The writing

Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you still writing?’

Yes. Yes I am still writing.

I thought I’d tell you all the story (so far) of my story.

I started writing a novel in 2014. I knew at that point that I wanted to write, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write but I knew I wanted to write something. The first attempt was incredibly schmaltzy, really hopelessly dreadful. And I didn’t finish it.

I had a chat to my super talented writer friend (STWF), what was I to do? She recommended a process called ‘The Snowflake Method’ which was a plotting method where you start with one sentence that encapsulates the plot. You take the sentence and expand it to a paragraph, then a page. Then you write the plot from the point of view of each of the characters, and then you expand again to four pages and so on.

So I worked that method and in the end I had a number of headings for scenes, a timeline, a whole heap of characters, and a story. A murder mystery. And I worked to fill in the blanks.

I was writing at night at that point. I would work, come home and do dinner, go for a walk (sometimes), and around 9-ish I would sit down to write 500 words. I found this stage fairly easy (at least when compared to what came after). It was a bit like reading a story, but it was a story coming from me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and nearly finished the first draft of my second.

I had trouble finishing the first draft of my second novel. I realised that the guy I had thought would be my perpetrator just wouldn’t have done it. He didn’t have the nerve to do the job. At least not the way it was planned. The character had come alive and told me that it just wasn’t going to work. That was an exciting moment. I had heard that characters come alive like that, and to have it happen to me – I felt like a real writer.

But I had to put that all on ice. November 2015 I decided to do NaNoWriMo. For the month of November I wrote 2000 words every day. I wrote a background book. The idea was firstly to see if I could put that much effort into writing, and secondly, to get to know my characters better. The most memorable moment of that month was when the mother of my main character died. I cried, no, I bawled. It was really sad. So incredibly sad. Which is hilarious because I created her to die. The whole point of this woman was that she would die and give my main character some motivation to change her life. But still, it was heartbreaking when she actually died. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. *Sniff, sniff*

I found that I could, definitely, write 50,000 words in a month. But that it was exhausting. But everything was exhausting towards the end of 2015.

After NaNoWriMo I went back to my first novel. It was time to take the first draft out, read it again, and do some serious editing. Ah, editing was harder than just writing the stuff. I had to be able to think, not just vomit words onto the page. I wasn’t able to edit at 9 in the evening. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m pretty useless after 930pm (see the Pumpkin Time blog). The problem was, when would I be able to edit? I cut my working hours down so that I could take a whole day (Fridays) to work on my writing. I hoped to see great things. What I saw was exhaustion.

Turns out, I was sick. I had Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. There was a reason for my exhaustion. It wasn’t great, but it was treatable.

Throughout 2016 I kept slowly working at the novel but I didn’t feel like I got very far at all. It was slow going. And while I was dealing with my Graves disease and getting better, I picked up another day’s work in my day job and the novel felt like it was slipping away. But I finished my fourth draft and gave it to my STWF to read.

The whole month of July I didn’t write at all. I gave myself a month off and spent it reading craft books.

My STWF gave me feedback. She was encouraging, super encouraging, but she also said ‘this is draft 4 of a 7-draft book’. Oh how right she was.

After my big break from writing I picked up my book again and looked at it with fresh eyes. I confess, it was a pretty low moment. My book was boring. At least the beginning was. I think if you picked it up to read it, you’d put it down fairly quickly. By the middle the pace picked up. By the end it was good (with a few plot holes) but you don’t get readers by writing a book that’s great by the time you get to the middle. The beginning has to hook people, draw them in. My beginning put you to sleep.

More editing. Actually, editing is a really misleading term. I needed to rewrite. Throw out thousands of words and start again.

For the whole of August and September 2016 I worked on the first scene. I know the dates because I keep a special journal all about my writing.  When I write, I start by writing in the journal, writing about my life, what’s going on, and what I’m going to write about. Then I write the novel, then I write about what I wrote in the novel (though I don’t always do that last step). It’s great to keep the record, I can write down plot points or ideas, and I also clear my head before writing. The journal idea wasn’t my own, I found it is a book called The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – a book I’d recommend to any beginning writer.

The beginning of December I read another book called ‘Get It Done’ by Sam Bennett. The main message I took from that book is to work fifteen minutes a day, first thing, on my project. She calls it your fifteen minutes of fame. And since December that has been my aim – to work fifteen minutes a day before anything else, on my novel. I have made sure I’m in at work early, I put a timer on my phone and I write, or rewrite, or edit for fifteen minutes. The timer goes off, I close Scrivener, and I get on with my day. Occasionally I manage another fifteen minute block or a bit more, but mostly it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The book is being transformed, slowly, in fifteen minute increments.

So yes, I am still writing. And I hope that soon (you know, in the next year or so) I’ll be putting a finished novel out there for my beta readers to read. And getting it edited by a professional editor, and finding a book cover designer, and once all that’s come together, then it will be time for the really scary step – putting it out there for the world to read. I truly believe it’s becoming a great s

tory, an encouraging and fun cozy read that many people will enjoy. So I’ll keep working on it.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath, turns out writing a novel (even a short one) takes a long, long time.

