My writing process


I write a lot of blog posts in my head, especially when I am lying in bed at night snuggled down under my duvet and just about to drop off to sleep. These blog posts are amazing. The subject matter is interesting and amusing, I find the exact words to convey the desired meaning without effort. They flow perfectly, effortlessly from start to finish and would leave the reader with a wry smile of satisfaction and empathy; if they ever got written that is, because of course they don’t. I fall asleep and, by next morning, can rarely recall even the subject of this textual masterpiece.

Sometimes I decide that the idea is just too good to allow to slip. I crawl out of bed in the dark, find pen and paper, and note down a few salient points that will ensure that this post can be created the next day. Having disturbed my tired body on the cusp of a beautiful sleep I will lie for the next hour tossing and turning, persuading myself that lost rest is a small price to pay for the wonderful prose that I will soon create. I wonder if I should just get up and produce the thing, but my need for that elusive sleep, and my husband’s habit of complaining if I try to stay up overnight (he has experience of the grumpiness that would ensue) keeps my head on the pillow.

The next morning I will eagerly seek out an opportunity to write; fetch coffee, my computer and consult the notes that will prompt all those fabulous words to flow. I read the line or two jotted down by torchlight in the wee small hours and perplexedly ponder their significance. Whatever magic they possessed is gone forever, as if it were a dream. I write something else entirely, and publish with the knowledge that it is a poor shadow of that lost prequel.

My best posts are always created at the most inopportune moments. I could be driving my car, cooking a meal or enjoying a long, country walk. Unless I can hold those thoughts and get a few paragraphs down they are entirely lost, unwritten and forgotten. Although I always carry a notebook and pen, a few sentences are not enough to capture the flow of my inner mind. Even when I start to write I find the ideas going off at tangents I had not anticipated. My posts rarely finish as conceived, my writing method is volatile and unpredictable.

I am happiest starting with a simple prompt, a blank page and no preconceptions. I am not always satisfied with what is produced, but value the creative practice. The feedback I receive rarely reflects my view on the quality of the words. Any piece of writing will be interpreted by the reader based on their life and experience, something that cannot be anticipated. I put my thoughts out for my own benefit, although I do nurse a fragile hope that they will touch a chord with someone, anyone else out there in cyberspace.

I am never short of ideas, even if these do rarely turn out as anticipated. My planning consists of deciding on a publishing platform and allowing for subsequent deadlines. As a hobby writer I do not let others down if I fail to produce a piece of work. I do feel personal disappointment, but recognise that what I write truly matters only to me.

Sometimes I think that I should carry a recording device and capture my thoughts when they are fresh. Would this work though, or would ordering the imagined words sterilise their fluid beauty? I may feel a certain sadness that I cannot capture the posts that I create in my head, but the vagueness of my writing process generally works for me. With enough practice I hope to move even a fraction closer to that distant perfection of my dreams.

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.”  (George R.R. Martin)






Happy Birthday to me

Today is my birthday. I now have exactly one more year to sort myself out before I reach my first half century. I am not bothered by the ageing process; the adventure of life continues apace and I am learning from all my experiences. I have no wish to be a different age or to relive a time that has gone before. Neither do I harbour any massive regrets for decisions made; I am okay with where I am today apart from a few issues around the edges that only I am capable of dealing with. So that is what I need to do.

For today though, I will do my best to enjoy what I have got. Life has as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate and I will mark this day in a low key but celebratory manner with my family. I was surprised to see that the Google Doodle has been changed in my honour (everyone is seeing those cakes, right?). I rather like that.

I have plans for the next year. One of the issues I have struggled with through spring and summer is how to cope with truculent teenagers. My children are growing up, asserting their independence, and I am not dealing with this as well as I would wish. I need to shift my mindset and allow them to make the mistakes that they will learn from. I need to find my own way again after years of living for them.

I also need to get more comfortable with how I see myself. Three years ago, when I was feeling settled in a sort of comfortable, middle aged, cuddly mama look, I took the decision to home school my youngest son (Why I became an amateur teacher). Over the course of that fabulous year, as I watched my insecure little boy blossom and grow in confidence and ability, I had little time for myself. I was preparing lessons, pouring my heart and soul into his development, and with the remainder of my waking hours making sure that my husband and other two children got enough attention not to feel sidelined. There was no time for me; none at all. I ate, slept and functioned. I put on a huge amount of weight.

When my son returned to mainstream education I decided to deal with my lack of self care. I joined a luxurious gym and made sure that I went out for long walks and cycle rides. I gave myself lots of time for me. By watching what I ate I managed to lose the weight I had gained and a lot more besides. Within nine months I was slimmer and fitter than I had been in twenty-five years. I felt amazing.

I have long passed the window of opportunity to look fabulous, but what I loved about this transformation was the fact that I could put on the clothes that I liked and feel that they suited me. No longer was I trying to hide the bumps and rolls; I could wear close fitting clothes without feeling suffocated or worrying that I resembled the michelin man.

Much as I felt good about the way that I looked, the way that that I felt was cathartic. The improved fitness gave me energy that I hadn’t possessed in more years than I could remember. I was fitting in all of my activities, keeping the house running as it should and not suffering that feeling of everyday exhaustion that had become a fact of life.

