Today, we are talking about structure.
Oh, not structuring your great immortal work of literature. Far more incisive brains than mine have written about that—I can recommend K M Weiland’s book on the topic, if you’re desperate for words of wisdom and are fulminating quietly at my letting you down over it here. I didn’t intend this post as a bait-and-switch, fool-’em-into-coming-to-read sort of thing. It really is about structure.
Not my novel’s structure. Mine.
I had an epiphany this week. I came up with a jolt against the realisation that my life is very unstructured. I am drifting here and there with the tide. Which is, you know, restful and effortless, but sadly, doesn’t get you anywhere. Flotsam and jetsam, that’s what my life has become.
And it’s not pretty.
I’m still reasonably active in fandom. I moderate a fanfiction Yahoo group—let’s call it LW— for a forty year old TV western series, as well as managing one of its main archives, and I’ve been worrying recently about the fall off in activity at the group. It’s always been active and vibrant, you see, but the last few months people have just vanished from it. People who had written lots and who have been the backbone of the fandom community there… poof! Gone. I know that people come and people go in fandoms. That’s the nature of the beast. Some of them are writing their own stuff now and others may have gone on to other fandoms. That’s how it goes. But this is marked. It’s a big drop in activity, and the whole atmosphere of LW is one of decline and unenthusiasm. Another Yahoo group, similar in focus to LW but long moribund, has sprung into renewed life and many of the missing people from LW are posting there. It’s perplexing and worrying.
Then one of the members, off list, said something that brought this great epiphany in its wake. She said to me that for a long time now, I haven’t been posting there as a fan, as someone who loved the show and wanted the fiction to thrive. But that I’ve only been posting there as a moderator: do this, please, people or don’t do that. She was right. Oh boy was she right.
And as I started to defend myself, I sat down and looked at all the things I’m doing:
– final revise of Shield 2, taking on amends suggested by crit group (I’m two meetings behind there)
– sort of writing Golden Scarab. In a desultory way.
– manage the LW archive website – which includes putting up every story ever written (about 200 of them) by the fandom’s most prolific writer. Each one has to be checked for crap HTML, too. Not a simple job, even doing 5 or 6 stories a day. Today I managed 2 stories and it took 90 minutes to clean up the texts
– manage the website for my husband’s orchestra
– beta advice to two or three people (am several chapters behind…)
– a long technical edit for a friend’s second book, and reformatting the manuscript (just finished that).
– crit and comment on two other writers’ works, for a regular Skyping crit group
– daily moderation of the LW group, which at the moment includes worrying obsessively about how to revive it and finding the time to write an article for it on how to offer real feedback. And find time to comment on the stories posted.
– fanfiction commitments – I must finish one story that’s been back burnered for 18 months
– Pinterest and sparkly tiaras! (Don’t ask, but that place sucks up hours that I don’t have to spare)
– my mother. She lives with us now and needs companionship etc
– housework (a too-big four bedroom London house) and cooking. The house is shamefully shabby
– walking the dog twice a day
– my poor, neglected husband…
And I realised that I’m not doing any of this well. I’m not doing it well because I’m not focused, not sharp—not the way I used to be when I was working full time. Then my days had structure. I had project plans and deadlines and I worked my arse off to reach them. The sense of achievement when I did, buoyed me up for the next task. I was enthusiastic and, well, I had purpose. Now my days just have flotsam and jetsom. I’m just drifting from one thing to another and doing them all badly.
The worst casualty (apart from LW) is my writing. We’re half way through the month and I’ve written about 5000 words. That is just unacceptable. I could have sent Shield out to another publisher three months ago. Instead I’ve let that drift. And that, too, is unacceptable.
It’s not good enough and it has to change. I’ve started by looking at my day and all these darn things I have to do in it, and drawing up a tentative ‘project plan’, with times for walking Molly and times for socialising with Mum, but putting the afternoons aside to work. I have a *chart* with coloured blocks on it and earnest little memos to self typed on it: Tuesday is clean kitchen day! and Don’t forget to walk Molly! and Take Mum to shops…
I wish I could show it to you. It is a thing of *beauty*. It’s focused, driven, planned. It takes all the things I need to do and it weaves them into a structured sort of existence where I’m back in control and I have
purpose, and plans, and (possibly arbitrary!) deadlines to help me get back on track. What I want to do is exchange all that nasty horrible flotsam up there (↑) for something honed and beautiful that will bring me pleasure not guilt. To continue the sea metaphor, if I have to have my life tumbled about in the waves, then this should be the end result, not rubbish:
I have a chart. I will have purpose. I will drift no longer.
I’ll start next week…