Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memory Lane

I visited my nearly ninety-year-old grandmother last weekend. She looked great, her outfit dolled up with a string of beads and a touch of blush and lipstick on her face, and we settled in for a cup of tea and to chat about the show she was watching on TV … and we had that same conversation over and over and over again, in two minute intervals, for the duration of my visit.

See, nanna has quite advanced dementia, and can’t remember five months, five weeks, five minutes ago. She has difficulty remembering her children, can’t remember her grandchildren anymore without the prompting of labeled photographs. The date totally escapes her. She’s otherwise in extremely good health, and she’s happy and well and truly living “in the moment”, but her past is rapidly slipping away.

And I came away wondering whether she ever realizes she has blank spots in her memory, whether she ever wonders why she can’t remember where she was born, important things in her past.Funnily enough, she can remember her husband, who died forty years ago this year.

Anyway, visiting with my grandmother made me think of the positives of keeping a diary or journal, as a back up of our lives and memories, and how these days we have our modern equivalent, blogging. Now, I know our blog at ATWOP is not really here to capture the more personal aspects of our lives, but I think I’ll be both grateful and amused to have it to look back on in five, ten, twenty years time. Whether I have grown, or whether I’m still harping on about the same old things.

So, in the spirit of journeying down memory lane, I thought I’d recycle one of my older posts, especially as after having a look at our stats, it seems that only our most recent posts are getting the hits. This is perfectly fine, of course, but given the recent boost in our readers, I though it wouldn’t hurt to bump up some old material, so you can see where I started in chronicling my writing journey.

So, using the highly scientific method of looking at where I was this time last year, after we’d only been blogging a few months, I picked out a post from March 2010. And I am very relieved to see it is about something I have finally managed to learn to do … hope you enjoy.

And for those of you who are blogging, have a look where you were a year ago, two years … what’s changed? Were you surprised by what you found? Have you grown?

Working hard at working less

(Originally posted 24th March 2010)

We've all heard it before: you can't sit around waiting for your muse to strike. Before the magic can happen, you have to do the hard work of writing when you don't feel like it, when your insipration is at rock bottom and all you can churn out is utter shite. And this is absolutely true. A ton of crappy writing went into the drafting of my first book (I know this because I'm now editing it all out!) but with the crap there are the gems, and that's what we keep, and that's what keeps us going.

BUT. I also believe that when writing becomes a total chore and you feel nothing you write is any good, day after day after day, then it’s time to step away from the computer and give up.

I have a writing schedule I try very hard to stick to. Five days a week I aim to sit down at my desk by 10.30am, and write through to 2.00pm. This doesn’t always happen; like last week when I had to down tools and dash to school with Child #2’s spare glasses after he broke his good pair; or the week before, when I spent a whole Thursday cheering the kids at their swimming carnival. But in the main, I stick my butt to the chair three hours a day and write, ignoring the house work and screening my calls and avoiding the lure of email and blogs and Facebook.

Except that for the last two weeks, writing has been frustrating and HARD. Like threading a needle with a wet noodle, hard.

I know what’s at the root of all this; I’ve hit a patch in my life where everything is more than a little overwhelming. Kids with ear infections, a largely absent and stressed husband, the fact that the mother of Child # 2’s best friend called to apologise for the fact her son had shown my son some porn on his iPod last weekend (!!!!!!) … and, topping it off, our dear old cat is seriously unwell. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to make THAT decision, soon, and given the husband’s manic work schedule I fear I’ll have to deal with saying good bye to the furry, practice-child, alone.


I’ve had all the above running through my brain, distracting me terribly, when I sit down to write. And today, I’d simply had enough. I opened up my manuscript and the sight of my writing made me ill. My brain began to throb and I knew I just couldn't go on. So I switched everything off, rose from my chair and walked away, without writing a word.

I felt like a kid ditching school - relieved, but oh so guilty. But the relief won out. I was simply sick of being in my house doing something that only made me want to smash my head on the desk when outside, the sun was shining, the birds were singing …

So I got in the car and got the hell out of dodge. I had no idea where I was going; I just followed my nose and drove around for an hour with Red Hot Chili Peppers on repeat and turned right up.

Then it happened. Out of nowhere I heard the very words I needed for my scene, words that had refused to show up despite all the pounding on my keyboard. And after that came the images - a book bound in a blood-red, marbled cover; a shattered pane of glass; a scalpel, fallen behind the drapes and into the wrong hands …

And I learned anew the lesson I seem to need to keep on learning: that the only way I can hear those messages that lurk in my subconscious is if I back away from the keyboard and do something that allows my purpose-driven, conscious mind, to switch off.

