Tag Archives: an author with children

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.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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I bring you tidings of great joy … probably.

I hope this finds you well and that you survived hurricane Doris, if it hit your part of the world. We have, although unfortunately, it appears that our garden fence has not. It’s currently lying prone in the garden but at least it’s not blocking the street anymore! So, it occurred to me that I should, perhaps, make this week’s blog post a little lighter in tone. To that end, I bring you freebies and some writing news.

First up, writing news, because I’m not egocentric or anything. Phnark!If you follow my rantings and witterings on a regular basis, you may remember me saying I was going to try and write some shorter stuff. This was, mainly, because my life circumstances aren’t always conducive to writing long, complicated stuff. To that end, you will be glad to know that I’m now 26,500 words into another ‘short’ story about K’Barth. I have also binned 19,000 words, or at least reallocated them for use somewhere else, because they don’t fit with this story, because, as is my wont, I started in the wrong place. I really, really hope I’ll be able to stop doing that one day, but on the upside, at least it means I usually get two books when I work on one.

It looks as if this will probably pan out at about 40k words, possibly 60k so, I think we can safely say that as efforts to write a short go, it’s an epic fail. It might, however, see me end up finishing an novel in record time if it continues the way it is. Mwah hahahargh. Swings and roundabouts, eh? It’s all go!

In addition, the Space Dustmen characters are getting excessively antsy and their world is becoming more and more vivid so I am going to have to write something about them soon, or they’ll find and have a word. They are indentured labourers living at a space base and obviously, as the scum of the earth, they all live near the sewage processing plant, on P Deck. Oh ho ho! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you saw that joke here first! I’m just letting it ferment for bit more – the story I mean, not the sewage on P Deck – so it’s more obvious where I’m going when I start working on it again.

Lastly, on the writing news front, I thought I might have a pop at some non-fiction. This is a project that I may even try to do the trad way, I’ll have a think. However, I was out taking photos for it this morning and having thought I was nowhere near, I now find that I easily have enough illustrations to compile the book.

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Happy me!

So, what else do I have for you this month? Two lovely promos, that’s what. Yep!
First up, the lovely Andrew Q Gordon is running a promo for fantasy books this month. There are ten books featured and you can grab yourself a freebie in return for mailing list sign up. To find out more, the promo page is here or click the picture. This one runs from 27th February to 3rd March.

aqg-fantasy-giveaway-option-2

Second up, once again, Patty Jansen is running a monthly promo which segues effortlessly into position on 4th and 5th March, just as Andrew Q Gordon’s promo finishes! Handy.

This one is for no strings attached free books on either Instafreebie and Bookfunnel. So, no mailing list sign up is required but you need to feel confident side loading them to your reader/tablet/computer yourself.

You can cop a load of that one, here or click on the picture, as before.

promomarch2017home

Anyway, I hope the promos are useful. I was rather chuffed to see that they are are full of fresh books (to me). So I’m hoping there is lots of interesting stuff in them for you too.

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, General Wittering

The traditional MTM Christmas Post #scrooge #bahhumbug #chaosfairies #jollyjapes

Well, that’s everything done for another year, despite small scale assistance from the Chaos Fairies. Presents given, card sent … well, OK, they’re sitting in the post box still I expect but I put them in there before Christmas day, on Christmas Eve to be precise, so it’s done.  I even managed to get a newsletter written to go into them, despite 40 minutes of making paper jam until I realised that the printer had eaten the small cloth I use to clean my glasses and it was clogging everything up in there. Well … it is in a rather dark corner, but I did feel very middle aged when finally, with the help of a torch, I discovered the cleaning cloth, which I hadn’t, hitherto, seen, in my defence it was black – despite multiple openings of the printer and inspections of its innards.

To my unbridled delight, the Christmas pop songs in the shops until our ears bleed (from about September) factor has now passed. Let’s listen to the Phil Spectre Christmas Album. Mwahahhahargh! No. Let’s not.

We’re in Scotland this year, which is always a longer visit than when we go to my Mum and Dad so there was even less point in decorating our own home than usual. Even so we put up a tree and in a fit of rare unscrooginess I went and got some of those gel window decorations, you know, like stained glass: two reindeer, two snowmen, two Santas and two er … penguins? Mmm. First window done, and with a snowman on the second only half complete the cat had already eaten one of the Santa’s hands and a leg. I had to guard them jealously after that but apart from a brief run in, during which one of the penguins nearly lost his feet, they have survived. Note to self, might not do this next year.

The journey to Scotland passed uneventfully enough, although there was some massive rain and we drove through some of the biggest puddles ever! Much to McMini’s joy as it does all fly up well if you trundle through at speed – aka hit an unexpectedly deep one. We did some last minute shopping, sent the last cards and then I managed to drop my mobile phone down the toilet. Sadly this was as I stood up to flush. On the up side, no number twos were involved. I grabbed it out of the loo yes my desperation not to spend £500 on a new smartphone was enough for me to plunge my hand into a loo full of wee without a thought. I suppose my Dad has weed over my feet enough times, during loo assists, for me not to care any more. I did run the phone under the tap in case the wee was corrosive. Then I took it to bits and laid it on a paper towel over the radiator to dry.

