In a way, I’d love to be one of those people who finds exercise to be their saviour. My husband is like that. He joined the gym for something to do when I left to do a semester abroad twelve years ago and he’s still going. Religiously. If he doesn’t work out, he gets angsty. And skinny. (How annoying are men, they stop working out and LOSE weight).
I’ve come to realise that writing is my exercise. That if I don’t do it I get angsty too. And skinny. (HA, as if). I can go for long periods of not writing, but that’s usually in between projects when I’ve completed something big and I’m allowing my brain to rest or instead I’m researching and while it’s not writing as such, it’s all part of the process.
In these past few hectic weeks since we’ve brought our new daughter home and started the adjustment to a family of four under the one roof, I’ve written more than ever. I was cramming in lot of writing before I had her because I thought I would never get another minute to write again.
And then when she did come along she turned out to be the sweetest baby who likes to sleep quite a lot and even if she’s not asleep, she’ll lie beside me quite content while I type away. Unlike the toddler. The toddler is a whole different story and I’ll post on that separately, because it really does deserve a chapter by itself.
So generally, for an hour a day, if things are going well and the two year old naps the way she should and I don’t have anything major pressing like urgent housework, errands or appointments, that’s where the precious hour of writing comes in.
I live for that hour. It’s my release, my time for myself, my productive part. If I fit it in once a day, I feel satisfied, like I’m moving forward, that my whole day is not JUST about entertaining, cleaning up after and keeping two children alive.
I’ve been working on a few projects. If you get an hour a day to work on something solidly, you can make great progress. (I also have a childcare day, when it’s just me and the baby, so I can fit a few hours in that day too).
I picked out some story competitions I wanted to enter and set about editing or writing new material for those. I usually start with one idea or theme and spend a few days working through it. I like to have a twist, but that usually only ever comes during the writing process itself, it’s rare I set out with one in the first place. Oh to be that talented.
I like to choose competitions that set a particular challenge or have something a little different about them. I rarely enter the big cost competitions because I feel it’s just a waste of my very precious money and the chances of me getting anywhere among hundreds and hundreds of entries is fairly slim. I keep a list of all these competitions or submissions and mark them off as the results come in. The way I see it is that if you have enough out, eventually something will stick! Getting on a long or short list is a win and getting publishing or to final stages of a competition is a massive win!
You can read one of my older posts on competitions here – the links are still relevant and it attracts quite a bit of traffic as it lists lots of short story competition resources.
The writing project taking up most of my time at the moment however is book number two. It took me a while to get into it – I had the idea about two years ago and I spent a small bit of time doing some research, but similar to book one, it just had to fall into place for me to write it – the urge, the dedication required to get the all important first draft onto paper.
I’m approaching this one differently in a few ways. Firstly, I sat and wrote out the hook or tag line at the beginning so that I knew exactly what I was writing and how it would be pitched. Then I plotted it out roughly and worked out my characters points of views, using some learning from this rather excellent book. I now understand the importance of pacing and structure. Then I just started writing. Similar to book one, I hit a wall around 30,000 words, where I felt that I was running out of ideas, but I pushed through, having experienced this before and knowing that it’s a very common and that I could get through it to completion.
When I got to over 40,000 words I looked back and realised that my chapters were a bit bare – that I was possibly skipping to plot and not adding detail. I decided to go back through my chapters and add in more description.
This has taken me a while, but I’ve really enjoyed doing it, it’s almost like a first edit, even though I’m still on the first draft. I’ve managed to up to 50,000 words just by doing the additional rewrites on the first chapters with still a few more to edit. I hope when I come back for the first proper re-read that I’ll be dealing with much tighter material the whole book will take less time to edit than book one. We’ll see.
While the cat’s away the mouse will write plays
One of my sideline projects, as part of my competition entries, was to write a one act play for the Wexford Literary Festival. Again, I was drawn by the challenge of it; write a 15 minute play, with minimal characters, props and stage directions.
An idea came to me during a Netflix binge of crime dramas and death row prisoner documentaries and I let it sit until I got a chance to write, which happened to be when my daughter was taken into hospital. She was quite sleepy with her illness and I was left for hours with her in our tiny box of a glass room in the peace and quiet of the ward. (Not what you’d expect in hospital, but there it was). I took my laptop with me on the second night and I started my play.
It took me a few nights to write it and I had to download sample scripts, as I’d never written one before. I copied one from Google, with character lists and stage directions. I have a small bit of stage experience form being a member of a drama theatre group from the age of 14 to 15 and we were lucky enough to get the chance to devise a play during that time. I had a brief idea of might work on stage, but that was really all I was going on. My instinct. Lots of Father Ted episodes. Something to cheer me up while we coped with our daughter being ill.
And there it was, a short sketch, which I bundled up and sent off and to be honest, forgot about. Instead I concentrated on the short story competition for the festival, which I really wanted to be placed in. I was watching the results of the competition anxiously the week the longlist was due and was fairly disappointed to see that I hadn’t made it in the short story section.
“Ah well,” I said and really, I’m getting so used to rejection that I thought, “Where can I enter the story next? It needs work anyway.”
Within minutes a text had come through to congratulate me on getting to the finalist stage for the one act play.
Oh the joy.
I was delighted. Apart from forgetting that those results were due, I had expected there to be a longlist first, not the full results of the four finalists. To be one of those, was… well… I couldn’t believe it really, and that’s the truth.
So now, in less than a month’s time I’ll be heading off to Wexford for the literary festival (nothing I enjoy more) and I’ll be getting to see my words on stage performed by actors in front of a live audience.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night with nerves. My mind formed all sorts of horrible scenarios: What if it doesn’t go down well, what if no one laughs, what if it’s not funny, what if it’s stupid?
What if I get a standing ovation?
It’s hard to think positive as a writer sometimes. You have to harden your shell, prepare for bad news constantly. Getting good news is so rare and so welcome you find it almost hard to believe and even then the self-doubt creeps in that you’re not good enough to be where you got in the first place.
Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe I just need to sit back and enjoy this experience and believe a bit more. Maybe.
So with the new book currently being tapped away at, my play on show in Wexford in May, some competitions entered and a few ideas for journalism articles lurking in my brain, the blog has been a bit neglected.
But that’s ok. I wrote this didn’t I? Sure there’s no stopping me now.
How is your writing going? Have you been inspired, rejected, joyous, crying into your laptop? I’d love to hear from you. Tickets are on sale for Wexford Literary Festival – find out more information here.