Tag Archives: mama writer

Time to Write

I have a confession to make.

I let my writing muscles atrophy.

It took me a while to realise and accept that this was what had happened. You see, for the last several years, pretty much since I signed on the line for the Creature Court trilogy, I have been leaping from deadline to deadline. There’s something sparkly and marvellous about a deadline imposed upon you from someone else – not only do they pay you, but there’s also a level of accountability in it that I find personally inspiring. I moved fairly seamlessly from being the queen of self-imposed deadlines to, well, being fairly competent at meeting other people’s deadlines. Having a baby in the middle of process meant that the deadlines grew harder and harder to reach, and I occasionally had to move one or two, but on the whole I think I did a pretty bloody good job of it, especially as the deadlines for different books started imposing on each other.

This year, the deadlines began to drift further and further apart, especially as the book slipped further back into the schedule than we had originally allowed for. I had time to write new things! This was especially important as one of those new things, a novel called Fury, had netted me two separate grants. Hooray, I had time to write it! Better yet, I could take the time I needed to make it rather good.

And that’s where the rot set in. I think ‘time to write’ must be one of the most misleading phrases in the English language. Because even though I now had two paid days of daycare a week, somehow I never quite found the time to write.

(“How do you do it all?” they ask. “You must be really disciplined,” they say. “I’d love to have time to write a book.”)

Oh, I wrote. I wrote myself in slow circles, trying to find the new book. I told myself it was hard because it was the first time I had started something new in five years (though “Siren Beat” was new, and that got itself written crazy fast, because I was so in love with the character voice… the same character voice I’m trying to find again, for Fury). I told myself that I had plenty of time.

‘Plenty of time’ is even worse than ‘time to write’.

When I wrote, I wrote fast, and I think well. I found my characters, and my story. I did all the things I wanted to do with the book. But… it wasn’t actually growing very fast. There was something wrong with the beginning, that had to be fixed. Then something wrong with chapter three. You can’t move ahead when chapter three isn’t perfect, right, right?

I used to be good at this. I used to be able to knock over 20K a month, easily. And somehow I had made it halfway through the year, and still couldn’t hit that first 20K mark, let alone a second, or a third. Somehow, I had bought into my own image of the kind of writer I was, and assumed somehow that That Person would get the book written. While I was getting the other stuff done.

When you only have two days of paid daycare a week, it’s horribly easily to over-estimate how much you can get done in those days. Like, your week’s worth of writing, AND catching up on the housework, AND taking your daughter to after school activities, AND picking up things from the post office, exercising, reading, sewing, planning dinner, shopping, etc.

Until you remember, hang on, it’s actually only five and a half hours, twice a week.

And… maybe you need to write more than that.

Maybe (this time in a very, very tiny voice), maybe you should be writing EVERY FREAKING DAY.

“Write every day” is one of the more controversial of Heinlein’s famous writing rules (the others being Finish Everything You Start and Submit Everything You Finish). Many pro writers are understandably scathing about the concept of writing every day because a) they are well practiced and disciplined enough not to need rules like that and b) they understand only too well that forcing yourself to write every freaking day is a good way to fill your novels up with timewasting crap, and a bunch of words that only existed because you guilted yourself into writing them.

On the other hand, ‘write every day’ is a terribly useful rule for people who have a tendency to faff about and get no writing done. Sometimes, imposing a rule on yourself like ‘write every day’ is the only way to get anything written at all. What I hadn’t realised was that, as soon as the external deadlines had dropped away, I relaxed far too much, and slid from being one of those professional ‘I can write regularly and produce the goods on time’ writers into one of those faffing about ‘oh I wish I had the time to write’ writers.

Holy crap.

So I decided to get my act together. I had let my writing muscles atrophy, to the point where even getting 200 words on the page was painful, and boring, and made me want to do housework instead. I had forgotten how to be a writer.

Take heed, this could happen to you.

Obviously the way to get your writing muscles back, as with any skill, is to exercise them. To practice. To pretend to be a writer hard enough, that I make it happen, all over again. That’s why I signed up for the Clarion Write-a-Thon (external deadlines are my friend!). My aim is to write 5000 words a week, ideally by writing 1000 for five days in a row, then collapsing for two, then doing it again.

The first day was agony. Every 200 hundred words made my head spin. Seriously, how had my writing attention span got so low? It used to be I could easily get to 800 or even 1200 before I started double checking my word count and admiring the weather out the window.

My honey actually watched me on the second day, as he was home from work with a cold, and he was horrified. It was, admittedly, gruesome. 60 words in, I was whining for a cup of tea and coming up with excuses to, in fact, skip the day altogether. “What the hell happened to you?” he demanded.

