This past weekend was full and tiring. My parents visited Friday night, and two awesome friends visited Saturday night. There was drinking and eating and cleaning up before and after visits, and between all that we had the baby outside in her pool, going for walks and playing with the neighbor’s grandkids. In addition to all that I had a hard time sleeping Friday night, and we were up drinking and playing foolish trivia games until 3 am on Saturday night, so I’ve developed a rather debilitating sleep debt.
So it is with bags under my eyes and an enormous yawn on my lips that I sat down at my laptop and struggled to think of something to blog about for today. I considered a number of previously-planned options that made my head hurt because I am simply too tired to deal with them right now. I thought about reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way and talking about that, but it turns out that there are half a dozen introduction chapters that seem pretty important before you get to the actual program part of the book, and my addled brain can’t really handle that at the moment. I thought about simply writing about my weekend, about the tomfoolery that occurs when the husband and I get together with our friends and some good liquor, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that into anything coherent and interesting.
With those ideas set aside, I thought I’d mention something that I had been meaning to bring up for a while. It’s an idea I came up with one day a while ago, something that’s one part memory exercise, one part mental therapy, and one part keepsake-that-can-be-helpful-when-writing.
I call it a Memory Book, for lack of something cooler. I don’t remember when or why I came up with the idea, but one day I picked up a pretty notebook and a nice pen, and I began writing down memories. I don’t make the memories long and complicated; they’re generally just a one-or-two-liner that gives the basic idea. For instance, I might write, “That time I decided to roller-blade to school, but the hill was too steep and I ended up having to admit defeat.”
The memories can be good ones (“The first time Jason told me he loved me…he looked so cute and nervous!”) or bad ones (“The first time I left for out West and I was waiting for the plane while struggling not to cry.”) or just random things from my past that mean nothing but that are non-the-less cluttering up my brain (“The time our cabin water was shut down so we kept having to collect stream water in buckets in order to be able to flush the toilet.”). Any random memory that I can think of can end up in the book.
So what’s the point?
Well, for one thing it exercises my memory (which has gone so downhill over the past six or seven years of my life) to bring up information that might be buried deep; alternatively, re-reading it allows me to recall things I may have allowed myself to forget about.
For another thing, it can be very therapeutic. Instead of struggling to think of something to write for my works-in-progress or my blog, I can just sit with this notebook and spill out information that’s already in my head, like a mental Spring Cleaning.
And lastly, having this notebook handy has actually been helpful to my writing. See, one of the hardest aspects of writing fiction (in my opinion) is coming up with relatable characters, people whom the readers will love and sympathize with. Part of this is making the characters feel more real, and in the past I’ve been able to accomplish this by using my Memory Book and juicing the memories up a bit to craft pasts for my characters. Why is a certain character so shy? Because of this embarrassing event, stolen from my Memory Book and blown up a bit to make it sound even more mortifying. How did two other characters meet? Steal something from the Memory Book and spruce up the details a bit. See what I’m saying?
A Memory Book might not be useful for everyone, but it’s been useful for me in several ways, so I thought I’d share and invite everyone to give it a try. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy…it could be a Dollar Store notebook tucked into your purse or wallet, or a Word file on your computer. You can write about any kind of memories you like, and you can write quick one-liners like me or write a whole page for each. Whatever makes it work for you.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you!
Recently I came upon a contest that Amazon is having. It involves writing a blog post that talks about the moment you knew – really knew – that you were a writer. I decided to give it a go, and before long I had surpassed the word limit that the contest set. I didn’t want to change anything, because what I wrote was truth, plain and simple, so I thought I’d just post it here anyway.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was a revelation in and of itself, but it isn’t the same as actually knowing that you are a writer. Many people talk about that moment when they knew, that singular event that caused them to realize “I AM A WRITER!”, but for me it’s a little more complicated than that. My “I AM A WRITER!” moment was less a moment and more a culmination of the passage of some 15 years of growth.
