Saturday, 25 February 2012

Juggling by Abie Longstaff

Like many people who only write part time, most of my working life involves juggling.

My particular balls to keep in the air are: my legal job, the children, the housework and my book writing.

Only, even though every week I vow it won’t happen, more often than not it is the book writing ball that falls to the floor while I struggle to keep the other ones in the air.

Why do I do this? It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s not that I don’t value my writing. It’s just that, every time I am about to sit down and write, there is a school assembly, an extra work meeting, a karate grading, or a cake sale I have to attend and naturally, of all the juggling balls that can be moved, it’s the writing. And, once I have got out of the habit of writing it becomes easy to think, oo, I’ll just pop a wash on. Or oo that downstairs cupboard really needs cleaning out. Or, oo, I wonder what’s happening on Twitter.

This used to cause me great stress. I would berate myself week after week for failing to get any writing done and the end of every week would feel like failure. But then I decided that if couldn’t change my other commitments, what I could at least change was my attitude.

Now I still struggle to find time to sit down to write, but I have learned that an awful lot of writing time is really thinking time, particularly with picture books, where there is very little time spent sitting still at your desk writing. Picture books still take a lot of time, but the idea, the plot and character development can all be done while walking round the supermarket, doing the school run, at a café in my lunch hour, or sitting on the tube. I’ve learned that, if I just let myself relax and daydream, the book will slowly reveal itself.

This was proven the other day. During a very stressful half term juggling legal work and kids, I began to despair of getting anything done. Then one night I had the most incredible dream, which I quickly wrote out on waking.

Now I’ve just got to fiddle with the pace and the characterisation. I might do this while I sort out the cellar.


Lynne Garner said...

WIth you all the way with this. I've discovered my best writing time is when walking the dog. I've now even got into the habit of tapping notes into my phone between ball throwing which I can go back to later when I do have time to do some proper writing.

Moira Butterfield said...

So true, Abie. I spend most of my time writing commissions for fees. I do it full-time, it's usually non-ficton books and my family rely on my income from it, so finding the time to think properly about stories is very difficult. But there is space to be made in life, and we have to 'carve it out'. I find it's important to give myself occasional treat times, too - a trip to an art gallery on my own, or a walk in a beautiful garden, to recharge.

Jane Clarke said...

Congratulations on keeping all those balls in the air at once, Abie!

Paeony Lewis said...

I need deadlines. Without a writing deadline I do all that other non-writing 'stuff'. But if I have a real deadline, I always keep to it.

Linda Strachan said...

I'm with you Paeony. I like having deadlines because they force me to write and to push all the other things to one side. But I hate long or far off deadlines, they are almost as bad as not having one at all.

Like you, Abie, I sometimes find that trying to forget about a book lets the idea mature in my subconscious and then when I am not expecting it the solution to a plot problem drifts into my head. Unfortunately there is no way to know when it is going to happen but doing outdoor things or mundane chores seems to help it along.

Stroppy Author said...

I so agree - and I do a lot of the thinking-things-out while walking to waitrose. But I do need deadlines, or a nagging agent, if I am to do things quickly as there are so many books that *so* have deadlines the others are left to languish by the roadside.

Alison Boyle said...

You have captured that juggling act very convincingly Abbie! Thinking is the bigger part of writing a book even though it sometimes feels like our hands are glued to the keyboard.