Give me just a little more time …

I’ve been home alone for nearly an hour this evening. My husband left for archery 50 minutes ago and my daughter hasn’t been dropped off from her Nana’s yet. The cats haven’t yet reached point in the evening where they stare at me and squeak annoyingly until I relent and feed them so all is calm and quiet. Which would be the perfect time to sit down and write. Yet how have I spent this time? I need some tea so I managed to spend about 5 minutes putting a pie and chips (hmm, healthy!) into the oven but they’re not going to be ready for 20 mins so I haven’t spent any time eating yet. I’ve changed out of my work clothes which took all of a minute. And I’ve responded to a text so that’s probably about 7 mins accounted for. As for the rest? I’ve flicked around on Yahoo! news, checked my empty email inbox several times, done a Bitstrips on Facebook and stared at my news feed for a very long time waiting for someone to say something interesting. Which, incidentally, they haven’t. As in nothing has appeared as opposed to someone has said something that I rudely deem uninteresting.

So why am I wasting this really valuable writing time? 

Several years ago, I met a writing friend. As a single mum with a young daughter, she was taking some time out of work and I used to envy her the days she could spend in writing heaven, particularly when her daughter was at nursery and then school. I, on the other hand, was commuting several hours a day and working long hours in a demanding job so time was exceedingly precious. Yet we used to often discuss how funny it was that sometimes I could get more writing done in a week than she could and we concluded that, the more time you have, the more time you waste. Well, maybe not waste but you do find other things to do. When your writing time is snatched, as mine was, you tend to just knuckle down and make the most of it.

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I decided to pack in my crazy commute and long hours a couple of years back and after a couple of job changes, I’ve now settled into a role that’s very local. So local that I finish work at 5pm and am home by about 5.20pm. Luxury. Especially for someone who spent 4.25 hours of her day commuting this time two years ago! So now that I have the luxury of time, I should be getting a lot more writing done. But I’m not. Yet I am spending most evenings in the office in front of my computer so why am I not upping my word count?

Some of my time can be accounted for. I run a Brownie pack so that rules out a Monday evening and I need to spend some time planning. But I’ve been doing that for 4.5 years. It’s part of my routine. I also have responsibilities for The Write Romantics blog and regularly communicate with the group on our closed Facebook page (our support network). But we’ve just celebrated our one-year anniversary. So that’s part of my routine too. I’ve started this blog but, realistically, I post less than once a week and blogging is also part of my routine. In February last year, I started a bootcamp and blogged about it after every session until I stopped going in January this year. That’s four times a week! Now we’re maybe talking three times a month. So that’s also part of my normal routine and is a lesser commitment than it used to be.

So, I work shorter hours, I don’t commute, my other responsibilities haven’t changed (become fewer if anything) and I do spend every evening in front of the computer. Yet I’m getting less writing done. Deep down, I know the reason why. There are actually two reasons and, if we really need to give them a label, we’d probably say “crisis of confidence”.

Let me explain …

It took me over a decade to write my first novel. During that time, it got submitted to the NWS twice (to great reviews), went to some beta readers (also to great reviews), was pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference last summer (both of whom wanted the full MS) and is now out there seeking a publishing deal. I’m happy with the book and on up-beat optimistic days, I convince myself that it’s going to find a home because other writing friends who have submitted to certain publishers after me have had regrets already which would indicate I’m in a process and successfully progressing through various stages. (I hope! It sounds more pleasing than the idea that it’s still on the slushpile completely untouched!)

BUT … and it’s a big BUT which is why I’ve put it in capitals … I had that “difficult second book” to write. And I’d set myself up for an even bigger challenge by making it a sequel. A double viewpoint one too. All change! I’d learned so much about the writing process during the book 1 decade that I actually wrote book 2 in seven months! I had my beta readers lined up and I have to say that I was more nervous about them reading book 2 than I had been about book 1. What if they didn’t think it was as good? What if they didn’t like the dual viewpoint? (Which would be a big EEK for book 3 which would be told in triple viewpoint). What if they didn’t think there was sufficient storyline to make a sequel? My relief was incredible when they all loved it. Phew. The ultimate test, though, would be the submission to NWS. As I submitted early in the process (you have until end August), I naively thought it would be back with me in a few weeks. I was completely forgetting that the reviewers are writers themselves with their own deadlines and it was very possible I may be delayed by one of those. It turns out I have been although it will be posted back to me this week. I’ve therefore been in this limbo knowing that my readers liked it (yippee) but wondering if the critique may come back full of development areas. Until I know this “professional” verdict, I’m almost afraid to progress with book 3 (which I’m a third of the way through).

Book 3 is the final book in the series and, as I’ve already said, is told from three points of view but, in its early draft form, I’m looking at it and feeling it’s too episodic i.e. we run from something happening in person 1’s life, then to person 2’s, then back to 1, then 3, then 2, then 3 again and so on. It felt like something was missing. Then I realised what that something was. My main character’s character arc. She doesn’t change by the end of the book. She doesn’t learn something. Well, she does change and she does learn something but not in the way she should for a character arc to really satisfy. I know what the arc will be but that means shifting round some key events and, typically, they’re the events that have already happened which means some major re-work. Do I do this now or do I just finish writing then shift it around?

That’s it, then. That’s the problem. I’m scared of what my critique of book 2 will reveal and I’m being overly critical of what I think would be revealed if book 3 was about to be critiqued and both those things together have put me in ostrich mode where I’m simply avoiding writing because that’s easier than facing up to the fact that I may be a one-book-pony! Ok, ok, stop shouting at me. I know I’m not really. I know my beta readers loved book 2 and, actually, so did I when I read through it (so much more refreshing than having read book 1 about a million times) and I know book 3 has great potential but is just going to be a little longer and more challenging to construct than book 2. Mind you, as long as it’s not longer than book 1, that’s fine by me!

I’m actually feeling better for having put fingers to keyboard. It’s probably the most writing I’ve done this month and it feels good to let it flow. I’ve now had my tea, I’m about to wash my daughter’s hair and sort out bedtime routine but, at 8pm, she’ll be going to sleep and all will be quiet (once I’ve fed those pesky cats) so that’s a great opportunity to get cracking and do some writing. Face my demons. Conquer this thing. Although fellow Write Romantic Helen Phifer’s second novel ‘The Secrets of the Shadows’ was released yesterday and, according to my Kindle, I’m 32% of the way through it. Just like her debut, ‘The Ghost House’, it’s really gripping. Maybe I’ll just finish that first …..

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