Goal-setting: let’s be reasonable (and baby friendly)

A baby does similar things to your house and your brain; it gleefully, carelessly, adorably takes over everything. When the Lizard is awake, I’m basically 100% in Mum role, which sometimes gets to involve sitting and reading while she plays happily solo, but anything more serious-writing-business than jotting down a few notes is completely out of the  question. Because of this, when she goes down for her nap and I get two hours of baby-free time, I want to switch immediately into Writer role.

…ok, fine, I want to tidy everything up, grab a bite to eat and then switch into Writer role.

But having your brain shunted from side to side like that multiple times a day tends to shake things loose. To keep everything nailed down, I’ve taken to Habitica (again) with a vengeance, and within that I’ve joined up with the splendid Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ink Slingers guild of spec-fic writers.

Mostly, this has been a great move – I’ve got commonality, I’ve got help with goals, I’ve got accountability. They’re splendid people; I’m having fun and feeling engaged.


This month the guild has been having a challenge about weekly goals. I figured this would be great: when I was ramping myself up into full production mode back in 2014, I got great mileage out of setting and checking against weekly goals. When I set this week’s goal, I felt like it was challenging, but achievable if I pushed – and I wanted to push.

What I forgot is that this is 2016 and I have a baby; I cannot do full production mode; I cannot push. There is simply no room in which to push. There is basically no elasticity in my life, nothing I can give up to make room for getting more writing done.

What’s more, not making the goal this week – watching it slip further and further out of reach – has had a tremendously demoralising effect on me. As the week’s progressed, I’ve had less and less energy and will for writing even during those golden nap times. Last night was really low: I felt useless and grumpy and resentful of everyone and everything, especially myself. Which was amazingly unfair because I’d achieved an amazing amount of non-writing stuff and I’d finished my daily writing target.

Fortunately, I woke up this morning realising (with a little help from awesome Twitter friends) that I was being too hard on myself. I simply cannot achieve what I used to achieve pre-baby. One day – probably sooner than I realise – I will be able to. But until then, I really need to be kinder to myself, because failing is very unhelpful.

So I’m making a goal for next week that is better suited to what I can and cannot achieve. Since I can’t control how much time I can give to writing, having an output based goal (“revise 10 scenes”) is asking for panic. Instead, I think I’ll just aim to work on the book – actually on the book, not just those note-jottings – six days out of seven.

After all, baby steps.

First drafting: elegant as a drunken duck

Baby Elisabeth with Daddy
Bub liked the hike. Then again, so would I if hiking meant a perma-hug!

So it’s been a while. Mostly because we’ve been having all sorts of baby adventures – sleep school, family visits, and even our first tiny family holiday. (Including a picnic at Hanging Rock, from which everyone returned, possibly because no one in the family is called Miranda. Phew. What a relief.)

As the capacity for schedule – and scheduled working time – returns our household to sanity, I’ve been cracking on with the first draft of my next project. (It has various titles. “Minion: a musical comedy” is what I’ve called the pinterest board. “Rabbit’s guide to ruining your own life” is how I’ve jokingly referred to it. When I’m trying to sound like serious business, though, I call it “Deadlands”.)

I’m now about three-quarters of the way through the first draft. This is a great point in a story. It’s where the finale comes looming into inescapable view, and all of those big, hefty story elements that have been built by the story come seamlessly and elegantly together.

Of course, this is just the first draft, so things are about as elegant as a drunken duck. Instead of coming seamlessly together, my story elements are still wandering the wilderness, or asleep on the job, or in one case completely non-existent (oops). This is the point where I realise that that subplot should have been going differently all this time, and that subplot needs to have started way earlier if it was going to end up over there. Not to mention that two characters who’ve never spoken need to have a fraught relationship, and my magic physics need to work differently.

For me, this is the most difficult point. It’s tough enough to keep the inner editor quiet while I slog through a complete draft, but when things are such a mess, she really starts hollering. And I’m so close to the end anyway, right? I can see how it all goes from here. So surely I could just take it as written that I finish it off and, like, stop now and fix all this hideous mess.

Except it’s not written. It’s not finished. And I know from experience that there are still plenty of twists in the final quarter that can change everything. And there’s little more frustrating than spending another month fixing everything so it’s perfect up to this point, only to find that when I progress into that final quarter, there’s something I couldn’t have realised would mess up everything that I’ve just fixed.

There’s nothing for it but to haul on the metaphorical gum boots, wade through the mess, and sticky-tape things together into an ending.

