Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take it easy

I'm a pretty patient person, being an archaeologist by training. You've gotta be to enjoy picking through hundreds of shards of pottery or glass or brick with a pair of tweezers. But while I'd like to think this extends to my driving, well... it probably doesn't. Okay, it really doesn't.

I concede, I get a little frustrated with peak hour traffic. Driving to and from work in the morning and afternoon, if I'm in a 60km/h zone, I want to be going at sixty. What is WITH these people driving at forty? Don't they have anywhere to BE? It's not like there's an actual traffic jam, it's like they forgot to wake up this morning! Just trundle, trundle, trundle. Seriously, people! MOVE!


I was cursing the driver in front of me yesterday when I had a bit of a zen moment about it all, and I realised it's not the traffic jam that frustrates me. It's the thwarting of my self-imposed desire to go at full speed. Self-imposed is the key word there. There's nothing I can do to fix the traffic- the only thing I *can* fix is my own attitude towards it.

As if it was some sort of sign, as I was in the middle of this epiphany, my favourite song of the moment, which is by now very closely linked with my thought process about my novel, came on the radio. I haven't heard it for weeks, and all of a sudden there it was.

I took a deep breath. I took my foot off the gas and gave the car in front of me a generous three more inches of distance. And I remembered that once upon a time, not so many months ago, I used to see my time in the car as a very good thing. It was thinking time. I went as slow as the traffic made me go, I didn't worry about it at all, and I was incredibly productive at working through sticky points in my plotting and characterisation. I was getting home and scribbling out new plot ideas, then I was going back to those later in the evening and writing hundreds of words.

These days? Life has never been so frantic, with more days at work, more responsibility, more charity commitments, and more demands from my two-year-old. I'm not thinking about writing at the moment. Like Rachel, it's off my radar. Something had to give, and that was it. But I'm not going to look at it as writer's block.

The point of all the above traffic discussion is that I realised I had my foot on the gas when it came to my writing, too. They say you should write every day, or you risk falling into the black hole in which Rach and I are both hanging out at the moment. But for me, that determination to fit it in, to shove it in whatever tiny space there was left in my day, was becoming so much pressure that the writing was suffering, and I wasn't enjoying it as much.

The thing is, I take breaks from my day job. I had a whole wonderful month off over Christmas, and I needed it. Sometimes, I need a break from this writing job, too. If I'm going to treat it as a career, that's not optional. The breaks have to happen, or the burnout comes along instead.

So. I'm giving myself permission to ease off the gas when it comes to my writing, and I'm not going to feel guilty about it. I'm going to take it slow again, enjoy the ability to relax, and I know that in very short order, life will settle down a little, and I'll be back to my best. In the meantime, I have plenty of time to ponder and muse and reconnect with my characters and their world on my long morning and afternoon commutes, and permission from myself to take little steps again instead of writing twenty or thirty thousand words a month and changing my core plot every few weeks. I predict I'll be much saner, and that my story will be much better for it, in the end.

So, tell me- how do you balance the stresses of work, life and writing? And do you write every day? If not, how do you keep it together?


  1. Claire, this is so true. Great post. Unfortunately, I'll be joining you and Rachel in that black hole. At least I have good company! :)

  2. Turns out the black hole's not so bad once you stop worrying about being in it. Settle in- I'll make up a fresh batch of caipirinhas and some strawberries and cream cupcakes, and we can gossip about random celebrities. Or something (wg).

  3. Yay!
    "instead of writing twenty or thirty thousand words a month and changing my core plot every few weeks. I predict I'll be much saner..."

    Space... key idea... Step back and assess, rather than burying yourself in a (frequently downward) spiral.
    It occurs to me that this might reflect on why too many authors get locked in a genre or moment - they have too many good ideas and can't take the time to step back with the discipline to select the *best* idea to move forward with. They don't let go of the "almost" ideas and so revisit them again and again so they don't go to waste, and yep, that's it, they're locked in a genre...
    I've loved your journey with this novel, and have been intrigued by the potential parallel stories you flag - but ultimately, you only stand or fall on the published version. The trick is filtering out the real story from the red herrings... (however seductive or procrastinative they are...).

  4. Claire,
    I hate black holes! And I'm sliding down to join you all. I'm stuck. I'll admit it. My fear is that letting off the gas will make me stop entirely. I'm crossing my fingers for us all that it's just a break. Besides, I want to read your stuff! ; )

  5. Claire, you make the Black Hole sound very inviting with those caipirinhas and strawberries and cream cupcakes. If you're not careful, you'll have us all down there with you! (Actually, I'm on my way. Be listening for my undignified *splat* as I hit.)

  6. Archaeology, fascinating. Would have loved that!
    My little sister is studying that at uni. So interesting as long as you are ok with dust. (i am).

    Great blog. Am following.
    Good luck with the black holes. They have to end somewhere.

    I am currently writing YA, but i also like reading crime and historical fiction and anything else i fancy.

    thanks for you blog


  7. yes, I think the zen attitude makes it all go much smoother and you can get into the real flow. I'm not writing much at the moment, as I've got to get my paintings finished for march, I've been working on them every day, but today I've decided NO PAINTING, sometimes I need a break, and it helps to make the work easier and more joyful.

    ps is your favourite song by enrique.....?

  8. @Michael- the thing is, the downward spiral's all part of the journey, too. Nothing wrong with 20 or 30 thousand words a month; nothing wrong with a proliferation of right and wrong plots. It is, as you say, all about where it takes you.

    @Zan Marie- I'm telling you, collective slump, collective recovery :) Two words: House. Party. I predict good things.

    @Susan- I'll post my cupcake recipe soon :) It's worth heading down here to try it out.

    @Constance- welcome! Lovely to meet you :) I'm great with dust. I have to be, because I'm not big on cleaning :P I'm all good with dirt, too.

    @Dani- exactly! A break is a good thing :) I find I can only concentrate on one creative pursuit at a time; do you find the same? A lot of people do more than one thing. I can do jewellery making, sewing or baking, but not all at the same time as writing. My brain just won't work on more than one of those things at once.

  9. Thanks for the message,
    i had just forgot to put you on the blog roll. :-) all fixed.

    I shall be making one of just the CRUSADERS soon.

    good luck again


  10. Thanks Constance! We'll have to do a Crusader blog roll soon- we don't have one right now. Hm hm hm. I'll wait til Rach puts out her groups.

  11. That was what i was going to do as well. One group list and then and odd n sods that i relate to more than others.


    what a big job she has to organise all the groups and what not! don't envy her a bit! looks like there will be no shortage of crusaders.

  12. I know! She's a marvel :) Such a great idea. I'm so glad there are five of us here, so we won't miss out on replying to anyone's comments if it gets super busy :)

  13. Recipe for strawberries and cream cupcakes is up:!/notes/claires-cakes-and-cookies/strawberries-and-cream-cupcakes/162259130490257


  14. Dani! I just saw that last part of your comment- you evil woman :)

    And hell no would be the answer :) I'm talking about Pyro, by Kings of Leon, which I mentioned a few weeks back (somewhere around here!)

  15. Great post! Knowing when to ease off the writing is important because if you are speeding through and not enjoying yourself it really shows up on the page, doesn't it?

  16. Claire, you do throw a good party! Thanks for the cupcakes. Now where are those drinks? :)

  17. It's a delicate balance and I'm not sure how I do it exactly...but so far it works!
    Nice to meet you, Crusader!

  18. Yummy recipe! I don't know what my problem is - I keep feeling like if I don't barrel forward I'll come crashing to a stop. When was the last time I took a weekend off? Maybe if I can get through this first major round of edits, at least...