Category Archives: Blimey!

The downside of making progress

Just a quick one today. I’m sitting in a cafe, drinking an enormous bucket of hot chocolate while I while away an hour before McMini’s harvest service. Very important I go to this one as Scion has a speaking part! Woot. There will also be a Hymn I Know, apparently, so I must make sure I am in a position to sing loudly without causing undue distress to people around me, ie I must stand at the back, alone at least twenty yards from anyone who can hear.

On the up side … I have my keys, although I didn’t yesterday. I was late meeting McMini after school – he walks half way home on his own and I meet him in town – because I managed to lock myself out of the house. On the upside, I did, at least, realise I had no keys before I locked myself out of the garden as well. The garden is a nightmare because my disability makes it impossible to just climb over the wall and unlock the gate. I have to borrow a ladder or a chair and lean over.

On the other hand, the house is easy, I’m usually back inside in about twenty seconds. It did make me late though, because I had to find the ruddy keys before I could come out again and I had wet knees from kneeling on the doormat. There are times when I wish my life wasn’t quite so remeniscent of a badly written situation comedy. Obviously any character as ditsy as I would be totally unrealistic when written into fiction. I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage where I’m so bad that, as a fictional character, I’d be untenable. Nobody is actually that crap in reality … er hem … well … no-one except me.

Obviously, even for me, locking yourself out of the garden or house three times in about five days is pretty impressive going. Now it could be menopausal brain fog – yes ladies I can tell you, for nothing, that really is a Thing – but I think it may be the knock on effects of my efforts to do a little bit of something. It sounds mad but thanks to the lovely Joseph Michael’s course on Writer’s Block, I have been following his advice to merely aim for ten minutes’ writing a day. The results have been so splendid that I’ve been doing it for other things. The results are a very much calmer, less tense MT because doing secret me stuff that I enjoy makes me happy and fulfilled.

However, by making this time for me stuff, I fear I may have inadvertently overstretched the mental capacity available. The way my memory for administriatitive shite works is that it has a finite amount of space and when that fills up, as I put stuff in one end other things start leaking out of the back. My old headmistress used to use the analogy of a sponge. As in; it can fill up with a certain amount of water but after that, when you put more water in, stuff that’s in there starts running out. This appears to be what is happening.

By doing things I enjoy alongside all the stuff I have to, I have discovered that the things I like are starting to take up a portion of that memory and as a result, shite, like remembering to pick up my keys as I leave the house is falling out. I am lurching from one, ‘shit McMini! We’re supposed to be at …’ insert name of specially organised Year Six event here. And just getting to things on time; school open days, upper school head master’s talks, providing packed lunches on the days McMini requires them, going to school in his PE kit with a bag full of his normal school uniform, or, like today, remembering that it’s harvest festival at ten am and that I have to be there.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do about it. I am so much happier and more fulfilled if I do a few things I want to do alongside things I have to do that I’m loathe to go back to tense frustrated MTM. But at the same time, I don’t want to reach the stage where I fail to function as a human being in normal society! A stage upon the brink of which I am teetering, right now.

It’s a fine balance to strike and Mum is particularly muddled at the moment so I have to remember a bit more than usual for her and way, way more than usual for McMini. The quiet oceans of peace when McOther takes him to football on a Monday evening are gone because McOther is no longer home in time. I think the thought collection time is definitely lacking and perhaps this is part of the problem. I’m not sure.

Whatever it is, Real Life is rather too busy for my taste, McOther is buried under work and so I’m doing the cooking. By doing every dish from scratch and eschewing everything ready made I am hoping to lose some weight. It isn’t actually that much more work than using cook in sauces and I am cautiously optimistic that it may be working. Might need to hold back on the spuds a bit though. The cooking isn’t a problem but I do have to be a bit more organised, there are lots of lists although I seldom remember to take them with me when I go shopping etc.

