Tag Archives: writer mom

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.

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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.

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

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

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

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

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

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Production tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Planning and Plotting

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

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

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

3. Writing shorter

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

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

4. Time Management

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

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

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

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

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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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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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.

20160320_160321

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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Oh dear, it’s not them. It IS me. #remain #leave

Well, this has been an interesting week. For better, or worse, Britain has voted to leave the EU. As a mum with an 8 year old in a local state school with a very wide range of nationalities attending, the majority of voters asked in my extensive Playground Polls came up Remain.

There is a reason. This:

Evilposter

A lizard with opposable thumbs in front of a racist poster.

In the absence of any real facts, and after right wring extremists murdered an MP for her pro-IN, pro-refugee, humanitarian beliefs, it was all about sticking it to the racists for us. So what I saw winning, when Leave won, was fascism and a sheep like mass of people voting the way they were told to by the Sun.

And we’re at the beginning of the century, the world economy went down the toilet a few years ago and is still only recovering. And despite that recovery it’s left a lot of people in deep, deep financial plop. Which is a worry. Because that’s the kind of climate in which fascism takes root as folks look for someone to blame and some of the rhetoric flying around about immigration and letting in refugees is … disturbingly familiar.

However, I have a handful of highly intelligent, sensible friends voting Leave. They’re good people, decent people, one is about where I am politically, one way to the right but the other two are further left. They are never going to vote for racism, no way, no how – even the right winger. So I asked a couple of them what the hell they were doing.

They put forward lot arguments which made sense – but all the arguments for both sides make sense when you uncover the facts that’s part of the trouble – but the salient point was one about how they believe the people of this country feel about politics.

Which is, that our politicians are condescending, aloof, self important and that they no longer listen to, nor have any respect for the people they are supposed to serve. My Leave friends felt that through the gradual change, over the years, from debate over the issues to personal attacks, most politicians have not so much lost our respect as earned our contempt. We believe what they say about one another. That’s why so many young people don’t or won’t vote, which is bats of them but that’s another story.

Furthermore, many leavers are every day people, but poor people, the folks who feel disenfranchised and without hope, because successive governments have stood by and let their places of work – in some cases, whole industries – die. Leavers are people who worked in our pottery industry, our coal industry, our manufacturing industry, dairy farming, fruit growing, the Cadbury factory, the steel industry. Most of our heavy industry was up north. And that’s why the folks up there are angry. The big agricultural areas in East Anglia voted Leave too. And a lot of the seasiders.

They feel that when their livelihoods and their whole communities were at risk, successive Governments, labour and Conservative stood by, didn’t step in, didn’t help. Failed them. And yes, there are probably more positve things to do than concentrate on your anger and bitterness about a past that is gone and a future that cannot be. But maybe they were just trying all that time to get someone, somewhere, to listen. And heaven knows, I graduated into a recession, I felt washed up, useless, dismissed as junk before my working life even began so I can actually really sympathise with that.

And so when the government asks for their help now their reply was a resounding fuck off, in this case, in the form of a Leave vote, to sock it to the Man. Whereas we in Remain, even if we’d thought of it, would probably have demurred from socking it to the Man when it’s just swapping one Man for another.

I suspect many people, both those voting IN and those voting Leave, may well share some very similar sentiments about our politics and politicians. We just reacted in different ways.

And in that one thing, lies our hope.

MPs have to learn from this, they have to start believing again, they have to relearn humility, that they are public servants, that it’s not about power for them but about working for us. And those who take such things seriously need to make sure that we, the electorate, realise that they, at least, are listening. They need to be Jo Cox, not Boris Johnson.

And as for tomorrow. What’s done is done. This is complicated, and it will be difficult. A lot depends on the negotiations surrounding exit. I hope Scotland and Northern Ireland give it some time to see what we come out with before they vote to leave and the UK is broken. Because it looks as if we, Britain, might actually have a chance at a new beginning, a new start. It’s up to us. It doesn’t have to be about racism, immigration and bigotry. It can be about unity, it can be like the 2012 Olympics.

Because for all my initial horror at the result, and for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I’ve done on Facebook with my like minded friends, when we get to the bottom of things, it turns out that despite being on opposite sides of the debate, many of the folks who voted Leave are closer are closer to us than we think. And if they are we can work with that.

Here’s hoping.

Some good pro leave posts:

Roughseas – there are some good comments on this one and I had a long chat with her too: https://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/brexit-its-real
Jim Webster, again more comment chat as well: https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/the-road-from-the-bigoted-woman-stops-here/

A couple of good pro remain posts from writers, like myself, who hadn’t even thought of sticking it to the Man:

Chuck Wendig the thinking American’s view: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/you-want-trump-this-is-how-you-get-trump/
Charlie Stross sums up the initial feeling in Remain at the result: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/06/tomorrow-belongs-to-me.html
Lee Harris – just a nice cynical post about the Remain point of view. http://leeaharris.com/brexit/
I need to comment on these.

 

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Underground, Overground, Wombling Free…!

It’s a long time since I wrote anything on my blog. There is a reason. It’s because Real Life has been quite hectic. Worse, it’s been hectic in a way that has meant that I need to write to stay sane. That’s where I’ve been. Writing, and driving 130 miles to Sussex in the middle of the night to accompany one parent to hospital while a carer stays over and looks after the other, then doing the full care package for a day and dealing with all their heating and the cooker being turned off due to a gas leak on one and a half hours’ sleep… that kind of thing.

But now I’ve just finished half term week during which I was compelled to leave my characters to their own devices and interact with Real Life. So here I am, sorting some bits of real life out before I go back to my routine of not very much time, but a bit more than before, and a lot more of it spent writing. Also, my parents are on a more even keel now, so the desperation with which I escaped into my made up world is not quite so marked.

As you probably know, both my parents are in their 80s and they need a bit of help. To that end, I’ve been trying to get some disability aids out of Social Services for them. It’s not that social services won’t give them, just that it takes ages. There’s one particular thing called a ‘perching stool’ which Mum could really use in the kitchen, right now. But there’s a 20 working day waiting time before they can even call you back and start the process. I have been wondering if I should buy one – if Social came up trumps with a second I could always put the bought one in the greenhouse for her. But I was havering, because they cost a sod of a lot of money, these things.

So imagine how insanely chipper I was to discover this bizarrely obscure item in a skip this morning, just outside my gym! It was brand new and it wasn’t alone. It was in there with three other disability aids: a riser loo seat for people with dodgy hips which was still wrapped in its plastic and a really handy trolly-cum-walker with two shelves for trays. All had labels on with a number to call for collection after use, so at the least, I thought, if Mum and Dad have no use for them, I can ring the number and get them back to people who need them. Anyway, I had to take the trolley because it was the only way I was going to get the stuff, plus my bicycle, home. So, with the help of three of the ladies who also attend my gym, who praised me for my Womble* like tendences, I climbed into the skip and relieved it of its disability enhancing contents.

SkipScore

If anyone had ever told me I would get excited about finding items like these in a skip I’d have told them to piss off. Luckily, no-one did. Unlike the time I said I’d never marry a lawyer and then…

It will be even more of a challenge to get the things – which are square and firm and most non-folding – from Bury St Edmunds to Sussex in a Lotus. I might have to borrow McOther’s car.

Even so it’s a bit of a result. I am, naturally, hugely chuffed to have these difficult-to-get things fall into my lap, instantly, when I never expected them to, and for free.

Mwah hahahahrgh! Sometimes the stars just align.

 

*If you don’t know what a womble is, click here the song explains it. Obviously, they are a lot more interesting when you are 7.

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