In non-garden-related news, I have an article on equal parenting in the current issue of natural parenting/family magazine JUNO. Which is a good read all round (the magazine, not specifically my article, though I am very pleased with that too). Available from their online shop, in some newsagents, and as a digital edition from Exact Editions.
Since I last wrote about writing and parenting, a few weeks ago, I’ve been experimenting with ways of writing fiction during my child-care days.
I’ve written a few more bits and pieces on my phone (thumb-typing is slow) using Epistle, which has worked a little but I still find it hard to do more than notes or a handful of sentences. Then the other weekend I bought myself a nice hardback notebook which opens to stay flat (I love my Moleskine, but I can’t use it it one-handed as it won’t stay flat). Since then I’ve written about half of a short story, balancing the notebook on my knee, with L asleep in my lap. The other half I’ve written partly on the phone, and partly on the laptop like a normal person (i.e. when not actively baby-wrangling). Editing still needs to be done on the laptop, although I can think about it whilst baby-wrangling.
I also did some sketching of maps on a borrowed portable easel, while Leon sat on my lap, watched, and then tried to steal the pens. Possibly I might use crayon if I do that again, although the sofa did survive unstained. That was fun, entertained L (always useful!), and was more productive than I anticipated for the story itself.
There’s something about writing by hand that allows me to sneak up on myself. I’m not really writing, I can tell myself, I’m just making notes. I’ll have to type them up later anyway so I don’t have to get it right first time. It allows me the mental freedom to scribble things down (and it is scribble; my handwriting suffers dreadfully from the angle even when using a fountain pen) without getting paralysed by the idea that I am Sitting Down To Write.
(I just hope it carries on working now I’ve talked about it here.)
Writing in multiple different places does have its drawbacks. I have to type up the handwritten notes anyway, so I’m working over that twice; but then that can be seen as an advantage. I’ve occasionally found myself writing the same bit twice, or writing scenes that need something else between them to tie them together. On the other hand, that can help me to keep it all active in my head, as I remind myself of what I’ve written where, and what’s still missing. And having two takes of a single scene isn’t such a bad thing either.
I’ll keep experimenting. And I have a short story to finish.
@katyha (also to be found at Fausterella) linked to this post about managing parenthood and writing, which left me considering my own experiences. Two months into parenthood, I confess that I’m finding it challenging.
In theory, Leon takes regular naps and I could write a little then. In practice, currently he’s napping in 45 min stretches, which gives me about 5 windows in the day, two of which are used for dog walks & one for lunch. That remaining hour and a half would be of more use if I were more disciplined, for sure, but after 90 min of feeding / nappy change / entertain / feed, my inclination is to take a deep breath, make a cup of tea, maybe check my email and Twitter… and then the baby is awake again. Damn.
I have managed to do a little writing on my phone while feeding (the first draft of this was written on my phone), but thumb typing gets old fast. I can get a first draft of a short blog post done. But if writing fiction, I can only manage either some notes (feeding is quite good for thinking about things), or a couple of full sentences, before the mismatch between speed of thinking and speed of writing becomes too irritating. Not to mention the fact that if I write while I’m feeding, how will I ever get through the rest of the Game of Thrones series? (All hail the Kindle, my one-handed-reading saviour.)
Editing fiction while feeding is definitely a non-starter. For that, and to be honest for much of the rest of my fiction writing, I have to use the time when Leon’s dad is on duty. That too comes in 45-60min bursts. Editing blogs I can do while Leon sleeps (this post was finished on the iPad with Leon sleeping in the sling on my chest). I’ve made myself curious now about the difference in my brain between blog writing and fiction writing, and may contemplate this further in the future.
Having said all of that, since Leon was born 10.5 weeks ago I have managed to pitch and write a story for the anthology ‘Faction Paradox: Burning With Optimism’s Flames’ (out later this year), so obviously something is happening. I’ve also kept up, for the last week, a a one sentence daily goal inspired by this post from Léan on something else I’m working on. In fact it’s almost always more than a single sentence; but I think the main advantage is that it keeps the project stewing in my back-brain.
