Monthly Archives: March 2014

Day nine … the inner butterfly and the false sense of security

Hmmm … this journey is taking some interesting turns as the second week gets under way. Until now, the blog has been the main focus of my efforts. I’ve fretted about posting 500 words a day, so as to ‘prove’ I’m writing. However, this has often been at the expense of producing anything substantial. Writing about writing has begun to be an excellent excuse for not actually writing.

Today’s been different. This evening I’ve focussed mainly on my piece about One25. It’s growing steadily. I’m also editing the early part, but my editor and I seem to be getting along much better than we were last week. Editing feels like progress now, rather than frustration. This has made it a little hard to judge how many of the words have actually been written today and how many simply changed or replaced. But I’m confident that this post, together with the work I’ve been doing on the other piece will give me well over 500 words for today.

I’ve also started to think about ways to work with my inner butterfly instead of suppressing her. I could experiment with different styles and genres. I love writing poetry. It may not work well with the 500-word rule though. Flash fiction could work. And it’s well suited to the butterfly mind. Polemic of course. I could do that really well. There’s nothing like a good rant. And who says you have to start at the beginning of a novel and plod through to the end? It works better if you’re reading admittedly, but the writer isn’t restricted in the same way. I could write individual scenes and stitch them together later. Like the patchwork quilt in last night’s photo.

I’ve been browsing through articles and books about writing. I’ve resisted the urge to go wild on Amazon so far, much though I’m itching to download some goodies onto the Kindle. A ‘domestic storage device’ my daughter called it when she bought it for my birthday a couple of years back. She thought it might reduce the piles of books strewn around my flat. We can all dream … I think Natalie Goldberg is top of my list at the moment. But I already own books about writing by Anne Lamott and Christopher Vogler that I haven’t finished reading yet, so I’ve no excuse for buying more at the moment. I also found an excellent article in the Guardian, that’s given me yet another idea for a piece of writing of my own, so watch this space … All in all, day nine has felt fruitful. But I’m wary of complacency. I mustn’t let one good day lull me into a false sense of security.

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Day eight … what do you think of the show so far?

Congratulations! You made it through the first week. So tell me, how has it been?

Good in parts. There have been some amazing highs and a couple of spectacular lows.

Tell me about one of the highs

Finishing the very first blog post. That was brilliant. I almost didn’t make it. It was Saturday evening. I’m self-employed, so weekends are a bit of a non-event. I’d worked all day, and I didn’t sit down to start writing until about 8.30 pm. If it hadn’t been for a friend who raised the stakes by insisting on a fine of £12.50 for every day I failed, I would have fallen at the first fence. The sheer elation of seeing that first post and knowing I’d succeeded was incredible. And totally unexpected.

And a low?

Thursday evening. That was the worst. Waiting in Tesco’s for a paramedic to arrive. Watching the time slip away. Knowing it would be too late to write by the time I got home. And being utterly unable to do anything about it.

Sounds bad. What happened?

All I wanted wanted was a bottle of wine. Oh, and a new pair of slippers. The soles are falling off these. I’d been indoors most of the day, so I thought I’d wander up to Tesco’s. It would give me time to think about what I was going to write, and a glass of wine would be good when I finished. The bottle I wanted was on the bottom shelf. As I picked it up there was a sharp pain in the back of my head. Then a loud smash. The man next to me had dislodged half a dozen small bottles from the top shelf. One of them broke on my head. The rest ended up on the floor all round me.

Ouch! I guess you didn’t write much that evening, then?

Not really. I still felt quite dazed when the paramedic dropped me home. I posted a photo of the bottle of wine and a brief explanation on the blog.

Did that affect your motivation?

Yes. Definitely. To be honest, it was hard to write the following day. I’m a closet perfectionist and I really felt I’d failed. I wanted to throw in the towel. But I’d had a request from a donor to write about a specific subject, so I tackled that last night. I ended up writing around 800 words, although the piece isn’t ready to go on the blog yet. I felt much better after that, so I think I’m back on track now.