After borrowing a phone from McDad in-law, I then took McMini to one of the best Christmas Even Christingle services I have ever been to. Hello to all at Melrose Episcopalian Church, thank you for that. Basically, short prayers to begin and end and a strong onus on learning through play: a dimly lit church, plus torches for the children, a hunt for a selection of knitted crib figures, ‘I need you to look for Joseph and Mary now … yes … they are both wearing skirts … well, every marriage is different.’

It was a very amusing script which made all the main points without labouring them and was delivered very well by a bloke who looked and sounded like he was Armstrong – or is it Millar’s? cousin. Even better there were loads of kids, far more kids than adults. McMini had a gas and so did I, especially singing the Calypso Carol which I haven’t sung since I was in the school choir aged 10! Mwah hahaahrgh! Ah memories. It was even warm in there, too.

Church ticked off our list, it was back to check on the phone. I took a bit more of the back off and discovered a few more patches of ‘water’ which I dried off. But luckily the main foreign body present appeared to be pocket lint: still dry. I need a smart phone because I have to be able to run secret squirrel dual authentication on my parent’s internet banking app. I do need a new one, and I’m saving up and will have the money in a few months but it isn’t there now. So I really didn’t want to shell out for a new phone, or even buy a £20 cheapy one. So I waited, with every appendage crossed and hoped that my phone would survive it’s excremental dunking.

Probably the best present of all, for me, was the moment when, late on Christmas Day, I put my phone back together, powered it up and … it worked.

However, the whole episode made me think of a TV programme I watched a couple of years ago, when they were talking about the kind of yuck you find on every day items. They took swabs. The results were gross. My wee phone, which actually really is a wee phone, now, in the truly urinous sense of the word, would clearly have had them all gagging.

I have to report that it was only 24 hours before I said ‘aye’ for the first time instead of yes.

Afore I go, if you’re looking for interesting books, I wanted to give you the heads up about a promo that’s currently running over at sci fi author Patty Jansen’s site. Basically, Patty has noticed that there are a lot of authors out there who are struggling. Perhaps, it’s because, as she herself points out, when life is tough, often, one of the few ways a person can still earn is through writing.

The books are all full price in this one – although ‘full’ in most cases is still excellent value for money – there’s a giveaway to win one of Patty’s books and there’s a donate button which is the main point, as she is using those donations to give grants to authors who are struggling financially.

So far I haven’t read all of the books but the ones I have read have been excellent, so if you think you’d like a look, or think you would like to recommend you can find it here:

christmaspromo

And that’s it. Merry Christmas and all that malarky.  I hope your festive period has been eventful and fun – in the right way. I see that Death Year 2016 is doing it’s best to carry off as many people before it ends – although deaths peak at this time of year, anyway. Good riddance to it, anyway. Here’s to 2017. All the best to everyone and may the phone of your endeavours never fall into the lavatory bowl of failure.

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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.

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Meet Bugly: #Whovian #JollyJapes

This is a before and after shot of the new friend McMini and I have created because … I dunno idle thumbs? We have too much time on our hands? Probably a bit of both. We’ve named him Bugly because he’s blummin ugly bless him. Anyway, Bugly is about to go on a road trip, and he’s going to be sending us selfies from all the lovely places he goes to which I will post on here, unless it’s just not funny any more. In which case I won’t.

apologies to everyone who has already seen this, I got my media muddled!

So here we are.

image

Before .. An ordinary Ood.

After!

After!

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Wait! I’m not ready! #GirlsNightOut, 26 days and counting!

You may, or may not, remember various posts I’ve done on here about my lovely bruv who runs marathons despite being ‘middle-aged, unfit and fat’ – his words and it’s a lie because he’s definitely NOT unfit – or that fat. Anyway, having seen his fine and shining example, watched him routinely raise over a grand, and given him a tenner each time, I thought maybe I should have a go.

I mean, how hard can it be?

Yeh. No. Actually I did know the right answer to that one.

As you may be aware, and if you aren’t, I may as well tell you, I am also middle-aged, comfortably upholstered fat, unfit and I have arthritic knees which contain one less sound ligament in each than normal people’s knees. This made me think, some years ago, that maybe I should eschew the idea of marathons or any other kind of run. Because I can’t run, because my knees don’t do that kind of thing any more, I can only walk, so I’d never qualify for a marathon. I wondered if I could find a cause I care about, with an event that has slightly less rigorous entry criteria, and try er hem … walking. Possibly even briskly (if I took enough chocolate along with me to power the effort) but never tracked one down.

I kind of gave up on the idea, I had a baby anyway, and we moved house and did child rearing and stuff. And it was all lost by the wayside for a bit. Except that in recent years, one night a year, hoards of ladies have walked past my house in flashing bunny ears. I wondered:

  1. what on earth they were doing and
  2. whether I should join in.

Two years ago I plucked up courage to open the door and ask one of them what was going on.

‘Girls’ Night Out,’ she said.

None the wiser I went and looked up Girls Night Out on the internet. It’s a sponsored actual walk! For a fantastic place, our local hospice.

Last year I nearly joined in.

