A belated happy new year! This isn’t the first post I was expecting to write in 2018, but for reasons which will become apparent, I’ve decided to take a more relaxed and spontaneous approach to the blog this year. There will still be coverage of new releases and guest posts, but since it goes down well, I’m going to be writing more of the content myself, including informal book reviews and pieces like this. The travelogue on my recent trip to Vietnam is going to be for next week because whilst I continue to cheat jet lag there’s something demanding my urgent attention: my novel.
‘What’s so unusual about that?’ you may say. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be a writer?’
I am a writer, but when your working life is both freelance and portfolio, it’s also a juggling act. People are always asking how I manage to do so much (write fiction, self-publish, run blog, workshops, mentoring – and that’s just the writing stuff). I really don’t know because my output belies the enormous amount of time I waste procrastinating or on social media, which is frequently detrimental to my productivity and morale (but in other ways, fun and stimulating and well, sociable).
This isn’t about new year resolutions. My problem with them is the ‘new year’ bit – if I’d made any then you can bet they’d be broken by now. I was going to buy this notepad for a friend until realising I needed it a lot more than she did. (And then it turned out she already had a similar one, so maybe they work.)
If I were to make an off-the-shelf resolution like ‘give up social media’ or ‘get up and write at the crack of dawn’ it wouldn’t work because it doesn’t take into account my personal MO or perception of why my approach to time management needs a shake-up. (If you’re struggling to give up chocolate or alcohol without in-depth analysis of its role in your life, this could be the reason.) The Resilient Thinking for Writers workshop which I teach with Voula Grand is all about helping people tailor strategies to their own circumstances and emotional responses, which necessarily involves taking an objective look at existing patterns and habits.
When I decided to analyse the ‘problem’ in this light – and specifically, the fact that working on my novel tends to get squeezed out when it is supposed to be my priority – some interesting things became apparent. My ‘system’ functions because I am good at prioritising tasks which are (variously) paid, time-bound or involve other people. In other words, urgent things rise to the top: weekly blogs, preparing for workshops, delivering on commitments I have made (don’t mess with me). Since my creative writing is not under contract, suddenly it’s not hard to see why it takes the hit when the pressure’s on elsewhere.
Self-imposed deadlines have worked in the past, but before Christmas I was wrestling with several difficult real life situations and something had to give. In the past I would have made things worse beating myself up over this but now it’s easier to accept that it happens (and that being human and fragile increases the chances of you writing a good book – when you finally get round to it). Resilient thinking is flexible and adaptable to change – it’s about looking for the way forward. You know that terrible joke where someone asks for directions and is told, ‘I wouldn’t start from here’? Whether we’re starting from scratch, starting over or just keeping going, starting from here and now is all we have.
Writing really is the strangest business in that what’s gone before is both highly significant and of no consequence. I found inspiration and reassurance in this piece by Jon McGregor, whose novel Reservoir 13 (one of my Books of 2017) has finally achieved its due recognition with the Costa Best Novel Award, in which he recognises the many essential aspects of writing a novel which don’t equate to making wordcount – it includes coffee. In the long run, it won’t matter that I have effectively abandoned my hard wrought first draft at 40,000 words. Maybe it took an unscheduled six week break and a load of personal crap to make me realise that like my debut Paris Mon Amour, this novel has to be written in first person to be as raw and risky and honest as it needs to be. Since my optimal state of mind for writing fiction is one of reckless urgency, it didn’t feel remotely like defeat when I went back to the beginning yesterday. This is the first time I’ve really felt the flickers of flame with this book, and it’s exciting.
The other great thing about first person is that you have a new boss who expects results; mine is breathing down my neck but best of all, she’s talking in my ear.
I hope 2018 brings you inspiration, motivation and whatever else you wish for – starting today. How’s it looking so far?