Tag Archives: writer mom

When it feels right but is … wrong. #writing #indiebooks

This week: you have another opportunity to benefit from the vast store of wisdom I have earned by royally fucking things up so that you don’t have to.  

It started like this.

Wednesday; visit the parents day, and this week I arrived in extremely dire need of a wee. It is fairly usual that the pint of water and two cups of coffee I need to kick start my day turn into about five pints by the time I’ve driven fifty miles or thereabouts and I drive the next ninety in some agitation. This Wednesday was no exception.

At Mum and Dad’s the downstairs loo is just off the lobby before you go into the house proper and I usually use it before I announce my presence, otherwise the ten minutes of hellos can be a bit excruciating for my poor bladder. Into the loo I rushed, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as what felt like about a gallon of wee went into the pan. Except that each of the lavs at Mum and Dad’s has a riser for people with dodgy hips, and if you sit on the riser in the downstairs loo wrong, the wee runs down the inside of it and despite being positioned over the bowl, the gravitational wonders of surface tension bend the wee round and under the edge of the riser and it then falls over the side of the pan onto the floor. Well, it came from a skip, still in its wrapping, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But yes, you guessed it. A significant portion of my wee deluge had missed the pan entirely and puddled on the floor.

Joy.

The original dribbly-wee loo riser of doom (centre) among other skip scored offerings.

There I was. I’d done the right thing, sat on loo, weed into hole but somehow, despite following the instructions it had all gone somewhat awry. I spent the next five minutes wiping it up with loo roll and anti bacterial floor spray. It’s not just me, the foibles of this particular loo riser are a known problem and I soon had it all ship shape again with no harm done. The point was, sometimes, even when you do things the right way it all goes horribly wrong.

So how does this tale of substandard urinary aim have any connection with writing?

Well, it’s like this.

There’s a quote that appears on something I use – my Kobo Writing Life dashboard, I think – that goes like this:

‘If you want to read a book that has not been written yet, you must write it.’

Way back in 2008 when I finally finished my first decent novel that is, exactly what I had done. But to be honest, while this is great advice, it only works if you are in touch with the popular Zeitgeist on some level. I sell my books on the internet which, to all intents and purposes, is American. It is devilishly hard to reach non Americans but back then it was even harder (except on Amazon at that point).

Therefore, I shot myself in the foot instantly by writing a very British book set, mostly, in a fantasy world but when it came here, it came to London. Yes Dr Who is like that but it was put on by the BBC and when they first did it, they had a captive audience comprising all of Britain. I wrote British because I was bored of books and films where the main protagonists are American and the setting America. I wanted to see some shizz go down in my own country. What I failed to grasp was that there is a reason the vast majority of books are about Americans in America. It’s to connect with Americans; the biggest and most easily reachable group of readers in the market place.

Yes, I’d done kind of the right thing but … wrong.

The problem wasn’t even that I was writing a book that could well hold more appeal to British or Australasian readers. It was that I hadn’t researched my market – I thought I had but, no. That’s why I didn’t understand how hard to find they would be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be unable to reach British readers without taking special measures. OK so that was 2008 but even now, in 2017, you have to work at finding international readers and even harder at finding readers who buy from sites other than Amazon.

Likewise, I’d read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy: the Narnia Books, The Five Children and It, The Incredible Mr Blenkinsop (I think that was its name) the Borrowers, the Wind in the Willows, The Lord of The Rings. I’d seen films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I’d read Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett. In most of those books, the writer has invented a completely new world, or a new creature, or a new something. The point is, while they may have broad themes that are similar, good versus evil baddie, etc, each one takes place in its own fantasy world or hidden world within this one, often there are specific and new creatures created for purpose of the story. The notable exception is Terry Pratchett, who took the tropes other people used and poked gentle fun at them.

In the same way that I thought, at my parents, that rushing into the bog, sitting down on the ice cold, thigh freezing riser and letting it all out was enough, and discovered that oh it so wasn’t, I genuinely thought putting my book on sale and supporting my efforts with advertising on the big promo sites was all it would take to find readers. It wasn’t. I wrote weird books, that are funny and I had covers made expressly to say, ‘this book is like nothing you have ever read’ because when people saw my books, I wanted them to think, ‘Pratchett’. When I got reviews that said that, I quoted them. I wrote my book the old way. The E Nesbitt way. And I sold that as an asset … the wrong way.

When people talk about wanting ‘different’ I suspect that what they really mean is that they want the same old ware wolves and sparkly vampires but with … say … slightly different lighting.

That is where Sir Terry cleaned up. He kept to the standard tropes, and spun them differently. If you want to succeed financially, I think, possibly, the trick is to write something bang on genre that has a different angle; a standard, boilerplate, trope made interesting enough to you for you to be able to stand writing in it.

When it comes to making choices, I guess it’s wise to think through the ramifications, but with writing it’s hard to anticipate what they might be sometimes. If you like writing wacky but want to produce a well edited book with a professional cover, it’s worth looking at how much cash you have to throw at it and how long for. When I started this game, the estimate was that once you’d produced six books you’d reach tipping point; momentum would be easier to maintain and sales would rise.

‘Great!’  I thought, ‘I have budget for six novels.’

Now that I’m writing my sixth book, that magic tipping point number is more like twelve! Things change and move. How long can you sustain your business without making a profit? OK now double it. Hell, quadruple it to be safe.

