Time to write

It’s the curse of every writer; finding the time to write (or in my case, finding the time and then squandering it on other non-essential activities such as rearranging the cutlery drawer). As already mentioned in one of my previous posts, I suffer from the affliction of procrastination, which has a propensity to flare-up just before I settle down to write.

There are certain activities that may, to the outsider looking in, appear to be consumers of time best used for writing – walking, day-dreaming, basking in the sun, checking emails – which are essential to my writing process. For example, last week I received three emails alerting me to the fact that the Scottish Book Trust is looking for stories related to journeys. I took this as a prompt to deviate from my LPoW to develop an idea that began as an exercise in my MLitt class a few years ago. This got me to thinking about a part of my childhood in the Highlands, which tapped into a whole range of memories and experiences relevant to my LPoW, thus freeing my mind, and hand, to move the story onwards, albeit in a direction I hadn’t expected.

Not only that. A line within the SBT story nudged open the door to thoughts of the outdoors; freewheeling through the world, wind at my back, gulping fresh air, laughing, living. Those memories prised me (and by association, Mr D) out of bed yesterday, shoved us into our walking boots and propelled us outside to explore our surrounding area. We walked through woods draped in mist, the decay of leaves deadening our footfall. A young roe buck eyeballed us on the path ahead (he blinked first) and we watched a red squirrel skite and scurry around and up a lone pine jostling for position amongst the domineering beech. The birdsong was orchestral, at first a suggestion but once we became attuned, a rich panoply of whistles, chirps and caws; layers of sound reverberating around the forest. A promise of spring in the air; of barbecues and bare feet and the dissolution of tensions in the touch of sunlight on skin.

geese on the wing

Back out in the open, above the mist, a flock of geese waltzed across the sky. Our morning adventure ended at Stirling Castle, where Robert the Bruce loomed over a gaggle of Japanese tourists and steam rose from our coffee-filled paper cups.

How could I fail to be inspired?

My resultant daydreams are crammed with new ideas, not only for my LPoW but also for other shorter pieces. Any minute now I’ll capture some of them in words, if only I could lay my hands on that time.

To read my short story on journeys, visit the Scottish Book Trust page (extra points if you spot the spelling mistake, which I swear wasn’t there when I uploaded it). 

 

The Joy of Writing

I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing. I began flirting with my once great love following my release from hospital at the end of January and, over several months, I’m delighted to find my passion reignited. It hasn’t been easy, there’ve been tantrums and guilt over not spending enough time together. Put simply, life (and hospital visits) got in the way – or that’s how I’m spinning it. In truth, I lost my confidence.

Way back in the halcyon days of 2012/ 13 I was in the writing groove; living my own literary dream. A first for the short stories submitted for my MLitt dissertation; short listed for a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award; offers of temporary teaching contracts at two universities; published in New Writing Scotland.

In 2013, life was great: a book launch; a sunny Scottish summer; a ramshackle cottage to rent; friends, music, laughter; a fully-funded PhD place for Mr D; ten days enjoying the hospitality of friends in Athens. Towards the end of the year we were almost pinching ourselves daily at our good fortune. And then, mid-November, I collapsed at a routine cardiology appointment and life turned a sharp corner, leading me down a road I’d hoped to avoid.

Still, I was fortunate even then. Sure the worsening of my condition had been missed by several doctors, and yes, when we moved to the Stirling area the system had failed me and I’d been left with no cardiac care for almost a year. But I was still lucky. I almost didn’t make it but I’m here now.

That’s how my confidence deserted me – a fast-paced start to my writing life that left me breathless and an enlarged heart that did the same.

Following my discharge I sat in a chair, staring into space. Hours, days, weeks passed. I didn’t know how to get back in the game. My recovery was gradual – my energy began to return incrementally, I grew stronger physically. I found notes I’d made, ideas for a short story, and my imagination stirred a little. I knew better than to force it, I still spent a lot of time sitting, until one day I steeled myself and read the notes I’d made in hospital. That’s when the idea began: A creative non-fiction account of my time on the list, waiting for a heart transplant.

Mr D encouraged me, my parents, friends (those I told), even the doctors and nurses at the hospital. The combined enthusiasm carried me to my laptop, sat me down in front of it and waited with me until I managed to type a couple of sentences. Then a few more. Paragraphs. A chapter.

I read other memoirs/ non-fictional accounts of people’s lives. Some helped, others challenged my confidence still further. My biggest boost was being awarded a mentor through the WoMentoring Project. It gave my writing a purpose.

And once I started to write, I realised I wanted to keep writing. I submitted two short stories to different publications, one on-line, one in print, both were accepted. I began to believe in my invincibility, submitted to stories to competitions, got nowhere, became vincible (I know but I like the sound of it) again.

Now instead of wiling away precious time in hospital waiting rooms, I make notes. I observe. I scribble. I describe that smell, imagine how that tastes, tune in and out of conversations filling in the gaps. My notebook is happy to be fulfilling its writing destiny and each time I flip open my laptop I get that tiny fluttering deep in my tummy that only the very best love affairs can create.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way (to procrastinate)

For the first time in several weeks my dirty laundry basket is empty, even my shower curtain has been washed. Why? The same reason random buttons have been sewn on to little-worn clothes and I’ve found five different recipes on how to bake the perfect banana loaf: it’s time to get on with my writing! It’s not that the will isn’t there, it just got a little lost on the way.

I started well, I made a list of what I wanted to complete and when (in between screen-shopping and catching up on cyber-chat). It was a rather modest list I thought: apply for a mentor through the WoMentoring Project; submit an award-winning short story to the Bridport Prize; finish off two other stories and complete my collection in time to send it to Jonathan Cape during its open submissions in June; write the first couple of chapters of my novel (for which I have more enthusiasm than notes) in time to apply for a Scottish Book Trust Next Chapter Award.

Image

So far so good. And then it began to unravel. One word; deadlines.

  • WoMentoring Project – asap
  • Bridport Prize – 31 May
  • Jonathan Cape open submissions – throughout June
  • Scottish Book Trust Next Chapter Award – 16 May

All the initial excitement disappeared beneath a blanket of inertia. There was just too much choice. I simply couldn’t do everything, so instead I did nothing. For several hours. And then several days. Something had to give, but what? I remember I had the same feeling in high school when I was trying to decide what I might like to be ‘when I grew up’ and realised I could do anything (except perhaps win a gold medal at the Olympics or walk on the moon – but even those options didn’t seem completely out of my reach). I had to focus; prioritise.

ImageOver a cup of tea and some banana loaf (bought not made), I decided. Mentoring. It was the obvious next step – I’d done the MLitt, had a couple of early successes, and I now needed help to sharpen up my writing and take the next step.

Hmmmm, maybe I could also apply for an Artists’ Bursary from Creative Scotland, or join NASA’s Astronaut Training Programme. Focus Angela. Focus!