Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Writing Life ... a Constant Spin Cycle! by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Valerie-Anne Baglietto continues the new series on successfully juggling writing and a busy life (or failing, as the case may be)... 

When I was asked to come up with a blog post about juggling writing with a hectic life, I admit I was daunted. So many other writers have produced amusing, sparkling and informative posts on the subject, I wasn’t sure what more I could add. So I went away (well, I sat down in my favourite armchair with a coffee) and thought long and hard about it and realised all I could offer was absolute, hand-on-heart, painful honesty. Which might make me unpopular, but then I do suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome, so I hope I’ll be let off.

I’ve been writing professionally for around twenty years - since circumstances led me to give up working as a graphic designer - earning enough from writing to be able to sustain my handbag habit. I’ve mutated from a single twenty-something living with my parents into a menopausal* housewife and mum of three (*not quite there yet, but it covers a lot of excuses for my general behaviour). I appreciate I’ve been lucky. Without a Day Job outside the home, I’ve had time to write indulgently for hours on end, happy and free from guilt, right?

Guilt… 

The arch nemesis in a writer’s life. Well, in mine, at least. And it’s a two-edged sword. Firstly, regret for those times I’m so obsessed with my story and my characters that I can’t focus on my family – an uncomfortable nagging feeling that I’m failing them somehow. Secondly, guilt that I ought to be writing when I’m busy keeping the household functioning as it should.

I don’t know if this all stems from the post natal depression that blanketed me when my eldest was born. I was working to contractual deadlines back then. It all got too much, but even with the attached remorse that my baby was growing up fast and I couldn’t savour it, writing became my therapy. I managed four novels – straightforward romcoms – before I had my third child. I allowed motherhood to take over my life completely at that point because a) post natal depression hit again and I felt swamped, b) I was drained of ideas I felt passionate about, and c) my publishers didn’t want such large gaps between books.

Writing v. Motherhood

A couple of years on... 

I began to experiment with children’s stories. To cut a long story short, they evolved into contemporary adult fairy tales, and suddenly, blissfully, my passion for writing was reignited. So inevitably the guilt returned. The guilt that probably haunts every working parent who wants to work/needs to work/strives to find that perfect but ever-shifting balance between career and family.

The solution was simple if I wanted to write professionally without turning into an emotional wreck. I had to work for myself. I had to become an Indie. My own deadlines, my own rules, my own failures and successes, but with some much-needed help along the way. My first adult fairy tale Once Upon A Winter reached #1 in both the Fairy Tale and Contemporary Fantasy Charts on Amazon UK. I was elated, but I wasn’t complacent. Every Novelistas Ink member will tell you, it’s an uphill struggle, the proverbial treadmill. Achieving success can be easy in comparison to sustaining it.

Do you recognise yourself in any of this?

If it helps to know that you’re not alone and the writing life is *clich√© alert* a journey not a destination, then I’m glad and relieved. I would have liked to produce a list of useful tips, as the other Novelistas will so eloquently do, but I failed miserably. There’s enough pressure out there for writers without putting more on ourselves. There isn’t one single approach to how we juggle work and life, because we’re all different. So this is me. And if it’s a little bit like you, then it’s nice to know we share a few traits.

Take NaNoWriMo, for instance... 

I just can’t do it. I once wrote 90k in six weeks, but that was another incarnation of my writing self, long before I had real commitments. I was up till three or four a.m., in Deep Writing Mode. Caffeinated. Hyper. Driven. Consumed. These days, the thought of trying to write so much in so little time turns me off. I’m not a bash-out-a-first-draft-fast person any more. I edit as I go along, so by the time I get to the end it’s more of a second draft. At this time of year, though, it’s easy to feel like an alien if you didn't take part in the NaNoWriMo challenge. For a novice writer, you might feel there’s something wrong with you if you didn't, or if you tried and failed, or if you just didn't fancy it. But there’s nothing wrong with you. Some people thrive and others falter; if you’re in the latter group, whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Quite probably, it just wasn’t for you. It worries me a little that potentially good writers might feel inadequate if they don’t complete the task. It’s OK to take part, just as it’s OK to abstain.

