End of year thoughts

I have been putting off writing this post for a long time as I knew it would not be filled with any brilliant news or great successes. It’s hard to not compare myself with all my other writer friends and to wonder what I am doing wrong, but as the days creep closer to the end of the year and I try to regather my energy, I think it is important to have a quick look back and a longer look forward. It is a year that has taken its toll on many I know as we have been thrust into a global climate emergency with lame leaders. It has been hard to stay hopeful with this as a backdrop.

This year I took on full-time work at the high school where I have worked for the last five years. The one thing that worried me about taking this on was the impact it would have on my writing life. I committed myself at the start of the year to write every day after work, but I was not prepared for the effect the job would have on me. The reality is that my writing took a hit, but I also learnt a great deal about my dedication to it. The job has been a very busy one. It is managing a high school library (by myself) as well as doing all the communications and marketing for the school. I have never run a library before (other than my private one) and had no knowledge of how to do it, but I was prepared to learn. My day is busy. I start at 8 am and supposedly finish at 4 pm with a short half-hour break to eat my lunch. School libraries are not what they used to be. Our school library, which contains a cafeteria area with sandwich makers and microwaves, is the hub of the school. Kids flock to it whenever classes are not running, and during class time it is filled with kids who do not have classes, or who need to use the photocopier. To say it is noisy is an understatement, and this drew a lot of energy from me given that I am an introvert who loves her quiet time.

At the end of Term 1, I was ready to leave. I was exhausted from learning everything there was to know about running and cataloguing a library, resurrecting the library collection, and rectifying the library catalogue all while managing the students, as well as managing my household and completing another full draft of my manuscript. I began Term 2 with tears and dread. Not only was I worried about whether I would have the energy to keep going, but I also had a knockback from an agent. I sought counsel from a dear writer friend who empathised and encouraged to me keep going with my writing, to maybe write before my day’s energy was sapped from work, and reminded me that what I was doing in the school was good, that I was inspiring young readers.

During the year, my husband and I also battled various health issues with my husband having a moon boot for five months for two stress fractures, and I have had persistent plantar fasciitis all year and a torn meniscus on the knee on top of the worst year yet for my chronic migraines with more days of pain than not.

While I had hoped to have a contract by the end of this year (don’t we all?), I now know that the manuscript that I had sent out was not the one I want published. It pushed me to think more about the story: what is the best way to tell this story? I read more than I have read in any other year, with many of those sixty books being read to understand different ways to tell story.

So, while I may not have a contract (yet), I finish the year with some things I am proud of:

  • beginnings of a new and brave draft that is breaking my brain
  • first words of another manuscript that is making me laugh
  • admiration for my ability to get up early five days a week to write, despite how tired I am
  • knowledge that I am brave enough to completely break a well-written story to try to craft something more beautiful
  • learning new skills, and leaving the place in a better state than I found it
  • increasing borrowing by five (5!!) times in the library
  • attending the Historical Novel Society of Australiasia conference in Sydney alone
  • attending the School Library Association of Victoria Conference and making great and important contacts
  • going to two writing retreats even though I felt I didn’t belong
  • sending my young adult for a manuscript assessment
  • ability to live with and manage chronic pain
  • resilience in the face of rejection
  • publication in the Victorian Writer magazine
  • letting go of some overly ambitious goals.

I am deeply thankful for the people who have stood alongside me this year and cheered me on. It has not been an easy year and I have spent a great deal of it in pain, tired and grumpy. I have cancelled more things than what I have gone to. I have complained and cried. But with the love and kindness of my friends and family, I have picked myself up and gotten on with the work that needs to be done despite the pain and tiredness.

I am also deeply thankful for my medical team (neurologist, doctor, myotherapist, psychologist, podiatrist and osteopath) who have thought long and hard on how to help me live my best throughout. One of them told me to ‘just do a good job instead of a perfect job’, which was key to hear as it enabled me to let go of some of my perfectionist traits at work.

My family are everything. Without the chaos and laughter with my boys, I would feel bereft and selfish. I love them to bits. I am deeply proud of who they are and what they have achieved and are aiming for. They continue to ace at their studies while working part-time in various jobs and being their best persons to the world around them. I am thankful for my close relationship with each of them.

Next year is a huge year of change for our family. Two of the boys will leave home to study in regional areas. We are planning a small renovation during this time of a smaller family so that when we all come together again we will have a light-filled space to be chaotic together again. I have begun a new migraine medication that has been likened to a miracle prevention medication and I have high hopes woven with a dose of reality.

My goals for 2020 have more flexibility than other years as I am learning that this is important.

