A year in reflection

In just over a month I will be back at work. I can scarcely believe the last year has flown by so fast, and what a year it’s been.

I have spent much of today manually migrating my blog over to this new platform, as the automatic migration was not particularly successful. Me being me, I read over every single entry before re-posting it here, and it was kind of weird to read what I’d written pre-baby: not so much weird because life is so different, but because I feel like a completely different person to what I was then.

Reading about how crazy I was about horse riding, how obsessed with writing, how fierce my ambitions following a life-changing program, and my somewhat ridiculous notion to write another manuscript on my ‘year off’, I almost had to laugh. How those passions have juxtaposed with the experiences of being a parent.

I haven’t completely abandoned these passions, but I’ve found it difficult to approach them with quite the same enthusiasm as I did in the past. I’m still riding, albeit only once a week, and it often feels like I have to drag myself there out of obligation. And while I have done some writing, so far it’s been nothing but self-indulgent claptrap lacking any kind of coherent plot.

I’m kicking myself now that I haven’t put better use to the last year. Well, the 20 minutes which hasn’t been spent in raising my child, anyway. But I’ve found it difficult to regain my love of writing. It’s not that I don’t want to do it anymore. I still follow the dream of publication, and I still want that creative outlet for myself so my whole world isn’t taken up with being a parent.

But just because I haven’t done much writing, the year hasn’t been a complete failure, writing-wise. I’ve had a short story published, and I’ve had some interest from a literary agent in taking on my series, which has kept my hope alive. Said agent shall remain nameless for now lest it all come to naught.

Now all I need is some inspiration. And a plot.

But still, the literary fire is no longer raging. Perhaps this is because I haven’t had the spare time I thought I’d have. Or because there’s nothing more important in my life than Finn, and he is my first priority over everything. Or maybe it’s because I can’t really write anything else until I’ve got this plot sorted.

Needless to say, life has changed forever and I’m hoping I still have room for my writing, especially once I’m back at work and me time will be an even rarer occurrence than it is now.

I have mixed feelings about my return to work. Part of me is looking forward to wearing nice clothes again and talking to adults and using my brain. The other, much larger, part is dreading the thought of leaving Finn for 8-9 hours at a time, three days a week. I don’t know how I’m going to tear myself away from him, physically and emotionally. But separation is all part of life and we need the money if we’re going to build a house. There’s also this niggling thought in the back of my head that maybe the change will re-inspire me to start writing again. And that’s enough to keep the flame flickering.

In the meantime, I’ll keep turning my latest plot over in my head and hoping that eventually it forms into something that actually makes sense. And if all else fails, I’ll grab it by the cahunas and drag it, kicking and screaming, into something I can work with.

The muse has returned

I’m back! It’s seemed like forever since I’ve been able to write, but my muse has finally returned…and, along with it, my procrastination. Hence this post when I probably only have half an hour in which to bang out some words.

Since having a baby eight weeks ago, life has pretty much turned upside down. Whenever I thought things might be evening out a little, it would all change again. But, dare I say it, Finn is pretty much sleeping through the night now, and after a challenging few weeks where he decided he didn’t want to sleep for more than half an hour during the day, he seems to be settling much easier and sleeping for longer chunks.

Which means, of course, that not only do I have time for having a shower, going to the toilet and feeding myself, but now I’ve also got a few opportunities each day to do something just for me. Until this week, my brain has been mush and the idea of ever writing again seemed remote. But after a couple of weeks of a grumpy-crying-not-sleeping-constantly-feeding baby, the clouds have begun to clear and my creativity is slowly coming back.

On Tuesday, I began a working synopsis for a new book. There’s still a lot missing – a plot, for instance – but I’ve got a very basic structure to work with. Yesterday, I started to write. Sure, 80 per cent of it was notes I’d already written months ago, but it’s a start.

I think this experience is going to be very different from my previous manuscripts. I don’t think I’ll be writing a first draft in 70 days. But at least I’m writing again, and eight weeks into motherhood isn’t a bad effort.

Now I must go, because I think Finn is waking up. And if he’s not, I should be working on my manuscript anyway.

Baring my soul: writing as catharsis

I’ve always known that writing about a difficult period of your life could be cathartic, healing; what I didn’t know was how hard it is. Some months ago, I discovered just how raw and painful it could be when I wrote about the two miscarriages I had last year.

I don’t think I would ever have written about something so private, even just for myself, if I hadn’t seen the call for submissions for an anthology on miscarriage. And to be honest, I don’t think I could have written about it at all if I hadn’t been pregnant again and reasonably sure that this one was going to stick.

I’m not great with emotions at the best of times. That’s why I write. So I figured it was a good opportunity, at worst, to get it all out and, at best, to maybe get published.

