A Novel Idea

Archive for May 2010

  • In: Food
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I promised I’d tell you what I missed about giving up my corporate job to become a writer. As I’m writing my first novel, until I get published, many budget items once considered essential have fallen victim to the saving knife.

Some expenses are easy to give up. So much of what a professional woman spends on herself is about how she looks to outsiders.

What I’ve given up:

  • Daily wake-up cappucino – Cafe coffee has become a twice a week treat. It’s a lot easier to work without caffeine when you love what you do.  Now when I do sip the silky milky brew I actually notice the buzz afterwards. 
  • Manicure, Pedicure – I can do this myself. In fact I’m branching into colours I would ‘tut-tut’ at in an office setting.
  • Haircut – Unfortunately my hair is not simple to cut. More like wrestling with Medusa. I can’t do it myself. I figure I can move from monthly to quarterly trims.
  • Clothing – Not needed (new pieces that is).
  • Dry cleaning – Generally not needed. I would say get rid of it altogether but I managed to shrink my crepe silk frock by hand washing it myself. Sob.

The list goes on.

What do I miss right now?

Lunch money.

I was never one to eat a bought lunch everyday. At first it was to save money for the next holiday or just to get ahead. As I progressed in my career, bringing my own lunch became a tactical necessity and time saver. Meeting over-run? No problem – I’ve brought leftovers. 

Once a week, to escape the office, I would have a sit down lunch somewhere. Often it would be Sushi. Soft pink salmon, perfectly cooked rice and a hint of wasabi. A hot bowl of miso soup. Tempura prawns. Sushi’s not just a meal, it’s an experience. I loved watching the chef turn mighty slabs of fresh fish into delicate dishes.

Sometimes I’d have a craving for pasta. Or a deli sandwich. Ham and cheese croissant.

Everything tastes better when someone else is making it for you.

Lunch today was a salami and cheese melt on rye bread with a little side salad. Prepared at home at half the cost of a bought lunch. If only I had a cleaning up fairy.

I’m not complaining though. Whether I’m eating peanut-butter sandwiches for a week straight or drinking tea to keep warm this winter rather than running up a heating bill, I’m fortunate. I have a luxury people much richer cannot always claim: time.

I intend to spend it wisely.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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  • In: Food
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Today’s word count: 1,236.

  • In: Uncategorized
  • Comments Off on What I don’t want to admit

Here I am, brazenly quitting my job, delaying my dream wedding by a year, turning us into a frugal one-income household. All so I could write. So I could let the novel clanging around my brain escape and get paid for it.

It was all going so well.

I banged out three chapters. I had people read it (people who have no incentive to stroke my ego). They liked it. Wanted to read more.

I got brave. I sent it into a competition.

I kept going. Chapter four materialized.

Then I did something that sounds like a really good idea for a beginning writer.

I went to a writer’s festival.

The Sydney Writers Festival.

That was last weekend. I haven’t written a new word since.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. I have written this blog. I have also edited my previous words. I’ve handed in a university assignment. I’ve texted.

But I haven’t furthered my story by even one new word all week.

Why? I’ve been asking myself this since Monday afternoon.

I have a daily word target. 800 words a day, 6 days a week. That may seem a lot, or it may seem miniscule to you. I’m not a fast writer. At least not so far. I currently owe my story 3,200 words. ACK!

Why this debt of words? I blame the festival.

The highlight of the weekend was sitting approximately 5 metres away from Peter Carey, listening to him discuss his new novel, Parrot and Olivier in America. This made me feel good. He seemed like any other person, albeit with an exceptional talent.

I went back for a second day of back to back author panel discussions. I absorbed.

I pondered.

I came to the realization that though my novel has a clear ‘voice’, I don’t know my characters well enough to write purely in their ‘voices’. This is a problem.

It’s not that I don’t know my characters. I know what they want, I know their fears. I know their passions. Yet somehow I’m still not fully in their heads.

How do I know this?

The dialogue. The words of the main character and his sidekick are virtually interchangeable.

If they were fully formed characters that wouldn’t happen.

!@#$3%#%%$%%55^&^6

Clearly it’s not the festival’s fault. Being in the presence of so many authors, talking about their own work, sometimes entertainingly, sometimes not, made me examine my own.

Essentially I’m not letting myself write because I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I know enough to string sentences together, but I have a gap. An experience gap.

I’ve never written at novel length before. I’ve never had to construct characters of such depth.

