Monday
Oct292012

Hiatus

I’m juggling too many balls, and I’m not doing it well. From the Living Room has been seriously neglected recently, and I have a constant nagging in the back of my mind that I need to post. The nagging is uncomfortable and I don’t want blogging to be a stressful thing, so I’ve decided to close the living room door, at least for the time being.

My other blog, Four Wise Monkeys, has also been neglected recently, but it’s a much more manageable page and has a much clearer focus, so I’m hoping that concentrating on one blog for a while will help me to post more regularly.

From the Living Room will stay up but there won’t be any new posts for a while. If you’re a regular visitor to the living room, please come and visit me on Four Wise Monkeys instead. It’s a much more useful page to me at the moment but it’s rather short on readers.

I hope to wake the living room up again at some point in the future. Thanks for bearing with me.

Image by JamesAlan1986

Sunday
Aug262012

The Retreat and Beyond

I’m someone who thrives on routine so long as I design it myself, and this I managed well during the week’s retreat with my writing group. I quickly fell into a habit of morning walks along the beach, stopping for some alfresco writing and editing along the way, followed by afternoons of computer-based work.

Our writing holiday provided me with the perfect combination of solitude and social time; of work and relaxation. Each day, I would set out on my own to walk by the sea, sometimes actively thinking about my novel, sometimes allowing my mind to wander – which is, I think, just as valuable. I’d stop somewhere to work for a couple of hours, and then I’d head back home to work some more.

At 6:30pm every day, we’d reconvene for dinner, each of us taking a day to shop and cook so that domestic necessity didn’t get in the way of any of us. Dinner would be sociable and fun, giving us the element of relaxation and holiday which was, I think, so useful to all of us productivity-wise. Then we’d settle in for a night of critiquing.

I’m someone who needs a lot of time to myself, and this arrangement suited me perfectly... because no matter how much I forget it, I also need conversation and outside input.

I’m ridiculously lucky to have found my writing group: serious and talented writers from very different walks of life, all tied together by a love of writing. Their feedback is immeasurably valuable to me and what I can get done during a week away with them is huge.

The trick now will be to transfer what I’ve learnt about myself and my work to my ordinary life. Around work, home and a social life, I need to remember what I can achieve when my head is in the right place, and do all that I can to make sure I’m in that state as much as possible.

Sunday
Aug192012

Headspace

I am away on retreat with my very wonderful writing group. This year we’re in Ramsgate, in a beautiful house two minutes away from the sea.

We arrived yesterday and spent the afternoon getting our bearings and settling in. Over dinner, we talked through our personal writing goals and sorted out the practical plans for meals and critiquing sessions, highlighting anything we might want to discuss with the group while we’re away. From the group point of view, everything was in place for us to begin.

Which left me with one thing last thing to sort out before I could crack on: I needed to get my head in the right place to use the week productively. I have spent the morning walking down a quiet beach, feeling the sand beneath my toes and the sea around my ankles. I am someone who spends a lot of time in my own head. This can be useful for writing, or, if I have other things on my mind, it can be very distracting. I have a strong inclination to over-indulge in introspection. The walk was about clearing my head. It was about putting on hold the thoughts that can wait until I get home and remembering that when it’s going well, I believe in this novel. I want it to be the best it can be, no matter how hard the journey is.

My walk allowed me to engage with the sense of calm and contentment that I always find on my own by the sea. By the sea is where I am internally happiest, flooded with a sense of calm and peacefulness.

Refreshed and reset, I climbed back up to the house. Now I am ready to work.

Friday
Aug102012

Choosing to Stay Childless

I wrote, several years ago, about my lack of desire to have children. “You wait until you hit thirty,” other women would tell me. “You’ll change your mind.” Now that I’ve reached thirty, and with the idea of the childless writer being in the media a lot recently, it seems like a good time to readdress the issue.

Of course, all those people who told me I was going to change my mind didn’t mean that on my thirtieth birthday I would suddenly be overcome by the urge to procreate. Most of them still stand by their opinion that at some stage I’m going to change my mind. And for my part, I’m still prepared for the fact that I could. But honestly, I’m still not feeling the urge. I still don’t think I’ll ever be willing to make the commitment.

