Who Will You Be When You Grow Up?

Or if that’s too hard a question to ask, the future being a far and mysterious place, who do you think you’ll look like?
Old woman in Kyrgyzstan (2010)I myself expect that when I get well and truly old I will look like Nanny Ogg, of whom it is said in Lords and Ladies that “time had left her with a body that could only be called comfortable and a face like Mr Grape the Happy Raisin.”
Except I hope to have a) more teeth and b) fewer husbands.

Prospect and Retrospect 16/17

They say the older you get, the faster time passes, and by the time you’re eighty you’re having breakfast every five minutes. (Any octogenarians out there like to confirm or deny?) It appears to me that by the time you’re thirty, you’re looking at the year in review every few months.

Antigoneleigh

It’s behind me, isn’t it?

A year ago I had 2015 laid out on a page, and rather depressing viewing it was. I expected the same from 2016, given how disrupted it felt, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d thought. Quite.

A quick note on how the analysis works: each day gets one cell in the spreadsheet, which mentions one thing I did. So if it says ‘blog’ it means I worked on my blog, but not my WIP, though I may have done other things as well. It’s a subtle hierarchy of achievement.

Of the 366 days with which we were blessed in 2016, I actually spent 112 days working on the WIP rewrite in some way, shape or form. A lot of it felt guiltily like time-wasting when I looked back from a short distance, but months later, I can see that that was the time that the story most changed form, from the first draft to the second.

Acraea zetes caterpillar to pupae to butterfly metamorphosis by Nick Hobgood
On at least 62 days I worked on blog posts. Writing a puppet play was my sole occupation for one day; another was devoted to writing a newsletter for family and friends, and two days I worked solely on a sermon (for this coming Sunday). There was also one day I focussed on a book about writing (The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke), which I shall charitably include in the writing tally. Ditto the three days I pondered whether to do a sort-of NaNoWriMo, decided I would, and prepared accordingly.

By my count, that’s 182 days spent on writing in one way or another – almost exactly half the year. (Though, rather depressingly, 17 fewer than last year.) So where did the other half of the year go?

Leaving aside the 52 Sundays and concentrating on the remaining 132 days, it is easy to see where a lot of them went. The big distraction of the year was housing: trying to buy a house, buying a house, working on the house (toxic linoleum, anyone?) and finally moving house, unpacking and settling in.

I'll be back..........!
There are 38 cells marked ‘house’ in the spreadsheet, and 22 marked house which was my attempt to make up for the big empty space around moving day when I didn’t make any notes at all. I may have done some writing work, I may have done nothing but lie on the couch and read Agatha Christie, we’ll never know. The presumption is that I was working on making the house habitable, since when we arrived you couldn’t see from one end of the living room to the other, let alone walk across it, and it is now entirely habitable.

Plus one ‘moving day’ makes 61 days spent on house-related things. But wait – there’s more! There were also ten days of Grand Purge in February, four days marked ‘housework’ and one marked ‘garden’ – the day we pruned the apple-tree. That makes a total of 76, leaving a mere 56 to be accounted for. (Mere! That’s over nine working weeks we’re talking about there…)

I had ten health days; all, with the exception of a visit to the dentist, between the 15th and the 21st of their respective months. Obviously that is the week to get sick (or go for eye check-ups). I also took three days in bed (half last year’s total) and a rest day. 14 in this section, leaving 42.

Frederico Maldarelli Schlafende
Seven days were marked ‘guests’; three were used for planning of various sorts; travelling or being away occupied eight (a third of last year’s tally). Eighteen, leaving twenty-four.

The largest section of the remainder, is, I’m afraid, blank – eight days on which I failed to record what I did, and therefore can’t count for either woe or weal. Five days were devoted to handwork, two to reproofing an oilskin coat. Fifteen, leaving nine.

Nine one-offs.

Five were in January: the day when we pray through the year ahead; the day we charge through the ensuing one-off to do list; the day I got my fountain pens cleaned and refilled with the appropriate inks for the coming work; the day I analyzed 2015; and the day I made plum sauce (ripe fruit waits for no man).

The remaining four were: a day when I got a lot of exercise but didn’t have energy for anything else after that (exercise is energizing, but only in the right proportions); the day I disassembled and cleaned my typewriter; Good Friday, and our fifth wedding anniversary.

It's all about love
Fewer writing days, yes, but also fewer sick/rest days, fewer travel days, and fewer holidays. Also – and I feel this is important – fewer blank days, even if I count the house days as blank.

Shows improvement, in fact, but Could Do Better – particularly if we don’t have to move house again this year (ohdearGodpleaseno). And now that I’ve done my PseuDoNaNo, I know what I am capable of, although I don’t think I could keep that pace up year-round. Not without a permanent cook-general.

