Work is no longer a car journey away. It’s at the desk at the end of my bed. It’s hard to switch off sometimes – work and its worries have a way of attempting to follow you around. I think I’m doing better. I know I’m fortunate to be working – even more so to do it from the comfort from my home.
I’ve finished a scarf. It is a bit too short (even though it is taller than me) and is wibbly and wobbly, full of holes, different colours, and dropped stitches. I love it. I’ve worn it to the dentist today.
(Yes, the dentist. I have been to a different place and seen different people!)
Sometimes, I go for a walk in the park. The grass is growing muddy there now – too many footsteps of people not allowed to go far from their homes. The river was swollen, and the trees bare of leaves.
It is cold and it snows now and then. It rains too.
I’ve plunged into editing Project If. No. Wrong verb. ‘Paddled’ would be better. It’s two years old this month. Had a year to marinate. It’s on my calendar in big, bold letters scrawled across each week: X Character Must Die it says for one week. Dark Knight of the Soul is across another. (The ‘k’ is crossed out. I am very good at spelling.)
A Suffragist Abroad is with her editor. I am tempted with the idea of putting a care package for them. They’ll need it.
I’ve read a lot this past weekend. Recharged my batteries. There’s a short course in hieroglyphs I’m taking. I’ve realised that Turkish Delights are delightful. The birds sing earlier in the morning now. The days are getting longer.
Sometimes I catch myself – when I’m walking, masked and avoiding passing people too closely, when I read the news and see headlines with death tolls and vaccines and fishermen’s woes, when I’m talking with my family and wondering what the world will look like when it’s over and saying ‘Uncle X has had the vaccination’ – and I think: wow, this is bizarre.If I time-travelled and told past-me, she would have gaped.
I haven’t been to church in a year, I miss it, but God is not confined to a building. The world keeps spinning, and life keeps moving onwards. It doesn’t wait for us, and yet we can steal moments – in the garden, beneath the stars, or wrapped up warm, with a book in our hands – to breathe.
When I was a mere youngling, I wrote letters. My spelling was frequently off and my efforts could be optimistically termed as ‘mildly dismal’ but I knew all my pen-pals’ favourite colours and I enjoyed receiving the responses and writing mine after a long interval. (Procrastination has ever been a companion of mine.) (Unfortunately.)
I am now older, with grey hair and a back. (The grey hair was an expensive choice and the back is seeming to still function. I just wanted to mention that I had one. You probably have one too.) And in late-ish 2020, thanks to a friend who also thought it was a Good Idea, I plunged back into the world of letter writing.
My efforts could still improve, my spelling is as off as milk left in the Sahara desert for three months, and my handwriting takes inspiration from a beheaded and drunken chicken’s fevered scratchings.
(Sometimes it looks nice. Sometimes.)
And yet there’s nothing quite like receiving a letter in the mail – something that isn’t an advertisement, a bill, something from the bank, or a parcel that you paid for. No – this is for you. A piece of tangible snug cosiness formed of ink and paper, waiting for you to sit down with a cup of tea so that it can share its contents with you.
Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way:
MAKE A HABIT OF IT
My friend and I determined that for the month of December, we would write a letter a week to each other. And I really must say – making it a discipline to write regularly helped.
And it didn’t quite stop there. I realised that not only did I want to write to my friend, but I also wanted to write letters to other friends and family members. They have now been inflicted gifted with many, many letters. (I haven’t sent one to the Queen just yet but I can feel one coming.) (I should clarify that I’m not related to her.) (That I know of.) (The chances are sub-zero.) (Yes, that is a thing.)
Writing letters is as little or as much as you make of it. The heart is always the actual letter. However, you can also do some lovely window dressing. I looked at Pinterest and my word! There’s an entire world of letter writing. There are YouTube channels dedicated to the art of the PenPal. They layer up paper and stickers and stamps and drawings like an English person does clothes in a Canadian winter.
I love it. It’s insane and I am bewildered by it all but I love it.
I’m not touching calligraphy (see aforementioned description of my handwriting) but I can buy stickers! I can buy washi tape (or as I incorrectly called it: wasabi tape. The two are not the same, fyi)! It’s been a slow descent into madness but I have a basket of supplies. It’s enormous fun and quite relaxing to let my dubious creativity loose on paper and envelope. And then I seal it with a wax seal and oh my gosh in that moment I’m either a) Roman emperor completing a death warrant or b) an Austen heroine there is no in-between.
Writing letters is a way to time travel (a letter! sent last week! A voice from the past!) – in our world of instant instantness (just bear with me here) it’s delightful to send and receive something that isn’t saved on a cloud somewhere, but something that you can take out, hold and reread. (Or, for those receiving a letter from me: squint at my handwriting and ask ‘is that an ‘a’ or an ‘e’, why is that ‘i’ there and what on earth is she saying?) It’s a lovely way of connection – especially now, when it’s so difficult and many of us cannot meet with the ones we love.
