Writing Wednesday: How Writing a Blog is Different From Writing a Novel

I can hear you now, tutting at your screen. Of course writing a blog is different to writing a novel.

For one thing, when you stop writing your blog, everybody sees you falling into the abyss, but when you stop writing your novel, you can quietly shove the unfinished manuscript under the bed. Nobody’s watching. (Unless you’re famous. But I’m not famous.)

But the differences are more substantive than that. Given that as my novel gathers steam, I find it more and more difficult to switch from one format to the other (which may explain the recent paucity of posts), I thought I might explore some of the underlying reasons. And yes, I put my psychology hat on for just a little bit.

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The Complicated and Awkward Relationship Between Passion And Ownership

Okay, maybe that title is a little misleading. For the most part, the relationship between passion and ownership is fairly straightforward. If you are passionate about something (be it an object or something  a little more abstract), and the opportunity arises, you take ownership of that thing. Like me and writing, The Dude and computer games/rugby/sci-fi movies, Little Person and painting.

We bought her one of those fairly cheap easels from Ikea last week. It was something we had meant to do for a while, knowing that she enjoys painting and drawing and such like, but we had always found reasons not to do it. (What if scenarios involving mess, tantrums and such like, as well as more practical concerns like where would we put it.) Turns out we had underestimated her passion for painting.

There has been very little mess. There has been no tantrums. There has been no Mummy-I-don’t-want-to-clean-up-you-do-it. There’s not even been a problem when she made a mistake with her painting. She knows that it’s her easel, and her paints, and she needs to keep it tidy. She has taken ownership of the opportunity. And yes, she has used the opportunity to paint some of her toys as well. But who wouldn’t? Allowing Little Person the space to express her passion, and take ownership of it, has made parenting her that much easier.

Of course, the pathway between passion and ownership is not always as simple as somebody putting an easel up in your bedroom so you can paint. Sometimes the passion burns without an outlet. And you want to create an outlet, but that seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes you have to take ownership of the thing, without the least amount of passion for it. What to do when you are given an easel, and you don’t like painting?

You could turn it into a signpost (“My name is Bob and I don’t like Easels”). You could get another one and use them as the legs for a trestle table. You could put it in the cupboard to collect dust, or give it to somebody who says they like easels. Or you could let it be known that you have the easel, and some paints, and if anyone wants to have a go at painting, they are more than welcome to try. Help other people find and/or express their passion in a safe environment.

If your ownership and your passion don’t match up, get creative. Find different ways to express your passion, and different ways to use whatever you have ownership of. Neither passion nor ownership are your entire identity, anymore than painting is all that Little Person is about.

It’s just that when both are pulling in the same direction, sometimes beautiful things can happen.

Lessons From a Castle Adventure

The castle walls were imposing, even from a distance. But a ticket could get you through. (And in days of old, wearing the right badge would get you through too). The fountains were impressive – but they only made you wet if you got too close. Which Little Person thought was hilarious. The carefully crafted hedgerow that created a little contemplative secret garden space was charming, but as a boundary it was an illusion. You could just walk through the gaps in the hedge. (Actually, that was kind of the point.)

We spent a day at Alnwick Gardens and Castle recently (which I would highly recommend, btw). The gardens were beautiful and interesting, despite it only being early spring. The Dude took photographs, Little Person explored, and I watched the whole thing unfold, astonished not just at the beauty of the place, but the beauty of the moment. So much so, that it was only later that I started thinking.

We went into the castle (after a brief pitstop for chocolate ice-cream. Because, chocolate ice-cream). We saw the big castle walls (and later climbed one of them), and then it was into the central courtyard, and into the State Rooms. Alnwick Castle is fairly unusual in that it remains in everyday use by the family that own it. And you can feel it as you climb the stairs. They watch television in the library on an evening, and then at 10:00AM the room is opened to the general public to gawk at the beautiful collection of artwork.

And after all the boundaries – the walls, and doorways and gates and towers and staircases, it is a little red rope, and a man with a lanyard hanging from his neck that keeps the treasures safe (and the hidden alarm system, I’m sure).

It’s not the big castle walls that keep us safe. (Although they can keep us hidden). It’s not the pretty hedgerows (although they also can keep us hidden). It’s the little red rope that says you may look, but you may not touch. Keeping things hidden doesn’t always keep them safe. Guarding them in plain sight can prove just as effective. Plus, you get to share the joy. If you know what I mean.