I’m told it gets worse when you have a toddler; although if Leon ha a phase where he has a nap on his own rather than in a sling, it may get a bit easier first (can but hope!). Hopefully by then I’ll have developed the increased discipline the writers at that first link talk about. If anyone reading has suggestions on how one can make the most of shortish slots of time when knackered and desperate for a break, do please share.
I have a story in the forthcoming Tales of the City anthology, edited by Philip Purser-Hallard. It’s due out in June, and can be pre-ordered at Obverse Books. There will also be an ebook version, but that can’t be pre-ordered.
I’ve seen the full draft version, and the stories are all fabulous. For a taster of them, check out Phil’s blog for Trailers of the City 1 (Blair Bidmead), 2 (Elizabeth Evershed), 3 (me!), and 4 (Helen Angove).
I have a post today on putting your baby on your bike, over at green parenting blog Peas and Love. Head on over there to read about how old your small passenger needs to be to get started, the advantages and disadvantages of front and rear seats, and a few general safety tips.
Off this morning (after dropping my fixie at On Your Bike for a new headset & new, higher, steerer to accomodate my growing bump) to check out cargo bikes and trailers at Velorution for the next installment in the babies+bikes series. Rumour has it you can put a car seat in one of those…
This morning I got a parcel in the post: my author copy of the paperback version of Hellebore & Rue, the fabulous queer-women-and-magic anthology in which I have a story. It’s been published by Lethe Press, who seem like a pretty cool bunch, and seeing my name on the front cover was of course the Most Exciting Thing Ever.
A few weeks back, I encountered Maryann’s Society of the Secret Play Date. Instead of sitting down with a list and a laptop and a serious expression, you spend some time just playing with your current project. Or even with something unrelated.
Of course, play can be serious, in the sense of ‘important’. But it’s also non-serious. It’s joyous. It’s even indulgent — settling down on the floor with a five-quid packet of felt tips and a notebook had me feeling more pleasantly self-indulgent than I have in ages. That alone would have been worth the time; but it turned out that spending half an hour with coloured felt-tips, drawing pictures and mind-maps, threw up a huge stack of inspiring ideas for several things that I’m working on right now.
After I put the pens away, I grabbed the laptop and had a look for what science there might be behind felt tips and creativity. One study found that playing before making a collage enhanced creativity in children — so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise if it does the same for adults. Another study found that bright colours can support creativity, which may explain why I find doodling in primary colours quite so freeing. Although that study also suggests that complicated visual detail can help, something which is sadly lacking from my doodles. For strongly analytic types, a little doodling may also help balance up the involvement of the left and right sides of the brain in what you’re doing — perhaps also helping to get past the inner critic that can sabotage your efforts?
For me, as well as the bright colours and doodling, some of the positive effect is from doing different things in small blocks. Ten minutes of knitting and thinking can be a great precursor to fifteen minutes of writing. The busy part of my brain occupies itself with my hands, while the calmer part works out what I want to say, getting me past straight the Blank Page Problem once I start writing.
It’s also another way of trying my offline experiments. If I’m doing the playdate thing, I can be down there on the floor with paper and pens and no. damn. internet. Don’t get me wrong; I love the internet. But — as Leonie pointed out just recently — it can also keep you away from your own best work. There’s always something else out there to read, and it’s always easier, safer, and a quicker dopamine hit, compared with settling down to create something of your own.
What I need? More play dates; more felt-tip pens; more fun.
On a slight tangent from my normal topics on this blog: I have my first published story out in this anthology, now out in ebook & at 15% off! I’ve been reading the other stories as well, now that I’ve got my contributor’s copy, and can whole-heartedly recommend the whole book. “Magic that detects crime, magic that heals, magic that destroys: all this and more and in hands of queer women who use their powers to shape their worlds and their destinies.”