Back to the drawing board then. I don’t want to drop the things that make me happy but I definitely have to find a way to remember more crap.

I leave you with a McMini-ism. Last night at about 3 am he called out. I went and found him on the stairs having had a bad dream. I sat down a few steps below him and told him he had far worse things to worry about, like that his mum might wee on the stairs because I really needed to go to the loo. He laughed and then told me he’d dreamed we were fixing my car, that his dad had given him a coke to drink and that he’d inadvertently drunk from a bottle of rat poison we were using instead and died. I said that sounded like a bummer but that if he was dreaming of dying it was a sure sign that he was enjoying life! I asked him he’d like a hug. Yes, he would, he told me. So I hugged him tight. Too tight. He farted loudly and then guffawing with laughter told me,

“I’ll be alright now Mummy!” and we both went, giggling, to bed.

Incidentally, as I prepare this for posting, it’s later in the day. I’ve managed to leave the house to collect my son with my keys, I locked the garden gate without shutting the keys the wrong side … trouble was, when I got home again, I realised I’d forgotten to lock the door. Hmm. Let’s call this a work in progress.

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Calm in a crisis; elementary burglary for dunderheads …

One of the strange things people tell me often is that I am calm in a crisis. Positively the ice woman, apparently, in my capacity for quick thinking action.

Want to know a secret about that?

It’s bollocks.

Well not wholly bollocks but mostly. Amazingly, I am actually extremely cool-headed in a crisis, I can make calm decisions in the heat of the action and the blink of an eye. They are not always the best decisions, but they are decisions that are, usually, a great step on from the nothing at all that others are doing. Sometimes, my decisions even precipitate a solution of sorts. Let’s make it clear, we are not talking about the kind of person who is likely to confront an armed robber, but if someone else is in trouble, I’m usually reasonably handy for doing the thinking, or taking action, if they can’t. But that isn’t because I’m the kind of clear-thinking, lion-hearted, V.C. winning material that the phrase, ‘cool headed in a crisis’ conjures up.

No.

It’s because I’m a complete and utter twat.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Yesterday is an excellent example of why monumental twattery makes for good crisis management.

It’s three o’clock; time to walk up to the school to collect McMini. I grab the keys as I leave the house but when I shut the door and the yale lock clicks I can’t find the keys to do the chubb. I know what’s happened, I’ve grabbed them, and as I put them and the bag of post school snacks for McMini in my pocket, I’ve missed and dropped them. I look inside but can see no keys lying on the floor.

Aaaaaargh! No keys! What shall I do? Dan-dan-daaaaaargh! Thinks Mary … NOT.

It’s three o’clock and while I can break in and search for my keys it will take time. McMini is to be collected at three fifteen and if I’m late, he thinks I’m dead and gets worried. I will have to go. I mean, the door is locked.

‘Yeh laters,’ I think, since, in theory, I don’t need to try and get into the house for another forty minutes. The locked-in keys are not an immediate problem.

Except they are.

Having put the absence of keys aside to deal with later, the next, more immediate, thorny issue pops up; how to make the gate look locked, yet leave it secretly unlocked, so McMini and I can get in, but no-one else will try to.

Casting around I see the large chunk of a fallen tree trunk which we are using to edge a flowerbed. Thanking the good Lord for the gym, I heave it down the path and lean it against the back gate. Carefully, mind, I don’t want it to get jammed against the wooden reinforcing planks across the middle and jam it closed. That done to my satisfaction, I slip carefully through the gate so it continues to lean on the right place and head for the school.

When we return, the gate is still closed, yet we are able to open it because the wedge has worked correctly. Excellent. I shut the gate, flip the latch down so it locks and put the tree trunk back where it was. Now to open the yale lock.