  • I don’t know if I will have this manuscript ready by the end of next year, or if it will be picked up by a publisher or agent, but I will complete the next draft and let it rest while I write something different.
  • I will review my young adult manuscript and see what needs to be done, or it if belongs in the bottom drawer.
  • I will keep reading wonderful books mostly by Australian women writers who deserve more space than they get.
  • I will spend time with my wonderful writing group who are deeply important to me.
  • I will spend whatever quality time I can with my boys as time passes quickly.

I hope that 2019 has been kind to you, and if it has not I hope that you can find some sense in it or are able to put it behind you. I hope that 2020 is a year that we can be proud of the decisions that our government make. I hope that 2020 is a year that brings kindness and love to you.

x Meg

 

 

 

Every story takes time (and a cheer squad)

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The beautiful Ned and Musk Farm House where the magic of writing and writing friendship happens.

Two weeks ago I said to my husband that I should stop calling myself a writer. I felt utter despair with my two large writing projects. They felt too big, too overwhelming. It was the end of the school holidays and I had not done the big thinking and planning work on either of them that I thought I could have. I had been working at them five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day on my work days, but it was not enough. Those tiny moments each day I spent with my writing before I started my day job were not enough to see the story as a whole and I began to doubt everything about my merit as a writer. I began to feel that working full time meant that I should give up my writing.

My two manuscripts have been redrafted a number of times and both of them need another draft (at least). One of them needed a new beat and a theme threaded through in addition to some sharpening to clear away the superfluous words. The other manuscript needs uninterrupted time to read through a manuscript assessment before I can even work out what needs to be done. Both of these things needed a big chunks of uninterrupted time (every parent and full-time worker) knows what I’m talking about here). I knew I had a week booked to write away with my writing gang, but two weeks ago I was overwhelmed and wondering if the sacrifices I make to write were worth it.

Luckily I have supportive partner and a writing accountability partner who both told me to stick at it, that I was a writer.  They both believed in me, even if I wasn’t sure I could do it. They cheered for me.

I am home now from my seven days away and I am exhausted and energised. Spending time with my writing gang has always helped me to refocus and to feel more confident in what I’m doing. It helps that doubtful voice to quieten. It reminds me that everything I am feeling is normal. This year we have not caught up as much as we used to and I am sure that this has also added to the spiral down of writing confidence.

I spent the first three days researching, reading, reacquainting myself with the manuscript. These days felt full and wonderful, but time was ticking by and I was losing myself down many rabbit holes (like the one that led me to the images below).  I worried that I would go home with nothing to show for my time away.

 

(Little sparks of joy from my rabbit hole researching. Images from https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/6-october/features/features/sewing-stories-unpicking-the-faith-of-girls-past)

I scribbled notes on cards, paper and in new documents. I decided that if I could go home with nailing what the story was really about (in the words of a wonderful teacher: What is your story really about?), how the beat would hit the pages and that I would be able to hit my early morning writing date with confidence, then that would be a win.

The first great moment was deleting the first 11,000 words. What had been running through my mind were the words: start as late as you can. Suddenly I had the energy to run with it. It felt right (don’t worry, I did put those words into another document aptly named ‘Cut’).

The next great thing was when I applied something that I always told my creative writing students. I changed the point of view from third to first (i.e. ‘She’ to ‘I’).  Just to see.

And, oh. WOW. It worked!

I am now on the roll with again. It will be a better manuscript when I finish it. I am confident of that. Will it be the last draft that goes out to a publisher? I can’t answer that. What I can say is that it takes work—lots of work—to shape a story into something that is not only publishable, but is also interesting and stands on its own. While that work is being done (which is years) every writer needs to have people in their camp who cheer for them, encourage them and remind them that they are writers whether or not their book is in the world.

 

On exhaustion, writing and other things

I have been absent from here a great deal this year, which was to be expected with starting work full time for the first time since 1997 (yes, you read that right!), but I haven’t slipped away completely. It has certainly been a juggle working, writing and managing the family, and I’m hoping that the next term is a little easier to manage.

I started the school year with a marked-up draft of my convict woman story after spending 10 hours reading it aloud (something I have never done before and was certainly a great experience — even if I was left with no voice and an ulcer on my tongue). Each morning before I started work at 8 am, I spent at least 30 minutes editing. It took me a couple of weeks to settle into the practice (i.e. where to do it), but in the end, I found a room at work where no one would disturb me. I set the goal of Easter to have it ready to send to an agent, and on the first Tuesday of the school holidays (nine days before Easter), I sent it off (hooray!). I may never hear from her, but it felt great to have hit that goal. I was also very excited to see that I received an Honourable Mention for my story, Murder by Biscuit, in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge earlier this year. This was a short story that had to be completed with eight days. Everyone involved was given three things: a genre, an action and a character. Mine was: a mystery, a medical diagnosis and a prisoner. It was a lot of fun to write even as an unfamiliar genre.