But once I’d started writing, it didn’t seem to work. Creating a story isn’t easy, but telling your own is next to impossible, especially when you haven’t really faced up to all the feelings you’ve been holding inside for so long. I had to let go of my wanky writer’s pretensions and my natural inclination to hold back on my feelings and just go with it.

I wrote the first draft in a couple of days. I cried a lot. I thought it was crap, and that I probably wouldn’t end up sending it, but I finished it nonetheless. But when I read it back a few days later, I was surprised to find it was actually quite good. I usually edit a lot, but in this case I didn’t change much at all, just smoothed it over, tidied it up and sent it off.

It did help. Writing about it helped me to realise how I really felt about the whole thing, and that getting – and staying – pregnant hadn’t completely erased the pain of what had happened. It made me value my relationship and treasure my friendships more, and to be grateful for what I’ve got in my life.

Not long after this, I found out that my story had been selected for the anthology. The Sound of Silence: Journeys through Miscarriage will be published and available in bookshops in October. You can see a trailer for it here.

If you want to read my story, buy it. If you’ve had a miscarriage in the past, or you know someone who has, buy it. One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, so chances are you know several people who’ve had one but who have never spoken about it. This book is about ending that silence and allowing the women (and their partners) who’ve been through it the chance to find comfort and to know they’re not alone, even if they choose to never share their own stories.

Even now, three weeks off having my first baby, I still get tears in my eyes reading these stories. Damn pregnancy hormones. But I’ve learnt that not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. And I’ve learnt that one gain, no matter how great, doesn’t cancel out previous losses. It just makes them easier to bear.

At 4.11am, I finished my book

I wouldn’t normally get up in the middle of the night to edit on purpose, but I’d been awake since 2.30 already, and lying in bed staring into the dark seemed like a waste of possible productivity. So, at 3.20am I got up, sat on the couch with my laptop and edited the final 30 pages of the sixth and final draft of my first completed, polished manuscript.

This project has been a long journey for me. I began the first draft in January 2005 with nothing more than a sliver of an idea. No plot to speak of, no character profiles, no real idea of where it was going. This is not the ideal way to begin one’s first book.

Over the years, the plot meandered along, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with bursts of genius. I added new scenes in one draft that I subsequently deleted in the next. I implored George and my friend Bek to read it and give me the feedback I needed. Gradually, I made it a little bit better with each new draft.

The third draft was commended in the IP Picks competition in the Best First Book category, and I was asked to revise it and resubmit to the publisher. The fourth draft, while better, only inspired an invitation to pay the publisher for another evaluation. I decided not to continue down this line, but I did use the feedback to write a fifth draft, which I entered in a few other competitions without success. I didn’t know quite what to do with it by then, so it languished on my computer for another year or so while I wrote another manuscript.

Last year, I entered this second manuscript in the Hachette/Queensland Writers’ Centre Manuscript Development Program. At the very last minute, I remembered that first story that I had worked so hard on, and decided to enter that one as well. I gave it a quick tidy up and sent it off, fully expecting that the other one would better meet the guidelines of the competition.

To my surprise, that fifth draft won me a place on the program and one of the most awesome experiences in my writing career. Long story short, but the feedback I received while on the program shaped the sixth and final draft.

Yes, it will be the final draft. I’m sure I could keep working on it and making it a little bit better each time, but at this stage the effort it would take is greater than the desire. Of course, if I get significant interest from a publisher with more changes requested, I’ll go back to it again, but in my mind, it’s finished.

Today I sent it back to the publisher, and also to the agent I met on the program. I’m not holding my breath. I’m still one of thousands of hopefuls that try their luck with the publishing industry every year. But I know that I’ve made it the best it can be.

Now that it’s done, I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself. But I know I’m ready to move on.

One ending, another new beginning

Tonight, I completed the final draft of one of my three manuscripts.

It’s been three months since my last blog post, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t really have anything new to say about my writing. This last draft has taken me a little longer than I’d hoped, and a big part of me is glad that it’s done. Completing a story to the point that it’s ready to go out into the world (well, as ready as I can get it on my own, anyway) is a big achievement. And I’ve done it in four drafts, an improvement over my first, of which I am about to commence draft six.

I can feel my skills improving with each edit. I’m better able to visualise the story as a whole before I delve into specific chapters, phrases, words. I’ve even got a somewhat realistic hope that I’ll be able to get my third manuscript finished in only three drafts.

I don’t fool myself that it’s really really finished. I know that if an agent or a publisher picks it up, there’ll be plenty more work to do. But I’ve got it to the most polished point that I can without professional advice.

I should be happy. Ecstatic, even.