This year … I’ve signed up.

It’s gentle 6k ramble round Bury St Edmunds, at night, wearing the aforementioned flashing bunny ears, yes, in the dark, in pyjamas. (Note to self: there are pyjamas and pyjamas, buy a set of pyjamas you can wear in public.) The local Hospice – St Nicholas’ Hospice – were wonderful with a friend’s relly when he was dying and since the question of hospices and hospice care is in my mind at the moment, for my parents, it is something that resonates with me. They ask each walker to try and raise £100 for them.

‘Booyacka!’ I thought when I read that. ‘£100 is easy money! I only need to persuade 20 people to give me a fiver. Surely that can’t be too hard? And 6k? No problem.’

Except that while it might have been easy when I signed up, that was the end of the summer term. After 3 terms of going to the gym 3 times a week with only the shortest of breaks in between I was at the apogee of my yearly fitness levels and the lowest yearly knee pain level. Anyway the walk was ages away, I had time.

However, the date of this walk is now coming up fast. And it’s in the first week of September, at my yearly fitness nadir, after I’ve spent 6 weeks drinking and eating more than usual, going on holiday, doing larks with McMini, ignoring my physiotherapy exercises or doing no exercise at all. Some of my shorts no longer fit and dressing myself each morning is more and more like draping camouflage netting over a Zeppelin.

Ah.

Indeed, now I’ve looked at the map and my thoughts are more like this:

‘Fuckorama! What have I done? Can I even drag my fat bottom 3k, let alone 6?’

Yes, I’m facing Blimpageddon!

And on top of that, I see far fewer folk in the holidays than term so I have failed, epically, in my mission to persuade 20 people to give me a fiver – although one kind soul did give me £10 via Facebook. Thank you, you know who you are.

In short, it looks, very much, as if my effort at charity fundraising is going to die on its arse. But it could be worse! I am sure it will be great fun, we’re going to the pub afterwards and I could have signed up for the 14k route.

So, the walk is on 10th September. I have about 3 weeks to try and get fit. Two of them are summer holiday blimp time so I will have to take moments out of eating, play and high octane resting to kick some donkey and get into shape.

On the up side, according to my Fitbit, I do walk about 5 miles every day, although I’m not 100% certain I can trust it. I mean, it thinks two hours sitting in my car driving to Sussex is a 5 mile run which either means it’s hopelessly inaccurate or it’s picked up on my mood and is lying to me to keep up my morale.

I am going to be updating my progress sporadically on the justgiving page they’ve … well … given me which is here. So if you want to read a bit more about my efforts I’ll be mostly talking about it there or using the #GirlsNightOut hastag on twitter – although, depending on the quality and availability of wi-fi on our upcoming road trip, there may be a two week gap and one week’s intense solid build up as I hone my athletic prowess.

If you want to take a look feel free, you can even sponsor me if you like. That said, sponsorship, though welcome, is certainly not required.

So here we are on Day 1 of my get fit drive. I have achieved 40 squats while cleaning my teeth and taken down a tent. Oh yeh. Go me.

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Just another day in paradise!

Come the winter we are hoping we might be able to go skiing so in order to prepare, it occurred to us that it would be smart if McMini and I actually had a go at skiing first. So today, it was McMini’s turn. There’s a dry slope not far from us so off we went. He took to it well and it looked ace. I am very much going to try it when term starts.

After we were done, we decided to make a day of it and we went on to Aldeburgh for lunch which was lovely. After we’d eaten we took a stroll, bought an ice cream and sat on a bench to eat it, overlooking the sea. Even though I checked it for turds before sitting down I still failed to notice that one of the ‘special Aldeburgh seagulls’ had laid a length of cable that a Doberman would have been proud of, and of course, I sat on it.

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh: taken while sitting in seagull pooh

As the resulting cack smearage made me look as if I’d extensively soiled myself I tried to clean it off. Half a bottle of water poured over the affected area merely made it look as if I’d lost control of both orifices. And now I also had pooh smeared on my hands! Lovely! Once I’d rinsed my hands with the rest of the water and rubbed liberal amounts of hand sanitiser over them we took stock. There was only one thing for it. I deemed it imperative that I changed into some pooh-free trousers or shorts at the first opportunity. But I had no spares so I was going to have to go into a shop looking as if I’d shat my pants, explain what had happened, and hope they’d let me buy some.

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The seagulls in Worthing are much more genteel

Aldeburgh has many clothes shops and right now they all have sales on but, even with 70% off, a pair of shorts was coming up at £35. Hats off to the folks running them, though, who were perfectly prepared to let me try and buy despite my effluvia-covered togs and accompanying smell.

However, I began to despair of replacing my rancid shorts until I noticed the Sue Ryder charity shop. I popped in there and got a very nice pair of chino beige pedal pushers for £4.50. Phew.

I had planned how I could zip my anorak up round my waist and remove my trousers in the high street but although I’d worked out how it could be done without flashing my arse to the entire neighbourhood, I can’t say I was looking forward to it very much. Many, many things could have gone wrong.

But all’s well that ends well.

So that’s a relief.

A quiet day here, then. Same old, same old. How was your Saturday?

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