Table and plan
A special writing weekend – working on draft 4

My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!

Dr Google and I

Well, it’s been a few months. It must be time to discuss my health again.

Last week I went to the doctor to discuss, well, I wasn’t really sure what I needed to discuss. I needed a specialist repeat referral for my nose issues (nasal polyps) and I also just generally felt like things weren’t quite right. I had had a ticking eye for about, oh I don’t know, maybe four months. Yes, pretty much straight. And I was tired. Still. Despite changing my diet and everything. There were other fairly vague things too – headaches, other ticking muscles, those sort of things. I hate to call them symptoms, they were too small and too vague and I wondered if I was just making it all up.

The doc said that I should go and get a blood test to check mineral levels for the ticking eye and ‘while we’re making a hole in your arm’ to just generally check everything. ‘All the over forty stuff’. Great, I thought, an old people blood test.

I had to fast breakfast. They were checking my sugar levels. I hate fasting. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines I’ve never got into. But I managed and they made that hole in my arm and then I bought a coffee and a croissant, and feeling all Parisian I got on with my day.

The next day was a rather huge teaching day. Students in a lab all day.  During my lunch break I received a phone call from the doctors surgery. I had abnormal thyroid levels, the nurse told me, and the doctor wanted to see me next week.

I was floored. Totally. I had been so sure that nothing was wrong, and then to be told that I had a thyroid problem was totally out of left field.

At the end of the day I went home and Dr Google and I went to work. I looked up all the thyroid symptoms and decided that as I was tired all the time and wore five layers in the cold and  had a bit of a slower bowel than most and had been putting on weight all year I had to be hypothoridic. Hypo means low levels. Symptoms of low thyroid levels include constipation, lethargy, depression, cold sensitivity, and weight gain.

I talked to a few people about it. ‘I must have low levels’ I said. ‘It’s the only thing that makes sense’. I had almost a week before seeing the doctor and I worked myself into quite a state. I got to the point where I decided that the worst thing I could be told is that nothing was wrong. I was so hopeful that fixing these ‘low levels’ would fix all my problems.

I found that the treatment for hypothyroidism is taking hormone tablets and that no surgery would be needed. I thought this could be the silver bullet – making me slimmer, more energetic, and more easily able to get through my day.

‘Am I too excited?’ I wrote in my journal, ‘What if nothing changes?’

I bet you can tell what happened next.

When I finally got to the doctor after almost a week of stressing she told me that I had hyperthyroidism. High levels of thyroid hormone. Dr Google and I got it completely wrong.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety and a need to keep on going, to keep moving. I can see that so clearly as I look back over my journal entries.

I wrote things like:

It’s 930 am and … I haven’t done the budget yet. I haven’t done much at all. I just put the shirts on to wash and I’ve written a list and eaten breakfast and read the bible and chatted to Moz.

It’s now after lunch and I’ve realised that I need to live in the moment. You see, the doc may or may not have an answer that will improve my life but today I need to live for today. Today I am tired, I have a headache and a sore throat. … I can’t sit here in dreamland planning what my life is going to be like. I don’t even know if the blood test said that my levels were high or low.

So today I’ll continue to potter around. Might watch more TV, might read, might sleep. Recovery is the name of the game. … I ‘m pretty pleased though – I’ve done most of the washing, a little grocery shopping, cleaned the kitchen.

So instead of depression, anxiety. Instead of lethargy, exhaustion. Then there’s increased appetite (which for most people is coupled with weight loss but I seem to be one of the lucky 10% who gain weight instead). The body just generally speeds up and there’s a little risk of death by heart attack – I’m glad I finally listened to the messages my body was trying to tell me.

Still, there is no great drama. I take a nasty drug (that could do horrible things to me but I’ve decided it won’t) and in a few weeks or months I’ll probably start feeling better! The thyroid hormones are so important to body function that the body stores them just in case you start running low. So I need to use up some of the stores before I start to come good.

But I think I’m already feeling the effects of having this dealt with. The anxiety has started to drop. I’ve become more able to relax when I’m relaxing, and I felt a heap more energetic during my work days last week.

I have also become aware of some symptoms that I managed to completely overlook before. My heart pounds regularly like I’ve been running up a hill, but without the hill. I had just ignored that before. There are other things too – I can bore you with the details in a private message if you like!

I’m glad that I have the thyroid to blame for my lack of mindfulness. And I am so glad that I got checked out. And so grateful that I live in a place where I can get easy access to proper treatment.

It took a bit of processing, like about five days of constant processing, to get to this point of acceptance but I just want to say to you all, if you think you and Dr Google make a great team, maybe you should try chatting to your GP as well 🙂

Onwards and upwards.