But then again, they didn’t put the whole castle on show, so maybe there’s a lesson in that too.

Put the right boundaries in the right places – hedgerows give you space to think, red rope lets your treasure shine, and castle walls, well they keep the private things private.

And fountains? Fountains are just for fun.

It All Goes On The Page (A Writing Wednesdays Post)

Okay, I admit. Writing Wednesdays is not an actual thing (apart from the obvious fact that I write on Wednesdays, but I also write on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Sometimes even on the weekend).  But it should be a thing. I’m not promising you that every Wednesday I will write about writing, I’m just saying I might. (I said that about cats and Fridays, and it seems to be working okay, sort of.)

One of the first books I ever read about writing was Julia Cameron’s The Right To Write. I don’t go in for her Morning Pages routine mainly because I have a child to get to school. But I do know she is right about one thing. Everything always ends up on the page. It’s just that sometimes we let fear get in the way.  Fear was one of the main things that prevented me from taking my writing seriously.

Fear that I would fail.

Fear that I would succeed.

Fear that the journey would break me.

Fear that nobody would read what I wrote.

Fear that everybody would read what I wrote and tell me I was wrong/stupid/right.

Letting go of the fear is letting go of other people’s opinions’ of you. Not letting go in a Frozen-esque way (that wasn’t letting go, that was running away. Big difference). It’s more like walking into the water and lifting your feet so that the current can take you on an adventure.

The opposite of fear is not bravery, it is trust.

Trusting your heart.

Trusting your voice.

Trusting your story.

Everything ends up on the page, but if you trust yourself, you will find that process of “onto the page”-ing that much easier. Let go of the anxiety. Lift your feet, and let the words take you.

I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Wonderbra, Sister

Before I start, I will point out I’m not one of those Nice Christian Girls. Never have been. I believe in talking about awkward thing like anti-depressants, and sex, and pain. When I read my Bible, I see a Jesus that loved people so much he called his best friends cowards. (I also see a Jesus that would willingly address difficult questions if the person asking was genuinely searching.)

The other day I was scrolling through my Instagram, which is filled with pictures and inspiring quotes from Nice Christian Girls, when I came upon an exchange that looked a bit like this:

Person A (well respected Nice Christian Girl. She has a book and everything.): Here’s a picture of so-and-so, encouraging us as women to be each other’s Wonderbra – supporting and lifting each other to look good. (or something like that.)

Person B (random person, about five comments down): Oh we have much more important things to worry about than that. If Jesus would let me be offended, that would have done it. (Translation: That’s really offensive, but nice Christian girls like me don’t get offended. We are too busy worrying about important stuff.)

Sometimes I look at things like this and just sigh and shake my head. This particular exchange had me going “Really?” in a state of bemused frustration. Nice Christian things provoke this response on occasion.

Because mentioning unmentionables should not be offensive. If you can’t talk about underwear, how can you talk about abuse, neglect, pornography, addiction, sexuality, or any number of other important issues?

So I’m not offended by the use of a Wonderbra metaphor. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be your Wonderbra. Not because it’s underwear (underwear is all about hidden support, and we all need asome of that from time to time), but because it’s Wonderbra. Pushing and squeezing whatever you have to make it look like you have something else. Something more, or something different. Something everybody else tells you that you should have.

And I am not for that. I am not for telling people that they must should look good, or do good. Because looking good and doing good, is all about appearances. And encouraging people to put up appearances may (possibly) be as bad as judging them for it.

Encouragement is not about looking good (although it can be). It’s not about doing good (although it can be that, too). Encouragement is about accepting somebody’s today, and having faith in their tomorrow. Encouragement is about relationships, and time.

Wonderbrament says you need to fit these criteria, you need to make yourself look like this. Encouragement says, it’s okay if you don’t fit the mould. Not everyone was made for Wonderbra’s.

The look-good-do-good brand asphyxiates the broken. It encourages us to hide our brokenness, our pain, our trauma, behind happy smiles and good deeds. We grab our masks to face the world, because that is what we have to do. That is the only way we can look good.

We grab our masks, and we are blinded. To our purpose, to our potential, to the hurting hearts hiding behind the masks that do good alongside us.