What indeed.

Today, Day Three, was better. I went to Pilates in the morning and spent most of the hour (when not whining about how tired my inner thighs were, or squeaking with alarm at the new stretch I was being challenged with) dealing with the novel that had not only completely taken over my brain, was demanding I re-structure it from scratch.

I will, I told it, but only after I’ve written my 1000 words for the day. And, after Pilates, I came home and did exactly that.

The moral of the story is simpler than any rule Heinlein ever coined. It’s Move It, Or Lose It. If you don’t write regularly, it gets harder to write. Or, to be more specific, if *I* don’t write regularly, it gets harder to write. Right now, I can’t be trusted to do anything but follow a set of rules, as slavishly as possible, in the hopes that I get my skills back in record time, and remember how this book writing thing works.

One word in front of the other. Rinse, repeat, until done.

Then do it again.


If you would like to encourage me as I retrain myself as a writer, you can sponsor me at the Clarion Write-a-Thon. No amount too small, but do let me know if you are sponsoring me! I also accept encouraging comments, attagirls and anecdotes about your own times of writerfail.

Going to Swancon, lalala

I’ve been having trouble joining my friends in their enthusiasm and excitement about Swancon this year. Not because I’m not looking forward to it – it’s a CON, and I always have an awesome time. The reason my feelings are so mixed is because I am completely fixated on the fact that I have to say goodbye to my girls for four days. And um. Haven’t *entirely* managed to wean my 19 month old yet. So basically whenever I think about Swancon, I think GUILT GUILT GUILT GUILTY GUILT.

We experimented last night with my honey comforting the baby in the night, offering her a drink of water and a cuddle that was not boobie-related. She was unimpressed.


Worldcon was wonderful in many ways, but hard, and there was just as much guilt from all the small goodbyes than there will be this time from one big one. I know in my heart that as soon as I’m on the plane and away, I will be able to enjoy the freakish luxury of four days in which the only person I have to look after in myself.

(secretly, I’m looking forward to the 5 hour plane trip – so many hours on my OWN to listen to stories and read books without someone jumping on me or needing a drink of water. Possibly *I* will be the one receiving drinks of water from someone else. UNTOLD LUXURY)

But then I think about the fact that my girls may well be having the annual Easter Egg hunt at Glammer’s house without me and I crumple, just a little…

I haven’t paid much attention to what is actually happening at Swancon – a bunch of my friends are going to be there and I’ll get to talk non-stop about books, science fiction, publishing, and podcasting. Not on panels or anything – I have no idea what my programme will look like – but to a crowd of my favourite people. Really, I just heard ‘con’ and I was there – plus I get to share a room with Alex, and we’ll be working hard to kidnap Alisa from her duties as chair from time to time, just so we get a chance to hang out with her too. Did I mention that I still haven’t *met* Amanda or Cranky Nick or Chris in person yet? Virtual will become reality!

But it’s probably time I looked at what the convention has to offer.

Swancon 36 – Natcon 50!

*swish, fancy hotel with actual room for all the stuff a convention needs
*Guests of Honour Sean Williams, Justina Robson, Ellen Datlow, Sarah Xu and many more invited guests.
*Writerstream – a whole stream of programming on Saturday 23 April, devoted to writers trying to break into the industry, with workshops/presentations as well as panels and discussions.
*Romancing the West – a SECOND stream of programming for writers, this time with a focus on romance, paranormals, etc.
*Edustream – on the Friday, a series of professional development workshops and panels with a focus on the uses of SF in schools for teachers and librarians as well as those with an interest in YA.
*Future Imperfect Art Show, various Awards ceremonies, everything else you expect from a Natcon

Okay. Now I’m getting a teeny bit excited. ROLL ON EASTER.

Wonder Woman Turns Six; Batgirl Inhales Watermelon

Raeli had her birthday a few days ago! We’ve had what feels like a whole week of birthday/holiday activities, culminating in the Big Superhero Party which felt like a crazed, sugary blur at the time, but people seemed to enjoy. Raeli informed me that it was even better than last year, largely because of the pinata (which from our POV was a dismal failure redeemed only by the fact that no one was actually hurt during the whole excruciating procedure). At the end, there were lollies, so no complaints from the kids.