It might be difficult, when faced with a blank page, to work out what to write. But have no fear! You can fill it with so many things:
interesting questions (contingency plans if zombies should attack … ohhh I haven’t used that one yet!)
descriptions of books you’re reading/media you’ve enjoyed
adventures you have had/would like to have
what you ate for breakfast
opinions on the weather (… it’s practically a law, I think)
quotes/interesting snatchings of poetry
etc etc etc
So, if you are pondering letter writing – enjoy it! Go for it! Take the plunge! Find someone to exchange letters with. (And be bitter with me about the way that there isn’t spellcheck for writing letters by hand.) (And lament when the Royal Mail somehow mislays a letter EVEN WHEN IT’S ONLY GOING TO A CITY FORTY-FIVE MINUTES AWAY.) (I love them really. Also: what a shame, I’ll just have to write another letter.)
By the by, what is your favourite colour? And have I overused brackets in this post? (No.) (If anything I underused them.)
The stack of books by my bed is as tall as my bed itself. I’ve recharged my kindle and read it most every night. This year, I’ve managed to read 182 books. I’m not sure what I should do with that number. There were so many good ones, and some infamous ones which weren’t quite my cup of tea.
I’m knitting a scarf – it is hideously ugly and terribly done and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s quite refreshing to just do and not be anxious about getting it perfect or doing it well.
(I hadn’t put my finger on my striving to always do things correctly and the ludicrous amount of stress that entails, until I picked up the knitting needles.)
A Suffragist Abroad is still being editing – the final stretch, before it goes to a beta reader. I’m going through it as though I’m the reader instead of the author and it’s quite lovely. (Bonkers, weird, slightly mad – those words apply too). Let me tell you, I cant wait for you to meet Vi and Mr. Sorrow.
The UK is still in the clutch of Tier system and Christmas won’t be the same for many, many people. The stars are still shining though. I checked for you, last night. In spite of the clouds (‘the Milky Way is moving quickly’ was quipped with great humour) and the drizzle, the heavens peered down and two shooting stars streaked across the sky.
Work has been hectically busy. As the dad from Calvin & Hobbes would say ‘character building’. It’s gut-wrenchingly disappointing to discover that you can’t do everything and that you will, eventually, have a mild breakdown in your dressing gown one evening because there aren’t enough hours in the day and work has built up and up and your ability to cope has plunged like a heavy anchor in a turbulent sea.
(YOU WILL PRY PURPLE-PROSE METAPHORS FROM THE CLUTCHING FINGERS OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS.)
It’s because of that, the fact that you can’t really nip off to Mongolia and discover Genghis Khan’s tomb, and my brother having my sister-in-law dye his hair grey that … well, I’ve dyed my own hair. It’s now a slate blue-grey. Ta-da.
Granted, this is somewhat of an extreme reaction, but what can you do? (Dye your hair grey. Apparently. That’s what.) Sometimes, you react reasonably to things, you sit down, you contemplate life, and you sip tea. Other times, you simply don’t. You book a visit to the hairdresser’s and you agree for your hair to be more blue than you anticipated. Marcus Aurelius would probably be excessively disappointed.
I haven’t been a good Stoic. If I was a Stoic. Which I’m not. But if I was, I’d be a bad one. Life is full of disappointments and unmatched gloves.
The point of it all, I think, is just to keep going. To keep looking for the good. (And there is good. There’s so much of it.) To keep plodding on. To reach out if you do need help. (It’s not a weakness, you know. It’s wisdom.)
If you’re reading this (still?!) – I wish you a lovely Christmas. Even if it isn’t quite the usual sort.
I need to finish this current draft of my novel by Sunday the 11th. I know. I’ve got a deadline. ‘Ness,’ I hear you say. ‘Are you ready for that deadline?’
I laugh at your question. I howl with laughter. September was such a busy month that I don’t think I had the umph to touch my novel. And here I am – a week to get it finished off.
Join me? (Or exit this right now because I’m taking you with me – whether you like it or not. So. There.)
SUNDAY THE 4TH – RESOLUTION
I give myself a talking to in the mirror. As per my Plot Spreadsheet, I delete three chapters of Act One. I suddenly realised I haven’t introduced the key concept of the novel. I do that. Poorly. It’s getting late and tomorrow is going to be … a complex day at work, so I need sleep. And also to squeeze in a bit of reading. (Priorities.)
