Writing with a Baby

Before I became a mother I had plans of spending my son’s early days getting plenty of writing done. Let me just say it didn’t happen.

I scoured the internet for tips on how to write with a baby in the house but it felt like these people didn’t actually know what it was like to live with a baby.

Write when the baby sleeps! Stay up late! Get up early! Write when you breastfeed (which had been my plan)! Keep a notebook on you and jot down notes throughout the day.

Apparently Nikki Gemmell wrote The Bride Stripped Bare while her young children napped. It is distinctive for its snippet-style chapters. That’s pretty impressive. But not everyone can do that.

The problem was, I was so tired (oh and I had my arms full).

My baby was a catnapper. He slept for 40 mins at a time, after an hour of breastfeeding. He woke at the slightest sounds. He cried for hours on end. I spent my days rocking, patting, walking, feeding, holding him. Turned out he had reflux.

As you can imagine, if he was asleep then so was I. On the rare occasion I found myself with writing time, I spent it staring at a blank page. My brain was empty.

Sleep deprivation is not good for creativity. Neither is depression.

One thing that did help during that time was reading. I was sitting in a chair for an hour at a time, eight times a day. It worked up until he was about six months old, when he was intent on grabbing at my book.

Reading during breastfeeding was so good for me. It allowed my to not feel guilty about not getting any writing done. I was able to read so many books.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

The Ottoman Motel – Christopher Currie

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

Machine Man – Max Barry

Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks

Eisenhorn – Dan Abnett

Without Warning – John Birmingham

Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean

So my advice is when your baby is little, don’t push yourself to write. Put a dent in your reading list.

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Finding Creativity Requires Unplugging

Twice in as many days I have read motivating pieces on the importance of switching off as part of the creative process.

I am an information vacuum. If I am interested in something I must research it to the point that I lose all confidence in my ability to contribute – everyone else out there is either more knowledgeable or more creative than I am.

Author Nike Sulway talks about the value in doing nothing. To shut off from the world, be still, even neglect your writing until you can’t take it anymore and have to write.

That’s one way to silence the voices that so many creatives hear saying you’re not good enough and reminding you of all the rules you have to follow for success.

I don’t know about you, but success to me is writing something I can be proud of (yes I am in the naive early stages of being unpublished).

It is pretty hard to be creative sometimes when you are busy being concerned with absorbing information. There is a lot to be said for gleaning tips from those who have paved the way before us, but how are you going to come up with your own ideas when you are filling your head with everyone elses?

Writer Belinda Weaver has incorporated an inspiration day, once a month. This is a day for visiting the art gallery, observing a new neighbourhood, perhaps attending a lecture. It is a day for absorbing and listening to that other little voice inside, the one with the ideas and for switching off all other input.

Of course here I am serving up advice, contributing to the noise. I’m going to schedule in an inspiration day. You should too.

Leaving My Job to Be a Writer (and SAHM)

I left my job yesterday.

It was a difficult decision to make – something I deliberated over with great intensity. The decision was ultimately presented to me as a problem. Basically my work wanted more of me; my husband’s work wanted more of him and with a toddler in the house we were all getting tired, stressed and sick. Our family life wasn’t functioning effectively with both parents working (albeit me working part time). I was feeling unfulfilled in my job and unhappy with my writing progress.

With a little guidance I did a values audit and assessed what was really important in my life. My husband and I both agreed that our frantic, stress-filled lifestyle wasn’t working for us.

So we decided I should leave my job. I stressed over the prospect of being out of the workforce for the next five or so years. Of losing my skills and contacts. Of no longer contributing to the household. Of all the ‘what ifs’ – what if we split up and I have to start from scratch? What if one of us (my husband) is injured or dies and we haven’t been making as much money as possible to prepare for that?

I was obsessed with the issue of being dependent on my husband. Not that people would judge me for it but that I have always been a firm believer in being able to look after myself.

The thing is, we are a family. We are a team, meant to help each other and yes – rely on one another. I had dealt with that in my mind but was still wary about the whole concept when I discovered something.

In order to continue to receive the government subsidy for sending our son to daycare (the Child Care Rebate) I had to prove I was working, studying or training during my week. This is when I got excited.

The intention had been for me to continue my one day a week for journalism and then fit in whatever writing I could around the housework, errands and appointments I needed to conduct sans-toddler. But now that I had to prove I was working I had no excuse – I had to write, and take it seriously! This was all the motivation I needed to start my journalism-copywriting business plan.