I’m worried this is going to take some time to ease into. I don’t have the luxury of time.

I have a deadline. I’ve sent the first three chapters into a competition. If, by some wonderful happening my work actually rates a mention and makes it ‘on the list’, I have to cough up the manuscript. The full manuscript.

I now have 30 days to write another 37,000 words. Not only do I need to snap out of this not writing limbo, but I have to bump up my daily word count by more than 50% to 1233 words.

ACK! ACK! ACK! ACK!

Deep breath.

I’m playing hard-ball. No chocolate until the 1,233 words are written and saved each day. No, that’s not consequential enough.

Unless I write at least 1,233 words each day, the entire chocolate stash is being thrown out.

That’s more like it. Connor has a sweeter tooth than I do. If I have to throw out the weekly chocolate ration, there’ll be hell to pay.

Write well. Write often.

V.

100 days. One HUNDRED days. It sounds like a long time. 

We measure Prime Ministers and Presidents by what they can achieve in this slice. They usually come up wanting.

My first hundred days opens spectacularly. My fiancé and I leave our Paris hotel room to brave the cold and mingle with the French in the streets of the 16th arrondisement. We hold each other as 2009 moves into 2010. The start of a new decade.

My New Year’s resolution to become published sparkles in my mind as brightly as the coloured lights of The Eiffel Tower before us.

Three weeks later. We’re back in Australia, back to work, and sadly back to reality.

I return to my habit of waking up early to squeeze thirty or forty minutes of solid writing in before work. It’s a relatively new habit, begun after taking a six week fiction writing course at a community college a couple of months before our big trip. Every week we had to turn in writing for critiquing by the group. With my stupidly demanding job and the postgraduate degree I’ve started ‘in my spare time’, the only time I can write is at sparrow’s fart.

In the world beyond, the Global Financial Crisis is still wreaking havoc. Colleagues are ‘leaving’, entire divisions are ‘restructuring’. I get a new boss, one in another country, one who feels it is perfectly reasonable to call me during dinner, repeatedly, for non-urgent requests. Suddenly there is never any boundary to when work stops and my own time begins.

I’ve worked many a long night or early morning. I’ve done it for weeks at a time for crucial projects. I get the job done. But this is something else.

I keep my goal in mind. I try to maintain my early morning starts. Late night conference calls across multiple continents are shearing my sleep closer than an Australian jumbuck. Two strong coffees aren’t enough. I start missing important family functions.

My morning output could best be described as ‘a random collection of letters’, certainly not writing.

I’m getting desperate.

My partner, Connor, sits me down. This isn’t working. You’re stressed out. You whinge about your work everyday, yet you used to love it. I’m getting sick of you being unhappy.

You’re sick of me being unhappy?

Back and forth.

Eventually, a plan. This year, we’re saving for the wedding. Next year, we’ll save for a year off for you to write.

OK.

Not OK. V has the brilliant idea to take a tougher job (with more pay) to get to the golden writing time faster.

Disaster ensues.

New job is ten times worse than old job. No amount of money can make new job bearable. V quits job.

(After consulting Connor of course.)

V dabbles here and there. Interviews. Progresses through the rounds. Everything’s going great (except no writing is happening because finding a new job takes more energy than cruising competently through an existing one).

V runs out of play money. Just waiting on that job offer. Any day now.

Starts writing again. Great work, just gushing out.

Still waiting on that offer.

Waiting…

Connor throws a curve ball. Is there some way we can cut back on spending so you can have your writing year now?

Well, I could give up this, and this, and I guess I don’t really need this either.

Budget adjustments…

No, we can’t afford it.

Look, says Connor. This is about your sanity and therefore mine. I will give up this and this. I probably don’t need this.

Recalculate. Still not enough.

Well, it was a great idea honey. I’m really touched you would give up all that for me. It’s OK, I’ll take that job offer and we’ll just stick to plan A.

But you love writing.

Yes, I know I love writing. But I love a roof over my head, and shelter, and food in our bellies. We can’t cut any further. It just isn’t feasible.

What about the wedding?

What about the wedding? You still want to marry me right?

Connor gives me the please-don’t-ask-stupid-insecure-questions look.

I wait.

I love you and you love writing. I’ll marry you tomorrow, we can just keep it simple. Or, we can postpone the wedding. But to be honest, I was really looking forward to having the wedding the way we’ve planned it.  

