Evaluation is the name of the game … or is it just spin? Some career decisions

Have you ever had one of those days when the cold hard truth hits you right between the eyes? Yeh, well, I’ve been having a bit of a wake up for some time now but last week the shit hit the fan. Then, a comment from one of you lovely peps made me think, a lot. More on that story … later.

There is a nagging worry, in the back of my mind, that I’ve come over as a bit maudlin recently. It’s not my intention and I am basically happy but I have realised something about what I thought was my current, temporary, state of affairs. It’s not temporary. In fact, while there may well be different people involved, I’m probably looking down the barrel of the rest of my life.

This raises an issue.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Like everyone, I want to be a good mother and wife and a kind and dutiful daughter. However, if I’m going to be those things to any effect, I must ensure that I also have an identity and a life beyond them – even if there’s only time for it in a low key way, it has to be there. My problem is that with the way things are now, I can’t do all those things at the same time. Not to the levels I have set myself. I have to lower my sights. And I have to accept some home truths.

  1. If I am unhappy and unfulfilled I am crap company.
  2. To be happy and fulfilled I have to like myself.
  3. In order to like myself, there are certain commitments and duties to others that I am required to perform.
  4. It is essential that I am a sane, level-headed and likeable human being.
  5. There is a certain amount of me time, and sense of having my own life that is required for me to be a sane and likeable human being. There has to be space for things that aren’t my duty: interests hobbies and yes, my job.
  6. My duty is taking too much space for the career plan I have followed up to now and that is making me frustrated and irritable.
  7. The duty can’t be shirked although it can be streamlined a bit if I can get myself to relax and reduce tension levels enough to increase my efficiency … or just achieve anything approaching efficiency, full stop.
  8. The career plan therefore has to give, or at least be altered to one that’s achievable.

In short, I have to re-establish the illusion that I am in control of anything beyond my reaction to events (even if it’s not true).

The fact is, sitting in hospital with my mum on Sunday was one of the most harrowing things I’ve done. She clearly felt terrible, she was unable to speak – or at least unable to say the words she was thinking after the first few minutes awake. And I didn’t want her to suffer, but I didn’t want her to leave me. I knew she would, most likely, be fine in a few days but even so, bringing in the DNR notice for them to see was difficult.

She’s a lot better, and though she’s still in hospital it is mainly because the Social Worker can’t see her to evaluate her until Monday and I haven’t the stamina to get her home and then try and organise that on my own right now. And I think she needs evaluated.

So all this stuff, all the administrivia that surrounds looking after Mum and Dad; dealing with the NHS, the social, their finance people, their carers, their bank, their utility companies, the folks who deliver their milk … all of it takes time. On top of that, watching my parents suffer takes emotional stamina and energy. My concentration span is drastically reduced, and my frustration at the way every tiny task seems to mushroom into a Herculean labour, normally through my own stupidity or forgetfulness, means my default state is one of intense frustration. My anger-o-meter is always at the red end of the dial, even though I am, essentially, happy.

Other days I feel more like this.

Other days I feel more like this.

On top of that, I’m a mum. For those of you who haven’t had kids, having a child is like having your brain stirred, constantly, with a huge wooden spoon – especially if your kid is as adept at mental par cour as McMini. It’s wonderful but it coddles your thoughts. And while I can express the frustration I feel about my life to him, through the medium of humour usually, I must be careful I don’t unwittingly take it out on him in other ways. And sometimes I know the anger is in my voice, anger that has nothing to do with him, and I have to reassure him that if I sound angry, it’s just frustration with other things, and not his fault.

The net result for me, is that I feel as if I am clinging onto my own identity by my fingertips. That I am little more than a kite buffeted back and forth in the air currents of other people’s neediness. This is not a good place for anyone long term. I have to look after my parents. I can’t not. I have to look after my son. I can’t not. But I also have to find some way, among that, of looking after me. Because if I go down, they all do. And that won’t help anyone.

So, apart from running away from my life and never coming back (not an option) how do I sort this out?

Well, the writer bit of my brain that is bored stupid with Real Life and wandering off is still well and truly with me, but as careers go, my authorly efforts are not going that well.

Basically, I thought that with each book I wrote I’d make roughly the same amount of cash. However, I seem to have plateaued at the K’Barthan Series. After I’d finished the four K’Barthan novels I really needed something straightforward so I wrote a stand alone, Escape From B-Movie Hell. It bombed. I naively thought that everyone who read and enjoyed my four other novels would automatically think, ‘Yeh, I’ll buy this one.’ They didn’t. To be honest, I think I’ve sold less copies of Escape this year than I sold of K’Barthan 3 or 4 in my worst month. Therefore, since 2015 I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut going nowhere, a four book wonder, because in real terms, for all it’s done, I might as well have sat on my arse from July 2014 through to December 2015 and not have written the fifth book. It’s a pity as I had a gas writing Escape and I love the results. I just re-read it, it’s far and away my best book yet but the market begs to differ.