(“Then you can fix it,” I whisper to my inner editor, as she cries in a corner. “Then you can fix it all.”)


If everyone else were jumping off a cliff…

Little Miss Lizard is four-and-a-half months now, which means all of the supporting medical professionals are talking seriously about moving towards “solids” (which as far as I can tell actually means “mush”, but anyway). Baby wisdom is pretty nebulous in general, because unless you’re the Nazis, it’s difficult to get run with babies the sort of tests that get you genuine information about medical and behavioural development. But there’s a lot of “try this” and “think about that” and “oftentimes the other”.

One of the others in this case being that it’s good for the baby to sit up at table with the growed-ups. She sees that people eat, and she becomes interested in doing the same. And they particularly like food that comes off Mum or Dad’s plate. “Similarly,” the nurse noted, “we find that even picky-eating children, when you sit them down at a table of their peers for lunch, will eat when everyone else is eating.”

It reminded me of something we observed with the Lizard. Christmas and New Year’s was, as always, a time of lots of gatherings, and we included bub as much as possible (because she loves people, and people love her). After a party day, when she’d been around lots of people chatting away, she would chatter a lot more, burbling and babbling happy syllables at the ceiling. “She’s learned that this is what our tribe does,” I joked. “We make mouth noises. Better join in!”

But it’s true, isn’t it? Babies learn from us. They copy us so as to become a part of our society. Fitting in is less about fitting in and more about learning how to human.

Succumbing to peer pressure is a biological imperative. Or at least a strong drive.

I just hope I can remember this when she’s a teenager and driving me batty with the need to have, do and be in accordance with her peers. Remember, Evans, it was a developmental requirement. Growing up means overcoming it, but it’s not easy. Have patience!

Baby on board: taking care with language use

Yesterday as I handed the baby over to her father, I said, “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

That pulled me up short, because it so easily translates as, “Be quiet. Be biddable. These things are what makes a girl ‘good’.”

That’s not what I meant, of course. I wasn’t even really talking to her. I was using my voice as an attempt to reassure and soothe her through this transition of cuddles, but my words were directed to Mr Dee. “I hope she won’t kick you or scream in your ear,” I was saying, “but to be honest I’m not hopeful, because she’s quite cranky at the moment.” I was saying, “Thank you for being here to take her, I’m so grateful for the break.” I was saying, “I’m glad you’re with me on this crazy ride.”

But I was tired and frustrated and lazy, so what I said was: “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

I do want my daughter to grow up with an understanding of appropriate behaviour, so that when she screams and kicks it’s not because she doesn’t know better, or can’t control herself, it’s because screaming and kicking is warranted. It’s her choice. But I don’t want her to grow up thinking that “good” girls have to be quiet and biddable, especially for men.

Do I think one stray line from me will make the difference? Of course not. But hundreds of iterations of it from me as she’s growing up, and thousands of variations on it from her relatives, her peers, her teachers, the television, society as a whole… yeah, that’s going to start adding up. The least I can do – in my position of considerable influence – is counteract that pervasive messaging. I want to try not to parent unthinkingly.

Let’s see how I go.

An announcement! (and some querying don’ts)

Now that the dust has settled, the paperwork is signed, my sleep deficit is somewhat reduced and I’ve had a celebratory beer (or, well, a third of a beer, but breastfeeding, y’know) I guess I can announce that I have an agent! I am now represented by Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary. She is splendid and I am tremendously excited.

I will eventually do a “here’s my full querying story” post, because I read half a hundred of those over the past few years and found them reassuring, inspiring and generally interesting. (EDIT: I haven’t, because so busy, but you can read about my querying process – and read my query – in my QueryTracker success interview!) But for now, a few key lessons from my experience of the past few months:

Don’t get too hung up on formulas or rules. I workshopped my query with a few different audiences, and got a number of varying “a query must have x format” responses. Don’t get me wrong: query structure formulas can be a fantastic place to start understanding the work a query letter has to do so you can put your own together. And you should make your decisions to deviate based on solid reasons for your book. But don’t be afraid to deviate when you have those solid reasons, even if internet wisdom seems to say otherwise.

