Thursday, January 19, 2023

Achieving balance the fancy footwork way, by Catriona

The balance between life and work can be difficult to manage as a writer, because we all "work at home". How do you succeed, and fail?

Work life balance. Hmmmmmm. That phrase always makes me think of two bundles at either end of a seesaw (teeter-totter in US English. Incidentally, it was quite recently I learned that teeter-totters and tater-tots are two different things. That demystified a lot.).

Classics you've missed (keep reading) 

But the thing is, my life doesn't feel like a bundle along a plank from another bundle called work. What I've got feels like a work life continuum, no way to indentify the tipping point.

Right up at one end would be something like . . . checking page proofs. I'm pretty sure no one reads novels line-by-line with a ruler, looking for typos, for fun. That's definitely work. But there's no way it would ever unbalance my life because when I get my proofs I divide the number of pages by the number of days till I need to return them and knock them off at that rate.

First panel I ever moderated (read on)

What next? Well, work in progress is the bit that comes in the biggest chunks: banging out a first draft; reading it - fainting couch and smelling salts to hand; doing the first edit with a shovel and a peg on my nose; reading that; editing with a hand-trowel, then a cake-slice, then a scalpel . . . until it's ready for someone else to take a look at.

Then again, though, that work is self-regulating. I simply can't write or edit for long enough that meals, telly and yoga get neglected. If I tried, I'd be writing drivel. Or not noticing that I'd written drivel. For maybe three days at the end of a first draft I can pound out four or five thousand words in four or five wild-eyed hours. Still leaves time to watch The Repair Shop.

Books there's a buzz about (it's coming)

Research? Well, that's either finding stuff out - fun - or going to places and poking around - also fun. And, since my books are set in Scotland where my family and old friends all live, you'd be looking at my research trips a long time before you thought "Poor Cinders".

Social Media? It's mostly hanging out with people I like talking about stuff I love. Poor me.

And speaking about hanging out with people . . . conventions, festivals and other book events. That bit of this job is tax-deductible travel to nice hotels on a budget rate to talk about books all the livelong day. 

And then there's the books themselves. Some of the reading I do is absolutely work. Blurbing forthcoming novels, for instance. But what kind of miseryguts would find it onerous to get a sneak peek at new work and give fellow authors - especially debut authors - a boost? I read Harini Nagendra's THE BANGLORE DETECTIVES CLUB and Rob Osler's THE DEVIL'S CHEW TOY the year before last and seeing both on the Lefty shortlists yesterday gave me a warm feeling that might have been naked power.

Then, in order of workiness, there's: reading books to moderate a panel; reading co-panellists' books out of camaraderie/nosiness; reading books there's a buzz about; reading classics you missed somehow . . . and generally making myself ever more acquainted with our beloved genre.

Some reading is a challenge to call targeted graft, right enough. Today, I just finished Akwaekwe Emezi's YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY, a romance. But you know what? It's useful to look at other genres, and setting and dialogue are relevant no matter what, and the insights into conceptual art were fascinating, and when things got ugly (the protagonist falls for her sort-of boyfriend's father - yikes) the scenes could have come straight from domestic noir. 

In conclusion, sitting in the garden just now, reading to the end of a romance novel on a Wednesday morning was work. See me for all your rationalisation needs, folks. Satisfaction guaranteed,



Lori Rader-Day said...

I adore you. Also envious of how quickly you do the work part.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the amazing support, Catriona! You are generous beyond measure.

Rob Osler said...

That previous comment is from me! Rob Osler! Sorry, didn't mean for it to be anon.

Catriona McPherson said...

Oh Rob - I thought for a minute that was the blog equivalent of a mysterious veiled stranger weeping in the back row at my funeral. You're welcome though. Lori: mwah!

Ann said...

If that mysterious stranger has on a red dress, it is I