Likewise, when you plan what you’re going to do to reach readers, I’d thoroughly recommend keeping as much of it under your control as you can. This is why so many writers ask readers to sign up to their mailing lists. I had an amazing three months back in 2014 when I optimised my book listings for UK readers and started getting a ton of downloads on Amazon and, even better, a really good read through rate – seriously it was massive, about 20% of the folks downloading the first book bought the others But then Amazon changed the algo – which they do around April or May each year, it seems. Overnight the downloads of the free book ceased. And that was that.

These days, however many author lists readers are signing up to, I still believe that if you can make your emails personal, fun and interesting enough they will stay with you. Just don’t make them too fun or your readers will sign up for the emails rather than your books or if they do, be prepared to monetise your blog posts, newsletter etc – either as non fiction books or paid content. The great thing about mailing lists is that if someone doesn’t get on with your books they can unsubscribe so you should end up with a list of folks who might, eventually, read your books! If you’re really lucky, some will part with cash for them.

Once you have some readers, it’s also worth listening to them. I always sold my books as fantasy and when asked to cite comparable writers I’d suggest Holt, Prachett, Rankin … When people started reviewing them, the bulk of them cited Douglas Adams. I now publish them in sci-fi. They don’t sell as well there as they did in the days when I could put them in fantasy and they’d be actually visible. But now that fantasy is kind of, ware wolves and shifters with a small corner for epic, my books definitely do better in sci-fi! Sci-fi seems a bit less rigid in the genre factors required, too, hence the next series, Space Dustmen, is going to be sci-fi with the odd planetary visit.

To sum up, what I am trying to say, I guess, is that now, more than ever, you need to think long and hard before you even start to write that book and you need to keep pretty nimble afterwards. So, if you’re thinking having a pop at writing or are working on your first book, maybe you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you are writing for?
  2. Where you you find them?
  3. Can you find them easily and inexpensively?
  4. How often do the authors they read release new books?
  5. Can you keep up with book production rates for your genre? or to put it another way …
  6. How much time do you have? Even if you give up your job.
  7. What kind of writing career will fit with your life?
  8. How and where will you sell your books – it’s no good being wide if everyone in your genre whose books you like and who might like yours too and do mailing swaps or promos with you is in KU.
  9. How long before you need your books to start funding themselves to keep going?
  10. Are there other ways you can monetise your writing to support book production until such stage as your book business is self financing.
  11. How big is your social media following? Are you up to a kickstarter to fund book production?

The way I see it there are two broad choices about what you decide to write.

The first choice is to conform. You, write to market, so if it’s fantasy, you write about ware wolves or witches and yes you light them differently or whatever it takes and you write about six books (minimum) a year. And you thank your lucky stars you’re not in Romance where you have to write one a month!

Alternatively if you really can’t face the prospect of writing about creatures someone else has already invented or making your hero American, or 101 other must haves for the best selling book, accept that you are unlikely to earn diddly squat for a long, long time and just go for it writing the kind of stuff you love, that fulfils you as a reader and writer, stuff you want to read that hasn’t been written yet. But if you choose this route, you have to be extremely pragmatic about your chances of earning anything for many years and extremely lateral and original about what you do to earn from your books in other ways.

It’s quite good if you can avoid combining motherhood to a small child and trying to look after sick, elderly parents, at the same time as trying to have any sort of career, too.

This is where I am right now. But hey, my sixth book will be out next year and who knows, 2027 I may even have written twelve and if I market the hell out of them, well who knows, they might pay for the thirteenth book.

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Mind Expansion Anyone? #McMini #kids #parenting #children

McMini ‘wearing’ a head warmer.

Over the holidays I thought it would be fun to tell some of the funny stories about my family. There is ‘Catching Socks’, ‘Night of the Homeless Man’, ‘Tale of the Drowning Toddler’ and a famous one about my Mum for which I have no title, as yet.

However, I thought I would leave that for later because obviously, it being the holidays, I have been spending a lot of time with McMini and at the moment, he is in absolutely tip top form.

Indeed, he is greater evidence than anything else I’ve encountered that anyone who wants their mind expanding should skip the drugs and just talk to a kid.

McOther has his usual pre-holiday work panic on so after managing to clear the decks for sports day he had to miss the pic-nic lunch.

So there we were, McMini and I, eating our sandwiches and chatting.

‘Have you licked that spoon?’ asks McMini.
‘Yes, sorry,’ I say. ‘It’s covered in my yucky saliva.’
‘I don’t mind Mummy. My saliva is 50% yours. Your saliva is called Lady Penelope, Dad’s Saliva is called Geoffrey. My saliva is called Geoffrey Penelope.’

McOther’s reaction to this was to ask me if there was a source of mind expanding drugs McMini has access to about which we are unaware. But I think this is probably just how he is. I’ve never needed them, myself after all and McOther’s imagination is just as fertile so I guess it’s a given that McMini will come up with the kind of double dose that surprises even us.

Sometimes, McOther and I worry about what we have spawned …

Then this one…

Yesterday, I was happily minding my own business, reading the Searcher magazine on the loo when McMini appeared. It’s not so much you’ll never walk alone in our house so much as you’ll never cr- you get the picture, I’m sure. Anyway

‘I had a dream about you last night Mummy.’
‘Did you?’ I say. Uh-oh, I think. Dreams about me tend to involve my turning into some grisly monster and ripping his head off, dreams about his father, ditto.
‘Yes. It was quite scary, or at least it wasn’t exactly scary because it was funny but it was scary too. I dreamed I was in a kind of fairy tale. Cinderella was there but she had a black horrible face with red glowing eyes and she was dancing around and I accidentally went into her territory so she decided to kill me,’ – yep, her territory. I think we may have been letting him watch too many animal programmes – ‘But luckily you turned up, Mummy, and saved my life.’
Well that’s a surprise. I thought. ‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘Still I’m glad I saved your life. Usually I kill you don’t I? so it makes for a nice change.’
‘Yes. But you nearly died. Cinderella had some zombie assistants, her ugly sisters were with her and they had crosses for eyes like when I draw dead people* and the Cinderella had a terrible secret weapon, she farted and that’s when you nearly died, the fumes nearly killed you but luckily I was there to save you by dragging you away.’