I know this. Until life got crazy-busy, I’d walk most mornings and come back brim-full of ideas to solve my writing problems.

I have to start doing that again. Plus, a walk is much more environmentally friendly than hooning around in a honking-big 4 wheel-drive for hours on end.

So, what do you do when you’re stuck? Walk? Hike? Bike? Cook? Scrub the mold from the bathroom grout? The list of possible activities that allow your busy brain to go to sleep, and your subconscious mind to pipe up, is endless … and that means I have no excuses.

From now on, I’ll be working hard at working less.


  1. I go for a walk when I'm stuck. Once my legs get moving, once the rythum's set, my mind takes off. I'm not even sure where I'm going, but I always manage to find my way home with the answers I need for my story. Works every time. Thank God for running shoes! (:

  2. Oh man... A year ago? Two? What state was I in? How old were my kids?

    Life is a whirlwind. You're completely right about living in the moment and recording the journey. It flies so fast.

  3. Time does fly. Wha! Rach! We're going to blink and we'll be crabby old bitties. Because yes, I SO am going to be crabby! (g)

  4. @Kristen.. What do you mean WILL BE crabby old bitties?? (g,d&r)

    Rachel -- such a great post, so it's wonderful to read it again. I find that the exact same thing happens to me. When I get really stressed out and just stuck, I simply have to play hooky from writing and go do something else. Then the moment I turn my focus away from my book, BLAM, inspiration hits. Crazy how that works... OH..and a lot of stuff comes to me when I'm that fuzzy haze right before I fall asleep or wake up.


  5. Ah, good post, Rachel! I do a lot of thinking while I drive. It's very fertile ground, though most of it gets interrupted by squabbles from the occupants of the back seat or by arriving at my destination.

    Walks are good, too.

  6. @ E.C. - walks are excellent for generating ideas, aren't they? Just letting the body go to autopilot, while the brain churns away, is so very good for generating ideas. And yes, a good pair of running shoes is a must!

  7. @ Happily Cheesy - ah, I'm looking at my kids too, and wondering where all that time went. And the grey hairs!! They're a sure and very unwelcome sign that time is marching on. Sigh.

  8. @ Kristen - LOL! Don't you worry, I'll be right there with you being a vinegar-lipped old lady; the kind that yells at the TV; the kind that if I had a gun, the family would have to forcibly take it away from me. (g)

  9. @ Jen - Thanks, my dear. :-) Glad to see you'll be joining Kristen and me on the porch of "Crabby Old Cows" nursing home. (G)

    I haven't written for - gulp - three months now, but I have to say, the time away, and the time spent mulling over my WIP and how I am to fix it, have been SO worth it. I even think I'll be jumping back into the next draft by the end of the month. We'll see.

  10. @ Susan - oh yes, driving is a great way to nut out those plot problems; but only when you're by yourself, I agree.

    And shall I make a reservation for you at the Crabby Old Cows nursing home, too? (g) We can all sit in our rocking chairs, writing our memoirs and getting even with everyone who ever doubted our talent ... Cough. ;-)

  11. Great post Rachel - and it's still true. I come up with all sorts of stuff on long walks.
    I always think of Lucy van Pelt: "the crabby young girls of today are the crabby old women of tomorrow!" And Charlie Brown's face when she said that...

  12. @ Deniz - Lucy van Pelt! Ah, how I love her; and boy, how true her observation is! LOL

  13. Rachel, I loved your description of your sweet grandma! I also love a good walk when I'm stuck. Another thing that often works for me is repetitive action. I'm a knitter, so it's easy to pick up the needles for a few minutes. But other things work as well, like weeding, vacuuming, (fun, right?) or sewing.

  14. Rachel, make a reservation for me IF you name it Crabby Old Crows Who Still Write! I plan to till my hands fall off. Though the thinking and tinkering time has grown lately. ; )

  15. @ Charlotte - ah, I wish I could knit. My mother can, and she tried to teach me, but my appalling lack of hand-eye co-ordination let me down. I can imagine it would be very soothing and therapeutic - and obviously good for the writing. :-)

  16. @ Zan Marie - LOL! Consider the name change done, then. Your rocking chair on the porch awaits! ;-)

  17. Ooh, I can bring my knitting to the porch [g]

  18. @ Deniz - only if you promise to knit me a knee rug! :-P