As part of the hangover from corporate life, and possibly as a response to the widespread New Year-induced compulsion to self-improve, I’ve set myself a few goals for 2015.
Write a second novel, of course – that’s the main one – and read at least 50 books. It’s kind of like having SMART objectives, but for fun stuff.
I’ve also decided to write something on this blog at least once a week. In the year that I’m increasingly thinking of as my ‘sabbatical’ (since one of the few things about writing on which most people seem to agree it’s that it’s virtually impossible to make a proper living from it), this blog can serve as a diary for me to look back on. It probably (hopefully!) won’t resemble the teenage diaries that I’ve kept for twenty-odd years and plundered for ‘Precocious’ – wow, it was scary re-visiting my fourteen-year-old self – but it will be a good record of making changes in my life, of being published for the first time, and of trying to write.
(I heard a saying somewhere: ‘never tell anyone you’re going on a diet, giving up smoking, or writing a novel. They’ll encourage you to death’. This is part of my thinking here, as well – writing about writing means putting it out there, saying it aloud – and I’ve said it, so now I have to do it. It’s a bit like dry January, although I notice Facebook has gone a bit quiet on this topic now we’re almost mid-month – funny, that).
Who knows, it might even be interesting to others, too.
So, what have I learned in the first week of my ‘new life’? Well, firstly, boy the school day is short. One of the advantages of not having a conventional full-time job any more is that I can be a more present mum – dropping off and picking up from school rather than relying on breakfast and after-school clubs and grandparents. These extra hours with my son have already made a massive difference to my happiness, and I hope to his.
But I find that 9am to 3pm is not a lot of time to write and to fit in all the Stuff That Needs Doing. You know, housework, paying bills, grocery shopping – the stuff I like to call Life Admin. It’s boring but it has to be done to keep everything ticking over. How did I manage it before? The answer, of course, is in a rush – the chronic state of hurry of the working mum. Now my pace has slowed a bit; it seems that, just as if you buy a bigger house your possessions somehow expand to fit it, if you find yourself with more time, everyday tasks expand to fit the time.
If you let them. Admittedly I also spent a good portion of my first week being distracted by the homeworker’s nemesis – the internet. I can’t kid myself I’m doing valuable research on Facebook and Twitter. (I also spent about 7 hours last week drinking tea and coffee with friends, but I class this as essential nourishment – food for the soul).
The bigger problem is re-training myself to write in the daytime. For years and years, writing has been something I’ve of necessity done late at night. It’s been weird to sit myself at the desk (figuratively speaking, of course – usually it’s a notebook on the lap, on the sofa) and tell myself “OK, time to be creative. Go!” Typically, after four days of attempting this and not getting very far, late on Thursday night as I was just about to fall asleep – an idea came. The fumbling for the lamp ensued, the mad scramble for the notebook, the scribbles to make sense of the next morning. (It was an idea for a short story, not the novel, but it’s something, and brought relief that the elusive muse hadn’t decided to take January off and go ski-ing).
I find daytime just too distracting: too much else to do (see Life Admin, above); too much noise and light and movement around. Maybe in time, I’ll learn to use these ‘distractions’ as material – maybe they’ll even shape my writing and it’ll improve as a result. Maybe the greater the distance that falls between me and my former corporate life, the easier it will be to associate daylight with being imaginative rather than wading through Excel spreadsheets and teleconferences.
Or maybe it’s a case of knowing your own rhythms and just working with them. Body-clock wise, I know I’m both an owl and a lark: buzzy-brained at night and into the early hours, focused and productive in the mornings. Afternoons? I can happily manage a 2-hour nap, thank you very much (and this should be permissible now – working in an office, it’s kind of frowned upon – as long as I set the alarm and make the school run).
Unfortunately, I’ve missed my own self-imposed deadline even on this piece (I had intended to publish it on Sunday) – I was just too absorbed with my son this weekend. Someone once said ‘trying to clean the house with a young child around is like trying to brush your teeth while eating a Kit Kat’ (how true!) – well, trying to write with a young child around is, for me anyway, like…like…nope, I’m out of similes. That’s what happens when the cultural highlight of your weekend is Penguins of Madagascar.
That said, it’s Monday now, writing is a job, and as with any other job, rule one is you have to show up.
I’ll let myself off a slow start last week as ‘easing back in after Christmas’. This week? I’ll be showing up, big time.