Don’t be discouraged if your query doesn’t set the world on fire. So many query-to-call stories seem to be full of excitement – oodles of requests and eager agents falling over each other. But to a certain extent, I think it depends on what you’re writing and what’s hot right now. At the moment YA seems to be getting more attention than writing for growed-ups, and of course what you do and how you do it isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. You really, genuinely, absolutely don’t need every agent you query to request. You only need one. (But I admit, it’s nice to have more.) At the end of the day, I had a 25% request rate on my book, and it happened sloooowly over the course of the months I was querying (until the end, when everything happened in a flurry).

Don’t rush agents if you can help it. After my first offer of rep came through and I started nudging with a need to decide, a number of agents who I would’ve loved the chance to consider (…obviously, or I wouldn’t have queried them) bowed out because they couldn’t review my manuscript before the deadline.

And truly, seriously, desperately, if you can avoid it at alldon’t go into labour the same day you get your first offer of rep. I’m not even kidding, my life has a terrible sense of humour. More about that in due course, though!

Writing this week: 3rd October 2015

This week I… continued to putter along, getting a little done every day, but not a lot. There’s been some good movement and other works on Notorious Sorcerer, which is a better taker-upper of time and energy than some things. But mostly, it’s been a pretty strenuous napping schedule getting in the way. As I get into my last couple weeks of pregnancy, I’m being a lot more lenient with myself, even though I know that the next few months are probably going to be a desert of productivity. That’s just the way things go.

Next week I’m looking to… continue slow and steady. I’ve given up on the idea of having a complete first draft by the time I pop – see above – but having as much as I can will be important. I’m leaving myself lots of notes as I go, to try and avoid loose threads and sure-I’ll-remember-this-idea moments that will have evaporated by the time I can come back to the writing. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you had a great idea but having no idea what it was. Even if you come up with something else great, you’ll always wonder if the other one was better.

Writing this week: 26th September 2015

This week I… didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I did manage to write every day – yay – but some days it was only a couple of hundred words. I only managed half a chapter all up, which is a bit demoralising. Considering-just-giving-up-until-after-baby demoralising. But that sounds like a great way to achieve nothing and feel terrible about it, so enough of that nonsense.

Next week I’m looking to… keep up the every-day-writing habit. While I would like to do better than I did last week, if I plug at that long enough, even a few hundred words a day start to add up.

On which note, I’m going to relax my demands on myself a little and not have a “I want to do X much” this week. Anything I get will be good. Let’s just do the best we can.

The weather is also getting a whole lot nicer. Maybe I should look at some outdoor writing sessions. Gets butt in chair and it’d be good for my vitamin D.

Writing this week: 19th September 2015

This week I… did a bit better. I’m settling into a last-few-weeks schedule that includes napping (v. important) which is making it easy to nail down some other routines. Putting at least one word to paper every day, I managed to finish off the chapter that’s been plaguing me, with significant satisfaction about how most of it turned out. Hooray!

Next week I’m looking to… consolidate on and continue this progress. Daily writing is a goal yet again – I want to nail that habit down, even if it will get completely messed up by arrival of baby – and I’d like to complete another chapter this week, possibly two if I can manage it. If I do hit Thursday (or even better, Wednesday) with a chapter completed, then I might cheat slightly to accomplish the second. Deadlands has two strands of story – the present time and the pertinent history – which are alternating in the telling. I’ve been alternating in the writing as well, because this is such a strong “told” book (it’s first-person, conscious narration, very much a “I am telling you this story” style) that I wanted to build the two parts side by side as I went. But it does require a certain mind shift – even if only that one is present and the other is past tense – that can interrupt the flow a little. I might skip over the other storyline and write two chapters in the one arc if that becomes an option.


Writing this week: 12th September 2015

This week I… really didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I suppose it’s to be expected, as the pregnancy gets to the really-not-pointy end (I am so cumbersome; baby is so prone to bulge) that things are going to be more time-consuming, impedimenty and nap-prompting, but it’s still a little annoying. After my mammoth Tuesday (no time for writing), Wednesday became about follow-up housework and napping, and Thursday was more involved than expected as well. I did manage to get back into actually putting words on page, though, and have about half of a chapter written. I’ll take whatever I can get – some words are better than no words.

Next week I’m looking to… continue getting at least some words down. I have errands or appointments on every day, but nothing enormous, so hopefully I will be able to at least get a little bit done very day. That daily habit has been key in previous productive phases of work, so I’m keen to establish it. (My personal experience being that establishing daily habit is harder than growing said habit once established.) I’d like to finish this chapter that’s had me stuck for so long, and be in a position to be considering the next chapter over the coming weekend so I’m ready to launch into it the following week.