I knew I wanted to be a writer after a school assignment in the third grade. We were to write a short story, print it out neatly on white paper (this was before we had regular access to computers), draw a cover, and bind it all together with construction paper and string. I can’t recall the exact plot of my story (although I could probably locate it in my parents’ attic if I looked hard enough), but I remember that it was called “The Mystery of the Emerald-Eyed Cat”. My cover featured two glowing green cat eyes below the title, and it was all bound with green construction paper. I also recall that I signed the cover “by Tracey Lynn MARIE Clarke”, not because I had any sense of what a pen name was back then, but because I was a little gone in the head and often changed my name a bit to suit my childish whims. (My teachers just kinda…ignored me, I guess…lol) I was very proud of that story, and my teacher at the time was a truly awesome man by the name of Mr Power who praised it and suggested that maybe I might consider writing as a career choice in the future. Though I was an avid reader, this was thought that had never really occurred to me before; but in that moment I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Around the same time that I made my startling future career revelation, I met my best friend Kelly for the first time. As chance would have it, she loved writing too, and over the course of the rest of our grade school career we wrote a series of stories called “The Game Masters”, an adventure tale of a group of kids (ourselves and a few friends) who could travel in and out of video games. What Kelly and I had was an odd kind of a beta-reader relationship. We each wrote our own versions of the story – similar in many ways, but different in quite a few as well – and whenever we had each finished a chapter or two we would swap notebooks and read what the other had written. We praised each other for how clever we were, marveled at the amazing ideas we came up with and how “great” our juvenile writing was. We taught each other very little because we were so in awe of ourselves and how awesome we were, but it was excellent practice none-the-less, and it taught me another one of the joys of writing. I would strive daily to write as much as I could so that Kelly could read it. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, it was a great thrill for me to have her read it and tell me that she enjoyed it, and so with that rush of fun and reader-acceptance I continued on with the belief that I absolutely wanted to be a writer.
Junior high school marked the turning point when Kelly and I both began to dabble into more mature original fiction. I can’t remember much about those first original stories because I personally tended to jump from storyline to storyline; whenever I would get a new idea I would drop the old one and start anew. Even so, it was excellent practice in creating characters and worlds and coming up with compelling plot lines. This era also marked my first foray into fan fiction, although I hadn’t ever heard the term at this point. Kelly, her cousin Melissa, and I became enormous Star Wars nerds in these days, and part of the way I expressed my nerdiness was by writing my own little Star Wars stories. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, and I got it into my head that I was a big enough fan that I could write one as well. My story involved Luke Skywalker discovering another lost Jedi – a gorgeous young girl, of course – and training her while trying to keep her from going over to the dark side. It was incredibly geeky. In these days I began to discover that I really had quite a lot to learn. My grade 8 English teacher, Mr Reilly, was not shy about telling me exactly what I was doing wrong when I wrote, and I would regularly compare my writing style to Kelly’s, which always seemed much better to me. I learned a bit of humility, but I was still totally wanted to be a writer.
By the time Kelly and I hit high school writing time became significantly more scarce. There was more work to do, and our social lives (such as they were) became more important as well. We started dating boys, we had extracurricular activities and lots of other unrelated hobbies. Regardless, Kelly and I still found ourselves writing little stories, only now they were quickly-plucked-out mini-chapters that we would write on typewriters during our keyboarding class. This time, rather than writing two different versions of the same basic plot line, or writing our own personal original fiction, we would take turns writing chapters of the same story back and forth. The “story” was loosely called “The Day the Earth Blew Up” and featured ourselves and our friends in an ever-more-ridiculous plot of adventurous hyjinx and tomfoolery. For all intents and purposes, the point of the story was to keep trying to make it more and more foolish. At one point there was an invading army of flying mini-pizzas. Yeah, we were a little bit loopy. But this little exercise of ours taught me a few more things about writing, such as the art of collaboration, and how to keep your mind fresh and new, constantly churning out interesting ideas. Though there were now many other things in my life vying for attention, I was still certain that I wanted to be a writer.