In my usual way I started to obsess over the details. I have high standards so of course I was expecting everything to be perfect. I have had to remind myself repeatedly of the original reason for taking this new direction. I am making things easier for myself and my family.

The bonus though, is that I get to explore my writing voice in a variety of ways, with the support of a husband who wants me to do this and is happy to continue working to allow me to do so.

I am excited and nervous but most of all humbled by his faith in me.

I Wrote to Kevin Rudd

Today I wrote to Kevin Rudd. I’ve been stewing about the new asylum seeker policy for days now and I decided I needed to do something about it.

I was getting particularly worked up about it one morning as my son played at my feet and I thought, how would I explain this situation to him if he was older (he’s currently 22 months old and would probably understand ‘boat’ out of the whole conversation)?

 

And I know that I need to teach him to stand up for what he believes in. So that’s when I decided I needed to write the letter.

[I also wrote to my local MP]

 

Dear Prime Minister

 

I am writing to you regarding Labor’s new policy on the processing and resettlement of asylum seekers into Papua New Guinea.

 

I feel it is my duty as a citizen to speak up when the my government – the very government I voted in four years ago – is not performing in my interests.

 

I am concerned that we are sending people to a place that people are already fleeing from as refugees. I know that the issue of people smuggling is a complicated and costly issue. Like you, I do not believe the answer is a clear one. However sending these desperate people back to an environment that has its own dangers – dangers that we know about such as ethnic violence and disease – is definitely not the answer.

 

Perhaps this policy has been developed to gain attention. To appeal to the voters. Or to get people thinking about the issue. I truly hope it is the latter.

 

I know that you are an intelligent man, Mr Rudd. I also know that you are a loving husband, father and grandfather.

 

I have been lucky enough to be born into such good conditions. Many people have not. I am thankful that my husband and I are not starving, or facing persecution and that our little boy does not have to face the daily fear of guns or mortar attacks. I love living in Australia. But should that change; should my family’s survival or safety come under threat I would do anything I could to fix that.

 

Under the UN Refugee Convention I know that Australia has agreed not to turn away those seeking genuine asylum. Why then are we sending these people, who want to come to Australia, to a place that could well be just as bad as their origin?

 

Mr Rudd I ask you to think about the people, the families you are affecting as you implement this policy. They are not just numbers. They are simply desperate.

 

Yours Faithfully

Sharon Smith

 

So you know what you should do now? Write to your MP and Kevin Rudd too. GetUp! makes it really easy. They have pre-addressed email forms for you, and if you are stuck for words they provide you with five key points as food for thought [on the MP form].

Write to your Prime Minister

Write to your Member of Parliament

PS. If you want to know the correct way to address your ministers

Writing Fitness

I spend a lot of time at my desk, in front of a computer. My office is brightly lit. I don’t like to listen to music when I’m trying to think, so all day long I hear the steady hum of my desktop PC. By the end of the day I have a headache behind my eyes, stiff shoulders and an aching lower back. I complain to my husband when he gets home and he asks me the same things every time:

“Did you take eye breaks?”

“Um, no.”

“You should go for a walk at lunch.”

“Yeah, I forgot.”

“Why do you sit on one foot? You should use that footstool I built for you.”

“Sorry, I know.”

It’s the same, every time. I bought an expensive ergonomic chair but it’s no good if I don’t sit in it properly. I’ve adjusted my monitor to the correct angle but I forget to take eye breaks. I get so wrapped up in my work that I don’t move unless I’m hungry or need a bathroom break. No wonder my body is upset.

I’ve started using a few strategies to help me be kinder to my body.

1. Mindfulness.

It seems to be the popular term in psychology these days. I simply use it as a term for focusing on what I am doing. When I leave my desk to make a cup of tea I am completely there in making that cup of tea. I feel the cold ceramic cup. I measure the sugar. I listen to the tea leaves rattle into the diffuser and the hot water gurgle around inside the cup. In that moment I am not thinking about the editor I have to contact or the half-formed idea I am about to expand on the page. I am there, making my tea.

The same goes for if I am staring at the neighbour’s lovely gardens on my eye break, or quickly pulling the clothes off the line before the rain starts.

