Sunday, 13 April 2014

I Just Have Two Things To Say

The last few weeks, I've pretty much been off social media altogether. It makes me feel weird, being so disconnected, and then I think shouldn't that be the weird thing, that I feel the need to be on social media all the time? It wasn't a deliberate detox (I'm not that organised) it's just that things got kind of hairy around here for a while and even I couldn't argue that getting up to date with my feedly feed was my number one, topmost, pressingest priority.

It's been kind of good, though. I've been wondering lately about deliberately cutting myself off from the internet for, say, a day a week. I was thinking that i could call it Media Free Monday. And then I thought I should write about that on my blog, and see who else wants to get involved. And then I exploded in a puff of irony. So anyway, I never quite did get around to doing that, but these last few weeks (novel month, followed by the aforementioned hairiness) have been an interesting experiment in living like it's the nineties - no web 2.0. In summary, if you're interested, living without social media hasn't killed me and it's probably saved a lot of time but it has been pretty annoying. (And that's as far as that particular social experiment will ever go in my house).

The hairiness I mentioned isn't anything interesting, by the way - I'm not pregnant, nobody has been arrested and the kids are fine. It's just been more health stuff, mainly for Jay. Did I mention that he needed to have a nerve blocking injection for his back? Well, he did, around the last day of novel month, and it's helping his back a lot (we think) but for the first time in his life he's been having what seem like migraines - unbearable headaches with nausea, dizziness etc. Apparently that can be a side effect of an injection in your spine - who knew? Not us, that's for sure, probably because the clinic never got around to sending us any information leaflets about the procedure. But anyway, the headaches seem a lot better over the last few days and our world seems to be tilting back towards 'manageable'. I want to write 'normal' but a few people have reminded me lately that there is no such thing as normal - what we think of as 'normal' is actually everything going well, everything going according to plan, and let's face it, that's the opposite of normal.

It struck me this week (I'm a very, very slow learner) that Jay's ongoing health concerns are a proper Thing in our lives now.  It's like an annoying family member, or an incontinent pet - don't know how to live with it; can't make it go away. It's why I've been quiet here, I realised - this isn't a My Husband Has Chronic Pain Issues blog, and that's been the biggest thing going on in my life.  In some ways, the 'when will this end'-ness of this all reminds me of our wait to become parents, but with one extremely large difference - it's easy to talk about, and it's no kind of secret. Everyone we know knows what is going on and is very sympathetic. People have cooked us meals. (Not dozens, but some). People have offered to babysit for doctors' appointments. And really, this understanding and support makes the whole experience so totally different. It's difficult, but it's not humiliating; it's not alienating us from our friends.

(Although of course I realise Jay may feel differently about this. If so, he can write about it on his own blog).

(Just to be clear, he doesn't have a blog).

(Not that I know about, anyway).

So, that was the first thing I wanted to say.

Here's the second thing: Novel month. Novel month was great. I mean, it was really, really, great. 

If you have ever looked at your life - with your work, your kids and all your other responsibilities - and thought what my existence needs is another insanely demanding job - then you should definitely, definitely do novel month. Writing 50,000 words in 31 days is a crazy, stupid endeavour and that's why it is so stupendously great. If you have sort of vaguely always wanted to write a book, but never been sure if you could do it, then this is how you find out. It is  so many words, so quickly that there is absolutely no room for self doubt or procrastination. You have to just do it and that is amazingly, incredibly freeing. No opportunities to think oh, maybe this is stupid because there's just no time to think that. There's no time to do anything except think and type, and some days there's really only time to type.

I had no idea how different it would feel from writing Hypothetical Future Baby - it was a totally different experience. Writing the first draft of a memoir took me 18 months, and felt like this:

whereas writing a novel in a month felt like this:

in other words, FUN.  I was terrified of writing fiction, but in the end it felt a lot more familiar than I expected it to, undoubtedly because I 'recognised' so many of the writing conventions. A few times, I thought 'oh, I know how to do this bit' and it's because I'd read I'd read 'that bit' so many times, in so many other books. I'd never written an arrest scene, but I'd read enough to have a general idea how it should go, and that sort of thing helped a lot.   Fiction is nothing short of everyday magic, and it was brilliantly fun to do a little bit myself.

Having said that it was fun, it was also hard hard work. I kept thinking that I just had to crest the next hill (ten thousand words, then twenty five, then forty) and it would stop feeling like work, but it never did. It always felt like work. Was it Hemingway who said that the cure for writers' block is to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair? If it was, he was right.  Every day when I sat down and opened up my file, it took effort (lots of effort) and at the end of the whole process I was completely spent and exhausted. I got sick straight afterwards, and that's probably no coincidence. I think that because creative things can be fun, it's easy to expect that they should be fun, but there's a whole lot of typing and wrist strain that go with the few-and-far-between moments of oooh, nice sentence, Claudia. 

Paradoxically, I would say the whole thing was both less impossible than I thought it would be, and also much harder than I thought it would be.  I think the other women I was writing with would agree. (And if you do this one day, by the way, and I totally think you should, you absolutely need other people to do it with you. It makes all the difference).

I haven't read mine back yet. We're all going to read our own after forty days. And hey, it may be terrible (oh, please, let it not be terrible) but even if it is, I can always say that I got it done, and that I got to see these words:

and that makes the whole thing worthwhile.