High school graduation was a turn in the wrong direction. When it came to the desire to be a writer, I dropped the ball. I’ve mentioned it before, but in these days I made a conscious decision: I was going to put my focus into technology. I still wanted to be a writer – oh lord, how I wanted to be a writer – but I was scared of failure, scared of the financial implications, and so I made the decision to move into a field in which I knew I could still thrive, but in which I was significantly more likely to obtain gainful employment. My inner child, the little grade-3-aged girl who had just written her first story, was positively screaming at me. “You want to be a writer!” she shrieked. “What is wrong with you?!” I hold that the decision I made was a good one in the long run, but it definitely set me back several years on my true desires.
I wrote nothing for a long time. As many young people do I spent my university years cramming for exams at the last minute, ripping out assignments on the bus on the way to class, and drinking away the weekends. The work load was intense, and I had to work part-time jobs to help pay for it all. My long-time boyfriend broke up with me and I started dating the man who would become my husband. We moved out on our own and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves while somehow paying for rent and taking what felt like hundreds of hours of classes a week. At one point, sometime during my fourth (and final) year of university, I had an extreme loss of confidence in my future. I had done fairly well in all of my courses – aside from Calculus (which we won’t talk about) I made 80s and 90s in most of them – but I had this moment when I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I had no idea what kind of career I was going to end up with, I had no confidence that it was going to be something I actually enjoyed or was good at, and I’d already spent upwards of $40,000 to come to this conclusion. It was around this time that Kelly reintroduced me to what we now know is fan fiction. She’d been reading a ton of the stuff on FanFiction.net, and encouraged me to do the same. The result was somewhat different; I ended up writing on the website. I didn’t really have the time to be writing, but I became somewhat obsessed and did it anyway. The one story I managed to complete, a Harry Potter fan fic called “Cry of the Wolf”, became surprisingly popular on the website, and with that I remembered something: I still wanted to be a writer. I had put a lot of time and effort into becoming a technologist, and I was going to finish that journey for sure, but all the time, no matter what else I did, I still wanted to be a writer.
It’s been seven years since I completed my university degree. In that time I got a job, moved away from home for it, bought a car, married my husband, bought a house, gave birth to my daughter, lost my job, found a new one that required me to travel back and forth across the country, and recently got laid off from that one because the job is over. And throughout all that I kept writing whenever I could. I wrote more fan fiction, I participated in several NaNoWriMo‘s, I set daily word count goals for myself, and I started this blog. I did all of this because regardless of what else might be going on around me, of the turns my life had taken, I still wanted to be a writer. Notice that I keep using that phrasing, over and over again: wanted to be a writer. That’s the phrasing I always used in my head when I thought about myself. I always used a future tense.
“I want to be a writer.”
“I’m going to be a writer.”
“Someday I’ll be a writer.”
That has been my thought process since that first story back in the third grade.
That is, until about a year ago. I’d written a zombie apocalypse novel for the previous years’ NaNoWriMo, but over the course of the month-long challenge I’d only gotten about 2/3 of the way through the story. I desperately wanted to finish it, as I’d never finished an original piece of fiction (that wasn’t a school project). So I set myself a goal: I would write at least 1000 words a day until the novel was complete. I can’t honestly say that I stuck to it every single day – sometimes life gets in the way, after all – but in what seemed like no time at all, suddenly I had a finished story. Sure, it still has to be revised and edited, preferably beta-read as well, but I had it; I had a whole original story, from beginning to end. That was the moment, though it wasn’t as much a revelation as a slow realization. Looking at the last sentence of my novel, and thinking back to everything I’d done up to that point, that was when I realized “I AM A WRITER!”
I may never succeed in becoming traditionally published, and I may never gain financial compensation for my work, but I’ll always be able to look back on that little third-grade girl and say, “Hey, guess what? You are a writer, and you always will be.”