In my first 100 days I’ve moved from would-be to full-time writer, but our dream wedding has moved a year further away. I tell you about the other things we’ve given up to make this happen as I miss them.

Warning: This post contains themes that may offend some readers (mild gambling and sexual references)

If I learnt nothing else from a decade in big corporations, it’s how to keep people awake during a PowerPoint presentation. The first trick is to appeal to self-interest. Make sure your audience understands ‘What’s in it for me?’.

I’ve undertaken to write my first novel and get paid for my published work by midnight 13 April 2011. I’m documenting my journey on this blog. Why should anyone be interested in following my progress?

Why should you read my blog?

Three reasons. The oldest reasons for doing anything: Sex, Fear and Greed.

Sex: This blog will not directly aid your sex life. But I’m sure you can use it to your advantage somehow. Think about how cutting edge and intelligent you are going to sound on your next date when you mention this inspiring blog about an Australian chick who has ‘thrown it all in’ to follow her writing dreams. Segue into discussing your date’s life goals over a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir… 

Fear: Do you insure your car? Your house? This blog is like insurance. You’ll probably never need it, but you’ll feel better for having invested in it. I promise to expose the ups and downs of my experience getting published. If you are reading this blog because you are also a budding novelist, or the partner or father or mother of one, I appeal to your fear of missing the crucial piece of the puzzle. I don’t believe there’s a sure-fire way to do most of the things that are worth doing in this life, but I do think it’s wise to learn from other people’s mistakes. More importantly, learning what has worked for others.

Greed: How to make money from this blog? Gamble. Australians love to bet. We bet on horses, football matches, and we’d bet on how many spikes an Echidna has if we could.  I don’t care if you’re in my cheer squad (currently consisting of my partner, parents and closest friends), or you’re unimpressed. Take a position. $10 says she makes it. Have an opinion. Watch my progress.

Write well. Write often.

V.

If you could achieve anything, what would it be?

Are you working towards that goal, in some way, every day?

If you had asked me these questions a year ago, I could answer the first without hesitation.

I want to be a writer.

To the second question, I would have to squirm a little, not wanting to admit that the answer is ‘no’. I would say something about ‘finding my mojo’ and how demanding my 10-14 hour per day corporate job is. I would politely excuse myself – no I don’t have time to discuss why I’m not really doing anything about the one thing I actually want in this life. I’m too busy achieving arbitrary numbers for a corporate bottom line and being paid for it thank you very much.

Months later,  it is New Year’s Eve 2009. I’m on the other side of the world, enjoying the trip of a lifetime with my fiance. We’ve been scrimping and saving so long for this.

In our cosy hotel room in Paris, we’re writing out our goals for the year ahead. I’m cross-legged on the bed scrawling in a beautifully bound journal and he’s typing away at the desk. The champagne is wedged into the tiny mini-bar, waiting to christen the new year.

At this point, I should mention that the year ahead holds an age-bracket birthday for me. When I was younger I didn’t mind moving higher up in the marketer’s boxes. In fact it felt like I was somehow more important, more experienced. Moving from 15-17 to 18-24 was great. I could imagine all the exciting things I was going to do and try in that time. But at some point, when you’re avoiding what you most want to do with your life, moving age boxes is like moving from a house with character to a sensible apartment. Sure, you can afford it and your basic needs are met, but the sense of potential is gone.

My partner offers me a snack – I’d never eat in my own bed like this but somehow ’cause we’re on holidays and we’re in PARIS, I feel it’s okay to channel some Marie Antoinette indulgence. It’s a runny white goat’s cheese smeared decadently across fresh baguette.

I’m feeling quite wonderful at this point. I’ve totally forgotten about the project that is waiting for me at work. I’m ignoring the banking glitch that has meant I can’t pull out any Euros until the next working day. I’ve got a list of SMART goals in front of me, canvassing the major life areas of family/friends, health, personal, financial, etc. Let’s pop the champagne, I say.

We trade goals. I save the one I most want to meet till last.

I want to be a published author. I’m giving myself until my birthday in April 2011 to be published and paid for at least one work, I say.

What I really want to say, but am concerned it’s not achievable, not just in the timeframe, but maybe I just don’t have it in me, is I want that work to be my first novel.

This blog is the story of that personal challenge. I never intended to blog about this, in fact I’m a ridiculously private person, but I’m running into obstacles. This is my way of working through them. Excuse me while I confess publicly.

You can call me Violet, or V for short. Share this journey with me.