I do not know how much of this was down to improved health and how much to the psychological benefits of feeling good about myself. Although my friends and acquaintances were making many complimentary remarks when they saw me, my family did not see the change as either necessary or beneficial. My daughter was not happy with my strict eating habits which worried me; I know that parents must be careful not to instil negative body image issues in their children. My elder son, who had taken to insulting me with the phrase ‘Du bist eine gross und dicke mutter’, was persuaded that this was no longer appropriate which was an achievement, but complements from teenage boys to aged relatives are an expectation too far.

Not that I felt any need for complements; in many ways those I received made me feel uncomfortably exposed. I was happier that my family had accepted me whatever my size and did not see me being larger or smaller as noteworthy. This has been particularly important in dealing with what came next. Having worked so hard to achieve the changes in my body shape I then, very gradually, allowed the weight to return. Not all of it and not so quickly as to be immediately obvious, but an insidious increase of a pound here and a pound there until I am now, once again, trying and failing to hide the rolls of fat under loose clothes.

Well, this won’t do at all. I know that I can do better and fully intend to sort myself out. Just as I gained time for myself when my youngest son went back to school, so I intend to use more of my time for myself when the summer holiday finishes for my teenagers in a couple of weeks time. They have shown me quite plainly that they prefer, nay demand, more space and freedom. I need to start looking at this as, not a rejection, but an opportunity for me to take the same freedom for myself.

Last time I did this it took nine months; this time I give myself a year. By my next birthday I aim to have lost the excess weight that is both physically and mentally dragging me down and to have found whatever it is that I am to become beyond being a mother to my children. I have allowed myself to live my life through others. This is  a deflation of my potential and places unnecessary and unreasonable demands on them. I can be more than that.

I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. For today though, I will do what I can to make this a happy birthday for me.

Birthday Cake

Spending my time

Time is a valuable commodity. However we choose to spend it, if we are gaining enjoyment or achieving our goals, it is not wasted. Enjoyment can be gained from sitting still, from contemplation; it is not necessary to be constantly active. Our goals may be esoteric, but this should not invalidate them. There are those who gain satisfaction from being seen to achieve, but there are also many for whom achievement is more personal and private. How we spend our time largely determines our quality of life. Learning to spend it wisely is the challenge.

In my head I carry around numerous lists: things to do; places to go; people to see. I am most comfortable when my life is organised; I do not like surprises. To help me stay organised I keep magnetic whiteboards attached to my fridge door showing day planners for each member of the family, menu plans for dinner and a blank board for general information and reminders. I also keep a small Filofax in my bag which contains The Diary. If any member of my family expects an activity or an event to happen then it must go in The Diary. Once I have written it down, the organisation becomes my responsibility.

As I do not go out of my home for paid employment I have a lot of flexibility in how I spend my time during school hours. The flip side to this is that I am expected to fit in with the needs of my family at other times – that is my job and it suits me well. I choose not to socialise a great deal as I like spending time at home; I like being around when my family are here, catering to their needs and being involved in their lives. My family are busy little bee’s with their work, organised activities, sports and social events. Keeping track of who needs to be where, when and with what can feel quite daunting as all can be heading in different directions on the same day. Getting a family meal on the table each evening, in between all the comings and goings, can challenge my organisational skills to the limit.

During the school day though, my time is my own with the caveat that I make inroads into my lists. How quickly I get to tick the tasks off generally shows my level of enthusiasm, and over the years I have learnt from this. If a task is not necessary and I do not enjoy it then it will rarely get done.

Communities thrive when people volunteer to sit on committees, organise events or help out on the day. I have tried to be one of those involved and generous people and I hated it. The committee I sat on made decisions that I strongly disagreed with, but I had to go along with their plans. The events I helped out at required me to put myself in front of people – I am desperately uncomfortable in the limelight. Even offering to bake a batch of cakes for a fund raiser would be deflating – if you could see my cakes you would understand why, but the comments could be quite cruel. My children assure me that my baking tastes yummy and that counts more than looks. Others can be less accepting.

I am now much more comfortable with who I am and live my life in a way that suits me. If I can stay calm and happy then I and my family benefit, and it is their opinion that matters to me. From time to time I will make the effort to catch up with a friend and I always enjoy these occasions. My friends are very tolerant of my general unsociability and continue to invite me to their special events. These are highlights in what would otherwise be a very repetitive life. Whilst I choose to live my life this way, it is good to have a few, novel events to look forward to from time to time.

My internal lists contain many things that I personally want to achieve for myself. I like to stretch myself, to feel that I am still learning and growing as a person. I have friends who are highly talented at creating beautiful arts and crafts. Whilst I can admire their work and appreciate the skills that are required, the achievements I choose to aim for are not so tangible. I gain satisfaction from reading a good book; I find peace on a walk in the beautiful countryside that surrounds our home; I feel a sense of accomplishment when I can turn our messy house into something that resembles tidiness. Whilst I can procrastinate with the best of them, a good day is one where I have completed the essential tasks and a few more besides. A good day is one where I end up feeling satisfied with my achievements, even if they are not obvious to anyone else.

When I look at the life I lead I realise that it is very far removed from the life I envisaged myself wanting when I was growing up. I expected then that I would always want to work in a challenging, well paid  job; to travel; to party. I now feel that I have done all this and moved on. I am happy with where I am in my life and for me, that is the best possible outcome. There are still many things that I aim to do but I am in no rush. I wish to spend my time wisely and to continue to enjoy the journey.