My problem is not easily resolved. It is not something I can simply ignore. It is not something that can be repaired without a great deal of effort. It is not something that can be quickly diagnosed. It is not something that is even easy to explain.
My problem is my brain. My brain is broken.
I suppose, perhaps, that the above statement is a little bit dramatic. There’s nothing physiologically wrong with my brain (as far as I know…), but sometimes I genuinely feel as though there is a disconnect in there somewhere, between the “You can relax for a bit” and the “I need you right now!” synapses. Some days I feel as though my brain has packed up and wandered off on a tropical vacation without me, and that’s just rude.
Sometimes my faculties are in top condition. I’ve most often seen these moments occur when it is particularly busy at work. I’ll be the only one there, piles of paperwork on either side of my desk, talking to four different field tech groups on two different radios, running a control panel, and scribbling out the information I’ll need for later on piles of sticky-notes. I’ve had amazing days when (with the field techs as my partners) I commissioned 25+ instruments in one 12-hour shift, as opposed to the approximate average of 5-10 instruments. I’m rushed and doing a dozen things at once, but somehow everything flows and I get it all done, and by the end of it I feel like a million bucks. My brain is giving me a mental two-thumbs-up.
Then there are other times when I wonder if I haven’t suffered some kind of terrible head trauma and I just don’t remember it. These days seem to come when I’m trying to get chores done and errands run. I’ll be trying to work on this blog and I’ll end up reheating my tea six times because I just plain keep forgetting that it’s there (assuming that I get that far…sometimes I won’t even remember to take the tea-bag out). I’ll run out to the post office and drive right past it and be halfway across town before I remember what I was out for in the first place. Worst of all, I’ll be at the grocery store and end up just staring at a wall of soup for, like, five minutes without even actually seeing what I’m looking at; I’ll only realize what I’m doing when I notice another customer looking at me as though I’ve lost my mind.
Which is what seems to actually be happening.
The brain is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to use it unless you want to lose it. If you don’t exercise your brain (like those moments when I’m at work, multitasking like a boss) you start to lose cognitive function and focus (like those moments when I’m drooling like an idiot in front of the Campbell’s). Unfortunately for me, my brain seems to “lose” much more quickly than it “gains”. I turn into a babbling moron after only a few days of extended “mindless” tasks (i.e. the past few days that I’ve been trying to get the house clean), but it seems to take a good week for my brain to return from vacation once I’ve signaled that I need it again (i.e. I’m usually halfway through my 14-day work shift before my coworkers stop commenting on how often I’m reheating my tea).
I blame a number of things for this phenomenon. I blame the fact that I watch more kids’ shows than adult ones these days (listening to Ernie teach my daughter how to count for the three hundredth time can be pretty mind-numbing). I blame the fact that taking Calculus in university seemed to permanently damage my brain for being able to handle complex information. I blame the fact that sometimes my sinuses get so stuffed that I’m surprised there’s not enough pressure on my brain to actually kill me. I blame a lot of things, but mostly I assume that it’s my fault. Somehow, subconsciously, I choose to be a dribbling imbecile some of the time.
Maybe it’s my brain’s secret way of getting some rest and relaxation. If so, my brain is taking way too many siestas.
Get back on that plane and make your way back to my head, you traitorous mass of neurons. I’ve got a lot of writing to do and it’s a hulluva lot harder without you here helping!
Do you ever feel like your brain has just up and left you? Do you have any explanation for these times, or is it completely random? Have you ever caught yourself staring at a wall of soup for minutes on end? Please share!
Despite the fact that I currently have no fewer than four projects on the go (not counting the manuscript I’m in the process of editing) I have recently had one hell of a case of writer’s block. On new than a couple of days I found myself staring at my notebook for hours, unable to come up with the words. Even worse, when I did find words they were terrible ones. The bits that I was managing to get onto paper were making me gag.
It was with that gag reflex in tow that I found myself searching the Internet for ideas on battling that great evil we know as writer’s block. I skipped past a number of ideas and suggestions before landing on a list of writing exercises, on which I found a simple prospect: observe the world around you right now…describe it in as much detail as possible.