Tell me about this ‘perfectionist’ thing

Do I have to?

Yep

Dammit. That’s the trouble with being interviewed by someone who actually understands me.

Go on then

Oh all right. I hate getting anything wrong. I’d rather do nothing than make a mess of something or a fool of myself. It’s the reason for all those unfinished jumpers and novels. And all the unread books on the shelf. All right, Dr Freud?

Unread books?

I might spoil them if I read them. Crease the pages. Break the spines. That kind of thing. Now, can we change the subject, please?

Hmmm … so do you think this challenge is going to make a difference?

I’m hoping to raise lots of money for One25. They make a massive difference to the lives of street sex workers in Bristol. If you go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch you can encourage me by donating. You can also suggest a topic for me to write about, or a title for a short story …

Yes, yes. I know all that. What about the perfectionist?

I thought we were changing the subject. But that’s the thing isn’t it? You start out doing something for other people. You think you’re going to change somebody else’s world for the better, but you end up receiving far more than you can ever give. This crazy challenge may end up changing my life for ever. I only hope it will also make a difference to the lives of some of the incredible women I’ve met at One25.

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And on the seventh day

Today’s post is another short one, I’m afraid. Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on giving up. Far from it. The shortage of words here tonight is not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve been working on a piece suggested by one of my donors. Well, to be honest, my only donor at present. I’ve written well over 700 words today, but the finished article isn’t honed for publication yet.

If you’d like to suggest something for me to write about – either a topic or a title – you can do so by making a donation and leaving a message at

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch

If I’m inundated (as I hope I will be soon …) I won’t be able to guarantee to write something for every request I receive, but I’ll do my best. However, I can guarantee that every penny donated will go to help the wonderful work One25 does in supporting street sex workers in Bristol to Step Away From the Streets.

 

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Day six … you couldn’t make it up

Tonight’s blog consists primarily of a photo of the bottle of wine that prevented me from writing it. If you look closely at the photo, you will realise that the bottle is unopened and the glass beside it is clean. I am stone cold sober, and I think the only person I know who could be hit on the head by a bottle of wine while shopping in Tesco’s. This is not the bottle that hit me, I hasten to add.  That one fell off the top shelf while I was picking this one up from the bottom.  Sometimes you couldn’t write life …

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Day five … a cake is worth 500 words

One of the problems with suddenly being made to do something you love on a daily basis is that you begin to discover how fickle you are. It’s a bit like moving in with a new partner. Not that I’ve done it that often, I hasten to add. It’s roses and romance all the way when you’re snatching a few precious hours together. Being obliged to watch him pick his toenails in front of Top Gear when you’d planned on Kirstie’s Handmade Hallowe’en is a completely different matter. No wonder so many of my friends choose not to share their living space with the loves of their lives.

Take cooking. I love cooking. This may come as a surprise to some. It did to me. For a fair proportion of my adult life I had no choice about the matter. If I didn’t cook, five people went hungry. One of them being me. I could peel potatoes with my eyes closed. Dice an onion in my sleep. I suspect I did on occasions. There was a brief, halcyon period when the younger members of the family took to the kitchen. Then five dwindled to two. I cooked every single bloody evening. I hated that chopping board more than words can say. Those few square feet of kitchen surface became my own private hell. Two went their separate ways at long last. I moved to Bristol. I lived on poached eggs for six months. I lost a stone … Now there’s a thought – The Poached Egg Diet – could be the next big thing.

Towards the end of the six-month poached-egg-honeymoon period, I began to realise something was missing from my life. It wasn’t my husband. It was food. Real, honest home-cooked food and all that went with it. Chopping. Frying. Roasting. Blending. Experimenting with flavours. Creating. I wasn’t forced to do it any more. I had a choice. I began to enjoy it.

