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.”

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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.

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Peeling Back the Layers

As habitual readers of this blog will know, I spent the best part of February decluttering and purging my home. The Grand Purge, I called it. Boxfuls of stuff left the house, destined for charity shop, recycling station or (alas) dump.

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Then, with a sigh of relief, I got back to my main work: writing. (For those of you with an interest in things writerly, I’ve been focusing my rewriting work on my weak point: character, using Jeff Gerke’s Plot Versus Character). The job, so I thought, was pretty well done.

Then we went away for Easter weekend, and when I came back, I seemed to see with new eyes.

The house was still full. Cluttered, even. I’ve never thought of myself as being over the top when it comes to possessions, at least on a Western scale – our kitchen bench isn’t piled high with appliances we don’t use; the bathroom isn’t stuffed with half-used lotions and potions, and our sporting equipment consists, in toto, of one petanque set, a frisbee and a boomerang.

But it still seemed like too much. Much too much, in places. I realized, with sinking heart, that I had only removed the outer layer.

Red onions (cross-sections)I found myself looking at the shelves and wondering what would make the cut if, instead of keeping everything that I didn’t dislike, I only kept the things I specifically wanted. Only the favourites. Immediately reasons not to leapt to mind: that one was a gift; this other one is part of a set; those ones there you might just not be in the mood for at this moment…

I had thought that I found getting rid of things easy, but it turns out that that was simply because I had far more than I actually even wanted, let alone needed. (Horrifying thought.)

I want to live a simple life, and the cost of that is getting rid of things. Even things which I quite like, in a way; things I’d be happy to keep having, but am not, in point of fact, attached to. Perhaps they are attached to me, though, because they’re quite hard to shake.
It is work getting rid of things. Not just the physical work of moving things from point A (your house) to point B (anywhere that isn’t your house), but the psychological effort of disrupting the usual, uprooting the habitual, and leaving only the intentional behind.

It’s frightening, in a way, and it shouldn’t be. Who am I without all these familiar things? The same person I am with them, surely, only with less stress and more space. Less stuff looming over my shoulder…

Portrait by Jonathan Worth 1, credit Jonathan Worth, link to http://jonathanworth.comBut since my work would undoubtedly suffer if I took another four weeks off to focus on de-stuffing, another method must be found. This time, I am thinking of working backwards: starting with the desired result, and doing what is necessary to reach that point.

Of course, this is slightly complicated by (still) not knowing what size house we’re going to wind up in, and therefore how much stuff will need to be removed in order to create the desired degree of spacious unclutteredness. And since I tend to be a big-picture vague-on-details person, I need to come up with some concrete specifications of what part of the work I’m going to do when, or it will only happen in fitful frustrated starts and stops – ultimately patchy and unsatisfactory.

But there we are. As Pasternak so rightly observed, “Living life is not like crossing a meadow.”

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Good News, Bad News, Good News

Dorothy Sayers did it, but for some reason it never occurred to me until a friend of mine suggested it. It’s a truly brilliant idea.

Lightbulb and performer over the Emirates Stadium

Instead of waking up each morning going urgh, another day at the Dreaded Day Job, why not wake up saying ooh! I wonder what new material for a novel will be presented to me today?

Brilliant!

Dorothy Sayers worked in an advertising agency for many years and subsequently wrote Murder Must Advertise – a murder mystery set in an advertising agency. Satisfyingly, the fact that it’s an advertising agency is important to the plot. Any Old Office would not do.

Naturally, mine will be a murder mystery too, and in honour of white-collar wage-slaves everywhere, the boss will be the victim. (The first victim, anyway.) Everyone has a motive – but whodunit?

For the first time I see how much difference attitude makes, compared with circumstance. Now when my long-suffering colleagues pour out some new frustration, I don’t get worked up any more. I smile a secret inward smile and I make a cryptic little note.

I Have Discovered The Physiological Source of All Happiness!

On the Bad News side of the ledger, I was informed this last Tuesday that my next Monday was cancelled. High volume of work + low volume of staff = we’re unilaterally changing your hours this week (don’t even ask about my contract).
Generally the DDJ and I would go head to head on a thing like this, but not this time. This time it’s to cover bereavement leave, which is something I wholeheartedly support, so I’ll do my bit. And hopefully I’ll do my bit of writing during the Christmas holidays.

On the subject of writing, I have received some more good news. My patrons have generously decided to provide me with a small fund toward the costs of my presently unpaid job as a writer. (Paper, pen, ink, books on the craft…) On my shopping list at the moment are Kristen Lamb’s book Rise of the Machines, Jeff Gerke’s Plot Versus Character and Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Happy as a pig in muck!

Mr Pig aka Rasher!

What are your favourite workplace novels – murder mystery or otherwise? Do you have must-read recommendations for books on writing? Have you always dreamt of keeping pigs? Your comments welcomed!