Holiday Adventures

I know I promised you lots of adventures. I guess I promised them to myself. And I’ve had them, sort of.

Today was a big one. The dentist.

I had gone to the uni today to mark exams. I told myself that once I had marked them all I would reward myself with a nice lunch at a cafe somewhere. The idea was to get to uni at 11 (after morning tea with my mum – not after sleeping in) and then work until around 1pm and go to lunch. But it didn’t quite work.

Firstly, I arrived at uni at 1130, chatted with a friend, wrote an email, and then got started on the exams. About half-way through another friend dropped in for a chat. And yes, there was also the usual procrastination happening.

A student who I had helped out with something tiny earlier in the year dropped in with packets of chocolate to say thank you. So undeserved. But I can’t say no to chocolate so I was using liquorice logs to keep me going and I kept powering through.

I made it to the end of the pile, I checked that I had added all the marks up correctly and I took the pile to the computer to input the marks into a spreadsheet. And looked at the time.

It was 2:15pm.

Now believe it or not, my dental appointment was for 2:30pm. Yes, I know. Tooth-hurty. And I’m not making that up. At least it was easy to remember.

I had fifteen minutes to get from uni to Kingston to get my teeth looked at.

My Phd supervisor has been known to say that it is a thirteen minute drive. I was praying that was true today. And it was. Possibly even ten minutes. I got there with time (a little) time to spare. And I didn’t break the limit (by more than two or three km/h).

The dentist took a couple of x-rays and told me there was some tartar under the gum in a couple of places that he would have to remove ‘by feel’. Right. Sounded painful to me.

It was painful, but apparently what they used to do was cut the gum open so they could see the tartar, and then remove it. That sounds a whole lot more painful. I’ll stick with what I have, thanks.

I hate the cleaning. I guess most people do. I haven’t met anyone yet who enjoys having their teeth scraped with a spinning whatever it is. I am wondering if they choose six-monthly checkups because they worked with some psychologists who said that six months was about the right amount of time to allow us to forget the intensity of the pain.

Anyway, I won’t complain too much. I didn’t need any fillings, or caps, or root-canal surgery. So I guess as dentist visits go it wasn’t too bad.

My other exciting adventures this holidays have included a check up at the doctor and taking the car in to get the brakes fixed – an ongoing saga as the lock-nut for the mini had been lost and they couldn’t get the wheels off.

I’ve also had some more exciting and interesting adventures. I’ve attended a panel on self-publishing, a writing workshop on characterisation, and a seminar by a couple of female professors telling us about their journey in academia. Tonight I’m heading to a seminar about cleaning up clandestine drug labs.

Mostly I’ve been focussing on my novel. I’ve been using the time to write, polish, and get the book ready for some outside input. And yesterday I posted, uploaded, and shared-on-a-usb key my novel to my various beta readers.

Talk about scary!

But it’s out there now, and I’m shaking in my boots and waiting for the feedback. Together I am sure we can make it into a beautiful thing.

I have one week and one day of holidays to go. I have three coffees with friends booked in, one book club, one body corporate meeting, leading church, and the car’s brakes. There will also be time to read in front of the fire, go for walks along the beach, and I may even start writing the next novel.

Happy Holidays!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

reward
My reward for finishing my novel. Yum.
replacing lock nut
We took off the lock-nuts and replaced them with normal nuts. By ‘we’ I mean him. I stood around and took pictures.
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Quitting

Today I quit one of my jobs. It’s been a long process – the process of quitting this job has lasted over a year.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do english at a pinch.

All of the above is what made quitting this job so very hard to do. But I’m pretty sure that quitting this job was right.

And before you ask, it’s not about the money.

It’s about the tired.

You read a lot on the internet about how being busy is a sickness of our age. How when you ask people how they are, they answer, “busy” and they wear it as a badge of pride.

I am done with being busy. I don’t want to spend my days stressed because I can’t fit everything in. Or at least, I want to be busy with things I love, rather than things I ‘should do’ or ‘would be good at’ or things that are an answer to a great need but not a good fit for me.