MONDAY THE 5TH – AHHHH
I think that working from home makes the work/life boundaries blur a little – it’s hard to know when to stop and also to not feel guilty about it. (There’s always so much to do!) But I’m trying to learn. I do a bit of 7 Minute Chi to stretch out a little, have a cup of tea, play the recorder, paint my nails, check reddit and … okay, listen, sometimes a girl has to chill. And then, finally, I’m ready to get down to business to defeat … the Huns. It’s 8:47 pm. Let’s do this.
It’s 10:46 pm and it’s time for bed – I conquered an entire chapter which … is not the pace I need to set! If I were a creature right now, I’d be a snail. Tomorrow? I need to mash three chapters into one. And then hopefully the pace will pick up and Act One will be complete by Wednesday.
I LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FUTURE NESS.
TUESDAY THE 6TH – AHHHHHHH
I was a fool. Work was crushingly busy and I worked late and missed Bible study because of it. Then I played the violin. Then I had a mental breakdown in the kitchen. Just your usual Tuesday activities. No writing was done.
WEDNESDAY THE 7TH – AHHHHHH
THURSDAY THE 8TH – HA.HA
FRIDAY THE 9TH – …
SATURDAY THE 10TH
Despite having a bit of a lie-in, I’ve tided my work space and am ready. Candles are flickering, my nature sound app is chirping out bird songs, and some soothing music plays. I’ve got blocking apps on my computer and phone to take away temptation to browse mindlessly.
It is time. The aim is not to have a completely polished draft – that isn’t going to happen over a weekend, no – the aim is to make sure that the story is legible. All three acts go into one word document. I attempt to crack my knuckles. I fail. It’s 12:00 and it’s on.
It’s 18:52 and I feel as though I am hitting my groove. I’ve no idea how far I’ve got to go but I have tea and a fresh candle. I have had breaks to:
do a spot of cleaning
watch youtube videos
browse the ‘net
But using blockers on my phone and internet is really useful for cutting out distractions. I work late into the night; determined to reach Chapter 28; I can do the rest tomorrow. I have to. It’s the deadline after all.
SUNDAY THE 11TH – THIS IS IT, WE ARE IN THE ENDGAME NOW
It’s 12:07 – music on, tea made, candle burning. This is it. I have to get this finished today and not into the wee hours of the morning; I have to go into the office tomorrow and that means driving early. Ain’t nobody got time for sleep-deprivation in this scenario.
So let’s get crackin’.
It’s all done. It’s finished. It’s sent off. I haven’t cried in relief, nor was it sent super late. I am rather impressed with myself; I’m always pleasantly surprised when I actually achieve something. And I did it. Life is glorious. I can now leave this project until November, when Editing/Feedback Week will happen.
Being a discovery writer instead of a plotter is a little tricky but I suppose as long as the end result is a definite ‘HA I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING ALL ALONG’ that is what’s matters. I’m low-key excited. Right now A Suffragist Abroad is not at all perfect but by George, I’m going to make it so. Or at least, I’m going to make it so I’m happy with it.
Also: there’s slow-burn romance and unicorns and a Wizard and stoic scribe and a monster. It’s inspired by:
Norse mythology (though you’d never know)
A daydream I had whilst in a Moldovan church
And so on …
It’s zany and it’s weird but I had fun. So there we are! Watch this space, world! Something might be coming from it.
IN A WORLD WHERE CIVILIZATION HAS CRUMBLED AND CRUMPETS ARE KING, ONE WOMAN MUST STRUGGLE AGAINST THE TERRORS OF THE TOASTERS AND FREE HER PEOPLE.
a blurb no one will ever pay me to write
For six months – from January 2019 all the way through June 2019 – I operated a fiverr account. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly successful account; but I received enough orders to put money towards my groceries while I was volunteering as an English Teacher in Moldova – and that was a badly needed blessing.
Here’s the two gigs I offered:
I would write the back blurb of a book
I would provide plot outlines/story ideas if you were in the middle of a block
I’ll never forget the first order I received. I was home for the holidays, I was excited and … I had no idea what I was doing, only that I was going to be totally professional and very, very awesome. So awesome. The awesomest.
Reader, I read the whole book in order to write a blurb. The. whole. book.
Don’t be like me. Never assume that you need to read the entire book in order to write a blurb. It will leave you despairing of an impulsive decision to be a FREELANCE WRITER! (woot woot!)
You can be sure that I learned my lesson. Trial met error and eventually I worked out what, er, worked.
He was alone, and he was scared … would he ever pay his mortgage in time?
Genre? Horror. Book? Unwritten.
THE GOLDEN ERA
I stumbled upon how to do it correctly – worked out how long a gig would take me to do, tweak the descriptions, made my own bio just quirky enough to grab prospective customer’s interest.
