School holidays began nearly a week ago and I expected that I would dive straight into writing, piling words one on top of another like Jenga blocks that I would eventually have to knock down to begin again, but it didn't happen. The last few weeks of term I had been feeling run down, there was a throat ulcer and then the last week I got a cold that went through our household.
Still, I can usually shake off a cold quickly if I'm not working, but this time the holidays started and I felt creatively dead. I was in the grip of extreme fatigue and everything felt grey. I hadn't felt like this since my first year teaching where I would scrape through the term only to collapse on the school holiday with extreme fatigue. I hadn't realised how much this term had taken out of me-two new subjects and having to create lessons plans, documentation, and teach them.
We always talk about finding the time to write and while it is true--there is no such thing as writer's block when you're working a full time job, in fact the opposite is true, too many ideas crowding for space in my head is my problem--having space to be creative and in the moment is the challenge. For three days I struggled for energy and felt no connection to my novel. The initial excitement I had felt, the complete conviction in the development of the book, the beginning of the world feeling real--had all faded. It was as if it wasn't a part of me anymore.
For three days I watched television, read, imitated a vegetable as much as possible, and on Monday I decided that it was time to write. So I opened my Scrivener document and started re-reading what I had last worked on a few weeks ago when the novel felt so close and real, but it didn't feel real any more. It was as if someone else had written these first fledging words, someone other than me.
I debated with myself: do I rest for longer or do I try to push through, but I knew that if I didn't attempt to write these school holidays, next term would be even worse. Not only would I be suffering from work fatigue, but I would also be carrying the feeling of failure and so I started. For two hours I would write a few sentences at a time, only to flick over to another tab on my web explorer, desperate for a distraction. I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin and writing was a physically unpleasant experience, but I persisted, laying down 1000 horrible words with the same enthusiasm (I'm guessing) a plumber feels at having to unclog a sewerage pipe. But in the end I got there. And the next day I repeated, and it was a little bit easier. And the third day the characters started speaking to me and the world I was creating became real. And I'm back in the moment.
For the next ten days I will keep laying the pipe, 1000 words a day at a time. I have a short window in which I can prioritise my creativity and revel in being a writer, even though I will also need to complete my lesson planning and corrections, and I'm going to enjoy every moment. Writing a book is not a sprint, instead it is a slow and torturous marathon that is run through the peaks of shiny inspiration and hollows of complete apathy. All we can do is keep fighting on: one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time.
It's been a while since I wrote. I completed my memoir and sent it to my agent and then needed a break. I was exhausted after the intensity of working on a book for 3 years and finally reaching the marathon of completing it, but also this term has been brutal. The demands of teaching have kept me busy as I am teaching two new subjects and this short term one means that the same amount of work has to be squeezed in a shorter time frame.
Finally this long weekend there was an oasis of time stretching before me, an eager muse whispering into my ear, and an empty house with no distractions. I opened my Scrivener document and began to read the manuscript I had started over a year and a half ago. It was my next young adult novel and I had developed a plot using the screenwriting book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I had the characters, storyline and theme mapped out. I knew who my young adult female protagonist was, but the male protagonist who was her friend was underdeveloped.
While working on my memoir I had written a 10,000 word section about a friendship that I had with a boy during my high school years. He was my puppy love, the boy who always liked me, but I took for granted. When I finally looked his way, it was too late and so we never were. I realised this section had no place in my memoir so I set it aside, leaving it as my next novel. One night the solution presented itself. I realised that the puppy love boy could be the male protagonist of my current work in progress. And so now I had all the pieces of the chess board, I just needed to write.
My writing method is to write the crappy first draft as quickly as possible. Quality is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is quantity. To this end I do my own version of Nano where I try to slam down 50K words in a month. I have a spreadsheet so I can track my wordcount and ensure I keep to my word target. Usually by the time I get over the 50K mark I have figured out all the scenes in the novel and know the characters intimately, then i go back to the beginning and start smoothing out the rough edges, editing and polishing the manuscript. I keep jumping around from scene to scene, chapter to chapter using Scrivener until I am finished. It's as if once I have so many words-the novel wills itself into being and I don't have to fight for motivation, it just pulls me back.
So my goal is to write 40-50 K in the next month. It should be doable since I am looking at the last two weeks of term and then two weeks of school holidays. I find social media and blogging a great tool to motivate me. Once I write things down and make them available to the world I have to be accountable. So this is me-being accountable.
What I've been reading: Rebecca Lim, Rebecca Starford, Martin McKenzie-Muarray, Sophie Masson
I discovered Rebecca Lim's Mercy when reading about anitheroes and immediately added it to my to be read pile-where it's been waiting for a few weeks while I cleared my mountain of work.
Today I finally launched into the story of Mercy, an angel who has been exiled from heaven and is doomed to live in other girl's bodies.
It starts with her waking on a bus in the body of Carmen, a young girl who is on her way to a singing camp. She meets Ryan who is convinced that his missing sister is still alive and Mercy is the only one who believes him.
I loved this book and read it in one setting. My only regret is that I didn't immediately have the second and third book available in the series-but I will remedy that tomorrow.
Rebecca Starford's Bad Behaviour is a memoir about her year in an exclusive boarding school. It's about what happens when young girls are forced to share space at a time of their lives when they are vulnerable and struggling with their own identity.
I found this a hard book to read at times because I could relate so much to Starford's confusion as an adolescence. This desire of wanting to please others and fit in and losing yourself in the process.
It was also interesting reading it from the perspective of a teacher. I felt such pangs at the cruel behaviour the teachers also perpetuated against Starford and her fellow boarders and yet I felt strangely protective of the teachers in knowing that this was retaliation for the taunts and barbs they were subjected to. This was a great memoir told with honesty and heart.
Most true crime books are about the murder of an innocent and the plot is concerned with the motive. The victim acts as a plot device, but in his memoir A Murder Without Motive Martin McKenzie-Murray does something different.
The focus of his book is not on the why, because that is never clear, but on the how. How does a family deal with the aftermath of the brutal murder of their daughter, 50 metres from their doorstep and by someone in their community?
This was a beautifully written memoir that pays homage to Rebecca Ryle's life and that portrays the reality of living after being victims of a violent crime. It really highlighted the fact that our obsession with crime and especially true crime is voyeuristic and can dehumanize us in the process. This is a book that deserves wide recognition and I hope it is recognised on many award lists.
In the Crystal Heart Sophie Masson re imagines Rapunzel's fairy tale in a fantasy setting where feys and humans share a world.
Kasper is the guard protecting his realm from what he has been told is a powerful witch. When he finds out that the girl in the tower is actually Izolda, the daughter of the country's enemy, and that her life is in danger he puts everything on the line to save her. Now he has to find out who is truly telling the truth and where his loyalties lie.
This is a story of adventure, romance and magic. It was a great read and I adore the cover.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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