Over the past few weeks, something strange has happened. In the tiny bubbles of time I get between work and baby, I’ve started to write again.
At first, it wasn’t much. A few scenes that barely reached 300 words. Some thoughts, a memory, nothing substantial. But it was something. I opened up ‘stickies’ on my laptop. Down the right side of the screen is one giant note with all the days of the week, with enough for two months’ worth. I get to the end of the day and log how many words I’ve written. At the end of each week is a ‘total.’
Getting out and about to look at artwork may have helped my creativity
It’s been a great way to track my word count, celebrate successes and give me a nudge if the words just aren’t coming. At the very bottom are the historical word counts I’m most proud of. September 2015 is 17,858, when I was nearing the end of my Masters. My best ever is August 2017, when I trotted out a whopping 34 299 words. That was my second novel, which splurged from my fingers unlike anything I’ve written before or since.
When I’m not writing much, it’s too depressing to go through and log a string of 0s after each day. Seeing as I actually had a ‘plan’ for the next book, I decided to go for it and start counting again. Now I’m working three days a week and have a small person, there’s limited time to get words done. Nap time on my days off and weekends when my other half can play with her is as much as I can manage.
This weekend I’m back in Southampton to concentrate on writing
Every word counts for something, and it’s surprising how quickly it adds up. A few hundred words here, there, before I knew it I had 2000 words done in one week. It got better. 3000, 4000, one week I got to 5000 after a concerted effort over the weekend. Without realising it, I’d put together 20,000 words for a non-fiction book sample in just over a month.
The only problem was that when I read it, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. To me, it felt disjointed and clunky. Lacking direction. There was the odd passage I enjoyed, but they were few and far between. Of course, every writer is often her own worst critic, so I decided to get a second opinion. The response was disappointingly illuminating.
Also dressing up as a gangster, but mostly writing.
‘Where are you?’ was the feedback. Perhaps because this is my first foray into non-fiction, or maybe it’s because there doesn’t seem to be that much travel writing by women. When you’re looking for a tone or an angle, it helps to have been exposed to as many other examples as possible.
When you think of travel, you might think of Bill Bryson, Jack Kerouac, or Paul Theroux. But there are some great alternatives. I’ve already read Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews, but I feel the need for more. I’ve put West with the Night by Beryl Markham on my list, partly for what Hemingway said of her writing: “I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” Now that’s high praise. I’ve just started A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and have added titles from this list and this one to help me broaden my ideas on what my book might be like.
The food that produces great writing, hopefully.
I also can’t help wondering if it’s the wobbly sense of self I’ve had since becoming a mum. The thing that made the writing fragmented was the lack of voice. My voice.
People are always banging on about how important ‘voice’ is in writing. I’ve spent hours reading books, sometimes just letting it wash over me. Other times I’ve painstakingly pulled apart the techniques used to create it, either for my own benefit or for that of my students. I never imagined that writing as myself would be a problem.
Not the most glamorous writing retreat in the world.
When writing, usually, I’m hiding behind the voice of a character I’ve created, tripping through a narrative in a style meant to fit with the setting and mood of the piece. I’ve tried lyrical, stilted, affected, cold. I’ve even taken on an entire dialect and written a book in first person slang. But I’ve never written, at length, as myself.
There is one place that I think the essence of ‘me-ness’ rests on the page, and that’s right here, on this blog, where all you lovely people come to read my ramblings.
Perhaps I’m over thinking it. Maybe I’m trying too hard. It might be that, lurking in the pages of this website, is the real me. Give me a shout if you find her.