I whipped out my pen and notebook and began immediately, but soon found my pen stalling. While an interesting idea, it wasn’t exactly exciting to describe an industrial control room…it’s pretty much just desks and computers. But then I got a different idea…I glanced at the coworker to my left and began describing him: his face, his clothes, his mannerisms…whatever I could see or knew from having talked to him. Then I moved on to the next coworker and the next. I wrote everything I knew about them or could see by a quick glance in their direction. I wrote about the bosses and the secretary. I wrote about the field technicians who came in the discuss issues. I wrote about the engineers we share the building with. I wrote thoroughly and honestly. Over the course of three days I wrote over 3000 words just on descriptions of the people around me at work.
I thought this turned out to be an excellent exercise for two reasons. For one, character descriptions is something that is difficult to get right when writing fiction, since you want your reader to be picturing the character the way you do, but you don’t want to bore them to death by ranting on and on about physical details and personality traits. I found over the course of this exercise I slowly got more information in while being more succinct. The other reason is that when I was finished with my exercise I found myself presented with approximately two dozen perfectly viable characters. Names would have to be changed, to protect me from my own brutal honesty, but other than that I now have a small smorgasbord of possible characters to choose from the next time I need a new addition to one of my stories.
What do you think? Does my exercise sound like a worthwhile one? Will you give it a try? Or have you done something similar before? Please share! 🙂
As long as I can remember, I’ve had very vivid dreams. Where some people can tell me the general plot of their dream and who was present, I could tell you what the characters were wearing, the layout of the room we were in, the exact emotions I was feeling, and any other number of finite details. I kept a dream journal once, out of a curiosity of whether I might be able to interpret some of them, but it was ridiculously time consuming. I could wake up from a dream and start scribbling in a notebook, and my arm would get sore before I’d finished. I have dreams in that journal that take up more than ten letter-sized pages, front and back. I don’t have dreams, you see, so much as subconscious full-length motion pictures.
But last night’s dream took the cake in a way that compels me to write about it. I’m going to give you a basic outline of how the dream panned out, and at the end I’ll explain why this one in particular freaked me out a bit.
So the dream took place in the area of the Kearl Lake plant where I used to work. There’s an area set aside from the actual plant where that area’s workers have trailers set up for lunch rooms, changing rooms, offices, and so on. That’s where I was. I was wearing all my outdoor work gear; boots, coveralls, outerwear, toque, etc, and I was wearing a backpack. As near as I could figure, I’d just arrived for my shift, but I couldn’t seem to recall how I’d gotten there. Additionally, it was nighttime, even though I work day shifts.
So I’m wandering around the trailers, and there seems to be some kind of party going on. For a while I was just wandering around confused and couldn’t figure out what was happening, but after a while I realized that PCL (one of the construction companies that works on the site) was throwing some kind of festival or something. I could go into great detail, but suffice it to say that there were parades going up and down the streets, carnival rides in between the site equipment, and food stands around the trailers.
Aside from the crazy carnival stuff occurring, there were a few things that differentiated this dream from reality. For one thing, one of my cousins was there, even though he works at a Sobeys store in Nova Scotia. I remember him trying to tell me something about the woods outside the site, and he began sinking into some kind of quicksand. It turned out to be a joke he was playing on me. Ha ha, very funny. Then my husband’s cousin, who is working on becoming a continuing care assistant (also in Nova Scotia) appeared, and she started dragging me in and out of the trailers, snagging treats and things for me, which I stuffed in my backpack. At one point we were guarding some kind of large signature board, which, evidently, everyone who visited the carnival was supposed to sign. Sometime after this I went looking for my coworkers, but every trailer I went into looked the same, that is, a lunch trailer with no appliances and three people I didn’t know sitting there looking at me like I was nuts. I kept leaving and moving to another trailer, and it kept being the same trailer with those same three people. Eventually, at some point, I realized that people were lining up for the bus to take us back to camp, and I wanted to go join the line but my boots had disappeared and I couldn’t find them.
