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.

 

The unaskable question

The boy pushed the food around his plate practising the unaskable question that rolled around in his head. It had churned around for days, no, weeks now and it felt like it was eating his insides out.  His mother and brother ignored his moodiness and talked of this and that – even laughed out loud. She reached over the table to his older brother, caressing his cheeks.  A loud sigh, a dramatic push of the boy’s plate and then a slump back in his chair all passed without them seeming to notice. The evening was tidied away and orders were made to go to bed.

The boy lay on his bed with the doona over his head whispering the question he already knew the answer to. Dad was not coming back.