As I write this, TMoTH and Mr 13 are watching I Shouldn’t Be Alive. I was going to go upstairs to my desk but both were reluctant for me to leave; I’m not especially sure why but it had something to do with wanting to spend time with ‘their girl’, which is worryingly sweet…. That however is not the point of this post.
On the screen, a team of men on their way to rescue some sailors find themselves in the middle of a perfect storm – and their helicopter is about to crash into the middle of the ocean.
“Get ready to jump,” one of them yells and within minutes they are in freezing cold seas battling hypothermia, major injury, and massive waves. They were cold, frightened, in pain and had no idea if they would be rescued.
I was struck by what an amazing analogy the situation presented for those moments in life when we take a risk or make a determination and have nothing to cling to except our faith and will power. Not for one second do I want to compare a career situation to what those men went through; it was more a recognition that if they could survive that massive storm, I sure as hell can survive my minor one.
I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to commit to my life as a writer – in whatever form that takes, be it fiction, no-fiction, reviewing, blogging – or I needed to walk away. As a the wonderful Kate Alexander once suggested “piss or get off the pot” (those words tend to strike a note when you hear them from someone as elegant and dignified as Kate – trust me). That moment was my moment of ‘getting ready to jump’.
The jump came when I set about committing – and yes there is an obvious joke here but how about we all ignore it. For now. I joined blogging communities, I joined writers communities, I increased my social media presence, I put my hand up to host book tours, I began reading more, I began reviewing more, and yes, I got the manuscript out, blew the metaphorical dust off it ( if only all the dust in the house was metaphorical too) and began typing more.
At times it feels as though I am indeed in icy seas waiting for the next wave to come crashing down on me and that what appears to be rescue lights in the distance is nothing more than my imagination. Then something happens. A review is well received by readers or I pick up an editing client. My badge appears on someone else’s blog or a publishing firm confirms a virtual book tour. I work out the next stage of my novel – or what to do with that non-fiction project that lurking at the back of my mind. My amazing sister surprises me with a beautiful teapot and a canister of my very favorite cinnamon and plum tea – hey life rafts come in a variety of styles…..
I suspect I may have to spend a bit longer in the water and there may be a few more waves to endure yet before I’m back on dry ground but I’m not worried. Well, not too worried – my life rafts are pretty sturdy.
We’ll get back to port …sooner or later.
Something tells me I’m hardly the first writer to head up a blog post with that title. But hey at least I resisted the urge to use a rose as a pic….And trust me it wasn’t easy coming up with an alternative; I nearly bowed to the cliche but I digress. Yes I know, I do that a lot.
What was I talking about? Oh yes – names. I like to think of myself as being fairly smart; my family suggests that in fact this is a delusion and that I bear more than a passing resemblance to Dory from Disney’s Finding Nemo, but what would they know? I’m not even blue and I don’t sound anything like Ellen DeGeneres. Hmm? Oh right – names.
Oh zat ees not a very common name, hein?
I’m one of those rare people who actually like their name. I don’t know whether I fell in love with France and things French because of my name or if would have happened anyway, but my slightly unusual name in all its forms has never bothered me. Although when I first moved to Paris I did assume I would for the first time ever have an ordinary, garden variety name. HA! People still commented on it everywhere I went – they simply did it French. Go figure.
A name for everything…
So when I started writing, I wasn’t especially interested in pseudonyms. My name would be just fine thank you very much. Right up until I hit a whole other bunch of names – the names of genres. Romance. Horror. Erotica. Sci-fi. Chick Lit. If you think about it each of those labels or names carries with it a resonance and image of what it represents – just the same way our own name does.
Of course what often happens is if a writer begins writing to one of those genres, they become pigeon holed to that genre. Now, there is nothing wrong with that at all. If your passion is romance or sci-fi or chick lit or whatever, then get out there and write, baby, write.
What about me?
What happens though if, like yours truly, you tend to be a little hyperactive (okay maybe a lot) and you don’t know what genre you’re passionate about because you just love words and writing? Then what?
