It’s been three years since I’ve worked on a book-long manuscript of my own. Lately my itch to write a new book has intensified. By nature I am not a short form writer, even though I’ve published many short fiction and creative nonfiction works. But there is something leisurely and expansive about the long form that I prefer. I find such writing more conducive to deep thinking. When I work at this length, I am less likely to cut corners while exploring life’s complexities. Plus, I have more space to digress away from the main theme, to strive for a richer, stranger writing.
In the last two years, since my memoir The Dangerous Bride was released, followed by Rebellious Daughters (an anthology I co-edited), I’ve found it difficult to focus on writing works longer than 5000 words, mostly because of the intense promotion I’ve been engaging in. In 2016 alone I did over thirty events around Australia. Then there is the other ‘book-stuff’ to do – media interviews, writing articles related to my books and such. Of course, I feel grateful about the opportunities I’ve had, but all this legwork takes a lot out of you. Finally, there has been the minor distraction of producing two children while all this has been going on. Amidst this busyness, I missed that feeling of being consumed by just one thing.
As my desire for a book increased, so did the number of ideas. Having spent five years single-mindedly writing my memoir, and then three years not-writing a book, many possibilities turned up in my mind. So I decided to write book proposals for each of them (seven in total!) to see what would draw me in the most. To cut this long story short, here is my news – after five months of writing and re-writing proposals, consulting friends, narrowing down the choice and liaising with a publisher, I now have a book to write and a publisher I’m excited about. The publisher, Affirm Press, and I settled on a creative nonfiction work that will explore what it means to have a real, messy and flawed, female body in the photoshopped and botoxed 21st century. To tackle this quandary, I’ll combine research with my own story of living in a body, which – as a result of certain childhood misfortunes – became a constellation of scars.
Affirm Press set me a deadline which I am too scared about to disclose here. As a result, and particularly considering that inconvenient fact of two small children, I spent the last month in a pre-writing stage. ‘Pre-writing stage’, my term, means that before starting the actual work on the book, I first spent time making my life more conducive to the writing marathon I was about to run. This time around, I decided that instead of fitting writing into my life like I usually did, I would re-organise my life around writing to complete the book on schedule. Even though I’ve already written five books and one PhD, this is the first time I’ve done something like that – panic does wonders to your resourcefulness. Here are the steps I took and please let me know if you’ve already tried something like this and have additional suggestions.
1. Tough decisions
At the start of 2016 I made what I thought was an easy resolution – to write at least seven hours a week. The sad reality was that there were many weeks when I didn’t come near this number, because I kept taking on other commitments. Each on its own – say another mentorship or a guest blog post – seemed an easy thing to do. But taken together, without my noticing, the commitments added up to so much that I barely wrote. Regretfully, I have now weeded out most paid work and other things I love doing (cooking elaborate recipes, for example) from the year ahead. I have unsubscribed from group emails and reduced the time I spend on social media (in my defense, mostly for work) to a bare minimum. I have even turned down several writing commissions. What I miss most is my mentees and students. But the changes have already paid off and I now spend most of my work hours actually writing. Also, no longer juggling so many different tasks helps me to get into the single-mindedness that working on a book requires.
2. Completing projects
Before the actual writing began, I completed several projects I’d long procrastinated about, so that I’ll have as few loose ends as possible. I did my tax return. I caught up on my reading diary. I re-organised our pantry. I even printed family photos from the last couple of years. I figured that the tidier my life is, the easier hopefully it will be to deal with the real mess – that of writing a book on a complex subject (well, we’ll see about that one…).
3. Building the discipline muscle
If I want to make the deadline, I must write six days a week no matter what happens – childcare holidays, overseas visitors, food poisoning, a meteoroid crashing into our planet. So I devised plans B, C and D for all those days when it might be damn hard to find even two hours to write. I am now fully prepared (or so I say here) to start writing at 5am, or 9:30pm as I did yesterday when my boys decided sleep was optional. I am even prepared to be that archetypal bad mother who brings her laptop into the playroom instead of playing the latest educational games with her darlings (which Greek myth is she from?). I have, I admit, resorted to such desperate measures in the past, but this time I made a detailed plan of the lows I’m going to resort to – to eliminate the possibility of non-writing.
4. Breaking The Deadline
Another plan I made during the pre-writing stage was to break the horror of The Deadline into a series of small deadlines with their own tasks and goals. I know much may change, but for now I used December to mostly just connect to my project by going through the existing material I can use for my book, such as interview transcripts from my PhD and the notes I’ve already taken on the topic. I’m also doing some preliminary research and writing some new material whenever the ‘muse strikes’. Then the first three months of 2017 are all about adhering to strict daily word counts to create the bulk of the first draft (much of which I suspect will be discarded later) that will hopefully form the rough shape and substance of the book. Being a slow writer, the thought of such intense work terrifies me. But I hope to master the skill of writing fast for 30-60-minute sessions, without stopping, not even to check how many likes I got for my latest Facebook post. So far it’s been difficult to do but I’m slowly getting better. If this plan works, I should have enough time left for doing, and writing up, the heavy-duty research, such as new interviews and visits to various ‘body events’, and then to polish-polish-polish and deepen-deepen-deepen the book
5. Saying (temporary) goodbyes
Recently I started telling people close to me that in 2017 I’ll be burying myself in my writerly burrow. I know many writers do this – alternate social and hermit existences. I’ve always felt guilty to do the hermit-bit when I was in the midst of a book/PhD and tried to lead as ‘normal’ a life as possible, sometimes at the expense of my mental health. This time I’ve decided not to spread myself so thin and trust my friends to wait for me to come back. At the end of this year I’ll let you know if this worked or if I lost all the people I’ve ever loved…
And how is your 2017 shaping writing-wise? Any plans and/or resolutions?