My workplace

Workwise, I embraced my new role as Resource Centre (library) Manager and Communications and Marketing Manager for a secondary school. I set goals to put the library into order, order new books and connect with the school librarian community. It felt great at the end of Term 1 to see the shelves ordered, have new books arrive and to attend my first conference with other school librarians. I made it a priority to get books in that are on the Inky Awards lists from the last couple of years, and to make sure there are plenty of diverse voices, and Australian voices. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the excitement on the student’s faces as they borrow the books.

I attended a few book launches (The Rip by Mark Brandi, The Result Result by Graeme Simsion and Small Blessings by Emily Brewin). It was wonderful to celebrate my friends who are all wonderful writers. It was even better to read these books. If you haven’t read them yet, go grab a copy and read them.

Book launches!

I also attended a wonderful masterclass in climate change writing, run by Jane Rawson and James Bradley. There were loads of great conversations that day, despite only having had a few hours sleep after my middle boy’s eighteen birthday party.

I finished the first term of school in a state of sheer exhaustion hoping that I could spend the two weeks break resting and recovering before heading back into another ten weeks work. Life, however, doesn’t always work that way. Instead, I spent the first week taking my husband from here to there to find out why he had been experiencing excruciating pain and swelling in his foot for two weeks. I didn’t in those two weeks after the negative result on the first x-ray and the first blood test that showed up with high white blood cell counts, or in the week while we waited to hear the results from the blood tests, bone scans and ultrasounds. My mind wandered to the terrible as all I have ever known of strange and unknown things like this was fatal.

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Waiting to hear why his foot hurt so much

The doctors scratched their heads and talked of gout (then crossed it off), rheumatism, and then nothing as time ticked by. Nothing was the worst. When the doctor greeted us to tell us the results of all the tests, he said he had bad news. I braced myself. I had been mentally preparing myself for this. For a life without my love by my side. For single parenting. For caring. Two stress fractures, the doctor said. I laughed. That! That’s not bad news, I said. And it truly isn’t. It will heal. He will be okay. So far from where my mind had gone. But I am still exhausted. He is still in loads of pain two weeks into wearing his moon boot, and I am now back at work without any rest. It’s going to be a long eight weeks.

Now onto my goals for the next term. I’m in that strange in-between-project writing period. I’m writing submissions for unpublished manuscript programs, writing ugly first words of short stories and trying to reconnect with my writing mates. Trying not to lose confidence in the words. In a few weeks, I’ll be off to my twice-yearly writing retreat with my incredible writing pals (Kate Mildenhall, Emily Brewin, Katherine Collette, Kim Sigley, Nicky Heaney and Venita Munir) so be prepared for some writing retreat spam.  I’m trying to get a better work-life balance so that I am not working an extra hour or more every day by setting alarms to get me out of there, and paring back my goals for the library so that they are more realistic. I’m also hoping to work out how to juggle the multiple roles that I carry there. With my home life, I need to get better at being a little more shiny rather than absorbent so that I don’t take on everything that my family need, instead, allow them to see that they need to do these things themselves. The eternal quest.

I stand for tolerance

Yesterday, on a day when most of the world took in the terrible news about the massacre in New Zealand, a neighbour decided to leave an intolerant note on the windscreen of a car parked in front of our house.

As we finished our dinner we heard an elderly Egyptian woman calling to us from outside. She waved a piece of paper as she cried ‘Sorry’ over and again. We went outside and asked her what had happened. She explained that this note had been stuck to her windscreen and she was dreadfully sorry to have inconvenienced us.

We stopped her to explain that this was not our doing. This was not from us. That we would not do that.

She left the piece of paper with us and left, I hope, reassured that not everyone in our street thinks in the way that the letter represented.

I, however, have been left with a sadness that people around me are so small minded to be this angry and rude about a car space. That people can intimidate others in this way. That people can be so intolerant of others.

If we want tolerance, we need to practise this at home, in our streets and in our communities. Even if it means taking a breath and driving around the block for a car park. Even if it means being a little uncomfortable.

I stand for tolerance.

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An image of the note left on a stranger’s car. It reads: “You have parked in the middle of 2 spots. Just like parking is tight at your church, parking is tight in our street. Pls think of others when parking. If you can’t park your car in a single spot, pls get lessons.”