No, I don’t have time for a coffee

It has been a while since I’ve added anything new to this blog. The reasons are myriad, and I suppose on the whole unimportant. The biggest reason I had to let the blog fall to the wayside a bit (okay, a lot), is because of time constraints. We only have so many hours in a day, and because of other responsibilities (and sometimes completely unimportant “stuff”) we give up our writing time.

People often misunderstand. They think we don’t want to spend time with them, or that we’re just being antisocial, or whatever misconception they dream up. Nothing can be further from the truth. We want to spend time with you … we want to hang out, but we also really need to write. If we don’t, we go insane. For that reason (and many others discussed below) we have to guard our writing time.

My writing buddy, Sarah, and I discussed the problems we as writers have to face every day, most importantly the attack on our time – the constant battle of having to protect our “writing” time.

 

I don't have time for a coffee

Q1: As NaNo approaches, what do you find is the biggest challenge where family and friends are concerned?

Sarah: I’m lucky in that most friends and family members know how seriously I take my writing – it’s A JOB! – and that I’m at my pc daily, from 8-1, sometimes again at night, working. I work from home, like others work from an office somewhere. And still there is often this notion of “oh, as she’s home anyway, can I drop by for a quick coffee and a chat? For her to take me to the station (as happened yesterday, thanks, MIL)? For a quick phone chat? Whatever. During relaxed times, I squeeze that in for friends, as we all have kids, and evenings are short and full. But with NaNoWriMo approaching, I regularly become more wary. THAT schedule is a monster that will eat up every available minute. And NaNo needs prep, too. And my normal writing tasks (like editing, prepping launches) don’t evaporate.

Elaine: I am part of a successful neighbourhood watch and civilian patrol group. I’m very proud of being part of that community, and as you can imagine those people have become friends over time, and a lot of them think because I’m home and “just” writing, I have time to do everything they can’t do, because they have “proper” jobs. Writing is a proper job, and not an easy one at that. Over the last 6 months or so, I’ve seen how my work as an author was pushed on the back burner and once more became ‘just a hobby’. This year, for NaNo, I’ve resolved to make it my priority to be a writer again. That means saying “no” to people a lot. It might take a while for everyone to accept that I can’t just quickly do “XYZ” because I’m at home, and no one will care if I quickly run out. I care. My home is my office. Yes, I work here, and yes I am a little more flexible than most, but I DO work. People are not overly happy that I can’t devote all my time to them anymore, but a person can only take on so much, and sooner or later we have to decide what’s most important to us.

Q2: How seriously do people take your writing as “proper work”? In general? Is it seen as a cute hobby?

Sarah: I’m rigorous about my work. If I want to have any chance of succeeding, I have to put my foot down and convince ME everyday that this IS work, and then everyone else around me. Most people know that I mean business, and with a “proper book” out, that helps with acknowledgement and being taken seriously. But everyone who loves me seems to think that “it is just me, just this short time span” out of her writing time, and what harm can that do? They are irritated or puzzled when right before NaNo I tell them No. Because if everyone came to me like that, “just me, just briefly”, my days would be torn apart and shit would not be finished. Artists need peace and quiet (well, me) to sink into the tasks and let creativity flow. So no, they don’t see it as a hobby, I made sure of that. The problem is everyone thinking, “it’s just them”.

Elaine: I started writing a serial novel for an online magazine not so long ago. That means I suddenly have deadlines. People get irritated with me when I tell them I can’t hang out to party all weekend, or that I have a deadline and have to go. I have been asked, “Why do you have to go? It’s not such an important deadline, it’s just a story.” Yes, it’s just a story … but it’s important to me, and all those books you read, and movies you watch are entertainment to you, and important to you, because the human race needs entertainment. Do people think that art just falls out of the sky? It’s created by us – misunderstood people who are pouring their whole being into something the world at large don’t understand. Writing is art, and creating art takes time. My husband, a few very close friends, and most of my family, understand that it’s my full-time job, and are less condescending.

Q3: How do you guard your writing time, and how do those around you respond when you choose writing over having ‘that cup of coffee’ with them?

