It’s not so much that I’m putting it off, it’s just that it’s vital to the survival of the household that I pair all the socks and polish the doorknobs first.

I have written bugger all in the last month. Well, apart from to-do lists. And the occasional article for the agency. And a note for D letting him know that I’d already fed the cats and not to believe their Shakespearean declarations of hunger after I’d left for my shift. (Actually, I think Genghis is quite Puck whilst Misty has been deliberately channeling Victor Hugo, but I digress).

And then he showed me this:

field-guide-to-procrastinators

source: ufunk.net

I got at least 8 and he’s sitting on 6.

Which means I win, right?

After catching up with Conviction, Grey’s Anatomy, Westworld and House of Lies, I’m currently working my way through Lewis. I highly recommend the latter as, up until Season 7, there are only 4 episodes per so a binge isn’t so time consuming that you run out of clean pants.

When I’m starting a book, I compose in bed before I go to sleep. I will lie there in the dark and think. I’ll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph. And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book.

Stephen King

I spent at least a week frantically sitting very still and hoping that inspiration would strike. It’s not that I don’t know the story I want to tell, it’s just that I couldn’t seem to find the right words to start it. In an effort to kick start my brain I therefore read the opening page of every book within arms reach, ably assisted by Genghis.

Genghis, you see, likes books.

She furs them, lies on them, bats them over with a paw and, occasionally, tooths the edges. (I like to think the latter is her way of communicating critical literary analysis. She was spot on about the latest Lee Child).

Together, we gorged on Tom Sharp, Patrick Rothfuss, Ben Aaronovitch, Dean Koontz, Jeff Abbott, Harlan Coben, Christopher Moore, Simon R Green, David Baldacci, Carl Hiaasen, Dick Francis, Len Deighton, Vince Flynn, JA Konrath, Trudi Canavan, Jim Butcher (Dresden and Codex), only breaking off to chase hair ties or savage some tinsel.

Turns out that the best advice, as always, came from E who directed me here from which I got this:

Structure

Obviously this isn’t one-size-fits-all, but I found it inordinately helpful in blocking out my plot progression; E’s other piece of invaluable was to write until I stalled, then add a descriptive bridge to be filled in later.

But a word of caution: don’t let all these percentages block your creativity. Structure is an effective template for rewriting and strengthening the emotional impact of your story. But you don’t want to be imprisoned by it.

Michael Hauge

[something pithy]

“A gesture of such heartbreaking kindness that I might die wanking.”

PSA: this is friggin’ hilarious. And is the reason, after parsimony, that I don’t read these any more.

I wrote this after a Sunday reading the glossy magazines that come with the broadsheets, who pretty much all did the same thing that weekend – run a hilariously hagiographic interview with a young actress. I honestly felt I’d read this interview SO many times, you could do a full house bullshit bingo card.

MhairiMcFarlane

Enjoy!

I’d rather have financial success than critical acclaim as I’ve had enough of living hand-to-mouth and being able to splurge on a bumper pack of toilet roll from Costco seems like the height of extravagance at the moment. Talk about a low bar…

In the interests of procrastination – because I believe that no deadline should be met without the cold sweat of guilty panic on my brow – I have been researching every aspect of Benchwarmers rather than writing it.

There are plenty of How-To’s out there, and everyone has a different Must-Do, so I’ve been sifting through to find the bits of advice that feel like they might help my ultimate aim: write and self-publish an ebook that sells a minimum of 50 copies at 99p each. Hmmm…

Check the title is available: I’ve been here before with my first horrendously executed effort (which went nowhere but the bin) and as I’ve taken to describing my schedule as ‘freelance’, ‘on shift’ and ‘Benchwarmers’ I thought I’d better make sure that I wasn’t getting inappropriately attached.

The Benchwarmers: The Private World of the Powerful Federal Judges: Joseph C Goulden (1976)

Benchwarmer: Mike Resnick, Lezli Robyn (2009)

Benchwarmers: Love & Other Negotiations Part 2: Matthew Gness (2012)

Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood: Josh Wilker (2015)

You know what?  I’m good with this. Benchwarmers is general fiction revolving around a softball league. It’s not non-fiction, concerning imaginary friends, a romantic short story or a memoir, so I doubt there will be any issues.

Wordcount and motivation: I wanted to know what to aim for (the Writers Workshop broke it down most cleanly through genre) so  I could figure out how many words per day I needed to get on the page, and the best suggestion I’ve seen so far with regards motivation is to treat the whole thing like a job where the paycheck is pending.