Apart from the change in theme, from fairies to superheroes, I had planned to run the party the same as last year: simple food involving opening packets, I don’t make anything myself except the cake and fairy bread, sausages on the barbie for kids & parents alike, my Mum madly running the games (everyone needs a Glammer come birthday season) and no fuss. Naturally it got far more complicated than that, not least because, well, do we remember how last year I had a little 5 month old baby? THIS YEAR she’s a running, jumping, bouncing, psyched up little dynamo, and it took the 15 or so adults at the party to keep track of her. I’m not used to a feisty baby. Raeli was energetic but not one for hurling herself off furniture. Jem topped off the party by eating everything. Seriously. All the things. Once the big kids had abandoned the picnic cloths and gone to play games, she plonked herself down and ate more than her own body weight in chips, cheezels, biscuits, watermelon and… oh, I don’t even know. Hear that? That’s the kind of mother I am. I have no idea what she ate. I just know that she looked really, really smug about it.

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Friday Links 17-12-2010

It’s officially school holidays today! My plans involve hanging out with my girls, baking shortbread and posting some stuff. Big plans!

I’ve blogged a lot about the juggling act of mothering and writing (mostly under my Mama Writer tag), but new mum Diana Peterfreund has summed the topic up beautifully in a blog post entitled “Two Professions.” She’s absolutely right about the similarity of unhelpful/constraining/overly specific advice that new mothers and new writers receive, and the filters you have to develop to find what will work for you.

There’s a great post here on ten of the best female comics creators of the year – referencing some stuff I know about and an awful lot I don’t. Including, omg, second collected volume of Castle Waiting? Let me at it!

Meanwhile, the first piece of promotion for upcoming ABC “gay geek sitcom” Outland, written by Boxcutters’ own John Richards, was on i09 of all places! I have been fascinated to listen to John’s updates on the podcast on getting a show made, including such gems as how to rewrite scripts about a Star Trek fan club without actually mentioning Star Trek because it makes the lawyers nervous, or how to stage an entire gay pride parade for a day’s filming (hint: Twitter!)

I raised my eyebrows a bit about the whole Big Bang Theory comparison, mostly because I find that show quite alienating as a woman (I am coming around to it but the first episode I saw was so offensive to my feminist sensibilities that I bounced off HARD and it’s difficult to recover from something like that) and I am trusting John to do a better job of making a show I want to watch! Though for his sake obviously it would be awesome if the show did as well as Big Bang Theory… I think it’s vaguely promising at least that while there is only one female main character in the show, she is gay and a geek as well as the male cast, which includes her in the premise rather than the weird ‘smart people to the left, pretty people to the right’ vibe that Big Bang Theory gives off.

Also I don’t remember if I linked to this already, but Rowena has done a huge interview with me (possibly it wasn’t that huge before I got my hands on the questions, but I talk a LOT) over at the Ripping Ozzie Reads blog, and if you can make it to the end I am giving away a free copy of Power and Majesty and Siren Beat.

On Work, and Work, and the end of the Working Year

So that was November, then…

I was pleased that I managed to make the month so productive, despite the urge to collapse in a heap in the wake of finally, finally, finally finishing the draft of book 3 (which it appears is most likely to be titled Reign of Beasts). Thanks to my List of Doom, I kept writing, putting together a draft of a publishing proposal for Fury to be polished up in the New Year, I started editing Blueberry again, which is going to be my summer project, I read books which had been archived on my shelves far too long, and I sewed – bookmarks for a friend’s commission, finishing the top of a baby quilt, and the beginnings of a new crazy quilt.

And you know, in the midst of all that I pushed through my copy edits for The Shattered City (Book 2), and prepared for & taught a one day course on writing fantasy novels.

One of the items on my list was to write a short story. Originally I had another plan for that, but then Alisa went and rejected two stories from a project we were doing together, which left me having to start from scratch! (In a good way. I am hugely excited now about what I’m doing, and she was totally right to kick those stories to the curb. Good enough is totally not good enough.) One of those stories is now done thanks to the List of Doom, and I have to write the other as soon as I can. I’m in a weird in-between-professional-deadlines space right now, where I don’t know where the next deadline is coming from. I will receive proofs for Book 2 and structural edits for Book 3 at SOME point, and everything will have to be dropped to do them, but I don’t know when. All the more reason to polish off my other necessary jobs ASAP, especially as I only have another fortnight or so before the school holidays hit, and there’s no such thing as a truly productive work day until late February.

But in any case, I did my not-Nano November, and while I never got up the high energy equivalent to writing 50K (as it turned out, writing about 5-6000 words as part of smaller projects was my limit) I managed to complete 34/35 items, and that last one was a crazy quilt square that I could have polished off at the last day if I’d dropped everything to do it, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to prioritise that way.