I’ll tell you what – you end up in the middle of a metaphorical snarled fishing line of massive proportions. It is scary how many story ideas I have sitting in folders in Dropbox that have stalled because I’ve woken up one morning either dying to try a different genre or I’ve been paralysed by the fear of actually writing something good, selling it, and never being able to write in a different genre again. Yes there are massive holes in this theory – not the least being that I’m assuming I’ll write something that will be picked up and published – but fear does not care about holes in theory. Fear is just fear.
After struggling with this for several years now, two days ago I found the solution. I realised two things in that moment – the first was that the next year is going to be incredibly busy and the second was that maybe my family is right and I’m more like Dory than I thought.
The solution is pseudonyms. You see, I’m one of those people who takes on the identity of the genre they’re writing in. If I’m writing romance, I tend to become floral and romantic. If I’m working on my post-apocalypse piece I get very Sarah Connor – ish. If I’m writing erotica – well, anyway you get the idea. All I need to do is give those identities a name.
Meet the family
So I did. Lily writes romance, Georgia writes erotica, and I write general fiction and YA. And believe it or not – though by now I’m picking you’ll believe it – I have found myself dressing to the identity. Jeans and tee for me, soft pastel, feminine flowy skirt for Lily, leather and lace for Georgia.
The kids just shrugged – they’re used to their mother being weird. The Man of The House is starting to realise there could be definite advantages to this set up. The cats are not impressed. As for me, I’m just looking at the names (and their personas) as another set of tools in my writing kit. It’s all just a case of finding the right one (tool/name) for the job.
By the way…
In case you’re wondering why I chose jellyfish….it’s because although we call them jelly fish their real name is Scyphozoa. If you’re Dory, of course it’s Squishy (I shall call you Squishy and you shall be mine). What’s more, you would be amazed at how many sites exist dedicated to jelly fish – who knew? I got the pic from a funky site called Jellyfish Facts which while cool, has a vaguely disturbing tab labelled Pet Jellyfish……
So what begins, I hear you ask. Sure you did, it was in between the sip of coffee, the bite of sandwich, and the turn of the page of your book. I heard it clear as a bell.
What begins, girls and boys, is the long, hard slog that is the road to turning things around. Having banished the word but ( I can say it when I’m talking about the banishment – sheesh, you guys are a tough audience) I’ve set about trying to work out exactly how to achieve my goals.
What is the issue?
You see the goals are not the issue. The issue is the strategy for achieving them. For me there are two strategies – the strategy of The Lotus Sutra and the action strategy. The strategy of The Lotus Sutra, which we’re not going to discuss tonight but will discuss later in the week, but can be summed up as faith – although there is a bit more to it than that which is why we’ll come back to it (I’d like to be clear the order is not indicative of the importance – simply of the time I have available for blogging and faith requires a lot more than I have this evening).
My action strategy is going a bit like this: get up, make tea, turn on laptop, do gongyo (that’s part of the other strategy), go to work, appreciate being at work, appreciate the people I work with, leave work, come home, make dinner, spend some time being Mama,research/ blog/write/actively promote both blogs and work, do gongyo again, go to bed. Maybe, if I’m lucky, spend some quality ‘nice’ time with the man I share my bed with. Or if I’m too late for that (he doesn’t really do late nights), read.
Sound boring? You might be surprised to learn that not only is it not boring – it’s not only helping, it’s actually working. Ha! I knew that would get your attention. First of all actually making the effort to do gongyo is giving my day rhythm, routine and a strong foundation. Doing all the mama stuff, is making me feel happy because I LOVE doing stuff with my kids.
I’m actually engaged in my work. At this stage I’d like to just take a moment to say my issues with my job are less to do with the job and more to do with my frustration with life in general – and in particular with my apparent inability to advance my personal writing career. I’m not sure I can say I enjoy my job – and again this is about me, not about the job or the company – but I am engaged. And that is a very good start, because when I leave at night, I feel quite comfortable dedicating my evening writing time to my own writing.