Sarah: I can be too lax with such requests, as I love my people and want to spend time with them, and if they are free and just wanna come over … I can give in easily. But NaNo is the time of year where I can’t do that, or else I’d fail, and I take pride in that I never failed NaNo once, despite regular sicknesses and mishaps with the kids. I plan for a few days of “nursing time” anyway, so being a mum is always an extra struggle as you don’t get every day to yourself. I’ll have to work doubly hard. November is therefore a very complicated month, and my stress levels high. So I tell people what NaNo is and how it helps me to kick start novels, and most understand and step back. It’s not the first time, either. When I mention that it’s “that time of year” they understand. Still, things like school excursions, parents’ meetings etc. are weighed against my work, and people who don’t write don’t get the dynamics. They simply assume I can be flexible and will somehow make up for it, just do things later. NO! I have to stick to a schedule, too, like everyone who works, and that is often still hard to convey. That I’m not that much more flexible than other workers – and I don’t want to be. Being an artist is complicated enough, it’s not a straightforward job. So if I don’t protect my schedules, I’ll get into more trouble. Some friends (and at one point even the husband) rolled their eyes when I said no to seemingly small tasks. But in the long run, I think being that strict can only prove to them how serious I am about this. IT’S. MY. JOB.

Elaine: I put my headphones on, close the door and tell people to fuck off. I’ve had to use those exact words before, and I have regretted it. I don’t like letting people down, so often I’ll push my writing time back to accommodate others. My husband will sometimes say, “Oh, you can do it later when the boys are asleep.” Sure, but when do I sleep? When you intrude on our working time, we have to find some other time to work, that means sacrificing time with our family and friends. Just like everyone else, we don’t want to give that up, but because someone intruded on our ‘working’ hours we are forced to make a decision. What do we give up? Writing time or family time? Most often, family wins, and tomorrow we have to work like maniacs to catch up on the time we lost yesterday.

It’s up to the writer to make her own hours, put her foot down and say “this is my work time. You have to wait.” Most people get annoyed, a few understand. The best way to deal with it is to ignore it. The world won’t come to an end because I do not have time for that movie, or that party, or that drink right now. I will have time later, but not right now.  It’s hard sometimes, but I’m getting better at saying no.

Q4: “What do you want to say to all those people who intrude on your writing time?”

Sarah: I want to tell them that I DO love them, sooo much, but that they need to see my work like everyone else’s work. It’s just a different location. Being at home doesn’t equal being available, not even for the postman, sometimes! So please, understand that I have to protect my time to get things done, to have even the slightest chance of being successful one day. That it’s not personal, it’s protecting my workspace. I want to see them, talk to them, do tasks. Just not during “office-hours”. Over time, I think they’ll see I’m serious. I’m proving this to them by working hard, every single day, not just when I feel like it or “have time”. Sticking to my office-hours will make them see just how important my job is, and that it is a proper job, with normal, regular working hours that mustn’t be interrupted. The more I keep that habit up, the easier people will understand. I hope.

Elaine: To you it may seem like it’s “just a hobby” or “just a story.” But think about all those good books you’ve read, the joy you’ve derived from them, the discussions you’ve had (people still have endless discussions about books written 100s of years ago). Those were written by people like me. Writing is hard. We are creating something out of thin air, or as Stephen King likes to put it, we’re digging up a fossil. It’s hard. Understand, that we’re not just sitting there thinking up a story. We work out timelines, plots, do endless hours of research, put storyboards together (well some writers do), and once that story is told, we have to put in more hours editing the work, finding spelling and grammar mistakes, fixing timelines, plots, adding and cutting. Thousands of hours go into creating just one novel, and it’s all for your entertainment. We are happy when people enjoy our work. For most writers, any monetary gain is secondary to a job well done. We do it because it’s our passion. When you relegate it to something ‘cute’ we do in our spare time, you’re basically shitting on every masterpiece written over the centuries. All those authors who brought you such joy are suddenly lumped into a category of non-importance. Yet, the human race craves stories. They read them, they tell them, they watch them on television and in cinemas across the globe. Have more respect for those who pour their entire being into bringing you that pleasure. That is all we ask.

Going back to my writing roots

Since the home invasion (if you haven’t yet, you can read about it here), I’ve been battling with my writing. I can’t seem to immerse myself as fully into my make-believe worlds as I used to. This is problematic, because if I can’t see, hear, smell and feel my characters, I can’t write about them. The robbery changed me in a fundamental way, and things I used to do I can’t do anymore, which means I also have to adjust my writing routines and rituals. I used to listen to music while I wrote – headphones on, music blasting my eardrums to an early death. I can’t do that anymore. I need to hear what’s going on around me, and if I can’t hear, I get panicky, and when I get panicky, I can’t write.