Taking off my anorak I spread it on the doorstep because it’s damp and I don’t want to be soaked as well as irritated. Then I rummage about in the potting shed and select a long bamboo cane. I tie some wire round one end in a D-shaped loop, lie on the anorak and feed the pole, and my arm, through the cat flap. McMini holds the door handle down while I loop the D round the catch for the yale lock on the inside of the door. That done, I check he is still holding the handle as I require and pull the stick downwards, so it pushes against the straight side of the lock handle and turns it. You need the wire because the weight of the bamboo pole and the force of me are not strong enough on their own. The door opens and we are in. My keys are still on the peg, so basically, it seems I just bashed them with my hand in the way past. Yes, I created a crisis because I reached for my keys and actually, genuinely forgot to grip.

Give me strength.

Never mind. All is well. Total time to break in about thirty seconds; or roughly five minutes from the start of our search for a suitable stick.

How come I can break into my own house so fast?

Practise.

Practise? How do I get to practise?

Weeeeelllll. Being such a total fucktard, I manage to lock myself out of my house several times a month. See how it is that an event which would be a disaster for anyone normal is rendered routine and mundane by my awesome twattery. Yeh! Go me. Lock-out is a blip, a minor inconvenience to Mrs Shit-for-brains and son. Notice, too, how this crisis is of my own making.

So there you have it. I suspect, there are two vital components to managing a sudden crisis; the first is to be able to act at once, without being British about it and pausing to wonder if you ought to interfere. If you’re a prize pillock then clearly, you will have got over any feelings of self consciousness – or at least buried them – by din’t of the fact that you cannot afford to countenance what others think of you or you would never leave the house.

The second component of successful crisis management, I suspect, is to be able to suspend your disbelief. What I mean is that you just need to find a way of not noticing how gargantuan the pile of shit you are in actually is, but just approach it as a problem to be solved. In short, it’s down to conditioning. And if you’re the kind of spanner who regularly locks yourself out of the house, strands yourself in the middle of nowhere with a flat battery and jump leads that don’t work, misses planes, boats, hovercrafts and trains, loses your passport, takes a plane a day early etc, then you probably tackle a crisis of some sorts most days to the point where, for you, even a major crisis feels like a normal part of your day.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,
You are, most like, a porridge-brained idiot
Who can’t remember their own name or find their own arse,
In the dark, with both hands. But when shit goes down, you stand up.

I’m really sorry Mr K.

If you want a calm head in a crisis you need practise, and being an utter tool in your day-to-day life will give you that practise. Yes, in every disorganised bollock-head lives the ice woman or man. Probably.


If you are despair of ever bing a big enough twat to crisis manage successfully never fear, why not pep yourself up with an uplifting, noblebright, humorous, science fiction fantasy box set for 40% off.

Yes, there are still a couple of days to get the K’Barthan Series Box Set at a drastically reduced price on Kobo.

To find out more – just click here.

On the other hand, if you are already becoming adept at creating small crises for yourself, failing to procure a calendar for 2018 for example, you can always grab an eyebombing calendar from my recently re-vamped and re-tidied Zazzle shop here.

Postcards of my best eyebombs are available there, too, along with K’Barthan bling and some other stuff.

Last of all a glimpse at my new marketing technique: I’ve decided to try threatening people*. So here we are. Buy my stuff or Lord Vernon will visit you.

Buy my stuff! Or I’ll send him round.

* That’s a joke, obviously. It’s a bit crap though, really, isn’t it? oh well, never mind.

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And now for something completely different … #eyebombing #eyebombthereforeiam

Eyebombing: the art of spreading googly joy

Saddled as we are with a thoroughly grim world landscape right now I thought everyone could do with a bit of cheering up. So it occurred to me that it would be fun to start a group about one of my favourite hobbies, eyebombing, possibly with a view to doing a book later on … if it goes well.

Eyebombing is the art, if that’s the right word, of adding googly eyes to inanimate objects to give them a personality. When I write, I love putting obscure jokes in my books; things that only a handful of people will get. Eyebombing has that exact same appeal. If I stick googly eyes on something, odds are only about one in ten people will see it. It’s a secret joke between a tiny and exclusive club of eagle-eyed, uber-noticing folks.