The result of that, has been surprising. Obviously my word count is increasing (hmmm, spend more time on writing project, see output increase – I could be on to something here….). More importantly I have A Plan (complete with Pooh Bear capitals). I have a clearer – thought not quite sparkly, crystal clear – idea of my work and where I want it to go.
All of this is a good sign since I have five weeks left of my deadline – and am beginning to feel as though I may just have found my way off the dreaded merry go round of “I would if I could bu……”
Stay tuned, folks, stay tuned.
- Can I be Elizabeth Gilbert when I grow up?
- Will I ever grow up? I’m 45 – if it hasn’t happened by now, maybe it’s not going to happen…
- Why are there no donuts in my pantry?
- I own Eat, Pray, Love on DVD (thank you Rachel), in paperback, and on my Kobo – if I get it on my iPhone does that officially make me obsessed?
- I should start a journal – I’m not sure why but I think I should.
- What is that really annoying sound outside the dining room window and how can I get it to stop?
- I wonder if Dennis will make me a cup of tea, if I ask really nicely
- Should I write my journal long hand or online?
- Does this count as a journal entry?
- The chances of me thinking of at least this many random things again the minute I shut my laptop down are pretty high
- Does this mean I should do my journal long hand?
- Exactly how many reviews have I agreed to do in the next seven days?
- Was my brain actively engaged when I made those agreements?
- Is my brain ever actively engaged?
- I have dreadful handwriting – perhaps that means it should be online
- Does Elizabeth Gilbert have ridiculous, random thoughts like this at 9.49 before bed
- More importantly – does she admit to them and put them out for the world to see…..
I have been a very good girl this year – honest. Of course our definitions of good may vary slightly….but hey details, details. At the end of the day I’ve tried to be good – and that has to count for something right? (Someone, anyone, help me out here….)
So, my Christmas list.
This year it’s short, sweet, and simple. Yes, I want my family to be happy, healthy and safe. My kids to do well in whatever they choose. People to stop using each other as punching bags. Finally get my book published and yes I realise that might involve me finishing the damned thing first. The usual stuff you want by the time you get to my age.
But this year there are two things I’d really, really, really, really like just for myself.
1 – See Bruce Springsteen in concert. There was talk that he will make it down this way during next year’s tour, then it was announced that it wasn’t happening. And we’re still waiting for confirmation one way or the other. Please Santa – please – and if you think that sounds desperate now, wait till the tour begins up in the States, Santa my friend. Give a girl a break and bring him down for one more concert. I’d love to take my kids to see him, I’d love to see him with The Bear of my Heart. I’d like to hear Promised Land live - one more time.
2 – Interview Bruce Springsteen. Now, Santa, this is obviously related to Number 1, mostly because in order to interview the man I do need to be in the general vicinity and the most likely way for that to happen is for him to be appearing in concert. Logical yes? You see, Santa, I became a writer because of this guy. I wanted to do what he does for me - and Bruce fans the world over – I wanted to paint pictures in people’s heads with words. And from the time I’ve known I wanted to write, I’ve wanted to interview him. He’s 62, I’m 45 – let’s be honest, time is getting short….so Santa, please, I really could use some help here.
Santa there will be chocolate cookies and milk on the table come December 24 – I”m not above bribery. There will be happy children come the morning of December 25 - after all whatever age your kids are why you get up on Christmas Day. And whatever you do leave for me for the coming year, Santa old pal, I’ll smile and be happy.
That concert and that interview though….well they’d really be something you know….
The last time I managed to get in here, was October 16. That can’t be possible. It simply can’t. It was last week I tell you, last week. It has to be last week because if it wasn’t…well that means I haven’t done any writing in a month. Yikes.
I am relieved to say, however, that I have been working hard at interviewing and reading. And preparing to launch a new website – but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Yes we will, I will be back tomorrow dear reader: I promise.