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Part of my process involved a few weeks of ‘daydreaming’ about the new story and characters. It required me sinking deep into my imagination, shutting out the rest of the world, and just concentrating on the people in my head. But now, unwelcome thoughts intrude, and the story falls apart. I have to keep my mind constantly active to keep out obsessive thoughts – that means reading a lot of cracked.com, or watching a lot of really bad television, but nothing creative, because even reading fiction cuts off the outside world, and that drives me fucking nuts.

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Aftermath – recovering from trauma

2015 was supposed to be a good year.

I had high hopes for my writing career, and many plans for the new year. After the home invasion, when my family and I were held captive for 3 hours, most of my plans for 2015 went down the drain. Three months later, and I still find it hard to write (as witnessed by the three-month long gap between posts), and most days I spend just trying to stay out from under the bed.

Recovering from trauma is difficult, and takes a long time, and we are all dealing with it differently. There is no “one size fits all” quick fix here. My oldest son started getting aggressive – he hits his little brother and throws his toys around, but much more worrisome, he is starting to exhibit signs of self-harm. My husband pretends it didn’t happen at all, and sleeps a lot to get away from it. He’s never truly experienced anything that violent, and he has no coping skills to deal with it. Me … well … I don’t sleep, I have severe anxiety and I get panic attacks. I don’t want to be home (at all, the less I can be here, the better), and every time I read about yet another attack (and believe me when I tell you, there are plenty right now), everything comes crashing back, and the little progress I’ve made disappears.

I can deal with what happened to me, in my opinion it wasn’t that bad. It could have been much worse, and judging by what others had to deal with who were victims of the same gang, we got off lightly. I can’t deal with what happened to my son. Over and over again, I replay that moment he ran into our room with that big smile on his face, the moment they grabbed him, the moment I begged them not to hurt him, the sudden fear on my child’s face as he realised Mummy and Daddy weren’t having some kind of late-night party going on in their bedroom. I remember the moment they started trying to tie him up, his voracious fight, the moment of blackness when they pistol-whipped me, coming to and seeing them choking him, but most of all I remember my impotence to do anything about it. I hate myself for failing my child. Realistically, of course, there was nothing I could do. My arms were tied behind my back, and I was disoriented from the blow to my head, but that doesn’t stop the feelings of self-loathing and failure. I keep running it over in my head, wondering what I could have done differently. I should have done more to protect him.

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Hostage

Hello everyone. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. Today, I’m breaking from tradition and instead of giving writing tips as I always do, I’m going to tell you the true story about the night we were held captive in our home during a robbery. Bear with me here, it’s quite long, but I’ll try and write it down as well as I can remember it.

On 5 January, we caught someone skulking in our yard. I saw him in time and we phoned the police. He came back on the 6th and the 7th, and then all went quiet. We stood guard in the house for a few days, but he stayed away, and we started relaxing, thinking we may have scared the guy off for good. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they were hoping for.

On the night of 15 January, I told my husband that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was just too tired. He tried to reassure me, saying that they wouldn’t be back, and I should go to bed. He said he’d stay awake, but also being dead tired, he fell asleep somewhere along the line.

In the early morning hours of 16 January 2015, four armed men broke into our home.

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Goodbye 2014 – Hello 2015

2015

I can’t believe we’ve reached the end of another year. It feels like just yesterday that we welcomed in 2014, and here we are again, on the brink of a brand new year, full of new possibilities.

This isn’t a post where I want to run down my personal highlights of 2014 (what wants to read that anyway?), or rehash the biggest news stories of the year (I think we’ve all had enough of Oscar Pistorius). It’s a quick, simple, thank you. Thank you, to all of you, for your support and encouragement this year. I am absolutely blown away by the support I’ve gotten from my friends, family and readers. You guys rock! Every single one of you.

It’s a year full of changes for my family, as my oldest starts primary school, which is uncharted territory for us, but I do know our schedule will change a lot. No more “out of season” vacations for us – we’ll now have to arrange them according to his school holidays. It will also limit my “writing time”, because it’s no longer a matter of dropping them off at nursery school in the mornings, and picking them up in the late afternoons, when all I had to do was feed and bathe them. Now, it’s homework, and it’s all sorts of school activities that will cut drastically into my time – but I’ll make it work, I always do.

In 2015, I hope to publish Beyond Repair, and my collection of short horror stories, despite the new challenges this year will bring.

I’m very excited for the year ahead, and I hope to bring you all along for the ride.

May you and your families have a great new year. I wish you nothing but the best, and a year full of blessings, joy and love.

See you on the other side of 2015!