And it’s a little bit naughty …

and I’m not meant to …

and yet, it’s mostly harmless.

And it’s a lot more interesting than running through wheat fields! (Sorry, bit of British political humour there, although, to give her her due, running through wheat is a lot more outrageous than it sounds, she’d have got a proper bollocking from the farmer if he’d caught her.)

Eyebombing is something I’ve been doing since before McMini was born. Over the years I have built up a sizeable library of photographs. Looking at them with a couple of friends, the other day, they said, ‘why on earth don’t you do a book about this?’

So the long term project will, indeed, be to produce a book on eyebombing. But it will be a long ride because this is something that only, really, works in print, and as a result, it means that not only will it be a more expensive sell but I’ll also have to try and flog it to book shops and funny only sells there at Christmas which means I’ll have to work on the book all this year, get it ready to promote next spring – because book stores choose their Christmas funny in about March. Then I will launch it, officially, in October 2018.

To fund stock, editing and design I am toying with the idea of a crowdfunding campaign. If I do that, I can give backers their copy this year, a whole year before release, and sell any left over pre release copies at the Bury Christmas Fayre – if I get a stall this year – or keep them until next year.

Royal Mail being what it is, the postage outside the UK will probably cost slightly more than the book and the crowdfunding thing may not work. So I may have to get a ‘proper’ publisher. However, for now I’m setting up a group to share pictures, both mine and I’m hoping other folks will post their eyebombs too. It’s just something I thought I’d do and if it adds ‘social proof’ to applications to publishers, or my efforts to sell the book to bookshops, jolly dee. Going forward, if I do have to mount a crowdfunding campaign, am hoping folks in the group will share the link as much as possible.

If you want to follow the fun …

If any of these kinds of japes appeal to you, and you think eyebombing would amuse you, I’d be delighted if you joined me.

To follow the development of the book, not to mention any eyebombing activities undertaken, there are three ways you can keep up with it all online.

If you want to join in …

If you already have a packet of googly eyes burning a hole in your pocket are welcome to join in; posting your own photos, chatting about eyebombing and generally shooting the breeze on the very nascent – I formed it just a couple of weeks ago – EyebombThereforeIam facebook group. You can find that here:

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829

Here are those links again:

Follow on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eyebombtheschoolrun/
Follow on facebook: https://fb.me/eyebombthereforeiam
Join the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829
Join the Eyebombthereforeiam e-mail Newsgroup here http://www.subscribepage.com/eyebomb

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Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
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Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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MTM’s Epiphany epiphany – or the Wenlock Edge Moment

I love the New Year. Christmas is over and I am home free. You know how, if you let a bee out of the window it flies miles up into the air as if it’s delighted to have escaped.* Well, yeh, I feel like that.

* Obviously, it isn’t delighted to have escaped. It’s a bee. It’s actually going up there to orientate itself and find its way back to its hive but there’s no harm in a little Victorian-style anthropomorphising of animals every now and again if it’s sensibly done. Phnark.

Anyway, where was I? Yeh. Today, it being Sunday, and the feast of Epiphany (when the 3 kings arrive) I went to Church. I confess, I like church. Maybe it’s because, as a classically trained musician, few things appeal to me more than singing loud shouty songs in a situation where nobody can be rude about my horribly loud corn craik like voice (because that would be unchristian! Snortle.). It’s also quite mantra like, doing the same thing again and again. And it’s calm. Church is where I get time to reset my head.

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This week, I was mulling over my life this last year. I think I can safely say that 2016 has been pretty grim for me personally. Famous people dying didn’t even hit my radar, even the racism and bigotry round Trump and the Brexit campaign was eclipsed by personal events; my Mum beginning to lose her memory, discovering that Dad has alzheimer’s and that he was diagnosed FIVE YEARS AGO! But they didn’t see fit to tell us until September, thereby denying us so many options, things that might have made it easier, or given us a year or two extra with him, the whole of him.