2. Scheduling.

I love having a to-do list. Because I only get to write one day a week (soon to be more), I have to be organised. So I keep my to-do list open all week to record all those things I suddenly remember. The night before my writing day I prioritise my work and break it down into 50-minute blocks. After each workblock I have a 10 minute break – be it a cuppa, a trip to the bathroom or just a wander around the house to stretch my legs, my eyes and my mind.

3. Errands.

A work-from-home dad once told me that he works best when he only works six hours a day and squeezes his errands into his workday. The key is to schedule them in. Rather than spending your writing time procrastinating over a messy house or something else that needs to be taken care of simply schedule it in for 11am and that way you know you will get to it. The bonus is that your day is more flexible than those working office jobs. There will be less traffic, shorter queues – and you get a break too!

4. Physical Exercise.

I will admit I am not the best at keeping up my physical exercise regime. The days of long walks with the pram are over now that the toddler wants to explore everything. But collapsing onto the couch after a day of sitting in front of the computer will only make me feel worse. I like to finish work while the sun is still out and run around the park or backyard with my kid. Climbing on the fort is always better than sitting back and watching. A few squats and lunges in the office always get my blood pumping. If you can do some yoga or an exercise class, great (a goal of mine).

The best kind of exercise for desk-bound workers? Stretches. Just get up from your desk on your breaks and stretch our your legs, arms, neck.

It’s important to do your writing exercises to keep your mind strong. It’s also important to work smart and keep your body strong.

Six Tips For Overcoming Writers Block

And for more on the Writers Block topic from a creative point of view, I really enjoyed this post.
The final tip – just keep writing – I think is the most obvious but the one that I constantly forget or ignore.

Writes By Moonbeams

As you might have noticed, if you follow me, I haven’t posted in over a month. While that is partially due to laziness, I also had a hard time making time for blogging because I’ve been dedicating myself to finishing the first draft of my novel. I’ve been working on it off and on since November, and must admit that there were a few times I wanted to give up because I hit a major wall of writer’s block, or just didn’t feel inspired. But, I pushed through, and now I have a roughly 480 page word document, sitting around waiting for editing. So, in honor of my triumph over writers block, I’ve decided to give some tips on how you can, too! 😀

 

Listen to music while you write

Whenever I am planning a new novel or story, I like to find a few songs that remind me…

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Writing Pep-Talk

Every few months I find myself in a bit of a writing rut. I may feel like I’m not making any headway on my goals or my creative development or that the inspiration just isn’t flowing. When submitting, a dry spell from any editor contact can really be a blow to the writer’s motivation. I work myself out of this rut by giving myself a pep-talk (pep-write?).

The first step is to get out of my normal writing situation. I normally write at my computer, so this means getting my notebook and pen. And I change location – sometimes it’s on the couch, sometimes at the dinner table or on the balcony, or even sitting in bed. But definitely not at my office desk. And not at my normal writing time.

And I write down all the thoughts that are plaguing me. I like to write down my negative statements in one session and then let them rest for a while – a day or so. It’s like a venting activity.

Then I will go back and ‘answer’ my statements. It’s like I’m having a conversation with myself, and the space between sessions allows me to see each side with a fresh perspective.

So here is my latest session relating to my journalism work.

My concepts aren’t interesting enough.

You found the concept interesting. Someone else will too. You have to find the right editor.

My concepts don’t suit any publications.

Traditionally, journalists will tailor their article for the publication. YOU DON’T HAVE TO. There are so many avenues to publication: mainstream, indie, online.

Or write it anyway – save it, use it another time or keep it and add it to your portfolio.

I don’t know how to pitch/who to pitch to/my pitches are no good.

It takes practice. If it takes 100 submissions per acceptance, that’s 99 opportunities you’ve been given to learn from.

I have some ideas but they are just muddled thoughts.

Think of this as a chance to learn about a topic. Do some research (do lots of research), put some notes down (write lots of notes), and turn those notes into sentences. Got it?

Everyone has written about my ideas already – and done a better job.

You will always have a slightly different view on the world than anyone else, no matter how much ‘better’ you think theirs is.

You have a different writing style to anyone else.

Obviously you have to start somewhere and guess what – those people likely felt (and some may still feel) the same way as you when they were starting out.

I don’t know what I want to write about – I feel like I have too many interests and no focus or specialty.

Which is why you chose freelance journalism; so you could write about anything that takes your fancy. You get to learn about a variety of topics.