I really could go into a lot more detail, but for the purposes of this story, this is all you need to know: the dream made very little sense. It wasn’t an outrageously insane dream with purple elephants and giant plants trying to eat people, but it was definitely removed from reality. There were people there who shouldn’t have been, things happening that shouldn’t have been happening, and all in all nothing made any sense.
So here’s the weird thing…I was absolutely convinced it was real. Remember at the beginning when I said that I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there? I was genuinely freaking out throughout the entire dream because of that fact. I could remember falling asleep in my own bed at home after spending the day with my husband and daughter, and then all of a sudden I was at the work site, wearing my work clothes. Throughout the dream I kept trying to find my supervisor to tell him that I thought I was losing my mind because I couldn’t remember anything from the past 6 days and I had no idea how I’d managed to get on a plane and show up at site without recalling any of it. And yes, I’ve had dreams before that I would have sworn were real while I was dreaming them, but this one was truly intense. I can actually remember thinking, “The only way this would make sense is if its a dream, which I know it isn’t!” I can vividly recall paying particular attention to the way my legs felt when I walked, the way the wind cut at my face, the way my fingertips burned from the cold, and thinking, “I can feel everything, so I have to be awake!”
Needless to say, by the time I woke up I was pretty freaked out. I’ve never had a dream quite that vivid before, one in which I was actually desperate to prove that it was a dream, but every instinct and physical sense I have was telling me otherwise. It was a new level of weird, that’s for sure, which is why I felt the need to share it.
So how about it? Have you ever had a dream like this, that was so unbelievably vivid you were actually starting to think you were losing your mind? Please share, so I don’t feel like the only lunatic here!
Yes, I am aware that I am past #65 now. I wrote this one in my notebook and forgot to post it. I am not numerically dyslexic. Moving on.
Only one? I really can’t restrict myself to only one broken rule. I’ve already mentioned a dozen or more times that I don’t plan, don’t properly establish my characters and settings ahead of time, and don’t even attempt to pull the plot points together because I usually end up changing them a hundred times. I tend to use too many adjectives, not to mention too many commas and ellipses, and I have, on occasion, been bad for using cliches in my writing. I also have no bloody clue when it comes to proper revision. Hell, I’ve been revising/editing my zombie apocalypse novel for almost two years now…and hey, there’s another broken rule: I hear you’re not supposed to revise and edit at the same time. Who knew?
But if there’s one rule that I break more than all the others combined, it would be the one about having the willpower and dedication to actually sit down and write. Make no mistake, I write a helluva lot more than some people who claim to be writers, but I don’t write nearly enough for someone who claims to wait to be a professional writer.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Some quick calculations based on my approximate writing speed therefore tell me that I have to write approximately 7,500,000 words before I might be considered an expert. Now if you subtract words that I’ve written for this blog (approximately 52,000), words I’ve written during NaNoWriMo’s (approximately 240,000) and words I’ve written for various other projects since I first started writing creatively (I’m willing to bet 1,000,000 is a fair estimation for over the past sixteen years or so), that means I still have about 6,208,000 words to go. If I had been more diligent over the years that number would probably be a lot lower. If I had even written 100,000 a year (the equivalent of two NaNoWriMo’s) just since college I would be down to about 5,000,000. The point is, plain and simple, I don’t write enough for someone who wants to be a published author.
I’m trying to fix that via Wildly Improbable Goal #3 (which, in case you forgot, was to write a million words this year). Even if I achieve my goal it will only bring me 16% closer to that “magic number”, but 16% is better than my previous averages, which have been somewhere in the range of 0.96%.
A few years ago I probably could have made this post long enough that no one in their right mind would have bothered to read it all. Traditionally, I love writing in a notebook with a really nice pen, so I have a bit of an unhealthy relationship with office supplies. As I’m typing this there is an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves devoted to my notebooks, and about a third of them are almost completely empty…I bought them because I fell in love with them at the time, but only wrote a few pages before getting distracted and/or moving on to something else.
These days, as previously mentioned, I do the overwhelming majority of my writing on my laptop. It’s just quicker that way. That said, I do still have a couple of favorite manual writing supplies that I can say a couple of words about, for the sake of this post:
1. Cambridge City Vinyl Notebooks
I’ve used a lot of different notebooks, but this one has to be my favorite. The vinyl front and back covers feel almost like a supple leather, and the spiral binding is very tough and stiff so you don’t end up with those annoying bent spirals that constantly get your pages all caught up. The pages themselves are beautifully ruled, as beautiful as ruling can be anyway, and all in all the notebooks are a pleasure to write in.
2. PaperMate Capped Ballpoint Pens, Fine, Blue
You might think I’m kidding about this one because these are quite possibly the cheapest pens on the planet, but I’m totally serious. I’m a bit of a pen nut, and these ones remain, to this day, my absolute favorites. They write smoothly, they’re comfortable in the hand, and as previously mentioned, they’re quite possibly the cheapest pens on the planet. What’s not to love?
28. Write about the time you almost gave up writing for good
I won’t pretend that it’s an interesting story, but yes, there was a time when I almost gave up writing for good. It came as a result of my first post-graduate, degree-relevant job. You see, up to and including the moment when I graduated from university, I had only ever had part-time jobs. I’d worked summers, or evenings and weekends. I had positions that were Monday to Friday, 9-5 deals, but those would only ever last two or three months. Alternatively, the jobs I held in between those were 2-4 days per week, not even necessarily full 8-hour shifts. What I’m getting at here is that I had a lot of spare time to write. Even when I had the (temporary) full-time positions, they were the kinds of jobs where you could haul out a notebook and scribble away while you waited for something to do. Even at my most busy, when I was going to university during the day and working during the evenings, I’d still find time to write during free classes and slow shifts.
That changed quite dramatically when I started working at the paper mill. For one thing, this wasn’t the kind of job where you had down-time that you could fill however you pleased. Most of the time I was busy as hell, and even when I wasn’t it would be frowned upon if I curled up at my desk with a notebook. It was the kind of job where you were expected to be doing something even if there was no something to do. For another thing, this was a full-time, permanent position. I no longer had random slots of time to myself, multiple days off at any given time, and I got no breaks. I’m not talking about break-time during the work day – of course I got those, it’s illegal not to give them. I’m talking about chunks of time – days, weeks, or even months – during which I was completely off. This was a permanent job. After a few months that reality started to set in. I was going to do this job every day, five days a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year. That first year I didn’t even get my two weeks of vacation because I couldn’t afford to take it (vacation pay is based on previous year’s earnings and since I got hired in December that would have meant I’d get approximately $80 for my two weeks).
With all that said and done, you also have to add in to the equation the fact that I was all alone in the world. I’d had to move an hour and a half from home for the job, while my boyfriend (now husband) was still back home finishing his own university program. Since I was living alone I had to do 100% of the stuff you have to do when you live alone: the grocery shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the laundry, the errands, etc etc etc. To make a long story short (is it too late for that?) I didn’t have a lot of spare time to myself. The spare time I did have I mostly filled with brainless things like watching tv and playing on my computer because I was just too exhausted to do anything else.
It took a while to work my way out of this rut. Eventually my future-hubby moved up with me and I had help around the house again. He would end up getting a job at the mill as well and as time went on things seemed to even out, become more second-nature, and calm down a bit. I’m still as busy as I ever was, but it doesn’t feel as busy because I’m used to it. So a while back I stumbled across NaNoWriMo for the first time and thought, “Hey, you know what? I miss writing. I should start writing again.” It’s been slow-going, and I still don’t always find the time I need to actually do it, but I’ve committed myself to keeping writing as part of my life. It’s important to me, even if it never takes me any further than my own laptop.