It can be hard to find the balance between keeping on top of your writing and giving your family the attention they need. I had a very real struggle with this at the end of November this year.
I had given myself a deadline. Novel finished by the end of November. Which seemed so easy at the beginning of November because we were away staying with family, and it was easy to ignore the girls for a couple of hours a day because they were quite happy to ignore me back and hang out with their more entertaining (and much more permissive) grandparents. But then we came home and my husband was away a lot, and everyone decided that sleeping during the day or night was overrated and suddenly it was Advent and there was a lot of Christmas baking to do, and still so many words to write.
There were some dark days at the end as November was disappearing but my word count remained unchanged. I was feeling frustrated and slightly desperate, and very, very tired. And guilty. I don’t want my writing to be something that happens at the expense of my family, and yet I do want it. I think I may be able to make a go of it, and even if I can’t, I want the chance to try. My writing might be terrible, but then again, what if I’m actually quite good at it? It’s a question I need to find the answer to.
So, as the days were slipping by and the computer stayed off and the girls stayed awake, I busied myself keeping in touch with my writerly self in other ways. I call it the Literary Survival Guide and here it is; a quick list of survival techniques for the literarily deprived.
A great way to keep in touch with the literary world whilst doing the dishes, driving to work, walking to the park, or tackling the mountain of ironing. Writing and history podcasts are my favourites. Anything with and Author interview is always good, sometimes it’s nice to hear the ones who made it had no idea what they were doing to begin with either. I also get a lot of joy out of listening to shows about random topics or shows that express very different opinions or beliefs to the ones I hold; it’s interesting to learn how people come to their conclusions, and it’s great for potential character development. It’s also good for research if you need information on a particular topic and the hallowed halls of the library don’t encourage you and your menagerie to visit that often.
My favourites: So you want to be a writer by the Australian Writers’ Centre (my number one go-`to pick-me-up, get in the zone, light the fire podcast)
History Extra by the BBC History Magazine (for when I’m in the mood for some light entertainment and easy learning)
The History of English by Kevin Stroud (basically a history of Europe- incredibly well researched)
Reith Lectures by BBC Radio 4 (I spent hours listening to V.S. Ramachandran talk about Neurology. Not only is his topic fascinating, but he has the most wonderful thick, Liam Neeson-esque accent that is just heavenly to listen to. Highly recommend.)
LSE Public Lectures and Events by the London School of Economics (because I like to keep abreast of random topics and different thought patterns)
A well written short story can be just the thing you need to get you through the afternoon haze. I started reading a collection by Georgette Heyer during NaNoWriMo to keep me sane and it was wonderful. Everything I love about Georgette Heyer delivered in twenty minutes or so. A delicious way to end the day.
Read quality children’s books
If you’re reading them, chances are you are reading them a lot. And with little variety. We have a lot of children’s books, but usually only two or three on rotation at a time. If the kids like a book, they will listen to it to death. I’ve always heard that kids’ books are hard to write, and now I know why. If you are writing for children, you are also writing for parents, and your words must stand the test of being read upwards of five times a day. Which is why Alison Lester and Mem Fox and Janet and Allan Ahlberg are so treasured in our house, because my husband and I are so happy to oblige when sticky little fingers present their works to us. The less enjoyable works are very quickly phased out of circulation.
As a writer, there is a lot to be learnt from the well-written children’s book. It’s a little like poetry in that it must say a lot with very little, and that is an art-form well worth studying. Australian author and illustrator Kate Knapp from Twigseeds studio does this in the most divine way with her Ruby Red Shoes books, and yes, we’ve been reading them a lot lately!
Take your kids to the book shop
I must admit, when my children started to walk, I thought my bookshop browsing days were about to take a serious hiatus (which would have possibly devastated the national economy), but our local bookshop is magnificent. They are so welcoming to me and my girls. They have a toy basket set up in the middle of the kids’ book section, little chairs to entice them into with their captured books or toys and are very encouraging when the girls want to be read to. If none of the staff are available to read to her, and I am taking too long browsing, my eldest is quite happy to prowl the aisles and unleash her big, green eyes and messy curls on unsuspecting patrons until someone is secured to her service. But it means I get a break. Five minutes to cast my eye over new works on the shelves, or to touch base with old favourites. A dip into a work of literary advice or a peek behind an unfamiliar cover. And is there anything better than carrying away a paper bag containing a new book promising information and adventures untold? The anticipation of settling down to that story is almost as good as reading the first page and feeling that sense of delighted immersion as you retreat into another world.
Word on your phone
I have Valerie Khoo from the Australian Writers’ Centre to thank for this tip. I am not very good with technology, and I didn’t even know it was possible to have Word on your phone. And while not overly useful for anything that takes a considerable amount of time, it is perfect for those stolen moments of creativity that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about. The moments when you are at the park, and no-one is requiring your attention or adoration right now, for the waiting room when the children are occupied with the toys and the receptionist. Instead of checking Facebook, I can re-read the writing I wrote the day before to get me in the zone for later in the day. I can add a few lines to a chapter or a blog post, I can do a spot of editing. I can be writing, and that is always a good thing.
With this handy arsenal of sanity-savers, we struggled on through to the end of November. My book was not finished by November thirty, but it was finished two days later on December second, and you can bet you that I had one heck of an iced orange juice to celebrate. What does it mean to have finished the book? Well, I’ve spent the last two weeks working that out, and I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog post. Until then, if you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Merry Christmas everyone, I’ll see you next week!