So firstly a quick biography. I’m a working mother of six children and I’ve just had my cookbook ‘Gimme the Recipe’ published with Mercier Press. (I also write a food blog at www.gimmetherecipe.com.) I like to write in my spare time and there usually isn’t much of that going around as you can imagine and perhaps you are in a similar situation yourself.
Sometimes when you write it can be a bit like day-dreaming. You lose yourself in an almost parallel existence where you set the parameters, draw the scenes and dictate everything until that jolted moment when the door swings open and a child presents you with a maths book, a pencil and an expression that cannot be ignored.
Writing is undoubtedly a selfish past-time and coping with the need to write and the demands of family life means striving for a balance and setting priorities. When you do make your escape and allow yourself to step through that sliding door to where you dream, it is a place for just you and your words to float as you write.
If you are writing for the love of writing then you don’t need to hear what I have to say because you can just write freely and let your words twist and turn at will and you have no need to concern yourself with time, place or even purpose. This type of writing has no set direction, it is an un-fettered escapade often stalled and interrupted and when resumed may run off on a completely different course from where it began.
To make sense of your writing however you have to rein in freedom and set some boundaries. There is not for many the luxury of pure, free and indulgent writing and it would appear that to experience success one has to impose certain restrictions. And there it is. If success means being published then disciplined writing has to prevail. Structure is called for which means defining purpose and scheme and then ring-fencing this structure with boundaries of time determined by deadlines. There is no longer room for rambling and steering off-course. A course has been set and you are responsible for the compass and the maps. So how do you set these boundaries?
I can only write from my own experience and I have to date written two completed works, one a novel (unpublished) and one a cookbook – ‘Gimme the Recipe’ just released.
With the novel there was no contract. This was a work of fiction and that meant it could have driven on unrestrained. But I did rein it in. I gave it a rough direction in the form of a loose plot and main characters and I gave it boundaries. The first boundary was length and I chose a cap of 120,000 words and the second boundary was time. I was limited to writing at the weekends as the week was commandeered by what I call work-work and also by the six very important young lives that are my children’s. At the weekends, with an understanding partner, I was given freedom to sneak away, usually for three hours at a time, up to our office at the top of the house where I sat and typed until time was up. There was no set deadline but I had a strong desire to finish the novel and stealing time as I was doing could not go on indefinitely. I enjoyed my writing, words flowed and I was glad when I had reached the end and completion was satisfying.
When my light-bulb moment triggered me into lifting the pen again a year or two later, this time my boundaries varied for a while. There was a very different end-goal because this time I was producing a product. A cookbook is not the work of art that a novel is. It has a defined function, it has a purpose and I was very clear on how I wanted my cookbook to serve this purpose. I was writing for people like me and I knew exactly what I wanted. This time I was extremely driven by a conviction that what I was offering was meeting a need and this drive had me setting my sights firmly on one end-goal. This book was going to reach a bookshelf and it was going to be published no matter what. There was a confidence this time that had not been there for the novel.
This time I worked harder. I worked late in the evenings and again on weekends and as a lot of this work involved the practical research of cooking and testing, these aspects fitted in easily with family life. It took a while for my kids to get used to the fact that plates of food could not be interfered with or tasted until photographed but it became part of life for a while and their input and feedback played a very important role too.
I do believe that my confidence in my end-goal and the conviction that a market existed for it played a large part in winning my contract. I had to prove myself and raise my profile and I armed myself with the tools that required. I went on self-publishing courses, food-writing courses, photography classes and food styling workshops. Family life and work-work had to find some equilibrium with writing along the way and sometimes those scales dipped heavily with me barely hanging onto one side and pulling it back down to teeter precariously without falling to the ground. This time concrete boundaries were laid out in bold type-face on a proudly won contract and those deadlines are not for shifting so determined scheduled and planning was called for.
So what do I advise? Make a plan and give it structure. Set deadlines in terms of end-goals. Plan your time to have a realistic work-life balance. Finally and most importantly have confidence and believe. Picture your published book, the finished article and don’t let it out of your sight.