Have a kid and you, too, can have a loo like this!

When McMini plays video games, he doesn’t usually play the game that much, he spends hours dressing the characters in different clothes etc. He is clearly perfectly normal in this respect as the more recent the game the more secondary the actual game seems to be to all the extras, places you can go off menu, costumes you can unlock etc. But I found him playing Fifa 13 the other day.

‘Watch this Mummy!’ he said. Then as the goalie about to take a goal kick, he turned and put the ball in the back of the net. The game is not designed for people to do this so the Goalie then proceeded to put his head in his hands and look really upset. Which was kind of funny, in a surreal way.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘I’m being Chelsea. I don’t really like Chelsea so I have set myself up as Cheese McPiggyface, their player manager and I am making them lose so they are easier to beat next time.’
‘I’m not sure games work like that.’
‘Only one way to find out, Mummy.’

Hmm… well, I guess it’s cunning.

He also has a Ferrari driving game. To start racing you have to do some practise laps with Tiff Needell. McMini has never graduated to the actual racing bit. He drives the wrong way, backwards, into the wall and basically trashes the car.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.
‘I’m smashing the car. It’s hilarious! Look! I’ve cracked the windscreen.’
‘Why would you break a lovely Ferrari.’
‘Oh it’s much more fun than doing it properly, Mummy. Tiff Needell gets really cross.’

Ho hum … and don’t get me started on the weird stuff he puts in the freezer.

A lego figure in suspended animation. Our freezer is full of this stuff!

I dunno what’s going on here, more lego being iced along with a Kinder egg toy.

 

* And how The Beano draws dead things, too. Which is where he got it from I suspect.

6 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Meh and un-meh. Thoughts, ramblings and a progress report.

It’s confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently because we’ve reached a new stage in Dad’s illness and I’m still adjusting to the grimness. If someone you love has dementia then there will be stuff they say when you know it’s the illness speaking, rather than them. Over the last three of four months, Dad’s condition has deteriorated rapidly to the point where his illness is doing far more of the talking than he is. It’s been pretty stark.

On the upside, there have been a lot of big events in the family and among friends to keep me busy, although some of them are going through tough times too. But there’s been less down time and no more than a few hours in any of the last five weeks to plan, gather thoughts and generally sort myself out. If I’m a bit maudlin, this is usually good. The more I socialise and the more stuff I do, the less time I spend in the Slough of Despond. Also we all know the writer who wants to get stuff out of their head has to put stuff in. I even have a book cued up to read for the holidays. I think it’s called put your pants on, or possibly pull your pants off but it’s about finding ways to plan your writing more effectively. I’ll review it when I’m done!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, hectic life. When things get too busy the time for everything else but the household chores disappears and trust me in this house, even they are a bit, er hem, rushed. Or neglected. Phnark. And my house is hardly a smoothly oiled machine at the best of times. I mean, it has McMini and me in it. But if there’s not even time for chores or the myriad stuff I have to remember for McMini’s school (sad stuff there too) I do tend to get a bit flustered. And guilty. And sad. And on top of already sad, that’s not good.

And what with the state of the world right now, and the shit we’re all in, I slightly feel that if I can’t say anything positive it’s best not to say anything at all. Hence the significant lack of posts on here and the shockingly low quality of my email newsletters. Sorry anyone reading who also receives my emails. The interesting stories will return. Soon.

Because I’ve realised something.

It’s time to have a word with myself!

So, first of all, I apologise if my posts and emails seem faux jolly, as if I’m going through the motions (when they appear at all). In a sense, they are and I am. But it’s important that I continue writing them. A huge part of the trick of managing life-grimness, for me, is to keep on keeping on. The small every day things become harder and harder to do, but doing them anchors you in reality, in normality, and stops you from floating away into some kind of mad disjointed netherworld of despair. That’s why I write, of course. Because – don’t laugh – writing all this stuff that is madder than a box of frogs keeps the rest of me sane and grounded.

Keep calm and carry on. That’s my life and I’m this bloke.

Right, that’s that off my chest, let us move swiftly on to other things.

News

Mmm. The 10k short is with the editor, although she has RSI and due to the vagaries of the power companies where she lives she is currently in the process of going off grid – ie switching to solar – so I’m not sure when it will come back. Which reminds me, I must look and see if there was anything I was meant to be doing to it.

Meanwhile, McMini’s birthday party is finally in the bag so I must do an invite. It’d be much easier to draw one but the lamp in my scanner has gone so I suspect I will be doing something with clip art. Oh dear. He and 9 other little darlings are going to do den building and fire building in a local park. Luckily I have help in the form of my friend Jill so if it all goes tits up at least we can laugh about it later.

With this and the rest of the holidays fast approaching my writing may well slow but I’m going to try and do the 20 minutes a day thing because that worked really well.  Whatever happens, I will be doing some reading. Both the aforementioned keep your pants on book and one of my own for editing/developmental purposes. I’m 40k into a 60k novel. It’s not my greatest work because I’m experimenting with keeping both my plots and my books simpler and shorter so I can sell them cheaper. However, it’s not bad and I think it could well be better by the time I’m done with it.