But, after racing towards this goal for the last five months, I feel strangely empty. I’d expected to feel upset to be letting it go, to saying goodbye to my characters. I am pregnant, after all. A particularly shiny teaspoon makes me teary, for Christ’s sake. But I don’t feel much at all.

I know it’s ready to go. And I’ve got my first manuscript to work on, and a clear vision of what I need to do with it. Tonight, I’m going to rest, and tomorrow morning I’m going to sleep in. I don’t know how many days I’ll take off before I get back into it.

But I do know that when the time is right, I’ll sit down with that dog-eared manuscript I sent off to Brisbane last year, and which has since travelled to Sydney, then to Brisbane again, before coming home with me to Adelaide. I’m not ready just yet, but I suspect the time will be here before I know it. I’m looking forward to it.

At the halfway point

It’s been exactly a month since my last blog post, and I’m almost exactly halfway through editing my second manuscript. I’ll keep this brief, as I mustn’t procrastinate too long from actually doing it (yeah right).

It’s been a bit of a hard slog at times, but overall I’ve been enjoying the process. Some pages have been a lot like pulling teeth. I keep using the same bloody phrases and words over and over again, and I can’t for the life of me think of different ways of saying it. I’ve even used a – *gasp* – thesaurus once or twice (or 500 times). There are whole weeks when it feels like I’ve had a wit-ectomy and everything comes out sounding flat and lifeless.

But then there are big sections – chapters even – where the writing is taut and snappy, and it just works. These bits allow me to think, just for a second, that perhaps it might actually be publishable. Once I’ve fixed up aforementioned hopeless bits.

My writing friend, Sam, has been going through it with a fine-toothed comb as I finish each chapter, and she’s not letting me get away with anything. She’s pulling me up on sentences that I just couldn’t get right and allowed myself to conveniently forget about. She’s ruthlessly culling my excessive adverbs (every time I comment about my excessive use of adverbs, I always seem to include an adverb in that sentence – you see, I have a problem). She’s telling me all the things I need to hear, whether I want to hear them or not. Sometimes I feel like bitch-slapping her for it*, but it’s all invaluable feedback that will force me to make it better. And no doubt she feels like bitch-slapping me every time I send one of her chapters back.

So I’ll keep pushing on through the wooden sentences and repetitive phrases and slowly perfect it to a level where it might actually be ready to submit. And I haven’t gotten over my addiction. I still have an obsessive compulsive need to do something on it each day, even if it’s just reading through what I edited the day before.

*I was kidding about the bitch-slapping. Sort of. 😉

My name is Rebecca, and I am addicted to writing

It’s time to face up to the fact that what started out as a hobby has developed into a full blown obsession. Over the last 5-6 years, my periods of not writing have been far longer and more frequent than my productive times. I’ve taken six months off, or more, with barely a thought. But something has changed this year – when I’m not working on something, I find myself thinking incessantly about it, and my only cure is to give into it.

Last Saturday I finished the first draft of my third manuscript. I celebrated by giving myself a day off on the Sunday before going back to work the following day. But it didn’t feel like much of a reward. All day I was itching to get started on the third draft of my second manuscript. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Finally, on Monday after work, I got out my notebook and the printed copy and I started reading through it again. As always happens when starting on a subsequent draft, I was both horrified and pleasantly surprised by what I found in there.

It needs a lot of work. Some of my plot lines are still not entirely believable. I still use too many adverbs (there are five in this post alone, and that’s me restraining myself). I’ve discovered another annoying habit in my writing that I need to eradicate. My protagonist needs to be less bitchy and more gutsy and resourceful. I need to be more effective in showing surroundings.The chemistry between my characters that’s crystal clear in my head isn’t coming across on the page.

At the same time, a lot of the changes I made in the second draft that I’d almost forgotten about were a huge improvement. The writing is a lot more taut than it was the first time around. And having written the second in the series, I’ve got a better insight into my characters that will help me to flesh them out in this one.

This was the first time that I’ve written notes before starting on a new draft. I was dubious about the process, as I’m a horrendous note-taker, but it’s been enormously helpful. I haven’t marked up the manuscript at all, which has allowed me to look at the story as a whole rather than line by line.

At around 1pm today I finished my read through, and I’ve filled 39 hand-written A4 pages with things I need to fix or change. I feel good about it – some bits are going to be tricky, but generally it’ll just be a matter of tightening up the prose and getting rid of some of the repetition. Satisfied with my progress in less than a week, I instructed myself to spend the rest of the day relaxing and start on the real work tomorrow. I got out my book and plonked myself on the couch for an afternoon of shameless sloth.

I lasted about four and a half hours.

I couldn’t help myself. I’ve just opened the document and re-saved it as Draft 3.doc.

My name is Rebecca, and I am addicted to writing.