The way people react when I tell them I don’t want children has changed as I’ve got older. Many people respect my stance, but I still get a lot of people who don’t quite believe it. At the moment, they mostly think I’ll change my mind, but as the window for mind-changing grows smaller, I find that people react with more judgement, more incredulity than they did before. “Really?” they say, their eyes wide, and I know that I’m only a few years away from being judged by society for my decision.

This article in The Telegraph last week, provokingly entitled, “If Maeve Binchy had been a mother...” raised a reassuring amount of outrage on my Twitter stream. The underlying sentiment of the article was that Maeve Binchy could never be as good a writer – or indeed as empathetic a person – as she could have been because she had not experienced a fundamental part of womanhood. The article, to be fair to it, was quite confused and managed to tangle up a few conflicting points of view. However, the sentiment behind it was offensive, and like many female writers, I was outraged to see it published in a national newspaper. Not least because it was written by a woman.

I have huge amounts of admiration for all the women I follow on Twitter who raise families, hold down day jobs and still put a huge amount of energy into their writing. But I don’t think being mothers automatically makes them better writers. I don’t feel like my decision not to have children makes me less of a human being; nor do I believe that it will mean I can never achieve my potential as a writer.

Some women are able to cope with the combination motherhood and writing. It’s not easy, but they manage it. I’m not sure that I would be one of those women. I think, for me, something would have to give. Of course, you never know until you’re in a situation; maybe I’d find in myself strength and determination that I didn’t know I had. But I don’t think I want to find out. Things happen without planning of course, and people cope. I, I assume, would cope. But going out of my way to engineer the situation? I just don’t feel that that will work for me.

What worries me now is the stigma attached to choosing not to have children. It’s a decision I’m expected to justify, something I’m supposed to feel ashamed of. I should be proud to know myself well enough to make a decision that takes me away from the mainstream. And I am, but I’m starting to feel the need to remind myself.

Image by Cveleglg

Sunday
Jul012012

Three Stars and a Wish

I recently joined Goodreads, and I’ve been finding it a really valuable tool for remembering what I’ve read and thinking about what has and hasn’t worked for me as a reader. When you have a memory like mine, anything that helps you with this stuff is gold.

I’ve settled into the habit of writing a very brief review whenever I finish a book. These aren’t comprehensive reviews; nor are they particularly well written, but they serve their purpose: they help me with my own thought process and record-keeping. The one thing I’m really struggling with is the starring system: I find assigning an appropriate number of stars monumentally difficult.

Goodreads makes it relatively easy, because each star comes with a label: didn’t like it, it was OK, liked it, really liked it, and it was amazing. Without the labels, I’d be at a total loss. The problem is, the stars seem very close together. I gave, for example, The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht two stars. I appreciated a lot of the writing, and thought it was a well-plotted and ambitious book. It was far from a favourite of mine though and I found it too emotionally distant to be properly engaging. Shortly after I reviewed it, I gave One Day by David Nicholls one star. I did not respect this book at all; I thought it was easy, manipulative and unimaginatively written: a much worse book that The Tiger’s Wife. So it seemed unfair that they were so closely star-rated. They were not at all in the same category.

At school, we use a ‘three stars and a wish’ system for helping the children to edit each other’s work. The children have to come up with three things they really like about their peer’s writing, and one thing they think could be improved. It’s good for encouraging critical thinking without being too negative, and gives them a big boost when they look back at their own three stars.

I think of ‘three stars and a wish’ when I visit Goodreads to write my reviews. Sometimes I want to rate with three stars (I liked it) but add a note to say ‘but I wish you’d done this differently’ or ‘but I wish this element had been explored more’.  The Tiger’s Wife, for example, wasn’t a bad book; it just left me a little cold.

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time analysing children’s writing with other children. Equally assigning the same number of stars to everything clearly wouldn’t be a helpful rating system. But I certainly find categorising something with a number of stars limiting and a tiny bit stressful. Perhaps I’m just seriously averse to confrontation!

Image from Wikimedia Commons