If the pants book helps I hope to be doing a bit of outlining over the holidays. There have also been more developments with the one about the ex gigolo space dustman who lives on P deck. I’ve been working out how he gets there – I think that will be a long short that I can give away to folks who join my mailing list (or who are already on the other one). Also working on how he gets his ship – I think he builds it from scrap but I’m not sure. It may be a lease ship. And how Admiral Ash, the female lead, ends up being de-thawed from her stasis pod. Thinking she might be in his ship with him now, rather than in space. Depends if he builds it from spare parts. I also need to draw a cover for Jump because I can’t afford a proper one. I should be able to use the scanner in my parents’ printer for that one but the invite is more time critical. It has to go into school tomorrow because it’s the last week.

On the eyebombing book front. I am slowly getting there with working out kickstarter layers. It’s really hard to do because I have no cash so it has to be benefits in kind, like taking them for an eyebombing walk, so I’m scratching my head about international sponsors at the moment. All I can give them is books and their name in the front. I have to get about £15 for each book to be able to afford to have it printed and send it to them. Thinking this might have to be more of a local endeavour. We shall see. Might have to look at a different size too. I was going to do stocking filler 6″x6″.

Also, if anyone’s thinking of forking out for Escape From B-Movie Hell hold off, I’ll have some good news for you on that front next week!

That’s all for now, pipple toot!

13 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

This week, I am mostly ranting about … everything

STOP! There is swearing.

Aroogah! Aroogah!

Let’s kick off with a profanity warning: there will be some.

There.

So if you don’t like the F word, do not read this. Especially do NOT read this all the way though and then complain it’s full of swearing or I will flipping well lamp you. And if you’re a bit iffy about swearing, but can cope, you’re probably alright for most of this post but you will want to avoid the song at the end.

_________________________________

OK, if we’re all sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Right now, I feel a bit like this. Not crap exactly, just a bit … blergh … or possibly meh.

The fact is, while I think I might be quite loving, I doubt I’m a very nurturing person. I seem to be bad at caring for people. I need too much space and time alone to get my head together and that is not conducive to surrendering any sizeable amounts of your life to the needs of others, however many times the head says go, the heart sometimes says … well, not no exactly because it’s willing … more like, can’t.

But obviously, I have to. Can’t isn’t one of the options. I have a commitment and it’s nothing close to what most people have to put up with, but the mental and emotional energy it takes to do the negligible amount I do for my parents seems to be disproportionately huge when I add it to the other commitment of being a mum.

This week there was a small blip. Mum and Dad have some living aids in their house that they pay for on lease. It started last week, when they had a call asking if they still wanted all of it, and thinking it was cold callers Mum told the company to take everything way.

Yesterday, I get a panicked call saying, ‘They’re taking the red alarm button, and the alarm that goes off when your Dad gets out of his seat, stop them!’

Except I was at kid’s church, with McMini, so my brother got the call, and mistaking the carer’s phone number for a friend’s, and being in the middle of ‘Comedy Club’ – he’s a teacher and yes, it’s an extra curricular activity at his school – he proceeded to show the boys and girls a thing or two about the art of mimicry. In this case, by answering the call in his impression of David Bellamy (it’s absolutely tip top, I have to hand it to him; imagine a version of Lenny Henry in white, that’s my brother). He then suddenly had to transform to serious, which probably taught the kids far more about comic timing than anything he could have actually planned. I’m still getting giggleback about it though. Mwah hahahargh! I swear I couldn’t make this shit up! And if I did, I’d be panned for making it unrealistic.

So, as McMini and I left the service and I turned my phone on I got a call from my brother. Cue frantic ringing round and I got a company name and a number to ring. After a night stewing, I spent the next day ringing round to get to the bottom of it. Turns out that what we’re paying only covers a fraction of what is in the house. None of us know how we’ve had all this stuff for a year for free but they seem OK with that so long as we pay the full whack from now on or just keep the things we’re actually paying for. Mum remembers their call but didn’t understand what they were talking about.

As the cost of leasing the other stuff is a fair bit, 6 month’s rental is about the same cost of new equipment, I bought replacements for the bits that we hadn’t been paying for which arrived the following day, during my visit, so I was able to install those. The engineer came out to put the other stuff back the following day, too, so all is now peachy. In addition, I explained to them that Mum has dementia too and they will now ring me with any enquiries. I found out some useful stuff, too, like where the heck we got the seat and bed alarm from and whether we are leasing it or own it outright! I had no clue and if Mum ever had, she doesn’t now. So that was a bit of a bonus, even if the method of delivery was less than fun.

Anyway, on the Tuesday, after I’d organised this, I turned to the clock and, joy unbounded, I had a hour left before school run time in which to write. I’d had to send a form declaring my parents have dementia to get the VAT back on the stuff I’d ordered so I’d  photographed it and emailed it off. Needless to say, the moment I sat down at my computer, the company contacted me to say I’d done it wrong so I had to quickly do another one. Then at last, with 20 minutes in hand, which is 400-800 words if I concentrate, I sat down to write.

And I couldn’t.

I was just mentally dead. My mojo had flown and, indeed, it’s been AWOL all week. I like to think it’s pissed off on a drunken bender and will crawl back to me in the equivalent of the wee hours (next week sometime, probably) slurring,

‘I’m sho sorry. I really am. Are you angry with me? Schay you’re not angry with me. I love you Mary, I really really love you, hurrgh bleargh [splat]. etc.’

My mojo is the one on the right. Don’t look at the stain on the carpet or you’ll know I’m a slattern – as well as foul mouthed.