I want to be free enough to be there for people when they need me. I want to have enough energy to give to my children when they need to talk, and to have that important coffee with a friend, or a new friend that I’ve just met, and to hear their problems and to help out.

I also want time to read, to think, to write, to follow my dreams.

I am a writer, I want to be an author. In my head that means publishing books, yes books plural, though I’ll use the term author after one book is published, don’t worry. I am finding that the writing process is hard work. It requires a functioning brain. It requires energy. It is not something I can squeeze in to my life in the free evenings, or for half an hour on the weekends.

For me, writing a novel requires (at the very least) working a little on it every day in the morning, and then giving it more time over the weekends. It also requires me to make sure I am healthy, that I eat well, sleep well, and exercise, so that I don’t wake up feeling foggy and unable to think. And that requires me to evaluate every single activity I undertake because I can’t do all the worthy things that come my way and still write a book.

And, you know, that’s hard. Because right now, I have no evidence beyond this blog that writing is something I can do. I am investing hours, days, in something that may not pay off. I am also spending time learning the business of writing, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of writers in Australia earn about $10,000 from their writing each year so I may never make a living from my dream. I am very unlikely to make big dollars.

The process of investing in my writing is making me re-think all my ideas about success. I have never been one to judge success by the size of someone’s income, but I have definitely judged success by the number of people reached and helped. If you use that analysis to weigh up my writing against the tutoring job I just quit then I am moving in the wrong direction.

Or I am taking a huge leap of faith.

I also feel incredibly selfish. If someone suggested that they would pay me to sit in my little den and write all day, every day, I would jump at the chance. Writing is my happy place. It’s what I love to do. So turning down a worthy job like tutoring, stopping helping children so that I can sit in my happy place more, that’s selfish, isn’t it?

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God made me with this inclination to shut the world out and think deeply and write about my thoughts. Maybe sitting alone in my lounge room and tapping on a keyboard is how he wants me to spend my time. Maybe it’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems but just to do the best job I can at what I love.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Only God knows what will come of my writing. At the moment I’m going to keep going and trust him with the outcome. And keep working my other day job.

If anyone wants to pay me to write though – you know where to contact me!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters will be more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

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

He restores my soul

I’m just going to have to get better at describing scenery, otherwise how am I going to let you know how absolutely Psalm 23 this holidays is – the still waters and green pastures part, obviously, not the valley of the shadow of death part.

Today, the last Monday of my holidays, I met with a friend for coffee in the morning for a delightful catch up and reconnect. Then this afternoon I had to leave the house because the cleaner (whom I love almost as dearly as I love my family) was coming in to make my house beautiful again and I don’t like to get in her way.

I wanted to go and check out the Hairy Giraffe in Margate but as it turns out that cafe is closed on Mondays (boo) so I drove back along the highway to the Pancake Train. I didn’t feel like eating Pancakes so I ate a chicken pie and salad instead. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t – maybe you know me well enough) at how much I had to convince myself that it was ok not to eat pancakes if I didn’t want to. Who cares if it is called the Pancake Train. If it sells chicken pies and that’s what I want to eat, then that’s ok.

It must have been good food and good coffee because I managed to write another thousand words in my novel while I was sitting there. Then feeling both virtuous and replete I decided to drive back home the Tinderbox way. It’s just so gorgeous around there.

There were green pastures, for real, with cows and all. And still waters, well, waters with very small waves. I drove down the little road that runs alongside the vineyard down to the river and I parked beside the little playground on the pebble beach. I read the interesting information (Tinderbox is named after a french tinderbox that Mr Fergusson found on the beach there) and wandered along the shore until it looked like I would have to go rock-hopping to get any further. It wasn’t a long walk. It probably didn’t even count as a short walk. But it was a walk beside still waters.

