months would send me into a spiral of despair. Especially finding grammar mistakes and typos, rather than just poorly worded sentences. But surprisingly it hasn’t. I knew there would be some errors, especially as it’s the only book that I haven’t paid someone to edit, relying instead on family and friends.

(That said, my mum found a few glaring typos in Class Act and that was edited, so you can’t catch everything.)

I think I’m enjoying it because I know the book has received great reviews (and awful ones!) so I can read it knowing at least some people like it. But the main reason I’m enjoying it is because I can see how much I’ve learned about writing in the past year or two. I’m not changing the story but I am tightening the prose and it’s surprisingly empowering.

My original intention was to try and cut 35,000 words (30%) from the story so I could enter it in the Chicken House children’s novel competition. So far I’m only cutting 8-10% from each chapter. Unless I find half a dozen chapters that are redundant it isn’t going to happen. But I’ve decided that’s okay. Instead I’m going to try and get the book below 100,000 words and resubmit to agents. Who knows, I might have more success this time.

The nice thing about editing is that it structures my day. Aside from the two hours of school run mayhem in the morning, and the four hours of whining, crying, shouting and chaos from pick up to bed time, my days are calm and focussed. I carry my manuscript round and edit at the school gate and waiting for my coffee. Having a deadline of the end of term really helps keep me working. My only distraction is constantly checking for Class Act reviews!

On the trampoline

On the trampoline

This morning I wrote a response to a post on Helen Yendall’s blog about having too much to do and how much harder it can be to manage your time when you don’t go into an office to work. This was my (edited) response:

This is how my boss used to tell me to do to prioritise work: categorise things into ‘what will get me fired if I don’t do’, ‘what will get me promoted if I do it,’ ‘what do I enjoy?’ and everything else. It’s tough to do that when you’re self-employed, but for me I’ve roughly translated it as, ‘what has an immoveable deadline that will either make or cost guaranteed money’, ‘what will clear the biggest headspace most easily (usually niggly admin),’ ‘what will make me happy and therefore make everything easier’ and everything else.

Of course stuff like school run, cooking, dog walking, kids’ homework have to happen. But non-essential ironing, cleaning, Facebook, even the blog, go by the wayside in peak times. I’ve also found the routine of the school run and walking the dog can help. I constantly feel overwhelmed by stuff, too. Getting diagnosed with depression taught me to take better care of myself for everyone’s sake.

Writing it made me realise that it’s all true. Life has been tough recently, for me and for hubbie, and the routine hell of the school run that tops and tails my day makes me yearn for twelve-hour office shifts and getting paid. But I’m learning not to compare myself to others, or even to who I was before kids, and get on with it. My struggles are mine, no one else’s, and I’m certainly not the only person fighting to survive (as hubbie pointed out this week). Life is what it is and you have to make the most of it. If that means watching Queens tennis or drinking too much Waitrose coffee (it’s free! I come four days a week to work…) then why not?

As Lauren wrote recently on her blog BetweenFearAndLove, feeling guilty that you haven’t got it as hard as others is a useless emotion. I haven’t learnt that lesson yet but I’m working on it.

Celebrating Success and Searching for Motivation

Achieving great rankings

Achieving great rankings

My Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes promotion ended this morning and it couldn’t have gone better. I had around 2,500 downloads and reached some great numbers in terms of ranking:

#8 in the Romance category on Amazon.com

#10 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction on Amazon.com

#39 on overall free downloads for Amazon.co.uk

#15 in Contemporary Romance on Amazon.co.uk

Now I know these numbers don’t mean a great deal. The majority of people who downloaded the book won’t read it, even fewer will leave a review. However to get that many downloads in two days, when the book only has one review in the US and none anywhere else (and virtually no promotion other than a few tweets and status updates) gives a little ray of hope that at least my blurb and front cover are okay (Though hubbie tells me the title makes people think the book is depressing.)

I see free promotions as more of a banner advert, getting my name in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise discover me and my writing, than a way to get new readers. I know myself that I download dozens of books I’ll never read. Time will tell whether it works as a strategy, but if nothing else it’s a nice feeling to see yourself on the first page of the bestsellers! 🙂

Making it on the first page!

Making it on the first page!

It also makes me see the benefit in loading a book up for preorders via Smashwords. If I could sell enough copies in the weeks prior to release, then that splurge of sales on day one of release would do wonders for initial rankings. Of course, I have to finish my next book for that to happen and, boy oh boy, am I struggling. I’m still tired and scattered from the medication, and I just can’t seem to pin myself down to the hard graft of revisions. I know if I’m not careful weeks will turn into months and, like the box of kids’ things waiting for me to sell on ebay, it will become an insurmountable task to get back to work.

I wanted to get my first draft to the editor by Easter, so I could take the two weeks off to clear my mind, ready to work on the revisions when they came back, and give the children my attention during the school holidays. Ho hum, that gives me five weeks to add thirty thousand words and fill all the plot holes AND get it to Beta Readers. Hmmm some mountains are too high. I think it might be that which is freezing my mind. Needing to work around the school holidays is adding a new dynamic to my already-fragile motivation! Oh well, every mountain is climbed one step at a time. I just need to write ten words today and it will be twenty tomorrow.