At this point, the logical progression would be to tell you how my relationship with writing has deteriorated since we moved in together. My shoulders ache at the mere thought of a keyboard. I’m on the verge of Repetitive Strain Injury. If he interrupts One Born Every Minute just once more … And the truth is our relationship has changed. In the five days we’ve been living together it’s already become less romantic. In truth, it was only romantic before because we rarely saw each other. There are times when he infuriates me. I’m going to have to have a word about the laundry. And I wish he wouldn’t keep me up so late at night. But it’s a real relationship now. Warts, toenails and all (Top Gear would be taking it too far …). I’m actually putting words onto metaphorical paper. Creating. I have a choice. I’m enjoying it. Romance has its place. On the whole, I prefer reality.

So what was all that about cake? It may not be worth quite 500 words, but it’s going to give me the extra few I need to limp across the finishing line after a very long day. I’ll leave you with a picture of the finished Victoria sandwich I wrote about last night, baked for afternoon tea at the One25 drop-in this afternoon. Maybe there’s a good reason why I love cooking …

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The editor and the Victoria sandwich … frustration on day four

Did I say ‘I love writing’? Scrub that. It’s the most frustrating occupation on earth. I’m sitting here at 7.43pm on day four. It feels like midnight. I have a more or less blank page in front of me, and my ‘editor’ has taken over. This is a disaster. Nothing I write is ever good enough for my editor. I’ve rearranged the last sentence four times already. And now I’ve done the sentence that said I was rearranging things. See what I mean? I’m tweaking grammar. Reading everything to make sure it’s exactly right. Never mind 500 words. It’ll be a miracle if I get to 50. I also have a week’s-worth of laundry to contend with and a Victoria sandwich to bake before I can even think about calling it a day. Oh, and I finished the wine off last night, so I can’t even promise myself a nice glass of Shiraz to celebrate when it’s all done.

For the first time since I started this challenge I’ve worked from home today. I had a clear morning. I should have been able to write a novel the length of War and Peace by lunch time. Instead, I’ve edited. Nitpicked. Juggled and rejuggled words, phrases and sentences. I started out with 424 words of a short story. I ended up with 526 words. A lot of them are different from the original words, so in theory I could claim to have written the whole thing today. But I’d be fooling myself. In reality I’ve only written 102 words, apart from this blog.

I know of writers who use various strategies to deal with their internal editors. Some say the clothes they wear make a difference. Sitting in a different place. Writing and editing at different times of day. As yet I haven’t hit upon the right approach for me. Once the editor kicks in I’m more or less at her mercy and I’d really welcome suggestions from fellow sufferers if any happen to pass this way.

One lesson I am beginning to learn though, is that writing is all about keeping going. Keep your hand moving Natalie Goldberg says. And it works. Rather than waiting for mystical inspiration, I’m actually being forced to write. Or rather, not to not write … and whether I like it or not, there are words on the page to prove it. Thank you One25 for giving me the motivation to do something I’ve wanted to do for most of my life. And thank you to the friend who raised the stakes on Day One by pointing out I’d pitched my personal penalty for failure far too low. I hope you’re reading this. I hope you know who you are. You were absolutely right. Faced with the onslaught from my editor today I would have thrown in the towel if it hadn’t been for you.

And now I think it’s time to share a little of the ‘off-the-blog’ writing I’ve been doing. So I’ll leave you with a short extract from the story I’ve been working on today. The working title is ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’Image.  I just hope I’ve got enough eggs for that Victoria sandwich …

 

I run it in my head. Saturday afternoon. The first in July and the first hot one of the year. The girl on the edge of the pavement sits with her head in her hands. Skinny and suntanned. Too young to drink. Her friends, a boy and a girl all arms and legs and no more than children, discuss what to do. Brandish mobile phones. I go into the bakery. The queue’s insane. All I want – no, need – is this bottle of water. I think about ripping the lid off and drinking it on the spot. Presenting the confused Saturday boy with an empty bottle. I don’t of course. I queue. I pay for the water and regret choosing a shop without ice cream. It’s that kind of hot.