However, I also fear it may be sobbing in a corner somewhere so I have made the odd effort to find it. I managed about 400 words where I knew what was going to happen and just needed to describe it, in my time after sorting the crisis, no creativity required. You know, when you have to get a character from one part of the house to another kind of thing and they walk through a hall which you need to describe, briefly, for later. That kind of thing but there was still no sign of the mojo. Whatever it’s doing, I hope it comes back refreshed.

After that I threw in the towel and heated up some filter coffee, wrote a shopping list of the things I needed to get for supper on the way home with McMini and set off to pick him up from school. We walked home, past the supermarket.

Did I remember to go in and get the shopping?

Did I bollocks?

Did I remember before we’d walked all the way home? Of course not.

The distance I am away from the thing I’ve forgotten is directly proportional to the amount of knee pain I am experiencing at the time. Needless to say, I remembered as we walked into the house, so we had to turn around and go back up the hill. The only positive I can take away from this is that despite my temptation to turn the air blue with invective, the worst word that escaped me was, ‘sperm.’

Snortle.

Yes I said, ‘Oh … sperm!’

Mwahahahaharaargh!

But hey, at least I didn’t say, ‘shit! or fu-beep! or cu-aroooogah.’

Back we trudged, got the stuff, came home. I had to make biscuits with McMini, because I’d promised, even though we didn’t really have time and I was shattered and just wanted to sit down. Then I prepared the veg and the bits of supper I was cooking. According to my fitbit I did two miles back and forth around the house. I just finished in time to squeeze in a quick shower before we ate.

The following day, I did the Sussex run. It wasn’t quite such a good visit, they were both tired, indeed Mum fell asleep over her dinner prompting Dad to shout for me because he was afraid she’d died (bless), and they were less on form, but I did, at least, cheer them up and the carer was around when Dad filled his Tena boots this week, not me. Result!

And this is why I find the care thing difficult. Not because I don’t want to do it. It’s not like it would cross my mind to do anything else. Lord knows they’ve looked after me and now it’s my turn to look after them. I love going to see them because they are hilarious and they are still great fun. Even with the short term memories of a pair of goldfish they are like pied pipers of people – and it’s not as if the memory loss is very noticeable because neither of them has ever been able to find their keys, well … OK the lack of memory is showing with Dad now but he’s got away with it for 12 years.

They are wonderfully, gloriously eccentric and everyone who crosses their path is drawn in, grows to love them, grows to care for them. It is really extraordinary to watch, and kind of cool. Everyone always has, but then, they have always been dynamos in the community, caring for people, visiting them, looking after the elderly the sick and the lonely – even people who are alone for a jolly good reason – and generally just being epic. They’ve had a tramp to stay for the night and Mum has saved two people’s lives that I know of, while Dad, as a teacher, has shaped countless others. They are still working their magic and I want to make the most of it. Likewise, McMini is a gem so I’m not giving up on any of my mum time either.

In short, I wouldn’t do this any differently, I just get frustrated, sometimes, that I seem unable to do anything else as well.

FFS …

The events of those 36 hours sorting the alarms etc pretty much lobotomised the rest of my brain until I sorted it out, and then left it shagged well beyond functionality for some days afterwards. Perhaps that what pre menopausal dementedness comes to when added to the dementedness of the pre menopausal dementia sufferer’s actually, properly, demented parents, and everyone has a little bit of a go, and nobody remembers what in the name of Pete they did.

See how smart he looks? Yeh, that’s a lot smarter than I feel.

Who knows. But I have more and more admiration for people who have no cash to pay for care, who have to look after sick family members 24 hours a day, with no breaks, no let ups. How do they cope? How do they catch a bus or pay a bill or organise a fart in bed with that going on full time? Blimey, I have trouble stringing two sentences together and I don’t have it like them. They must be fucking saints. I have been trying to channel my inner saint. However, he is clearly not like theirs. It is quite clear to me that my saint is like those early hermits; you know, the kind of guy who sat on top of a pillar for 40 years in the desert without speaking – except to shout angry obscenities at anyone who came near so they’d fuck off again – probably while throwing handfuls of his own faeces at them.

And I also have a huge admiration for people who earn a living as carers. They don’t earn that much, and they take a serious amount of flack. My dad gets properly shouty sometimes, usually when he’s feeling undignified. He was heaping invective on the carer on Wednesday, as she changed his tena pants and she was just calm and kind and sweet with him. We all knew he was only shouting because he felt humiliated and wanted it to be over, but there’s a difference between knowing that and not letting it get to you. In her place, I’d have told him to get knotted.

Sometimes, I get how Dad might feel though, why he might be shouty! Jeez I feel like that a lot of the time. There is so much administriviatative shite to do and there are days I want to tell life to just piss off and leave me alone! It wasn’t helped by the fact I had multiple trouser failure this weekend and with one pair left – in the wash – I had to go buy more. All my trousers are through at the arse because I’ve been waiting until the effing shops came up with a choice that was wider than black, black, denim, denim or denim, dark blue or white. Although I do usually like to have one pair of dark blue canvas jeans, but I don’t wear them as much as the others. Indeed they’re not through at the arse, but the zip’s bust. Even so, finding anything else … it’s like the Monty Python Spam sketch.

‘Don’t complain darling, I love black, I’m buying black, black, black, black and black.’

‘Well bully for you but you can sod off! I’m not. I don’t wear black if I can avoid it and certainly not every day.’

I did find a pair of red trousers in H&M but they were three quarter length with faux rips in. I’m too old for faux rips and I’ll knacker them myself soon enough. Then I found some lovely pink ones but only in three quarter length. That said, I have hopes that the pink three quarter lengths may turn up in longs before the year is out. The gentleman in the shop thought they would. Even so, let’s chalk that up as another thing that can piss off! Fashion. I put ‘coloured jeans’ into google and I got a whole load of black, dark blue, denim and white trousers.