Once I get this last story done, which I have been plotting and replotting in my head so it’s just about ready to burn up the page, I am officially free of commitments, and I would love to have a little of that freedom before I get publisher deadlines again – one thing I have learned this year is that you can’t use ALL the time you have until the end of a deadline, as other things are always turning up to compete, usually in the last two weeks. I’ve always been one to start slowly and build up momentum to rip through the work at a high pace in those last couple of weeks, and so the stop-start-stop-start work pace this year has thrown me for a loop more than once.

I honestly thought I would never get to the end of Book 3. I seemed to be constantly one month from getting it done, and every time I had to stop and start again, I lost momentum and had to “waste” time scrabbling around and getting my zone back, only to be interrupted with a new urgent task as soon as I got up a decent head of steam.

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I’ve spent the last several weeks sinking into a slow swamp of rewrites, but I can finally see a glimpse of sunshine, and if you don’t record the good days, somehow they get forgotten faster than anything else.

So today I:

edited seven chapters of Book 2, including three really tricky ones that needed New Writing, and one scene I’ve been planning to write for several months and only just got around to.

while also: shopping for baby food, doing laundry, ridding the kitchen of a scary large pile of washing up, cooking a beef casserole for dinner, baking a batch of cupcakes for Raeli to take for a school fundraiser tomorrow (Children’s Book Week means CAKE)

Partly I want to point out to myself that I can in fact do enough work to justify putting Jem in a full day of daycare a week (though she’ll be back to half days from next week – this was an emergency measure put in to help deal with a sudden extra workload.

And then I get worried that I’ll expect myself to achieve that level of domestic/professional awesomeness all the time, and fall in a heap.

Then I remember all the other things I should have done today – or, more properly, BEFORE today.

Then I tell myself not to be so hard on myself, because I had a good day, and the chances of a day available to work and a GOOD DAY’S WORK actually colliding are pretty rare, actually, and the very fact that I have only had a few full days of daycare in itself piles SO MUCH PRESSURE on that day that the fact that I get anything creative done is in itself a miracle.

So um yes. It was a good day, which is not something I take for granted. And I’m almost done with this book. Then I get a few days of leisure (ha!) to plan the trip to Melbourne, prepare for my panels, and hang out with my girls before I neglect them for a week.

Tomorrow I will take Raeli to school (the one day a week I do the drop off), take baby Jem in later to visit Raeli’s school for the Book Week Parade, take Jem to daycare in the afternoon, spend the next two hours doing a small amount of work such as editing two chapters and possibly posting some dolls, then pick up Raeli and take her to gymnastics.

Heh. Possibly all my days contain awesome achievements, just of different varieties. Thank goodness all my favourite podcasts have new episodes out. It makes the drudge work so very undrudgey. I look forward to housework now!

Day in the Life of a Mama Writer

If I was to document the perfect day in the life of myself as a writer, it might very well be today. Not that it was a perfect PERFECT writing day, which would involve writing brilliant words in between sipping mint cocktails and lounging around afterwards doing “research” with piles of books without having to think about my children once, but it’s the perfect writing day for where I am right now in my life.

I started work once my honey left with Raeli on the school run, putting Jem down for a nap after not-too-long (and she WENT) and after weeks of struggling through every chapter it was brilliant to power my way through the chapters I had planned to work on today. I took a phone call from the local free newspaper, who were interested in doing an interview with me (thanks to [info] godiyeva who called them and dobbed me in for this, I’m sure I would have got around to it, but not any time soon).

I hit my editing milestone, got the baby up from her nap, took her around to the newspaper office for the interview (she was a total hit, and got into the photo they took and everything – I’m not entirely sure I had to be there). I then picked up a celebratory curry for our lunch and took it home – Jem approved of chicken korma and rice, and particularly liked the pakora and naan, but I think I misjudged the spice a bit (it’s bad when they smile with tears running down their faces, right?) and ended up shovelling pureed apple into her to balance things out.

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Editing is Hard, Water is Wet

My big change to my writing/working routine that I made this year was actually taking weekends – which is to say, not heaping up lists of things I needed to get done on the weekend only to discover on Sunday night that I had failed to do so.

The current edits of Book Two are kicking my arse well and truly – I’m getting the work done, but it’s gone painfully slowly for the first nearly two weeks, and I only have 9 days now before they’re due. You know that thing where people keep asking me how on earth I write with a 5 year old and a baby and I wave my hand airily and say things like ‘oh, I just snatch moments where I can, somehow it all works out?’