No, I won’t be your Wonderbra. You don’t need one. You are not the way you look, or the things you do. You are so much more than that. And you always will be.

Just don’t tell the Nice Christian Girls I said that. They may get antsy.

Faith Like A Zip.

That first autumn after Little Person was born, we bought me a nice adventurer’s coat. Knee-length, lightweight, lightly padded, perfect for trekking to and from uni. And for going to the park, and a thousand other adventurers. Adjustable in a million different ways, so you could let the air in, or keep the snow and wind and ice out. I dented one of the little fasteners at the wrist, so the little flap would flop around and nearly land up in my food anytime I ate with my coat on (which has been more frequent an occurrence than you would think).

The only trouble was the fancy zip. It was one of those long tow-numbers, which was handy when you were walking along and suddenly needed more freedom to access your legs, but not so handy if you have trouble lining up the zippy bits. And on Monday afternoon, the zippy bits seemed to be lined up fine when I put the coat on to fetch Little Person from school. And then when it was time to take the coat off – well, turns out the zippy bits were not as aligned as I thought they were. I extricated myself, and inspected it. But Little Person was waiting and so I never got around to it.

Tuesday morning, I wanted to wear my coat. Only, I was in a bit of a rush, and I thought I could just wriggle it around and if I pulled the right bit with the tension just so, it would be okay. Except I pushed when I should have pulled. And now my coat is useless, because the zippy bit is jammed together at the bottom, and I would have to wriggle and jiggle myself to get into it, and then it still wouldn’t protect me from all the rain and cold.

So no. We don’t need faith like a zip. We don’t need a faith that only works when all the little bits are lined up just so, and everything clicks together nicely. We need a faith that doesn’t get in the way when it is dented. A faith that is real, and robust and ready to face up to the trials and troubles of life. I don’t want a faith that looks good and feels nice. I want a faith that will keep me warm when it is cold, will protect me in the storm, will shelter my loved ones in times of trouble. I want a faith I can eat and sleep and run and jump and explore in.

Faith like a zip? I think I’ll pass.

Just A Few More Words

Just a few more words. Just a few more minutes. It’s only dinner, surely Little Person can make it for herself? (Answer: no.) If you just give me a chance to finish with this one last thought, I’ll be there, and I promise this time I really will fold all the laundry. Every last bit of it.

If I thought about alcohol the way I think about reading and writing, I would have been packed off to a rehab centre a long time ago.

But I pull myself together, and make the food, and sort of fold the laundry, and then I’m back at the computer, tap-tap-tapping away. Even if my eyes are sore and I have a headache. Because the words won’t stop.

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (Not even the laundry – gives me time to wrestle plot points, you see.)

Walking Away

I walked away into the garden. I shoved my arms into the sleeves of my coat, didn’t even bother to change my slippers for shoes, and I walked away. Into the cold sunlight, the breeze catching my hair and throwing it in my face.

Like so much else has been thrown in my face.

I didn’t walk far – I just sat on the edge of the slide and looked up at the pale blue sky, and then down at the green grass, the weeds that seem to start growing before anything else. The daffodils trying to decide whether it was sunny enough to open. I had left shoes and coat for Little Person on the sofa, with the offer that I was outside if she needed me.

She didn’t need me. She needed to shout and tantrum and rage against the world. She appeared at the French doors, stuck her head out.

“I’m not coming outside, Mummy! I’m not!”

She didn’t wait for a reply. I sat on the slide until I couldn’t hear her shouting anymore. She was upset because she couldn’t get the thoughts from her brain onto the page. She was upset because sometimes even her mother makes mistakes. I had thought that showing her that I had to cross things out when I wrote, too, would be a good thing. But it sent her into a tailspin. And so I walked away, because there was nothing I could say.

I walked away, and I sat on the edge of the slide, and I watched the breeze catch the leaves. I have, in recent seasons, walked away from many things, many people. Sometimes because my being there would set off unpleasant events, sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. Most recently, because apparently I’m not worth the effort.

(I am so worth the effort. And actually, if you think I’m an effort, you have the wrong perspective.)

I walked back inside, and found Little Person lying on the sofa, tucked under one of her baby blankets – her feet sticking out the bottom. Eyes red, cheeks blotchy, the bubble of a teardrop wobbling precariously on her cheek.