‘WHITE AND BLACK ARE NOT FUCKING COLOURS YOU BLIND BASTARDS!’ I shouted, making the cat jump.

Do you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to relax here.

On the upside, despite spending a whole morning looking for trousers, I did manage to replace the three pairs of threadbare-arsed winter trousers I own which haven’t quite gone through. Rock on Mistral’s basement outlet section. And there was me thinking it was a trendy shop for young thin people with no tits! Mwah hahahargh! But I was wrong. I got three pairs of moleskin trousers in light green, wedgewood blue and maroon for £7 a pop. A saving of £105 I think it was. They’re a bit flarey so I’ll have to take them in a little but never mind. Every cloud has a silver lining. I shall return there. Oh yes I will.

Swings and roundabouts, but the mental theme of the entire week in MTM land has definitely been, Fuck Off World!

And when I get like that, I often turn the work of Ian Dury because he was really very good at FOW but in the kind of amusing way that makes it faceable again.

For this particular malaise, a dose of one particular song, ‘Fucking Ada’, does wonders. I suspect it’s not really about a never ending quest for time to think, or the ensuing burn out, or at least not, per se. I should imagine it’s either about the failure of a relationship, or the humiliation of being unable to perform at a one night stand after a culmination of too many one night stands, too many drugs, too much alcohol and altogether too much rock and roll. It could be about depression, too. It could be about all of those things.

Bollocks to that though, because there are sections that perfectly sum up that FOW feeling. And when I’m sad, and angry with myself for not being able to bounce back, and I want the world to just bugger off and leave me alone – not indefinitely, but just for just ten sodding minutes so I can complete a thought – this song is a peach.

There are few things as cathartic as shouting along with Ian for a few minutes. Just make sure the kids are out and you don’t have the windows open. Here it is for your delectation. Words first, vid second.

Fucking Ada, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Moments of sadness, moments of guilt
Stains on the memory, stains on the quilt
Chapter of incident, chapter and verse
Sub-heading chronic, paragraph worse

Lost in the limelight, backed in the blaze
Did it for nine pence, those were the days
Give me my acre and give me my plough
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother me now

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada
Fucking Ada, fucking Ada

Time’s at a distance, time’s without touch
Greed forms the habit of asking to much
Followed at bedtime by builders and bells
Wait til the doldrums which nothing dispels

Idly, mentally, doubtful and dread
Who runs with the beans shall not stale with the bread
Let me lie fallow in dormant dismay
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother today

Fucking ada, fucking ada
Fucking ada, fucking ada

Tried like a good un, did it all wrong
Thought that the hard way was taking to long
Too late for regret or chemical change
Yesterday’s targets have gone out of range

Failure enfolds me with clammy green arms
Damn the excursions and blast the alarms
For the rest of what’s natural Ill lay on the ground
Tell me tomorrow if I’m still around

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada (ad nauseam)

S0ngwriters: Ian Robins Dury, John George Turnbull

Well, back to running with the beans … It’s Friday and it’s about blummin’ time I wrote something. Well, something other than this gargantuan rant, I mean book something, and hey, I’ve twenty minutes left this week.

In the meantime, here’s the video.

Don’t forget to sing along now.

18 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Learning the hard way, or at least, the cold squelchy way…

Not that I’m melodramatic or anything … mwahahahahargh!

This holidays, McOther, McMini and I joined another family of friends skiing. I have never been skiing before, for the simple reason that from the age of about twelve I’ve been under doctor’s orders not to.

Some of you will know this, some won’t, but basically,  my knees have taken a bit of a pasting over the years; bone disease as a kid, torn ACL after jumping over a wall aged 25, and then twenty years later, a ‘possible’ tear in the other ACL (MRI ‘inconclusive’) after I rode my bicycle blithely across what I thought was an empty street and was surprised to catch a slow moving Ford Fiesta in the back. Not their fault I genuinely hadn’t seen them. I’m just lucky they saw me.

The net result of all this – apart from the fact the knees now match – is arthritis. First knee was knackered pre ligament reconstruction and arthritis is the natural result of soggy knee ligaments. The second knee is so arthritic after 25 years of taking the extra weight that even with an unequivocal MRI result, it’s probably reached a stage when reconstruction would make the arthritis worse. Which is why they can’t do the original, of course. The ACL damage doesn’t hurt but the arthritis in the knees does. Eight years ago they told me that were I sixty, they’d fast track me for a left knee replacement because it was so bad. Alas bionic knees only last 10 years, and you can only have two so no can do until I’m sixty. Oh well. Only another 12 years to wait.

So here I am. Aged 48, with knees that are, frankly, a bit fucked. A lot more fucked than they were when the first doctor ordered me to stay off the ski slopes. But, for the first time, I was in a position to try skiing somewhere that it wouldn’t matter were I unable to go piling up and down the slopes all day, because there’d be other stuff to do. And McOther is an excellent skier and McMini wanted to try it.

So, ever the adventurous one, I bought some huge knee braces like scaffolding, packed a HUGE box of aspirin and off I went. Here are some of the things I learned:

Spring in the mountains is hot.

No shit, Sherlock? I hear you say. But yes. I was thinking snow=cold, mountains=cold.

Schoolboy error.

It is is not true.