So what have I been up to for the past month? Well for a start I’ve been turning into a city worker. A what, I hear you ask. A city worker. How do you know you’re a city worker? Oh come on you know you want to know. When I first started working in the city I was - well not shy, more like reserved (they are not the same thing at all….). If the crossing light flicked to green while I was still half way down the block, I just shrugged and waited for the next one. I had the right change for the bus and got a ticket each trip. My phone was tucked neatly away at the bottom of my tote bag with my book and crossword collection, raincoat, and spare cardigan – not to be confused with my handbag which was for carrying things like wallets and spare lipstick. NOW , I carry a handbag in which you easily fit the contents of a small shipping container. In my case it contains notebooks, my Kobo, a mini netbook, an umbrella, my makeup case, roughly a thousand pens (none of which I can find when I need them), business cards, a reusable take out coffee cup. The totebag is gone – replaced by my laptop bag . And of course my iPhone - which I’m usually checking, answering or updating while I’m racing for the crossing despite the light flashing only 17 seconds left. It’s amazing how fast you can run in heels – but I digress. The quiet “one to Ponsonby” as I drop the change in the bowl has been replaced with a frantic swipe of my HOP card as I swing on the bus as it begins to pull away from the stop. I can smack the “THIS STOP” button with ease and confidence, negotiate the rush hour traffic while sipping hot trim white from Esquires and plan the family outing while sidestepping pavement cafe diners. City worker.
Some mornings its exhilarating and fun. Those are usually the mornings when my caffeine intake is through the roof before even leaving the house. Most mornings I get to the office seriously questioning my sanity and wondering when I exchanged any thoughts of personal safety for the thrill of beating the bus door.
All of that said, this is the second night in a row I’ve actually managed to get home and do some personal writing – so could it be….dare I say it….I’m getting the hang of things? That I am actually going to be able to hold down a job AND advance my writing career? Little disorganised me?
There is a lovely scene in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun where Catherine (Lindsay Duncan) tells Frances (Diane Lane) about being a little girl hunting for ladybugs. Eventually she fell asleep in the garden and when she woke she was covered in ladybugs. Her point was she needed to stop trying to make something happen and let it happen naturally.
I love this concept – stop looking and let the ladybugs find you. Sometimes we get so caught up in an idea, or rather in the excitement it brings out in us, that we end up missing the poor thing altogether. I’ve noticed recently that if I try to ‘force’ my creativity, it just disappears. On the other hand, if I just let them do their own thing, they (and in this case I mean stories rather than ladybugs) are far more cooperative.
The trick of course is to figure out how to let the ladybugs come. In Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances is restoring an old Tuscany villa, and while our house definitely needs a makeover, taking to it with a hammer, paintbrush, and a team of Polish immigrants (look go watch the movie okay? or better yet read the book) isn’t really an option right now. So I have armed myself with new ladybug hunting equipment – movies, music, books, and a variety of pens and notebooks.
I’ve also set up a new writing corner. Notice that I have said writing corner and not Writing Room. A corner and not a room, lower case first letters. A simple table in the living room, near the fire. Enough room for Pinky (my laptop), my phone, and a cup of tea. Not enough room for endless bits of junk – well theoretically there isn’t, though I’m sure I’ll try to create room.
The great news is that the ladybugs have already started to peek out from under leaves. The story idea I had recently has started to flow without me even thinking about it (although I’m a little nervous about what will happen when I start to work with it….) It’s Not That Simple is starting to pull together. I’ve even had a few ideas for some freelance pieces.
I think it’s vital to bring a sense of business organisation to your creative/artistic career, to ensure you keep the framework of your work functioning. There is no point being a best selling *insert word of choice* if you ignore your taxes right? However, that is the framework not the heart of what you do, and in order to allow the heart to function, you must keep it healthy but you can NOT turn it into a machine only functioning on your command. Create but do not force; let the ladybugs come as they will….
Oh and in case you haven’t seen Under The Tuscan Sun, you can catch the scene in question right here: