A music teacher at my school once described me as: ‘The dud of her family, with no sense of humour’.
I have a great family, so I’m not prepared to say whether or not I’m the dud of it. As to having no sense of humour – almost everyone thinks they have a good sense of humour, and I’m no exception. I do find a lot of things funny. I actually found that music teacher very funny and admired her for it. She was mean, but witty and I often laughed at things she said.
At the time, I tried to laugh her comment off. But over the years I have thought about it a lot (dud of my family, with no sense of humour…how! dare! she!), possibly proving her point. Sometimes I wonder if her saying that encouraged me to prove her wrong, inspiring me and spurring me on to do stuff and achieve. Ultimately though, I don’t think it was helpful. I think that actual encouragement is probably more encouraging than telling someone they’re crap and waiting for the inspirational music to start as they struggle to overcome your oppression.
I have a lot of supportive friends and family who say things like ‘Keep going!’ and ‘You’re good at things!’ and ‘Chug, chug, chug’ (they’re pretending to be the little engine that could. Some of my friends and family can be quite patronising).
These encouraging moments are too numerous to list. So today I wanted to write about two times I was encouraged by someone called Tim.
When I was writing my first book I sent a draft manuscript to my friend Tim C to read. He gave me a lot of carefully considered feedback.
One night I emailed him and said: ‘I’m only asking this because I’m drunk – but do you think my book could ever be published?’ Tim C replied with words to the effect of: ‘Yes! Have you seen some of the stuff that gets published?’
I found this immensely heartening and pushed on. I realised that I had never claimed to be the next Salman Rushdie (but one who would never write about myself in the third person). My goals were quite modest and achievable: to produce a work slightly less shit than some of the other shit that gets published.
A year later I was trying to find a publisher, and had received a couple of rejections. I was despondent about the whole process and thought it might be a waste of time. A different friend, confusingly also from my stable of friends called Tim, was adamant that I would ultimately succeed.
I remember Tim B banging the drinks table: ‘You don’t give in! If that publisher doesn’t want it, you send it to the next one! It will be published!’
I tentatively pointed out that Tim B hadn’t actually read my manuscript. Tim B was undeterred. He gave a dismissive sweep of his hand and yelled, (we were in a bar, you had to yell to be heard, but he may have done so anyway, he was in that kind of mood) ‘I don’t need to read it! I just know!’
Tim B may have been a little bit drunk, but he spoke very convincingly and I was hugely encouraged when I left the bar that night.
On both those times the encouragement came in just the right way, at just the right moment, with the result that it was really very encouraging.
Feeling like I was getting nowhere on my next manuscript, I did what I often do when I feel a bit overwhelmed. I started a spreadsheet.
I list the date and word count at the end of the day’s writing. From this I calculate my average words written per day since I started the sheet in mid-January. I then assume linear progress and have projected a finishing date. (Assuming that the first draft will be 50,000 words.)
This is not the world’s most artistic approach to writing but it has certainly motivated me to get more words on the screen. I have a strong desire to keep my average up.
These are my current figures:
Average words written daily: 187
Projected completion date: 10 July 2014
And I’m proud to say that this graph shows that I’ve been making pretty steady progress:
Of course that doesn’t mean it will be finished on that date. It’s just my projected date for having a sloppily written first draft with a rambling plot and way too many characters. I think after that the real work will start, and it might be harder to graph.
I have a limited amount of time each day to write. I have to choose how I want to spend it.
The main thing that I feel I ‘should’ be writing is my next book. I’m writing my memoirs of working at a bacon factory over summer. The big advantage of a memoir is that I don’t have to think up names for characters or decide what happens next. I just look at my diary and write it up. I am very worried that this is going to result in a big mess with no plot and lots of upset friends and relatives. So I think I will fictionalise it later. I’m worried the whole thing is a big waste of time, but I thought that about my other three books as well.
But sometimes I use my writing time to do other things. Like writing a blog entry, or emailing a friend or making parody videos of cloth nappy reviews. I feel guilty about these activities, like they’ve taken me away from a more noble path. Then I remember that the more noble path is writing my memoirs of working in a bacon factory. So it probably doesn’t matter what I do really.
So here are the videos.