Here in Blighty we bought ourselves lovely thick warm coats to keep out all that cold mountain air. It does get cold but only at night. Also, as a novice to skiing I was tense, partly because it all happens a bit fast and partly because the feedback through my knees is less than sharp and I had an uncomfortable feeling, after waiting for 30 years and through a great deal of deterioration to flaunt doctor’s orders, that I was about to die at every turn. Rank fear aside, this is the kind of exercise that pushes your beats per minute up to one seventy something until you learn to do it properly, stop fighting and relax. Now even if it’s minus forty out there, beats per minute of one seventy plus is only going to mean one thing: a flop sweat.

But it wasn’t minus forty. Spring in the mountains is gorgeous; clear blue skies, lovely sunny days and temperatures of eighty degrees Fahrenheit (twenty something centigrade). Now if you’re going to do high intensity aerobic exercise in those kind of temperatures, take it from me, you’re going to get hot in a t-shirt and running tights. Thick gloves, huge woolly socks and clothing that is, essentially, a duvet, waterproofed and crafted into Michelin Man style duds is … less than comfortable in beachwear temperatures. To be frank after about ten minutes, it was not so much a coat I was wearing as a portable, always-on sauna. I didn’t know it was possible for a human being to sweat that much or for a t-shirt to become sweat sodden enough to wring out in ten minutes. So here’s an interesting discovery. It is and it can.

Nice.

You will discover new things.

Let’s talk about gloves. At these temperatures, your ski gloves will become very hot inside. So hot that you will discover the new and unnerving phenomenon of hand odour. Yes, put your hands in warm gloves and let them sweat profusely for three days straight and your gloves will come off soaking wet at the end of each day – sod days, in my case it was an hour and a half, tops. Even so, after 3 days they will smell like the rankest socks imaginable … until you smell your ski socks after a day in those hired boots and realise your imagination hadn’t even scratched the surface of the concept that is, ‘rank’.

These boots are made for walking.

I have many pairs of in line and roller skates and the boots are similar to ski boots. The rationale is that if you fall awkwardly you will break your legs, mid shin, rather than doing potentially crippling Potts fracture style damage to your ankles. The same rationale is behind ski boots. Only not. Ski boots were invented by the Spanish Inquisition in the eleventh century but shelved after they were deemed too inhuman a torture to inflict on mere heretics. A few hundred years later and here we are resurrecting them to protect ourselves from breaking our ankles. They are very good for this. And for skiing. But when the snow is melting, you also have to do a lot of actual walking in them. They are less good for that.

Walking in ski boots is clearly an acquired art. As far as my efforts went … hmm … well … let’s be generous and call them, ‘a work in progress’. People who have mastered the art have a kind of slowed down gait that’s a cross between a 1970’s disco swagger and someone walking on the moon. It involves putting all the weight on the most painfully arthritic bits of my knees and every walk was unspeakable.

There are many different types of snow.

Yes. This is so. And ALL are scary. I confess on the first day we thought we’d ski down the small looking hill to where our lessons were. So off we went. I snow ploughed as I’d been taught to do, a sure way to slow me to a stop and … ah … hang on … not stopping … at all. So I bailed and yes then I walked down the slope in those infernal boots. I was sweat soaked and knackered before I even got to the ski school. Because it was ice. And very slippery.

Skiing is fun … sort of.

Like that Scandinavian thing, is it Stockhausen syndrome? No, I don’t think so? Stockholm Syndrome? Possibly, that thing where you grow to love your kidnapper/abuser. Yeh, well, it was a bit like that. I didn’t like it to start with because, to use a technical term, I was shitting bricks. I was in a complete funk, most of the time, and when I say funk, I mean in the fear sense of the word as well as the smell. Then on the third day, suddenly, I relaxed. Not much, but enough to realise how people did it all day. They were not super-fit, just super-relaxed. My fear levels reduced a tiny bit as I began to feel more in control, beats per minute dropped to about one fifty and recovery time shortened to the point where I could do a run without stopping. Suddenly I got what the fuss was about and why people do it, which, I confess, I expected to do much earlier.

The great thing about it was that the actual skiing bit doesn’t hurt. Not at all. The time it hurts is when you stop. So that Wednesday, I even tried to go skiing with the others but realised, as soon as I got to the top of the mountain and put my skis on again, that the dicky knees were not up to more than an hour yet. So we had lunch up there and I crept home to the chalet and made full use of the spa, oh yes I did.

Will I be going again?

Amazingly, yes. Although I will try to manage my knees better this time.

What did I learn?

I learned that I am disabled. Genuinely, physically handicapped in a way I hadn’t actually grasped until I tried to do this. I have not been able to run for some years. There’s a reason for that. Days one and two I cried a lot. I cried because I was stiff and I cried because I knew, from the pain in my knees, that they were far, far more comprehensively fucked than I have ever given them credit for. The pain levels were about commensurate with the second week after I cracked my collar bone. So I had to take a long hard look at myself and accept some very unpleasant truths, one being that I may well end up in a wheelchair for a year or two before I reach the magic age of sixty and access to a NHS knee replacement comes. Because they seem intent on my having quality of life while I’m old, rather than now, while my boy is small. Me, I’d rather do the wheelchair later on but the NHS demurs. Another thing I learned then. If I carry on the way I am, I will be even more disabled. Soon. I will never play football with my boy, or any of the other things I still hope to do.

That was sobering and pretty grim.

IF I carry on the way I am. But there might be a get out.

So, before I ski a second time, several things have to give. I read somewhere about a thing called spoons. Run with me, I’m not talking sub duvet snuggling. It’s a way of explaining a disability. So the idea is that you have say, ten spoons each day and they represent your physical capabilities. Every time you do something that takes you over a certain level of pain/exertion/your disability you count it as using up a spoon. So you can do, pretty well what you like, but you have to ration your spoons so you can get through the day. If I have ten spoons in a day, an hour’s skiing is about seven. So I need to do two things. I need to balance it against the other things I do in a day and I need to find a way to extend the range of each spoon.