If only...
I’m also not a big fan of the school of thought that dictates a writer can only call themselves a writer if they force themselves to produce something every day, whether it’s good or bad. I get depressed doing that, although I concede it’s probably useful if you’re working to a tight time-frame. But I can’t rest until I shape my words into something I’m proud of, and quite often there’s no space for such crazy perfection in every single busy day. I can’t stay hunched over my laptop till one o’clock regularly without something suffering; my health, usually. Anyway, the ‘writing muscle’ isn’t something you can only exercise while sitting at your desk. It’s constantly at work; the heartbeat of your subconscious, pumping ideas through your head, absorbing new ones from every experience. It can be incredibly liberating to remember that. A writer’s mind is never off duty, even if it feels as if it is. How can it be, when even your dreams at night can spew up ideas?

Then there are times in my life when I need to ruthlessly detach my mind from my WIP for an extended period, and I don’t allow myself to go near the world of the story except to jot down random notes in longhand. If I don’t maintain such a degree of separation I can’t function (to my satisfaction) doing whatever else life demands of me. This year, for example, I hardly wrote anything for weeks while I tried to get my house in order in preparation for some building work. Junk and memories accumulate, and I’m something of a hoarder; it’s difficult for me to let go. I knew that if I allowed myself to go near my story, I would weaken to the temptation, and never tackle the hard stuff reality was demanding of me.

On a smaller scale, and more frequently, it’s the same with family life; those days when I can’t succumb to my creative self because subsequently I’d be a crappy wife and mum. Some people can juggle lots of balls brilliantly, sadly I’m not one of them. I’m in awe of those who can, but I’m just not organised enough. Admittedly I’ve got the luxury of setting my own deadlines, but it’s worrying to think that many writers can’t just switch off when they might need to.

So, to recap - the message I’m trying to convey is that you have to find what suits YOU. 


Experiment.

Be flexible.

Relax.

Don’t get stressed over other writers’ habits; although by all means read about them, take advice, share tips.

In the end, though, you have to work to develop your own pattern, because there isn’t a right or a wrong method. And habits will be different at various points in your career. For instance, one day I wouldn’t mind working with a traditional publisher again (big or small), at least partially, but at the moment I need to be flexible enough to drop everything if my young family needs me.

So, finally (yes, this is the last paragraph, yay!) if you’ve read this far, thank you, and please remember one thing even if you forget everything else about this post – as writers we’re ALL mad and sane, each in our own wonderful, unique way. Let’s celebrate our differences, admit to them, learn from them and ultimately grow to respect them.




Valerie-Anne's latest release is the full-length novel FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY.

Mystery and magic in the sleepy Cheshire village of Fools Castle, where a lively young fairy-godmother who normally gets things very, very right, suddenly starts getting them disastrously wrong.

A modern, grown-up fairy tale perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Cecelia Ahern.

Amazon US - view here
Amazon UK - view here

www.valerie-annebaglietto.com
Twitter: @VABaglietto
Facebook: Valerie-Anne Baglietto Author

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this reassuring post. I remember once, on my own blog, wailing that I wasn't a real writer because days - sometimes weeks - could go by without me writing a word. You put me straight on that issue, pointing out that there's more to writing than tapping on a keyboard or putting pen to paper. So much is done in the mind while you go about your other jobs, plotting and wondering "What if?" while taking kids to school, tackling the shopping or sitting in an office doing your "real job". I think we can be too hard on ourselves, and there are too many pressures. If a surgeon doesn't perform an operation for six weeks s/he's still a surgeon after all!
    I'm glad you calmed me down back then and I hope this post reassures others who may be feeling the pressure.
    And as an aside I must add that, however long it takes you to write them, your stories are ALWAYS worth waiting for. X

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sharon, thanks so much for your very kind response. I hope this post has reassured anyone who might have been feeling inadequate in a writerly sense because they don't feel they conform to some mythical ideal. There's a great drive to be prolific these days, for various reasons, and in itself there's nothing wrong with producing a large body of work if that's the sort of writer you are. Not everyone is, though, and that there's nothing wrong with that, either. It's a fact of life. It isn't laziness or lack of talent if you let your heart lead you at its own pace. But however you work, you need to produce the best possible work you can, because you owe that to yourself and to your readers. But of course, we don't live in a perfect world with realistic deadlines and fair profits *sighs*. Writing is a business, and we need to approach it as such. It's hard work, but like any job, we have to balance it with all the other demands life makes of us. I've learned that no one has it easy in publishing, or if they do, they're in a very, very tiny minority. What we do have though is that sublime pleasure of losing ourselves in a world of our own making, with characters we create and care about. And yes, I feel bereft when I have to tear myself away, but that's a sacrifice I choose to make. Anyway, before I waffle on too much, I'll sign off and say thank you again! And I'm so looking forward to reading YOUR book next year! xx

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