You are a writer. Your job is not to be an expert in a subject but to research and communicate that information to others. Your job is not to answer questions but to ask them.

Book Review: You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy (2011)

Marieke Hardy is one fiesty lady. I know her best from her regular spot as reviewer on the ABC’s The Book Club with Jennifer Byrne but she is also a widely published writer across print, screen and radio. Though I probably disagree with her more often than not, I absolutely adore Ms Hardy.

Hardy has had an interesting life and though her adventures may not be any more unusual than those of the average Australian of a certain era, it is her lack of fear in leaving out the details that leaves you wanting more – no matter how grotesque things can get.

Her collection of autobiographical essays (is it too early in her life to call it a memoir?) titled You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead (Allen & Unwin, 2011) is hilarious, uncomfortable, tear-jerking and just plain confusing at times. It’s one of those books that as you read it, the person beside you will become increasingly annoyed as you audibly connect with the book. Because you will.

From dragging boyfriends to prostitutes and swingers parties to nursing her best friend through cancer treatment, Hardy has reflected the carefree nature of young-adulthood and revealed with sharp, brutal honesty the truths of the situations in a way that only hindsight can provide.

Though carefully worded and thought-out it felt quite relaxed and personal; almost like I was reading her blog. This is of course to be expected, as she is a regular blogger and has written for Frankie and various columns in this – her signature style – for many years now.

Book Review: After America by John Birmingham (2010)

After America follows John Birmingham’s action tale Without Warning, whereby the majority of the US continent is destroyed by a mystery energy field known as ‘The Wave’. The second book in the series picks up not long after the first, reuniting us with familiar characters and introducing an entirely new world that no longer features America as superpower.

In his usual style Birmingham tells the story of half a dozen characters, slowly unveiling the story with meaningful character development scenes and sharp action beats. To begin with the chapters are distributed at a one-per-character rate, but as the pace quickens so too does the switching between stories.

This is not to say that the story is not compelling. Several of the characters have rich personalities and back stories, making them easy to connect with. Of course, it may seem like a male writer may have focused too much on the special agent’s breast functions a little too much however anyone who has breastfed or lived with someone doing so will know that Birmingham knows just how much a woman focuses on her own breasts at this point in her life.

The child soldier’s point of view was particularly striking, his dedication to his beliefs were articulate and left me empathising.

Always the comedian Birmingham’s best character had to be the ex-Polish soldier Milosz who was fighting alongside US troops, trying desperately to adopt the finer points of his adopted culture.

Ultimately this was a sequel book, a filler for the series. It had some interesting characters and certain events did touch me, surprise me and disappoint me (like a good action book should). It was a fun read, a page-turner and I am looking forward to reading the next in the series, Angels of Vengeance which is out now.

Characters

Characters are so hard to get right. Sometimes you forget how hard it can be when you fill your brain with so much good reading material; you don’t notice the good characters (that’s how it should be).

However the last two books I have read have had the kind of main characters that just didn’t seem real to me. Certain things about their lives have been good – details on their daily lives, even the thoughts running through their heads – but major premises simply haven’t made sense, thus taking me out of the story and leaving me in a state of “I don’t believe this character so I’m not really enjoying the story.”

Example 1: The breakdown of a relationship; the woman is toying with the idea of an affair.

In an interview with the author, she says she surveyed her friends on their sexual preferences and fantasies so she could give a realistic representation of such. However the actual examples that were used in the story were so far from my own desires that I couldn’t understand the character at all (the main theme of the book was her sexual awakening). Yes I understand everyone’s preferences vary widely when it comes to sex and arousal but I really couldn’t connect with anything the character did or wanted in this respect.

(I am actually questioning the author’s research method here: should we rely on information from our own friends; when we so often choose acquaintance with those whom we share similar interests and preferences?)

Example 2: A young woman narrates a visit to a second-hand clothes store. She vividly describes the scene – colours, textures and prints .

In a class we read this scene and my classmate spoke up, questioning why this young woman who spoke with interjections of “like” and “you know” would know the names of patterns – paisley, gingham. To her the language of the description of the scene itself seemed too intelligent; and the girl’s speech didn’t match her perceived knowledge. There was a bit of debate in the classroom. To some it seemed like a reasonable question. Others believed the narrator would know the details of the fabrics, being the fashion aficionado that she was.

I think the final verdict was that not everyone is going to feel a bond with your characters and you just have to work as hard as possible to make sure everything works.