Then there was having to do three mercy dashes when Mum went into hospital. Organising 24 hour care, sorting out enduring power of attorney over my Dad’s side of their joint account so I can help her with the finances, making the 280 mile round trip every Wednesday. Having to let go a succession of very lovely 24 hour carers for no other reason than Mum didn’t like having them there and I needed to show her she could trust me, that I was listening to her concerns. Helping her to gradually adjust and accept them … watching her deteriorate and then rally. That one glorious visit when she was better than I’d seen her for two years a few days before she got really sick. Watching her lose the power of speech, twice. Sitting in hospital with her the second time, wondering if she was going to die, knowing she wouldn’t want to without regaining enough speech to actually say goodbye. Visiting her and finding the hospital deacon there and Mum, still unable to talk, silently crying. Knowing that every bit of sadness I feel about her and Dad is felt to the power of hundreds more by her, because he’s her husband and she thinks that if she dies before he does she has failed him.

Watching Dad deteriorate. Trying to be a jolly, kindly mother to my boy and wife to McOther. Trying to see the good stuff in my life – which is there in abundance, by the way – on the days when the parents thing is just too much and I want to crawl away and cry.

If I’m honest, it’s been fucking awful. And it’s not going to get any better but I think that, maybe, I will.

Today, in church, I had a bit of a … well … epiphany – very apposite on the feast of Epiphany – what I would personally call, a Wenlock Edge moment.

Wenlock Edge is a poem by A E Houseman. It’s a belter if you’re down. Basically, he’s watching a gale blow across the trees on the side of a hill but that’s just the surface. There’s also some kind of upheaval going on in his life and he feels torn and battered like the trees. And he looks at them and realises that people will have been able to stand where he is standing and see pretty much the same view for thousands of years. He speculates that some of them must have been in the same, or similar, doo-doo to him but they, and their troubles, are long gone and he will be over his troubles one day, too. It’s very much an, ‘and this, too, shall pass,’ kind of vibe and very good.

So there we were in church, singing a carol called, A great and mighty wonder which I love because it’s early music and I love the way they mess about with syncopation and speech-like rhythms. And as I said, I love music and I love to sing. I noticed that the tune was arranged by someone who lived from 1572 until 16 something. This is another thing I love about early music, of course. When you’re standing (or sitting) singing a tune that’s over 500 years old, or, as in the case of another one this morning, a new tune with words that are over 1,500 years old it’s kind of cool. And there are so many. The oldest I know of, of the top of my head, is Of The Father’s Heart Begotten. Words: 4th century, music: 11th (rearranged obviously). Now that is fucking old.

Anyway, back to the carol. I’m singing it and it makes me think how many millions of people, all over the world, have sung this tune before me during the last 500 years. I wonder who they all were, and if any of them were sad about the things I’m sad about, and then I realise that of course some were, because with that many people, it’s a given.

And that’s the Wenlock Edge moment. Or at least, that’s the way I do it. And that’s the realisation where everything changes.

That’s the moment when the lense through which I view my life suddenly pans out.

That’s the moment when you are hovering at ceiling height in the office block of your being, looking down on the cube farm of your existence and seeing more than just the bubble of emotion you are sat in.

That’s the second when you see all the other colours in your life and how they shimmer and glow and interconnect. And that, for me, is usually the moment when I suddenly realise that everything is OK. Or in this case, that I’ve achieved a lot more than I thought. That I’m stronger than I realised. I’ve done alright.

And it feels affirming, uplifting.

Actually, it feels marvellous!

Because this time last year, I was worried sick. I’d spent Christmas with my parents, my Mum was getting forgetful and was not very well, her friends and the lovely peps who help her garden, help her clean the house, and who come in and look after Dad. All of them were worried. I was worried. Mum and Dad weren’t safe on their own. The long process of persuading them they needed live in care began.