I didn’t feel like getting back into my car yet so I wandered out onto the jetty and stared into the water. I saw a school of fish and then later a single fish swimming beneath my feet. It really didn’t feel like that long since I had done the same thing up at St Helens. But that was the last school holidays. We’ve had almost a full term since then. The thing is, to see fish from a jetty you need to be still. Just be still and wait. It’s a good thing to do to slow yourself down when you’re on holidays.

It’s amazing just how refreshing a little bit of nature is. Just how good it is for the soul to see the green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the olive gum trees, the bare branches of the vineyard in their neat rows, to hear the ripple of the water over the pebbles on the beach, to see the lorikeets fly past in front of the car and the flash of the robin’s red breast as he sits on the fencepost.

It’s been a gorgeous day. A restful and joyful day. A restoration of the soul.

Behind the scenes

In this novel that I am writing, one of the main characters owns and runs a cafe. I didn’t think she was going to be that important when I started but now that I am getting to know the characters better I find that she is pretty essential to my main character’s well-being, to the plot, to the whole thing, really! She might even be more important than the murder in my murder mystery. She’s a great person – I hope you love her when you finally get to read the book.

Anyway, DH suggested that maybe if I’m going to write about owning and running a cafe, I should learn something about the process. Just to make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes. I thought that was sensible advice so I took it. We have an friend that we know through church who used to own a cafe and I asked her if she would mind having a chat so that I could learn what it was like. She was very accommodating (I find that people generally like helping me out with this book thing, although it might just be that I have awesome and generous friends.) and we met today for coffee and a chat.

You know what? I found out that I know nothing at all about running a cafe! I hadn’t thought about rosters, about debtors and creditors, and ordering in food. I hadn’t thought at all about having cooks working in the kitchen – heaven’s knows where I thought the food would come from! Perhaps I thought it just cooked itself! I hadn’t thought about much beyond what you see as a customer in the cafe and there is so much going on behind the scenes.

She told me a story about a lady who came into her cafe with her daughter. My friend asked the daughter what she would like to be when she grew up. The little girl said that she would like to work in a cafe. Her mother said, ‘well, I think you’re too smart for that!’ Apart from that being terribly insulting to my friend, the other thing is that this woman really didn’t understand the layers of complexity involved in running one’s own business. The health and safety regulations, the superannuation, the budgeting. There is so much involved and so much brain required.

It’s like that for many of the businesses we see – we only see the smooth sailing of the duck on the top of the water – we don’t see the paddling like crazy that happens underneath. We often don’t appreciate the amount of work that is going into giving us a reasonable customer experience.

And as we talked I realised that I knew nothing at all about what was going on behind the scenes in my friend’s life. I didn’t know (until today) anything about her struggles, her family, her ups and downs. All I knew was that she was a stylish, friendly and generous lady. I knew the smile, but I didn’t know the pain behind it. I would never have got to know without taking the time to have coffee and a chat but I’m so glad I took the time. Now this woman is one of my heroes. She has gone through so much and come up smiling and she deserves so much respect for that.

There’s a saying that the most complex fictional character is less complex than the simplest of real people. Each one of us have lives that may look simple on the surface but are so much more complex underneath. Each of us has our own battles to face, our own struggles to learn through, our own difficult people to work with.

I guess I’ve just been reminded today that I can only see the surface and that you can’t judge by the surface. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on underneath and we might just be horrified if we did. Maybe we should treat each other with grace, kindness and respect at all times, just in case!

Learning by doing

You probably expected to hear more from me in this blog since I started spending all Fridays writing. And I expected to write more. And I have been writing, it’s just that instead of writing my blog, I’ve been writing my novel. Have I told you all that I’m writing a novel? It’s pretty exciting because it’s something I’ve wanted to do probably all my life. But like all good things, it’s taking a long time and a lot of work.