If you recall, 2015 was my Year of Finishing Things, during which I not only finished things, but grew to regard finishing things as a natural outcome of starting them. 2016 was my Year of Trust, and I think I have made progress in that respect. No doubt I still have further to go, but I find I am less anxious than I used to be, which is a welcome change.

2017 is my Year of Persistence. I know what I need to do. I just need to keep doing it. Some unknown person once said (or wrote), “Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s little nut that held its ground.”

acorn-990846_640
I am a little nut (ask my husband if you don’t believe me), and this year, I’m going to hold my ground, put down roots, and – hopefully! – thrive.

Lessons from (PseuDo)NaNo

  1. 50,000 words is a lot.
  2. I can do it.
  3. It isn’t easy.
  4. 7.8 is a really big earthquake (big enough to have its own Wikipedia page).
  5. I can’t produce creative writing on three hours’ broken sleep.
  6. Strangely, I can write scene outlines and blog posts in those conditions.
  7. A supportive spouse is worth their weight in gold.
  8. Rewards are good.
  9. The right rules can help.
  10. Sometimes you’ve just got to stop bashing your head against the wall and read.

Yes or No
50,000 words is a lot. I don’t know why exactly the NaNo people picked that exact number, but I went along with it. My final word count – well, that depends. (Lesson #11: I am better at writing than maths.) I made a note at the end of each session of how much I had written, and at the end of each day I added them up and then added them to my running total.

So far, so good. But here’s where it gets weird. Adding those daily totals together in a spreadsheet produced a different total to the running total in the planning document. Thinking myself terribly clever, I cunningly checked them against the actual number of words in the text, only to discover that that was a different total again.

So, the final word count is somewhere between 51,244 and 51,445, neither of which is shown in the chart below. (Chart made with LibreOffice and technical helpdeskry from the Caped Gooseberry.)

november

Not exactly the steady progress of the professional writer, is it? Allow me to decode.
First week: all went well. Knitting-in-order-to-think is a lifesaver. That spike on day four is largely due to the fact that I was editing a scene I pulled from the first draft, rather than writing a new scene altogether. It helps.

Second week: lower totals, but hanging in there. By this time, the Caped Gooseberry’s bronchitis was in full swing, and the completely missing day mid-week may not have been totally unrelated to a certain large country’s election results coming in.

Third week: Well. You see that tiny little snibbin of a blue dash, just above the 15? That’s Monday the 14th. 61 words. In my defence, I was shelled out of my bed just after midnight by a 7.8 earthquake and didn’t manage to doze off again until after dawn (for an hour or two). Despite the ongoing aftershocks, I decided I had to get some work done. 61 words was all I managed.

In Case of Earthquake, Do Not Tweet [cartoon]You might charitably suppose that the total emptiness of the following two days was due to ongoing aftershocks, but not really. Tuesday I spent in preparation for Wednesday, when I drove the Caped Gooseberry down the recently-reopened motorway to have his wisdom teeth out. (OK, I spent part of Tuesday in preparation. The rest was spent keeping an eye on earthquake updates.)

By Thursday of week 3 I was about 7,000 words behind, and starting to panic. I managed to write a reasonable amount in between changing the ice-packs on my dearly beloved’s distorted face and bringing him soft things to eat. Mercifully, on Friday I was able to use another section of the first draft (suitably rewritten) which did a great deal for the health of the word count.

From there it was just a matter of steadily trudging on, scene after scene, one bite at a time. What happened on Monday 28th I don’t know. It was a beautiful day, I felt good about the story, it was gathering momentum – and I just couldn’t get going. I scraped through 761 words in the morning, had other commitments in the afternoon, and spent the evening in that unpleasant condition where you know you should be doing something but you’re too tired and the more you fret about it the more tired you get. (And then you go to bed and lie awake for hours.)

Rembrandt Saskia in BedOf course, I had a scheme of rewards planned out to boost the motivation: settling down with a book once I’d hit the word-count for the day (but not before); and three chocolate mint biscuits for each 10,000 word milestone. I also had three rules: make a pot of tea, commit the work to God, and think before writing. (I arranged for some plain knitting to facilitate this, resulting in approximately 4,737 stitches knit, though not all during thinking-time.)

Committing the work to God was a big one for me. I have been trying to make a habit of finishing what I start, and writing is an area where that wasn’t happening, despite my assurance that this is what God wants me to be doing. So for me, this was not just a test to see if I could do it, or a natty way of breaking the back of the second draft. It was an act of obedience. And as is so often the case with obedience, productivity results.

I am glad to find that I can be this productive, and I have every intention of carrying on with it. Not, perhaps, to the same extent (reaching 2,500 words per day involved a certain amount of robbing Peter to pay Paul) but something close. Maybe 1,800 words per day, or 2,000. The point is to be making steady progress (Exhibit A: Week 4, above).

hole-205448_640I would like to leave you with these words from Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”