Sit under your novel in progress, lessons from motherhood

As I mother of four I am very familiar with having to wait, to rein in speed and impetus and to go very slowly or not at all while being present for my children in some way or another. Walking with a toddler or even my 5 year old now there is more standing than proceeding, where special things such as pebbledash walls and ‘baby leaves’ need to be examined, legs are short and cannot do distances at speed. I take a step forward but my stride is too long, I stop, I wait. These days we might be on the school ‘run’ and I can feel frustrated at my lack of progress with the 5 year old as I watch my older children stride ahead of us down the hill. I remember breastfeeding in particular (since only the mother can do it) as one of those experiences where it was  a question of sitting under the infant for long swathes of time (perhaps up to an hour) at each feed and all thoughts of being elsewhere or achieving tasks of any kind needed to be put aside. Right through pregnancy and right up to the late toddler years there are physical restraints, whether it’s a cumbersome body or trying to negotiate a pushchair in the town. There are things that young mothers miss; having their arms loose as they walk, walking straight out of a house without first cajoling an army, getting into a car and just driving without negotiating with a plethora of awkward straps and resistant toddlers.

This society is geared up for achievement, for awards, for the spectacular rather than ordinary mundane heroics. As writers now we need to be everywhere, building a platform, marketing ourselves, we need to keep up a presence and be productive. But what we keep needing to be reminded is that the occasions when we need to stop, sit under our book and it’s themes for a while are absolutely necessary and valuable and part of the process.

I’ve talk around this before, about how Kirsty Gunn spent seven years on her book, about incubation, the benefits of walking for creativity and so on. I’m thinking about it now as I’m looking at how I go about writing books, how expression and structure interplay, how the first excitement of an idea needs to be followed by thought and observation.

I’ll add more specifics of my own current experiences with a new project in a further post but what I will say in general is that if you come to an impasse at any stage of a project, don’t let your lack of progress dismay you, first, just sit and wait, follow your train of thought, read more things that are tangential to your work, look out the window, spend the necessary time, as this beautiful post by Kim Triedman explores, staring at trees to live ‘on both sides of the brain’.

The  children grow up in time, and your novel will too, there will be less need for stopping but the stopping has given you greater insight, added a whole new depth and dimension. Never apologise for your lack of speed.

(By the way, if any of you have joined us for the #15KinMay (which is a very reasonable/non manic wordcount target) I have now reached 10K words but many, many of these are not sections of the book per se but thoughts on what the book is. Many writers, including Irish writer Claire Kilroy who I spoke to at a writing event, say that they write many many thousands of words beyond what is required, including notes of all kinds, then they extricate the story afterwards, many of you are more methodical than that but we all need to find our own way.)

Submit to the National Flash Fiction Anthology

The UK National Flash Fiction Day is on June 22nd and here is your chance to get involved and submit to the anthology. The closing date is very soon – on May 17th. It’s a particularly interesting challenge this time as you are to write a 500 word flash related to another cultural object/art form that inspires you. The full details and links to the competition are here on my post as well as news on my flash fiction piece The Wobegones Slaughtered Dreams being chosen as a winner of the May New Planet Cabaret creative writing challenge on RTE Radio’s arena. 

Hope your writing is going well this week!

Amazing Humans

You’ve probably seen this already but I was so moved and touched by this video of Commander Chris Hadfield who has been tweeting from the international space station. He performed a version of Space Oddity in the zero gravity of the Space Station just before he returned to earth after his stint in orbit. In the video we can see out of the window of the space station and a guitar floats across the capsule. Such a beautiful circularity of David Bowie’s song about being alone floating in space watching the earth from a distance then being performed in space. But Chris Hadfield has been tweeting to many hundreds of thousands of followers, answering their questions, making videos of his time on the space station making space immediate to us. Still that immediacy does not take from the astounding achievement of humans to build machines and do the calculations required to get us into space. This video and the others Chris Hadfield have made bring the wonder of that achievement more vividly to us.

Writing: Motivation in the month of May and first drafts

I’ve decided to join the #15kinMay writing folk on twitter to progress a new project based on a flash fiction I wrote last year. This is a very visceral book and to me the book has always had a May feeling. I felt a great impetus last year to just write and write further but due to circumstances ( I was releasing my self-published comedy book Housewife with a Half-Life and working on another book) I didn’t go ahead with working on it at that point.

Of course impetus can sometimes be deceptive, we love the shiny thing we made and have a vague idea of what we want to do with it but when we get down to writing we might run out of steam or ideas after a few thousand words. Next week I’ll be writing about Sitting with your book and also what I’ve learned over time as I begin another novel (having completed three so far) about the interplay between Structure and Free Expression. In other words how the plotter and pantsers tendencies can beautifully combine to help move your project forward.

I’ve successfully completed three Nanowrimo’s (50,000 words in a month challenges) so what tips am I bringing to the 15k in May?

1: Anyone can write 500 words a day which is all you need to do complete this challenge

2: If you fail to achieve your target one day, it does not mean anything about you, your writing ability or what you will produce the next day.

3: What might be stopping you. Fear, Self-Doubt, Performance Anxiety, ‘Should’ Thinking or you may just need to incubate ideas for a while, take a walk, a shower or forget about it altogether to allow your ideas to dance around each other and combine. For example on the walk home from the school run today I thought about how I might bring two previously unrelated characters together.

4: Don’t make rules for yourself to make it harder. If you are working on a brand new project like I am give yourself permission to include comments, explorations and self-talk in your first draft and let it be part of the wordcount. Who cares? For me these comments are like the pegs or cornerstones of your project, they will give you the shape of the thing, give you a place to set off from. Write freely from these points, non necessarily chronologically, although in next week’s post I’ll issue some caveats and suggestions as to how to ensure your first draft doesn’t become a whole heap of muddle.

All you have to do to participate in the #15kinmay is to use this hashtag on Twitter regarding your project and you’ll be invited by the organisers to take part in further group discussions should you wish to. The camaraderie is always wonderful for kickstarting motivation and showing you that your struggles are not unique.

May is already 10 days in but there’s plenty of time to join in. Let me know if you are intending to rise to the challenge which can be for a new project or to add volume to something you have already begun. Best wishes.