I wrote blurbs, some very interesting, some highly unusual. I wrote blurbs for a comic series, for an album (well, my roommate helped me with that one. I don’t have the first clue about music really, other than: huh, this sounds nice), for books that were factual and works of fiction.
I wrote outlines for stories (ACT ONE, ACT TWO, ACT THREE, a list of characters – helpfully labeled ‘A, B, C etc’) – I sat on my bed or on the windowsill in-between planning lessons or writing my own book, and forced myself to get on with it. To write blurbs that made me giggle, blurbs that were for books that seemed so personal to the author, blurbs that were to replace other blurbs and so on, and so forth.
For a dedicated procrastinator, I’m proud that I managed to get everything done on time. (It’s been long enough now for my memory to conveniently blank out any failings.)
It gave me satisfaction, it was entertaining, but most of all – and less romantically speaking – it put some money in my pocket.
THE INGLORIOUS END
I came home from Moldova and kept going … but then gigs were taking longer to fulfill, the hole that fiverr was filling wasn’t as gaping or anxiety inducing anymore. I put the price up to deter customers (when someone purchases a gigon fiverr? You can’t refuse it.) The freelance work dribbled, it drabbled, it gave a cough and a splutter and then I called it quits; I had a full-time job. It was time.
In total, I had done 70 orders, studied blurbs (THE SCIENCE OF IT! IT IS A LEGIT SCIENCE) plotted books I’ll never write, worked out that I was terrible at setting prices, and mainly had a very interesting time of it.
I know – I should break this post in two – it’s getting long … but HA, I’m not – let’s talk some do’s and don’ts:
DON’T READ THE ENTIRE BOOK TO WRITE THE BLURB. DANG IT. JUST DON’T.
If you want to write blurbs, don’t read the entire book. Ain’t no one got time for that. You can, if you want – but let’s face it, some of these books aren’t going to be your cup of tea. This is business. (Oh yes. I took myself seriously.) I asked for the following criteria:
details about the book – its genre, length, setting etc
the book summary
key info about the characters
things that the author was excited about in the book
Using this info, I was generally able to write a blurb that satisfied the customer. It was like a puzzle, attempting to understand the heart of the thing, and then how to put in a way that would leap out and grab any prospective readers.
Lost, far away from home, and cast into the dark depths of despondency by the loss of her One True Love, Hunter ManlyMan, Leena must wrestle with a terrible choice – tea … or coffee?
No one paid me to write this one either. A true shame.
DO BE REALISTIC
Be realistic about how long something is going to take you – and communicate with your customer. Always. Be realistic about the price – if you are getting a load of orders at a certain price, perhaps – when you’ve received enough reviews – you can put the price up.
But, like, my dude … maybe don’t take my advice on this one? I was generally:
insecure BECAUSE WAS MY WORK … WORTHY? OF THIS PRICE? (give yourself a stern talking to if you’re worried about this one.)
impulsive … research into the ‘market’ was really daunting so I winged it. Yeah. Maybe. Don’t do that? Or do?
DO MAKE BOUNDARIES
Writing blurbs for erotica wasn’t quite my thing. So. I learned to write on the gig’s description exactly what I was willing to write blurbs for. Or rather, what I wasn’t. There were some narrow brushes, but after one unfortunate … er, blip (or blurb) … I learned my lesson, set my boundary and cheerfully got back to plotting a book series out and writing a blurb about trees talking to us (genre? Factual.)
DON’T LET IMPOSTER SYNDROME SEIZE YOU
Imposter syndrome, feeling a fraud, ‘not good enough’ – I think this afflicts a lot of us. It afflicted me. How do you get past it? My friend – you fake it. Don’t feel confident? To heck with that! Write your bio, your descriptions, your interactions as if you are Maria belting out:
I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN SUNSHINE, I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN RAIN, I HAVE CONFIDENCE I CAN DO THIS STUFF AGAIN AND AGAIN.
legit lyrics from the sound of music
And then? You back that up. You say you’re dope? You can write tip-top blurbs or outlines? You do your best. Your very best. And then you send it to your customer and keep going.
(That’s the secret – keep going. No matter what doubts beset you.)
DO TRY TO HAVE FUN
Be professional but don’t strangle your quirkiness . Experiment with what works and what doesn’t. If you dislike something – it’s going to shine through. I always tried to be enthusiastic about what I was writing – attempted to be a maybe-reader and try to grab my own attention. Yeah. It was meta.
I have a full-time job now, but for those six months, I desperately needed something extra to keep going; and my brief brush with freelance writing definitely helped. I don’t know if it was a brilliant run – it certainly wasn’t enough to live on – but it helped. It really did.