For me, that means calculating based on timescale (6 months) minus editing period (1 month) minus fuck-up period (2 weeks) minus formatting period (1 week) minus wiggle room (1 week). If I hit the count early I can call it a Snow Day and go back to the couch or, if it’s going well, keep writing and maybe come out ahead of my deadline. I’m going to aim for a highly unlikely 2000 words per Benchwarmers day.

AIDA: this operatic acronym is the basis for all successful marketing campaigns and I always think of it as awareness of the pub, interest in the bartender, desire for a pint, followed by the action of stepping through the door. If you add price to the process, then you’ve another way to persuade someone to put their money ‘here’ rather than ‘there’. Which leads me to…

Advertising: it might be a surprise to those who know me, but I’m not actually comfortable making a deliberate spectacle of myself. Incessant social media updates are beyond me and I don’t have a budget, which leaves me with theredoubtable as my only advertising tool. I need to make people aware of The Benchwarmers, garner interest in the process, encourage a desire to read it and make it cheap enough to justify taking the action of buying it – all through a relatively anonymous blog. Hmmm.

Price: book reviews vary so significantly on how value-for-money is judged that it’s practically impossible to decide what will work best. I’ve found new-to-me authors because they gave the first one away in order to gather interest in the series (I highly recommend the Jack Randall books – I spent good money on the other three due to this tactic) but you have to trawl through an immense amount of chaff as there are thousands of self-publishing authors out there hoping to hit it big. I bought one of John Locke’s titles to see what the first self-published author to sell 1 million titles was doing right (marketing, I think, because the one I read involved the use of horse liniment as a sexual lubricant and left me speculating about his pain threshold/personal proclivities) and I thought Amanda Hocking’s success after years of rejection was wonderful, not least for the motivating factor of her Jim Henson obsession.

Famous authors like Stephen Leather can charge at least £1.49 for a very short story; unknown authors have to hope they catch someone’s eye. Because Costco frown on shoplifters and I need toilet paper, I’m going with 99p for a full length novel.

Standard pitfalls: unless on recommendation, I go with the quantity and quality of reviews before deciding to download an unknown. If you check Amazon or Goodreads you see spelling, grammar, plotline redundancies and poor attempts at phonetic dialogue flagged time and again. To try and avoid all these I have a crack team of beleaguered ‘volunteers’ who are all excellently placed to provide useful critical analysis. Poor bastards.

This, of course, all depends on me actually writing the book and it being readable and it being judged, on average, worthy of a 99p punt.

So I say once again, hmmm…

I think my subconscious has weaponised my imagination and I’m choosing to take this as A Sign.

For the last few years I’ve had a full time desk job. I’ve had weekends off, statutory holiday allowances and the never-gets-old joy that someone else was paying my monthly wage. Then I found a better desk job, handed in my notice, looked forward to a month of garden leave and…

The better desk job fell through.

Gutted.

The upgrade was supposed to fill the financial gap that I was plugging with freelancing so I could take that time to write for me. The dangling threads of half-formed stories and ethereal flights of fantasy had been left to their own devices as, frankly, they seemed like self indulgence when my time could be spent earning a per-word.

I know that there are people who write in every spare moment. People who feel discombobulated if they don’t get their words on a page. People who have The Urge so deeply embedded in their very being that they struggle to function without that outlet.

Me? My primary Urge is always More Sleep. And the threads and flights got on so well together, hanging around in the back of my brain, that I could easily ignore them. (I’m assuming there was an open bar).

Anyway, the job fell through.

I started having vivid, kaleidoscopic, fantastical dreams.

There was an advert for part time barista shifts.

The half-formed threads began knitting together.

A potential freelance project had a six month timescale.

The flights of fantasy solidified enough to have sharp pokey bits that prodded me at the most inopportune of moments.

Now, I know that there are people who let the story lead them forward. People who thrive in the process of following their characters along unknown paths. People who can motivate with a self-imposed deadline and find fulfilment in the process itself.

But me? I’m a procrastinator extraordinaire with a minor in napping; if I don’t block it out and publicly declare some sort of cut-off I’ll achieve nothing other than a well-rested countenance.

So I’ve given myself until the start of May to blunt the edges. If I haven’t made substantial inroads by that point then I’ll shove the threads and flights behind me and find another desk. And I’m so out of practise that writing this has knackered me out.

I think a snooze is in order.