But first I might walk the dog!

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀

The Parent I Am and the One I Aspire to be (reblog)

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Today has been a pig of a day, from a half-five start with my up-with-the-lark daughter, through yelling at my son because he wanted my attention when I was trying to restore order in a filthy house, to losing it entirely and sobbing for a whole evening after the dentist told me my three-year-old has two cavities (does parenting fail get any lower than knowing you didn’t control sweets/juice/teeth brushing enough in two short years to stop him having bad teeth like you?)  finishing with an evening staring blankly at a su doku trying to numb my brain because I just don’t want to be me anymore.

Hubbie has watched me like a hawk to make sure I don’t do anything stupid and all I can think is I don’t want such love because I don’t deserve it.

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I'm sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I’m sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

So, as I often do, when happy words for the blog won’t come, I hit ‘random post’ to reread an old blog entry for inspiration. And I found this one, from 7th April last year. Seems appropriate (If slightly worrying that I have these days so often).

I don’t have many words today.

Lack of sleep and residual illness has turned me into at least four of the seven dwarfs. I’ll let you figure out which.

Instead of waffling on as usual, I’d like instead to share two thoughtful and beautiful posts about being a parent: both written as letters to a child.

One describes the parent I’d like to be, the other the parent I am far too often. Again, I’ll let you decide which.

It won’t be hard.

An Open Letter to My Son:

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I Wasn’t a Good Mom:

Dear Daughter,

Today, I wasn’t a good mom. The morning came too soon after a long and exhausting night. I rolled out of bed and put pants on an hour before you normally woke up. When I came into your room you were ready for me, your hair tousled and your smile crooked. “I up!” You said reaching your arms out to me. “I pay wif toys!”

I didn’t smile, not because I don’t love you, but because I just needed more sleep. And then the day came and you stuck stickers to the couch and I grumbled under my breath. You tried to play tag and kicked me in the chest and I yelled, “BE NICE TO MOM!” I realize now, I wasn’t yelling that at you. I was just yelling at the world. But how could you know that? You couldn’t, and I’m sorry.

And when I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and you said, “NO MAM GO PODDY!” And I said, “Shut up!” It wasn’t my finest hour of parenthood.

I’m sorry I cried when you ate my lunch. The lunch I bought for both of us to feed my feelings. Because my feelings needed chicken nuggets, but apparently so did you. And I’m sorry I put you in time out when you made your plate do a little dance on the table. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you when I put you down for nap, choosing instead to run away and lay in the guest room bed and just dwell in some silence.

These are only extracts of the posts. I encourage you to read the full version, and to follow these inspiring blogs. They get me through many hard days as a mother and a writer.

Advice For Writing and Life

This is what I want to do today

This is what I want to do today

Okay, I finally admit it. I’m ill. I went to bed at 8pm last night and slept until hubbie came to bed at midnight. Then I popped a pill to make sure I’d get back to sleep. And didn’t. There’s nothing worse than your body being asleep when your mind is wide awake and all around you the house is coughing like every occupant smokes 40 a day. (We don’t. We’re all ill.)

I would have written a post then, but I was drugged so could only lie awake and worry about life and fume that I’d had a fourth failed delivery from the crap company I had the utter misfortune to choose to deliver my daughter’s new bed.

So this morning I’m taking time to be ill. After the school run I’m heading back to bed. So I am utilising the blog network for today’s post. Here are five great articles to help with writing and life:

1. 10 Foundational Writing Practices – Charlotte Rains Dixon: the importance of getting the basics right. My favourite three are Move your Body; Calm your Mind; Stay Positive

2. The Simple Joy of Slogging Through to the End – Speak Happiness: an old post on the satisfaction of finishing a difficult task. I’m hoping I’ll feel like that when (if) my daughter’s bed finally arrives and I’ve managed not to break anything or anyone in my anger at the company’s sheer incompetence.

3. “Days are Lost Lamenting over Lost Days” – another from Speak Happiness: this explores a quote attributed to Goethe. A very interesting read. The full quote is:

Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

4. Why Doing a Jigsaw Puzzle is a Bit Like Writing A Book – Debbie Young: looking at the ways assembling a jigsaw puzzle is like writing a book. As I’m in the difficult stage of redrafting Class Act, trying to make sure all the pieces fit together and the whole picture looks right, this struck a chord. Especially these points:

  • No matter how carefully you prepare the component parts – the corners, the edges, all the pieces with blue sky or Persian carpet or Delft tiles or pink flowers – the assembly of the puzzle never goes entirely according to plan.
  • When daunted by what seems like an insurmountably difficult section, you realise that if you only apply yourself, one piece at a time, you really can conquer the challenge.
  • Sometimes it works best if you switch your conscious mind off for a bit and let the subconscious take over.

5. In Defense of Pantsing – Jami Gold: because Pantsers can write novels too, as long as we remember to apply structure and story beats during redrafting. Enough said!

Right. Back to bed.