Screw that! Obviously I have completely lost whatever knack I used to have for finding time. It doesn’t help that the baby has just moved into the developmental stage which means she needs a person interacting with her pretty much all the time she is awake. I could work in the evenings if I wasn’t already falling asleep by the time Masterchef ends (which coincidentally is about the time I find myself child-free for most of the rest of the evening, except when I don’t). Sometimes Jem will take up to 4 times being put down, screaming, got up again, etc. before she settles down for her night’s sleep, and by the end of it, I’m shattered.

The first week was mostly warming up, and getting to grips with what I had to do. The second was about pushing into a routine and writing new chapters. Now I’m stuck with having to edit 5 chapters a day minimum, no breaks, to get this done. And that means working weekends. No skipping days.

Sometimes it takes me 2 uninterrupted hours to get 5 chapters edited. Sometimes it’s closer to 4. Even that is a mythical number because in my life, there are no uninterrupted hours.

Add to that the general expectation by my children that weekends are times for fun, family, reading, playing, and Mummy not being cranky at them when they ask for things, and the weekend was very, very hard work. It also means I’ve had almost no time to myself – normally the hours snatched from my children on weekends are used to relax and regroup so I can face the week ahead without turning into a gorgon-like creature who tells her 10 month old to make her own damn toast.

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Back to Work

The school holidays are at an end, and that means I am officially back to work tomorrow. I’ve had two weeks of chasing my daughters around the house, reading library books and Wonder Woman comics with them, sewing, blogging and promoting my new release.

What I haven’t been doing, apart from a couple of lapses, is writing Book 3. I have been reading parts of the manuscript, and nutting away at titles, but I just know that when I go back to write Book 3, I want to build up crazy momentum and just blaze away until I get to the end.

Unfortunately that won’t be tomorrow, because my structural edit letter arrived in the mean time, and that means three weeks of frantic rewriting before the manuscript is sent to the copy editor. Editing is all about the frantic, for me.

Over at Ripping Ozzie Reads, I’ve blogged the playlist I constructed today which will hopefully help me build up the momentum I need and get the work done in the pieces of the day I can snatch for myself.

Now, with a couple of hours left of the “holiday” and my daughters asleep, I can put my feet up and watch Robin Van Persie v. Nicklas Bendtner on SBS. (possibly other people from Denmark and the Netherlands are playing, but who really cares about them?) Best case scenario, both boys get hat tricks and get carried around on their respective teams’ shoulders. Worst case scenario, RVP accidentally beheads Nicky B while breaking his own legs. Hey, they’re Arsenal, it’s not that unlikely.

Anti-Branding and the Gentle Art of Author Promotion

Maureen Johnson has written a great manifesto about how she is not and never intended to become a brand – she elaborates on what’s wrong with that way of thinking (which is ultimately self-defeating, authors who get too obsessive about Branding Themselves tend to put potential readers off) and how the best way to promote yourself on the internet is to be genuinely having fun with the platforms you use. Not a new concept – this is something that Jeff VanderMeer among others has written about – but Maureen being Maureen, the message here is not only loud and clear but extremely entertaining to read.

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray follows up this post with the deeply ironic story of an author who had been told to brand herself “just like Maureen Johnson” and looks a bit more at the actual issue of promotions in a world where over-branding labels you as insincere.

Branding and marketing are things that authors tend to worry about a lot! How do you promote yourself without coming across as too promote-y?

Maureen’s example of an author so busy trying to sell herself and her message that she’s missed out on a chance to join a conversation is a good lesson to writers, I think – something to try to avoid in ourselves, like reciting “don’t be Anne Rice on Amazon” as a mantra when dealing with critical/inaccurate reviews. Or is that just me?

I think it’s tricky in particular because the internet has changed what many readers want to see from authors. The “professional, flawless demeanour” that many authors display on shiny websites (and perhaps used to display on TV chat shows) can appear hopelessly old-fashioned, and indeed there’s a new generation of authors whose web presence revolves entirely around a tell-all personal blog or a handful of other social media. And of course, many shades in between. I know that I am genuinely startled to discover that an author I am searching for information about doesn’t have a website or blog at all – and it still happens!

As an author myself, especially with a book to promote, I am often super self-conscious at how I am using the internet to promote myself – is it too much, am I being obnoxious, am I saying too much, am I not saying enough? Everyone does it differently. While I don’t go in for the ‘brand’ concept myself(anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that consistency is not my superpower) it’s more because I would be no good at it than because I disapprove of the concept. The word ‘brand’ gets thrown around a lot when I’m talking to Alisa about Twelfth Planet Press because she literally is creating a brand, she’s trying to establish a business which is distinct from herself as a person: it’s about connecting her publishing house in people’s minds with quality fiction, with well-made books, and anything else is just decoration on top of that. Branding makes sense in that context.

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