See you tomorrow…

 

 

I desperately wanted a cat for so long that I’d forgotten the realities of being at the beck and call of a despotic shit machine. Now I have two.

A 12-year-old with, as it turns out, the gift of on-command flatulence, Misty was a sad bundle of black and white fur in the Glasgow SPCA rehoming centre when we first saw her. With me in floods of tears outside (why can’t we take them all?) D made all the arrangements, his kids gave me a consoling pat, and we had ourselves a pet.

After we brought her home she spent two days in self-imposed isolation under the kitchen table before relocating under the bed (leading to several pointed comments about excessive fibre consumption until we realised who the smell was coming from). We gradually found out that she hated fish, loved Welsh cheddar, had no interest in cardboard boxes, cat nip or anything involving physical exertion and was possibly a small deformed dog with a speech impediment.

She also snored.

She was perfect.

In a very short space of time she assumed control. Cuddles were off the table but the occasional stroke was permitted – always on her terms and always ending with a faint smell of eggs and a disgruntled waddle back under the bed. I spent an inordinate amount of time face down on the carpet, making a noise like a packet of cheese Dreamies, begging for affection, whilst D questioned my sanity.

(Not as much as I questioned his when his solo attempt to get her in the carry case for a trip to the vet nearly ended in a trip to A&E. Picture this: a small, fat, highly vocal pissed off cat with all four paws clutching the door to the box with a tall bleeding Scotsman pleading for feline understanding…)

Six months later Genghis was unexpectedly added to the household. The result of a one night stand between a friend’s pampered pedigree and the ginger Romeo from the end of her road, she was a tiny ball of inquisitive hyperactivity who loved boxes, cuddles and Misty.

Misty was unimpressed; she clearly didn’t believe in coalition rule. 

Territorial lines were drawn.

Umbrage was taken.

Treats were rejected in protest.

She once staked out the hallway for hours, brooding in the midpoint between the kids’ rooms and lounge, forgetting that it left the doorway to our bedroom open to exploration.

Feeding time that evening required a referee.

There was even a brief period where the litter trays became a strategic tool in the battle for domination but, as Genghis was oblivious to nuance and used whichever was most convenient, Misty soon went back to sulking, farting under the bed and napping a lot.

Six months later they have reached a delicate alliance. There is still a one-at-a-time rule to do with the furniture that Genghis circumvents by starting high (the back of the sofa or the top of the headboard; as soon as she’s out of Misty’s eye line she waits a few minutes, then slinks down to the same level and gets as close as she can) but the nearest they get to a scrap is a halfhearted thwap with sheathed claws that is purely for show and only connects by mistake.

Misty regularly forgets that she’s supposed to have a nemesis. She follows Genghis when she charges through the house – albeit a good deal slower – in case she misses something interesting. They’re often found in the same room, snoozing away the afternoon or watching the squirrels in the back garden. She’s lost weight since Genghis moved in and no longer needs the ramp we built her to get up onto the bed, although she’ll never be able to join Genghis on top of the doors (not least because she hates heights and being picked up is something she only endures if she thinks there’s a snack forthcoming). She’s also much more affectionate and competes for attention when she thinks Genghis is getting more than her due.

Genghis is a chirper, a chaser of hair ties and catcher of bugs; Misty is the grumpy old man from Up.

And I am housekeeping, to be summoned with a nose in the eye socket at 6am because D sleeps like a log and they’ve learned that, if I resist, they can take it in turns to jump on my bladder until I get up.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Misty, unimpressed with lunch and trying to use the power of her mind to score a piece of vintage Collier's.

Misty, unimpressed with lunch and trying to use the power of her mind to score a piece of vintage Collier’s.

Genghis, looking really cute but terribly sad because Misty wouldn't play with her. It's ok, though - 5 minutes later she found a bug.

Genghis, looking terribly sad because Misty wouldn’t play with her. It’s ok, though – five minutes later she made friends with a bug.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

The wonderful thing about an online persona is that you can rewrite history.

I’m not a fan of outright fabrication as it always comes back to bite you in the arse, but you can certainly gloss over the more uncomfortable moments that would otherwise see you heading for the bottle. Just go to bulk action/edit.

Case in point: the last five years.

They’ve been fraught, painful and occasionally embarrassing but – overall – I’ve survived without the Daily Mail taking aim.

That’s the beauty of being mediocre; no-one really cares.

In the backend of this site I have the equivalent of a box-full of journals, narcissistically documenting my every move since 2006.

Gods, how my life has changed…