Out in the street I fumble with the lid. The police have arrived. A man and a woman. They’re asking the girl to stand up. Coaxing her to drink water. She won’t move. She wants them to leave her to die for God’s sake. Maybe she’ll wake up and find it was all a nightmare. If life was only so simple. The crowd flows round her. Heads turn. Shake. What can you do? The boy’s gangly. Huge trousers clinging to his hipbones. T-shirt crushed up in his hand. I bet his mum ironed that this morning. Sunburn creeps pink over his scrawny shoulders. Too young for tattoos, he’s starkly naked. He shuffles. His eyes dart at the milling shoppers. Calculating for escape. The sober girl’s collaborating with the police. Being grown-up. Crop top and mini skirt, washboard stomach. Cajoling her friend one minute. Looking at her phone the next. The blue plastic strip yields to my fumbling. The water’s tepid. I think they only have the fridge for effect. It’s not switched on at all. The girl on the pavement says she feels sick.

 

 

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Day three … gossamer, marmalade and the harsh realities of life

I love writing. But it can be a terrible distraction from other minor essentials. Eating, for example. Washing up. Even making tea. The last teabag sat in an empty cup for almost an hour before I remembered it was there. I had to boil the kettle again. Now I’ve left the same teabag in water and come back to get this down while it’s fresh in my mind. The tea will probably be undrinkable by the time I remember it’s there.

The trouble is, I get too involved. It’s the same with reading. With life, really. Once a story grabs me I’m more or less incapable of thinking about anything else. Multi-tasking goes out of the window. I eat, sleep and breathe story. And that’s not very practical most of the time. I have to tear myself away to go to work. Go shopping. Go to bed. Even go to the loo. Then I lose the thread. I think that’s why I find it so hard to finish anything. Reality gets in the way.

And all the best ideas come to me when there’s no way I can write them down. Three in the morning. I can’t even hold a pen at that hour. Halfway across the M32 flyover. In the market hall in Ikea. I defy anyone to write a coherent sentence there. Many years ago I bought an old-fashioned dictaphone, complete with cassettes. I thought I’d record thoughts as I went along. Genius. The trouble was, I was far too embarrassed to use it. I’m not sure it ever got out of the box.

All this frustration comes from a positive. I’ve started to write properly today. Something other than this blog. Three hundred and thirty four words of something. I’m comfortably over my 500 words for today already. I have a story taking shape, and I may well continue working on it well beyond my allotted 500 words. For the curious, the story includes the words ‘gossamer’ and ‘marmalade’, but that’s all I’m saying on the subject for the time being.

Now, before I rescue that cup of tea, I need to remind myself why I’m putting myself through all this. I’m giving up ‘not being a writer’ for 125 days (or maybe for life …) in support of One25’s work with street sex workers in Bristol. Please feel free to encourage me and to support this amazing bunch of people by sharing this blog, or by donating at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch  Thank you.

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Day two … the end is nowhere near nigh

Day two. I’m beginning to think writing blog posts could become a convenient excuse for not writing anything else. I found it alarmingly easy last night to notch up 500 words of writing about writing without actually writing anything. This isn’t really the object of the exercise. I seem set to do it again today nonetheless.

The trouble is I’m a butterfly. When it comes to creativity, I flit from one fascinating project to the next, but I rarely settle for long. After all, if I select one option I have to let go of all the other amazing possibilities. I might miss something. What if I make the wrong choice? I had the same problem the first time I went into a large book store. I had a book token. Those were the days … I was fully intending to buy a book. I left empty-handed because I just couldn’t make up my mind. I was used to the dusty little bookshop opposite the Post Office. The sheer volume of choice overwhelmed me.

When – or if – I settle on a project, the main problem is completing it. I’m rubbish at endings. I’m not good at finishing anything really. In my living room there’s a box. It’s a large box – a blanket box to be precise – and it’s full of knitting wool. Somewhere in the bowels of the box there’s a jacket I started to knit when my daughter was a baby. Size 12 to 18 months. It’s all done bar one sleeve. Her son’s too big to wear it now. It’s probably the oldest of the never-quite-finished garments in the box, but it’s by no means the only one. See what I mean?