And I remembered that and I contrasted it with the way I feel now.

And it was surprisingly better!

OK, so watching people you love die the death of a thousand tiny mental cuts … over a period of 8 years and counting … is not a process I recommend for the maintenance of a 24 hour joyous disposition. Yes, there is still the sadness and there is still the pressure. So much to do, not much time to do it in, the requirement to make weekly visits and be a nice mother and wife and funny and good company when I’m actually rather sad a lot of the time. Then there’s the making sure that there is room for grief but that it doesn’t become a habit.

Amazingly, what I realise is that I’m coping. I love and am loved. And there are still good times too. And for all my banging on about looking back on things regularly in my writing, about making sure I realise how much progress I’ve made, about how we should all do that, in this crucial personal thing, I haven’t. I haven’t done it in my writing either.

Doh. Channelling Homer.

Achievements for 2016 then. My parents are in their own home where they want to be. They are warm, cared for and looked after by a bunch of folks who love them almost as much as my brother and I do. They are as happy as their circumstances will allow. They are supported and safe. And me, I’m as happy as I can be that I’ve done right by them, done for them what I’d want people to do for me, made it possible for them to live the way they want, where they want, for as long as they are able.

I’ve done what I can. And suddenly, in today’s Epiphany epiphany, my Wenlock Edge moment, I realised that I’ve done enough: enough to ensure I can live with, and like, myself as a person. I’ve done OK by them. And I’ve done OK by me because even through all the chaos I’m still writing. I’ve been Mummy and Dutiful Daughter but I’ve also, just, clung onto Mary.

And I hadn’t realised that until this morning.

And it feels good.

Happy New Year peps.

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Book stuff supplemental:

There’s a humorous science fiction fantasy authors giveaway running until Tuesday, I think it is. You can win $42 cash equivalent or gift voucher, a box set of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide and paperback books from five humorous sci-fi fantasy authors. One of them is me. You can find that, and enter if you like here.

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Fartyville welcomes careful drivers: join me in my world.

Last night, I had a slightly surreal evening out. It was one of those ones where I spent most of the evening thinking, If I wrote this series of events into a novel, people would say it was unrealistic. I suppose you could say the Chaos Fairies struck again, although luckily, it was more like, gentle tinkering than a full-on strike.

It was one of those rare occasions during the year when McOther and I go out. In this case, it was a Christmas party for a very nice bunch he works for. I was being corporate wife, except luckily they know me quite well. The first time I met the MD was before he started his own business. It was also a Christmas party, this time for the company he worked for. McOther said,

‘Come and meet thingwot,’ obviously that’s not his real name. I’m calling him thingwot to protect his identity.

Thingwot took one look at me and said,

‘Do you own a grey Lotus?’ and rather cautiously, because you can never be too sure what this kind of opener is going to lead to, I said,

‘Yes.’

And he said, ‘No way! You’re Lotus Woman!’ and I said,

‘I am?’

And then he beckoned a friend over and said. ‘Look! Look! You’ll never guess what! This is Lotus Woman from the A10.’

I think I told this story elsewhere. But basically, the A10 was boring so I used to overtake stuff in the mornings to stay awake. This was noticed by a number of folks, and it seems that while following my morning wakefulness stratagem, I unwittingly gained some notoriety for driving like a guffawing jehu. Anyway sorry, where was I.

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Not Christmasy, I know but it IS pukka bubbly, in situ, in Epernay.

Yesterday morning, I bought a new corporate wife outfit because I only have draughty 12th century collage smarts and, this being a nice warm restaurant, I needed super-heated room smarts because I didn’t want to have to sit there with a flop sweat on all night. Strangely I managed this with a surprising lack of hassle.

Lunch time, got a call from McOther. ‘I’m doing a completion,’ he said.