“I’m cold, Mummy.”

I tucked another blanket around her, and fed her some oranges. Presently, she pulled herself around and tucked herself under my arm. I watched the people walking past our window, the breeze catching the leaves.

It’s a new season. No more walking away. It’s time to take care of what matters.

Motherhood And Stories

Write what you need to write, not what you think you ought to write, or what people tell you you should write. – A #writetip on Twitter

Motherhood. I was a mother long before I had my child. I am slowly realising this, as the mothering of this Little Person is so different from the mothering of the children that have gone before. It’s why I felt like such a damn failure for so long.

The children that went before – the ones in the afterschool centre, and then when I was a nanny and a mother’s help – were, for the most part, typically developing. They loved my mischievous streak. They always wanted to hear me tell me just one more story. So of course, when Little Person came along, I knew what I was about. I knew how it was going to be. I knew all the joys, and laughter and memories that were coming my way.

Only, they didn’t.

I have fantastic memories with Little Person, walking along the road kicking up the leaves, listening to her squeal with delight on the swing, her face the first time she tasted strawberries. But there are memories I thought I would have that I simply don’t. Making up stories for her at bedtime, telling her about my life growing up, dressing up and having picnics outside. Maybe we will do these things someday, but I have to own the realistic possibility that maybe we won’t. And somehow, I have to be okay with that.

Because comparison is a curse. Especially when I’m comparing myself with a myth. Blaming myself for something that I have no control over. Well, it was either that or blame the Little Person, and we all know it’s not her fault. I was so busy pretending that she could be a typically developing child, if only I did the right things, worked hard enough, explained well enough, jumped high enough, rewarded often enough and played the right music at exactly the right moment, I nearly broke us both.

Little Person has my mischievous streak. She is my one more story. She has my stubborn streak, which means she will never ever give up. And as I have learned that it is not my job to get her to fit into the box enough to get through school and life, but to live a life not defined by her degree of box-fittiness, I have realised that if I stayed the mother I was before, I would not be the mother she needs me to be.

Little Person and me, we don’t have stories. We have dances.

Motherhood. It’s an art. It s a dance. Sometimes the music changes. Sometimes the rhythm of a life built so close to your heart takes your breath away. It’s practice, every day. You can read all the books, listen to all the professionals, pass all the tests and have all the experience in the world, but really, we are all still novices, learning how to be the mother our children need us to be. Not the mother they think we ought to be, not the mother other people say we should be.


Meowthpiece 4: The (Kind Of) Re-Enactment of Tom and Jerry

Spring is definitely thinking about springing, and Little Cat seems to be emerging from the hunting stupor that is winter. I know this because she caught a mouse last week. I know that because The Dude helpfully mentioned as I was preparing to go up the stairs that he “thought the cat had something in her mouth when she went upstairs earlier”.

Cue half an hour moving bits of furniture in a futile attempt to catch the mouse. A remarkably small and uninjured mouse.

I saw it the following morning. Still alive, and behind the writing bureau.

And then two mornings after that. It was skinnier now, but I had seen Little Cat catch the rascally thing at least twice and gently let it go each time. It was like she was playing a game with her pet mouse. Either that, or she was trying to teach me to hunt.

But I didn’t see it for a few days, and that was a relief, because my mum was coming for a visit. I figured the cat had finally put it out of its misery (although no evidence had been found), or it had died of starvation, or somehow it had figured out how to get down the stairs and out the cat flap.

My mum arrived Monday. No mouse. Little Cat behaved as though there had never been a mouse (“hunting mice is so-o last week, dahling”). Tuesday and Wednesday, the same. Thursday afternoon, I climb the stairs to find Little Cat staring intently at the heater on the landing. And hidden behind the heater, much skinnier now, was the mouse. I tried to edge it towards Little Cat, but our inter-species communication was as its normal level of “what are you on about?”. So it ran into the spare bedroom and under the sofa bed.The one my mum would be sleeping in soon. I went downstairs, said nothing. What could I say? (“Um, there may have been a mouse in your room this whole time, Mum. I sort of forgot to mention it.”)

Friday morning, The Dude found the unmarked remains of the mouse at the foot of the stairs.

I still haven’t told my mum. Except now, obviously, I have.