The ‘Documents’ folder on the laptop bears witness to the same phenomenon. There are poems waiting to be edited. Short stories. Some no more than a single paragraph. One less than three lines long. Another mysteriously entitled ‘Summer 250’. I have no idea why. The folder also contains the beginnings of four novels. At least I think there are only four … The oldest is over 50,000 words long. I last worked on it in June 2006. Needless to say, it has no ending and I have no idea what the ending might have been if I’d written it. I’m more or less certain it won’t get written now. To be honest, one or two of the characters are a touch too true-to-life. I’m not ready for a libel suit.

The others are more promising. It’s only eighteen months since I last worked on a futuristic novel set in a land of religious fundamentalism. I like the story and the opening works well. I’m better at opening than closing. There’s also a vitriolic novel about dysfunctional relationships. It hasn’t been touched for over a year. I once read from it for a programme on local radio in Luton. I never heard the broadcast. There’s a much newer novel as well. This one started life as a short story last autumn, but outgrew the format. It’s around 5000 words long at the moment. It’s also based on a dysfunctional relationship. I write about those a lot.

Finally, there’s my very own answer to Harry Potter. With a female lead of course. OK, so it’s less than 250 words long and I’m already struggling with the plot, but the screen rights beckon me on. After all, even JK Rowling had to start somewhere. Now, how’s that for an ending?

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On giving up not being a writer … the first day

This has been the first day of my ‘Give it up for One25’ challenge. I’m trying to give up ‘not being a writer’. I’m asking people to sponsor me to write at least 500 words every day from now for the next 125 days, to raise money for One25‘s amazing work with street sex workers in Bristol. This blog is the record of my journey.

 

At least in theory, giving up not doing something turns the negative of ‘giving up’ into a positive, so I’d love to be able tell you that I leapt out of bed at the first note of the dawn chorus, seized a pen and completed 500 words of epic prose before my first cup of coffee. It wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it’s now 8.46 pm, I’m a little shy of 150 words, and I’m already wondering how long to make myself sit here before I can reasonably justify putting the kettle on again.

 

So how did the first day go? To be honest, I spent most of it frying eggs. No, really I did. Oh, and cutting the ends off burnt sausages. Doesn’t sound like fertile ground for creativity I’ll admit. But every healthy plant needs a little manure … The fact is, I’ve been working in a local community café for most of the week and it wasn’t manure at all. Not in the negative sense anyway. There hasn’t been a single day when I’ve come home without a fresh idea for a story. At this moment my head feels a bit like my hall cupboard. There’s a treasure trove in that cupboard that includes a twenty-five-year-old bicycle with two flat tyres, an LP by Keef Hartley (the first record I ever bought, I’ll have you know), the hard drive from my old PC, a collection of empty wine bottles and enough pictures to cover the walls of my flat twice over. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it all one day.

 

But on the whole, I think I’m more likely to find a use for my higgledy-piggledy heap of ideas. The snapshots and snippets I’ve slung into corners and not quite forgotten. Let me have a quick rummage through the last couple of days. Here’s the man at the bus stop. Flame-red trousers and 1970s moustache. Surely he’s not doing anything so mundane as going to Tesco’s? There’s a glint from that amazing sunrise. A flash of yellow from the daffodils in the corner garden. Here’s that woman. So thin a breath of wind might carry her away. She’s telling me her former husband hospitalised her so often she’s lost count. Why would you stay with a man like that? Small wonder she’s necking cheap rosé at 11.30 in the morning. Now here’s Barry. He proposes to the manager every time he comes to the café. He’s had to make do with me this week though. She’s been on holiday. I’ve just found that incident with the hat … and the three policemen … and the man in the yard of the mosque … So many stories, so little paper.

 

I thought at first I’d struggle to find anything to write about. Instead it seems the problem’s too much choice. Will it be a novel? A short story collection? A string of blog posts? I still don’t know. I do know it’s going to be a memorable journey, and I hope it’s also going to be a life-changing one. Now, I wonder if writing 600 words today means I only need to do 400 tomorrow …

 

 

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