Thus, I have learned that new stuff is not working, and that I can’t afford to take 18 months writing a book which doesn’t work. And THAT means … well, it means I have to make a plan. Also because my periods of writing time are shorter and less frequent, I take a greater proportion of the hours available getting back into the plot of a big complicated book, slowing it all up even more. So, here’s what I’m thinking …

Though my brain is desperate for the regular escapes from Real Life that only writing can deliver, it is in a state of permanent mental exhaustion.  That makes the risk of burnout omnipresent. Full length novels are tricky and another series like the K’Barthan Series will be extremely difficult.  Scratch 6 years for a four book series, in MTM’s new reality we’re looking at a minimum of 15. That’s a long time to wait before I have another two or three books that my readers – or possibly a new group of readers who like that series – want.

However, I need to achieve stuff outside the care zone. My brain needs to write, for sure, and it needs to see projects start and evolve and finish so I can earn enough to pay for my mailing list and the production of new books. For that to happen, with the hampered state of my mental capacities right now, I need to write is something simpler or shorter. So that’s what I will do; write shorter, less complicated books, which I will sell for a cheaper price. And they’ll be about K’Barth. The stories will tie in with the big books and when there are enough, I will have one of the 20k books permanently free, give one or two of the others to folks who’ve signed up to my mailing list and charge real money for the 100k plus behemoths.

Two cyber buddies in writing in my genre started producing short stories as well as novels last year and I have been watching their results with interest. One’s publisher had a minimum ebook price for a novel that was quite high, so he decided to write some shorter things that he could price lower, one just wanted uncomplicated as well as complicated. Both have found that folks are reading their low priced short stories and then moving on to the longer more expensive stuff. They are also getting less complaints about the more expensive stuff being … well … expensive.

So that’s Plan A sorted. MTM’s planned releases for next year: three short books about K’Barth – if I do well – or two if hospital time is at a maximum. They’ll retail at 99p/99c and Gladys, Ada and the punters at the Parrot and Screwdriver will definitely feature in one or two of them. If you have any favourite characters you’d like to know more about, let me know in the comments and I’ll do something about them. So far I have a lot of votes for Gladys and Ada, several for Big Merv and one for General Moteurs. I’ll try to keep the shorts coming reasonably regularly, although if either parent dies I probably won’t write anything for ages afterwards, but I digress.

As my brain can’t do complicated right now – even if it does want to do writing – this looks like a neat solution. Even starting the first short, last week, took the pressure off. Suddenly the full length novel I’m writing, which I’d got a bit stuck on, has started moving again. It’s not about K’Barth so even when it’s done, only a handful of people will read it, but I’ll like it and that’s what matters, so that’s plan B, write a big novel at the same time as the small ones.

Which brings me back to the comment. Someone pointed out that my blog is quite informative and is kind of a book on its own … and that got me thinking. The thing about the blog is, it’s all planned out, well, it isn’t but I know what I am going to say before I start. So it did occur to me that I could write a generalist series of pamphlets about publishing books yourself. It would be a series called, ‘I fucked this up so you don’t have to’. OK no that’s the only-in-my-dreams working title. It would have to be called something a bit more anodyne and sensible like ‘Mistakes I made so you don’t have to’.

The point is, I wouldn’t have to think much to do those, it would just be a case of crafting them. The knowledge, and the trains of thought, are already in my head. I wouldn’t have to imagine or research much. I’d just explain what I have learned. It might be fun. So that’s plan C.

And there, finally, you have it. MTM cares too much. MTM is an authorholic. MTM will switch the pressure from completing long books to completing some short ones that are fictional and non fictional and then the long books can go quietly on in the background at the same time.

The strangest thing is that’s not a huge change in plan. I’ve just shifted the emphasis to shorts in the foreground and behemoth novel in the background. However, somehow, put that way, it feels like it might be achievable.


Filed under General Wittering

29 responses to “Evaluation is the name of the game … or is it just spin? Some career decisions

  1. I go offline for a few days and come back to your mind-numbing news. So sorry about your mum; I knew my life was going to change when my dad died, even moreso when she agreed to come to Spain to live with us. Just when we were finally doing something we wanted.

    As for the books. Dunno why K’Barth sells and Escape doesn’t. Maybe people become invested in the K’B characters? Plus, I’ve looked at lots of requests for betas on GR, and they are mostly fantasy and/or sci-fi. And usually YA. Crowded market.

    I think shorts are a good idea. I read something ages ago about that, prob blogged about it too. And, as you mentioned, the rec was to include non-fiction as well.

    K’Barth characters? Gladys and Ada vote here, and Moteurs. Captain Snow could be interesting! You could give him an abused background hence his nastiness. He could be a closet homosexual. Speaking of sex, what about Betsy Bordello? How did she end up running that?

    Lucy and Ruth? Deidre? Snoofle? No shortage of inspiration.

    • Strangely I have just written a two page outline of how Betsy ended up running a bordello in reply to your question. 🙂 Gladys and Ada can come into that one as they only live across the road. I think Cap Snow just is a shit but I would certainly have him on the scene. I also ought to write up hoe Deurdre takes out the minister for the Interior and his entourage with five detonators and a lorry load of custard powder. It might take a bit of research, though, that one.

      You could be right about a crowded market. I call my books ya because everyone ‘in the know’ I’ve talked to says, ‘oh same market as Harry Potter mate.’ But if I go on the take up for my facebook advertising it’s actually men over 45 and women from 35-45 and 50 years and over who actually download and read them.

      And thanks, re Mum. I’ll get used to the status quo.

      • ‘Now dear, I do think you need to keep the street respectable.’
        ‘Yes, we does not like to see all manner of comings and goings in Turnadot St. Especially some Grongles comings and goings. We has seen, you know.’
        ‘Laundry days, dear, for your lodging house, that’s what you need.’
        ‘We likes clean and tidy round here.’
        With which, Gladys and Ada felt their helpful advice was sufficient, and poured a generous Calvados for Betsy.

        That’s why this whole genre thing is totally skewed. So you’ve got OA (old adults) reading books for teenagers because the OAs are really NGU (not grown up, and probably still looking for wardrobes). If the young ones are like me, they would be reading Tolstoy 😀

      • Ooo somehow I missed this one. I’m definitely a NGU. Just wondering if I should put that on my website somewhere. As a teenager, my friends were all reading Tolstoy and I was reading Asterix, Hitch Hiker’s Guide, the Red Dwarf books and I discovered Pratchett at 21. I stopped trying to write a novel for 10 years because I thought Pratchett had got there first and written all mine for me. Then in 95 when I got married and moved out of London I packed in the stand up and started trying to write books. And as you know, I’m always on the lookout for wardrobes! 😉

      • Out of your selection, I’ve only read one Pratchett and that was reminiscent of the ghastly Borrowers by Mary something maybe?

        I must go down to the library again
        And see what I can see
        Get me another Pratchett
        And a Guide to the Galaxee

      • Ah that would have been truckers or diggers. You’re better off reading one of the books about the witches on the discworld.

  2. Marian Parsons

    I am so sorry about your mum. That’s so overwhelming and, yeah, juggling parental health crises and the rest of your life, well, it just sucks.

    I think it’s good you have recognized now you have limitations on your energy and wellbeing–it took me months of flailing about in frustration and temper to come to that conclusion. (I must confess here that what I gave up in order to remain sane was giving a flying toot whether the house was messy. That was awesome.)

    I shall look forward to reading your short stories, your long projects, and anything else you put together. But, you know, I prefer authors to be as content as possible, so do what you want to do, in your own time, as it works for you.

    • Thanks. Sadly, McOther is afflicted with tidiness to the point of ocd but he tidies the house long before I notice the mess. 🙂 However I hope working on shorts will be easier. I’m going to try and plot them in advance, too so all I have to do is write them up. I can’t do that with novels but with a short, I think I can.

  3. Be kind to yourself. Its hard to be a mum to children with all their needs and then carer to the very people who used to care for us. It’s a hard place to be. Keep your goals close, your friends and family close and don’t be afraid to ask for help. We mums can be so terribly independent. Take care, x

  4. Annie

    Never stop being you, Dear. You are one of those people that make my heart glad when I see you approaching. Hope to see you at footie again soon xx

  5. A wise person said to my brother and I at a time when things were difficult (difficult – what a euphemism) with our parents: Take care of your physical health, take care of your mental health, and take care of the paperwork. Nothing else matters.
    Truly, Mary, if all your publishing slips into next year, or even the year after, you will be the only one that really notices, and that’s because you’ll be wondering whether you’re disappearing off people’s radars. By all means write novellas to keep yourself sane, but not to put yourself under more stress of keeping your books in the rat race. We’ll still be here.
    And I was thinking more of ‘ramblings of an unsound mind trying to juggle life while coming up roses and saving the world’ than tips on writing & publishing. 😀 There are too many writing & publishing advice guides out there, and most of them have the same nuggets in them.
    Give yourself time for yourself.

    • Those are three top tips Jemima. Now why don’t our parents tell us that before we end up looking after them?

      • Mine are both DNR and I think that’s their way of trying to spare us this. Looking at the family both sides, going suddenly or living into the late 80s or 90s with dementia seems to be the order of the day.

      • Possibly because nobody told them either.

      • Except mine told me they didn’t want me to look after me the way they did my grandmothers and a great aunt. Except again, suddenly, they did want me to do that. And, so, I did. Why would I not? How can we not look after vulnerable old people in our own family, whatever may have happened? Growing old is harder than we realise.

    • The hardest bit, I think, is accepting that it’s not temporary. It will pass with my parents and the minute it does, McOther’s – who are about 7 years younger – will step seamlessly into the gap for another 15 years of the same shit with different people. I think it is realising that which has taken me a bit close to the edge.

      I’m 49, McOther is 57 and by the time they’ve all faded away and finally gone, in their 90s if we’re lucky, I will be 69 and McOther will be 77. We won’t have much time left by the time were done accepting that this could well be the forever of our active lives is quite grim. I will get there, I will adapt and I will find a way of coping but …



      • It may not work that way. My mum was ill for five years, requiring the sort of devotion you\re showing. Dad went from self-sufficient to the end in six months, really. Everyone is different. Remember to live in the now, and let the future happen when it does. And I’m only a little way away if you need to let out screams to someone.
        (please delete the reply on Diana’s comment)

  6. Diana

    I can relate to the parent-care challenge; not to the child care, though, since I get to leave all my charges behind when I finish work. I’d love to be able to relate to your writing dilemma, too, and be creative enough and organized enough to write a novel. And I appreciate the way you share your thought processes and your challenges, because it gives me hope for mine.

    I have not yet met your characters, but am intrigued.

    I used to write a journal (not any more for some reason — maybe too much Mom care at this end) and found it very cathartic. I suspect that the writing you have planned may serve the same purpose. A breather/escape/release that is also a step forward in your dreams and plans. Nice.

    May your shoulders be broad enough to handle your challenges, and yet flexible enough to release when they need to.

    • Thank you, and backatcha with the broad shoulders. You are spot on about the cartharticness (is that a word?) of writing. I really, really need it to function. I think the fact that there is stuff in my way stopping me is one of the things making it hard. And I suppose I am ambitious and while I’m enough of a realist to know I’ll never be a bestseller, I had hoped to earn a modest living writing, and that simply isn’t possible without a certain amount of time: a commodity of which I have little to spare and probably, if I’m honest, not enough. There is also something quite galling in a life where you are required to do so many things that you are unable to do any of them properly.

      It’s fantastic to hear that reading my mad outpourings is a help to someone. Perhaps this is what the psalmist really meant by talking about the valley of death. Here’s to both of us. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.



      • It may not work that way. My mum was ill for five years, requiring the sort of devotion you\re showing. Dad went from self-sufficient to the end in six months, really. Everyone is different. Remember to live in the now, and let the future happen when it does. And I’m only a little way away if you need to let out screams to someone.

      • Dad’s on year 8, of the devotional years and Mum is on a year and a half. I meant really, that perhaps he was talking about the years when quality of life is not what it was and it can be hard for everyone. I know Dad gets really fed up with being not all there and being as physically infirm as he is.

        Just editing to add, saw a friend and her daughter today, the daughter has achondroplasia, and they have to deal with the social, and the NHS all the time, puts my greetin’ and whinging about 8 years of it firmly in perspective.

  7. Being in the sandwich generation is difficult, but won’t last forever. I like the sound of your short stories as an immediate solution. Wishing you strength to deal with the day to day problems. Blessings and love, Mary.

    • Thanks. I hope it won’t. I hope there will be a gap between the end of the road for my parents and the start of the fade for McOther’s but to be honest, I think it’s unlikely. There will be somebody to care for until McOther and I are at least in my 70s and his 80s which is pretty much our forever from here on in.

      But McMini told me sagely that it would be easier to help McOther’s folks because he would be older and able to help – bless him. I won’t hold him to it because he’s only 8! But the intention is very sweet.



  8. I’m so sorry for your struggles. It’s difficult being torn in so many different directions. But, you’re absolutely right. You must find a way to take care of yourself, otherwise, you won’t be able to care for your parents and your child.

    • Too right. Things are easing off a bit now and after Roughsesas asked, it seems I am able to explain exactly where Betsy’s Bordello came from, indeed I have got quite a long way into doing so.

  9. justine

    Hi Mary, I can sympathise, up til early this year we were looking after Caroline’s Dad and I did feel trapped at times and overwhelmed. As someone said to me being our age is more difficult than perhaps we imagined. But we are now living our own lives again and we never can tell how things will pan out so don’t look too far ahead and imagine the worse justine x

    • Bless you, thanks. 🙂 I can imagine that was very hard as I’m guessing you guys did all the care yourselves which must have been really, really tricky. Thanks for dropping in btw. Hope all is dandy with you two and all the best for crimbo!

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