I wrote a full draft last year, from beginning to end, then I worked on it a bit, correcting things that I saw needed correcting, and making it as good as I could get it. I got to the point where I wasn’t willing to spend any more time on it if it was rubbish so I gave it to some well trusted people to read – just to see if it was worth going on with. They were encouraging (thank the Good Lord), and gave some helpful advice, and I have taken note of the advice and I’m trying to incorporate it. I’ve opened a new Scrivener document and I’ve started again, writing yet another draft.

It’s harder this time – I want the novel to be excellent (or at least a lot better than it was in the last draft) so I’m trying to improve everything that I can. When I was first writing, I just reached inside my head for the story and wrote it down. In a way it was like reading a novel – it just wasn’t written yet – and I could write at any time – at my desk, in a cafe, even last thing before I went to bed. If it was rubbish, that was ok, I knew I would be fixing it later.

But now it is later, and I need to make sure that the writing is not rubbish. I am finding that I need a lot more brain power to write this time. I read each sentence critically to make sure it says exactly what I want it to say. I’m trying not to start three sentences in a paragraph with the same header words (unless, of course, it’s for effect). I’m trying to fill in the holes that need filling and to change the scenes that my test readers said didn’t make sense.

I want my writing to be good, so I have researched a fair bit to find out what makes a novel a good novel. I have read a lot in the last couple of years about novel writing – about the dos and don’ts, about character arcs and themes, about adverbs (don’t use them, unless you use them well), about planning (very important so you don’t get lost) and not planning your novel (so that you can follow where the story goes without being stuck to a rigid plan), about the rules of writing and how to ignore the rules of writing and so on. It started to get very confusing – my take on it all is that there are rules that you can follow to make sure your writing isn’t horrifically bad, but if you follow the rules slavishly your writing will be horrifically bland.

Character arcs was one thing I really couldn’t get figured out when I started. I had read that each character in the story had to have an external issue to work on (kill the dragon, for example), and also an internal issue (daddy issues or some such thing). I could see how important that was for the main character but I couldn’t figure out all the character arcs for the other characters. I was concentrating so hard on the MC and getting her story straight that at first the others were just there to help her work out her story. I understood, in principle, that every character in a book needs to be a full-bodied character with their own story happening right alongside the MC and that your book is a bit two-dimensional without that. But I just couldn’t think it all through, I couldn’t make it come together.

But over the last month or so, as I’ve worked on this draft, it’s become very exciting. The characters have started to take on lives of their own. I’ve realised that Robbie (who I thought wasn’t very important) is going to have to face his own mortality, and that Jan (who is very important but not the MC) has issues about living in a small town that I had no idea about when I started. Novelists write about this, this coming to life of the characters, I can’t believe it’s happening in my story. It’s so cool!

So now I’m trying to dredge out of my little brain exactly what I’ve read about character arcs and how to write them and I think I might have to do some more research. But while I research I’ll keep writing because it seems that this novel writing thing only happens as you write. It’s one of those ‘learn by doing’ situations.

Sometimes I get scared that I will never finish the book. That I will keep polishing for ever and ever and it will never be good enough to be out there for people to read. Sometimes, when I read about the business aspect I find there’s a whole new level of fear to go through – I need to find editors and cover designers, I need to work out contracts and legalese to make sure I’m not getting ripped off, and probably a whole host of issues I haven’t even seen yet. And then there’s the fact that if I ever want to make money from writing, and I do, then I need to publish at least five books before any money happens. FIVE times this! Five!

So I spiral into panic.

And then I remember. Quietness and confidence, repentance and rest. I need to trust that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I can leave all the outcomes in God’s hand and just do, each day, what I have been called to do. It’s about process, it’s about living in the moment. And it’s about the fact that I really love writing. If it takes five years to finish this one book then that’s what it takes. I just need to keep going with what I am called to do each day, day after day, and leave the rest up to God.

And can I encourage you, if you know there is something you want to do, then do it. Enjoy the practice. If nothing else, you’ll learn a heap about yourself as you go, and you might even achieve something that you’ve always wanted to achieve. There was a little song I learned as a kid:

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

I guess if I practice then better I’ll be

I’m off to write some more…