If I go a couple of days without getting my head down to some writing or editing, I am proper grumpy. I start to twitch. Right eye first, left eye is no good to man nor beast without lens support, but that’ll go too. This grump is official and verified by an independent suffered enough observer called Mr. O. Half. He’s at the end of it whether I have managed to get some writing in or not. He feels it. But what he doesn’t feel is the process that is going on inside my head and the cat and mouse game my brain likes to play.
As with most writers, my characters impose themselves upon me (mouse), teasing my thinking moments, nibbling and gnawing away in my mind, particularly when I can least deal with them and hiding in the recesses when it is eventually possible and (cat), I’m trying to find them.
Let me explain further. Say you may be time pressured: you’re poised with pen and pad or hovering over the keyboard. The mind has ‘got you’ all to itself but the ideas come in slowly, almost at pedestrian speed. You have to untangle the many strings of thought, unpick the woven-in ideas that, on reflection haven’t actually been thought right the way through. Or sometimes, your mind just stares back at you with that ‘What do you want?’ feeling.
And don’t forget, that your story has been written many, many times before, so you’d better make sure your story is freshly baked and with a refreshing angle that’s different to the other squillion versions out there.
Of course, when you are driving, swimming, practicing yoga, showering, sleep dreaming, shopping, taking the animals for a walk, or in situations when it’s not appropriate to have your mind in the novel, the ideas come rampaging in, demanding you to arrest whatever action you are doing immediately. When you have a family, the stakes get higher- you run the great risk of losing those bloody good ideas altogether, as your brain is addled with children -lovely though they are- and typically you have squabbles to sort out, sobs to listen to, rehearsals to drive them to, parties they mustn’t miss, cooking, cleaning, food shopping, clothes shopping -pure domestic drivel on drip. And at the same time, those fabulous ideas will jimmy the lock into your mind and insist you take down this chapter word for bloody word…
Sooo, time to go through a domestic detox. The plan is to seize greater control over time so one can spend more on the writing and maintain an adequate level of domestic satisfaction and cleanliness around the home.
If you’re someone who derives much pleasure from the additional features that come with having children; patching up that torn cuff on a barely-started-the-term, new school jumper while kneading bread dough with your toes and testing your child on French past participles, then please, do not read on. If you’re someone who wants re-distribute the additional features within the household; spread the domesticity jam more thinly so that everyone gets a taste- here are some ideas I have thought up. I haven’t tried them out. But I think they’re good to go. Sit tight…
1.Burn, baby burn…Burn the evening meal on a regular basis. When not burning, make beans on toast. Make BOT for every burn-free supper time meal. Do not deviate. Hold strong for as long as it takes to create absolute frustration. The only deviation allowed? If they ask for something different then acquiesce with cheesy beans on toast. Eventually, they will volunteer to make supper.
2.Hail the next Michelle Roux. When someone in your family nominates to cook, praise them as the next Lorraine Pasqual or Nigel Slater. Plead to taste more, tell them you cannot wait to savor their next original culinary delight. Offer to send them to a highly rated cookery school for a week that runs for kids their own age. Suggest they do a Youtube Vlog on the merits of their dishes versus yours -mother or father. Inspire them to take a harmless pop at your cooking skills- hey, you have to put a log on their fiery drive to cook- they will eventually spare you the dig (any mention of you will cramp their style), and they’ll leave you behind.
3. Bribery. Call on that old trusted, reliable friend. Offer them extra pocket money if they plan, procure and prepare, particularly for weekends. So, continue with the burnt supper (cheesy), beans on toast during the week until another child cracks, begging, then offer that child a paid proposition for two nights a week. Viola!- you’re only making beans on toast (don’t waiver on the menu), occasionally. See your cooking input drop.
4. Mechanical/electrical breakdowns? Help to cultivate a handy child/young adult around the home. Feign or admit you don’t understand electronics. Swap the fuse for a dud one and place inside the plug for the vacuum cleaner and the like. Under supervision, watch them work out what could be wrong, resolve and boost their confidence. How about if your washing machine is out of warranty and it’s in the last chance saloon? Start to dismantle it in the presence of your children. Kids love puzzles. Let them attempt to put it back together/identify the problem. Marvel at how they (genuinely), understand it more than you. If it works, Bingo, an extension with its life cycle; a reprieve (six months, a year?). If it doesn’t? Well, you’ve invested in your child’s advance(compared to you, you luddite), understanding of mechanics. Chances are they’ll have more interest/respect for the laundry chore and may even do their own, if not bring it down in time! If you try this when they are young, your little girl or boy may be inspired to study mechanical or electrical engineering- got to be a bonus. Win-win situation.
5. Feed uncertainty into your hygiene standards. You know how if you find a dirty knife or a fork amongst the clean cutlery, you start to wonder what else is not clean? Well, throw something in amongst their clean laundry when they get it back. It may prompt them into doing their own laundry, bringing home a result and awareness for cleanliness. Smelly socks and unclean underwear when thrown back in their face (not literally), after a brief sojourn in the laundry basket shakes off that lived-in, don’t care attitude kids like to strut and pout; proudly wearing something that they really shouldn’t be wearing for that second day in a row. Suddenly items become skank, particularly when they try to put on underwear with skiddies after their refreshing, cleansing shower.
6. Your child’s bedroom is a bin. Enter their bedroom and drop a bit of your own litter- identifiably yours. Eventually, they will keep asking you to take your own litter away with you. The perspective on their bedroom alters. You will see incremental changes; they will even be more aware of leaving litter around the house. Slow changes, better outlook.
7. Who’ll take the dog for a walk? Do some market research. Contact your neighbours to see if they have a dog and mention that your daughter/son is thinking of starting a dog walking business, would you be interested? Then ask son/daughter to take your dog for a walk and, oh, yeah, by the way, so and so from number thirty-six is thinking of paying someone to take their dog for walkies. Why don’t you get in there before they put an ad in the local?
All of these should help to create more space for your mind to breathe and time for the pleasures of writing. Of course, this list is not exhaustive. What would you like to see on the list?