Next time I go I will be a better more confident skiier so a skiing lesson will use up less of my energy. That will help. However, because of the pain that comes after I’ve been skiing, I will have less spoons free each day, as the consequences of skiing build. I will also have to keep my eye on what happens afterwards, which I didn’t this time, which is how I ended up with a fair amount of pain and walking difficulties, which aren’t going to go away anytime soon – about three weeks, I reckon. In short, I need to make everything last longer, so I can ski more with less pain.

Back to the get out.

Over the past three years, I have been doing physio and going to the gym to try and keep myself physically fit and able and to prop up my knees. That’s good and it’s worked but, of course, I am also menopausal, which makes for a hard time losing weight. I’m also busy, which makes for a hard time losing weight – nothing causes a person to eat crap more effectively than their not planning their meals. And I have IBS, and nothing causes an IBS attack more effectively than changing your diet … except the 5:2 which is OK but gives me a mega headache.

Never mind. I’ve put on a stone of muscle under the same amount of flab as I had before. It should raise my metabolic rate but pre-menopause that’s less likely and I have to accept that it isn’t happening to the extent I’d like, or possibly at all.

So what I realised, through the medium of skiing, was that this extra stone could well be what has tipped my knees over the edge this last year.

Menopause, schmenopause, IBS, IB bollocks, this is not a drill. My back is against the wall. I have to lose weight or lose my ability to walk. I know this sounds melodramatic but that, in a nutshell, is it.

Not just a bit of weight either, a lot.

A whole effing stone. And to be honest, a second wouldn’t go amiss.

That’s going to be hard but the alternative: registering disabled, enduring a genuine physical disability, some impressive levels of physical pain and gradually losing my ability to walk without a rollator or sticks and while there is hope that I can avoid that before I hit 70, by any means possible, I’ll do whatever it takes.

So hurling myself down a mountain was a bit freaky but it wasn’t the daunting bit, not really. The daunting bit was the cold hard truths I have learned about myself.

15 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

An Offer You Can’t Refuse on a day that, unless you’re British, you won’t understand.

A few bits and bobs today – first, yesterday. Well, that was a bit of a bonus. McOther had a rugby match to watch and it just so happened that the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy had an open day. I’ve missed it the last three years but this time? Booyacka.Yes! We were there.

McMini suggested this one … he’s rather better at eyebombing than me.

As a result, today McMini and I got to look at Venus, the sun and also a far off star through an 1830s telescope which was more steam punk than you could ever imagine, not to mention eyebombing the hell out of the place because … well … it was there.

There were 10 information points to go see, with interesting bits and bobs, stuff to buy but not horrifically exorbitant stuff – indeed I was well pissed off that I forgot to go back to the stall and buy a piece of meteor for a couple of quid. Maybe next year. We also experienced some wonderful glass art, planet like globes that flouresced under ultra violet light – I want one but they were £900 – just a tad out of my range.

It is Mothering Sunday here in the UK today. We not being disestablished, Mother’s day in the UK is set by the church of England, rather than Hallmark, and moves about each year because it’s dependent on Easter, which also moves. It’s usually the 4th Sunday in Lent, which, for any non Christians reading, is the long turgid bit before Easter.
So happy British Mothering Sunday to all the ladies out there.

In case the reflections make that too hard to read it says, ‘Mother’s Day Who needs flowers when there’s gin?! A sentiment I can only admire.

And now bookish things … yes there are some.

K’Barthan Box Set on Kobo for 30% off until 28th March.

First, if you have been thinking about forking out £6.99 or $7.00 for the K’Barthan Box Set, you can grab yourself a copy for a whole 30% less – which is about £1.75. Not sure what that is in other currencies but a fair whack, anyway. Obviously my box set is unlikely to hit the best seller curated content bits, and Kobo being Kobo it’s quite hard to find otherwise, so here are direct links for you to grab a copy from the ‘local’ Kobo of your choice.

If you want to buy the book, just follow the link, click to buy and then, at checkout choose ‘add promo code’ and enter the code MARCH30. You will then score a smashing 30% reduction on the K’Barthan Box Set. You can use the code as many times as you like on books that are in the promo. Kobo is easier to use than you might think. I have an app on my iPad and I can buy and download Kobo books on there without undue hassle … I can’t remember how I did it but I think it was fairly straightforward. Anyway … here are the links.

Kobo US: here
Kobo UK: here
Kobo CA: here
Kobo AU: here
Kobo FR: here
Kobo Ger: here
Kobo BR: here

If you’ve already bought the K’Barthan Box Set – or the stand alone books – or are just thinking, ‘sod that MT!’ never fear. There are many more books to choose from by other authors than me.

All you have to do is go to the Kobo promo landing page, have a browse, pick a book you like the look of and when you buy it, just enter MARCH30 at checkout. You can buy as many books as you like with the code and you can also have your Kobo search results return all the books that are in the promo by using advanced search.

Kobo Promo General Landing Page Links:

Kobo UK here
Kobo US here
Kobo AU here
Kobo CA here
Kobo Ger here
Kobo FR here
Kobo Brazil here

So there we go. I hope you find some interesting books to read in there and remember, you can use the code as many times as you like, which is nice!

For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be running around doing a very good impression of a headless chicken disappearing up its own bottom so you may not hear from me again until Easter. In the meantime, all the best, and happy reading.

5 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

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!

 

11 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, Blimey!, General Wittering, Good Advice, Useful Resources