Bollocks! I thought (that’s a technical term). ‘Are you going to need me to pick you up from work on the way?’ I asked, anticipating what he might be about to say.

‘I hope not.’

Yes, clearly. I thought.

He rang at five, five thirty and six, still hoping to get home in time to turn round and go straight back the way he had come, plus a couple of miles past his office, to the restaurant, with me, in my car.

He rang at six ten to say I’d have to pick him up.

The baby sitter arrived, in a considerable state of agitation, having just been involved in a road accident. She and her car were OK but she was feeling a bit rough. Praying that she was suffering from shock rather than whiplash, I gave her an aspirin and a cup of tea and told her that if she felt at all ill she should call me at once and I’d come back. I felt bad leaving her and set off to collect McOther with some misgivings as to whether she’d last the night.

When I got to McOther’s work he was still there (not an unexpected turn of events, I confess) and still waiting to sign the document that would finish the deal (also a pretty standard state of affairs for this kind of thing). They were doing it on Japanese time. It doesn’t seem to matter which end of these deals he is, selling or acquisition, he always does it on the other person’s time. Seems potty to me but there we are.

Anyway, he sent me to be corporate wife on my own which was no biggie, because, like I said, they’re a lovely bunch. So I drove to the restaurant. Said hello to everyone, luckily there was a seating plan and I was with some people I knew (oooh, I just combined the words ‘with’ and ‘some’ and typed ‘sith’ there). So I had a very amusing time. We speculated as to the potential outcomes of the evening’s events and which one would be most comic. McOther never turns up, or babysitter calls and McOther and I do high fives as he drops in for pudding and I rush home etc. I was able to swear a little with McOther elsewhere as well, which is always liberating.

McOther finally arrived for the main course, with a possible summons back to the office to sign stuff, pending.

At 10.30, when the meal was done, and McOther and I both headed off, me to relieve the babysitter, he to the office to check there was nothing left to sign. Completion time was set at 1.30 Sat am (I kid you not, and get this. At no point did anyone say anything sensible like, ‘this is over running a bit isn’t it? Let’s finish it on Monday.’ Go figure).

McOther didn’t have to change out of heels into driving shoes so he left the restaurant car park before me. It was only a few minutes later that I remembered that the junction for the restaurant on the A14 only had an off ramp and I wasn’t 100% certain I could remember the way back to the main road from there. So I had an interesting few minutes heading in what I hoped was the right direction, sort of on a wing and a prayer, but did eventually manage to hit Cambridge and the A14, roughly where I expected to.

When I arrived home, Fate had been kind enough to plumb for giving us a smooth life rather than the most comedic outcome; all was well and the babysitter was feeling a lot better.

McOther also ended up getting back a short time after I did. They didn’t need any more signatures, and these days, he’s got far enough up the pile to be able to leave some other poor bastard to sit up until 1.30 to finish the deal, so he came home.

The amazing thing is that this two cars caper is actually a regular thing. We’ve done it to these guys twice in the last five years. So, I have come to the conclusion that solicitors do business like this because they like it. Because there is absolutely no. other. logical. fucking. reason.

It was also a pleasing novelty that things turned out well, rather than amusingly. I have to say, if this is what it’s like, I’m very happy to be officially, Not Funny Anymore.

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More lovely authors to discover from #instafreebie

Just a quick heads up today about a sci fi and fantasy promo I’m taking part in this week. It’s on now and runs today and tomorrow.

It is organised by Sff author C C Ekeke along with our lovely friends at Instafreebie. A number of authors are offering free books there in exchange for signing up to their mailing lists. If you find the book isn’t your bag you can easily unsubscribe from the list, you should find links on the emails the authors send you. But hopefully you will discover some great books by authors you enjoy hearing from.

To find out more about the promo click on the lovely graphic. And if you are not signed up to Instafreebie and would like to join, you can easily do so here.

Find out more about the promo here:

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The promo ends tomorrow so now’s the time to get in quick.

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