I received a lovely email today from an editor for whom I write from time to time. He has an idea for an article that he’d like written, and he thinks I’m just the person to write it. And knowing that I’m quite busy, he’s even suggested that I provide him with a deadline that would work for me. This sort of email is what writers love. But this particular one reminded me of a theory I’ve been working on. Continue reading
My new favourite author, Michael Perry*, has a theory about making it as a writer. It is, he says, like shovelling horse manure. If you keep at it long enough, sooner or later you’ll have a pile so big that people can’t ignore it any more.
In my writing, as in life more generally, I have a tendency to forget this. I seem always to be aiming for the one big idea. The thing that will bring everything together. A towering monument to my own accomplishment.
This is, sadly, just as unlikely as it is pompous. Continue reading
I’m not a big writer of poetry, but I stumbled recently across this short poem that I wrote a couple of years ago. I’d just spent a long day in the office at my previous job and was in the middle of a three hour train commute home. I felt absolutely rotten and found myself pulling out my pad and pen to try to express how I felt.
It was only when I read the poem back to myself a few days later that I realised how urgently I needed to change the way I lived. And now, a couple of years on, you’ll be relieved to hear that I’m much happier and working hard to live my kind of life. Anyway, enough waffle. Here’s the poem. It’s called ‘The Roar’.
I hear a quiet voice from deep
somewhere inside my soul.
It tells me that I’m going too fast;
the roar is in control.
This constant drive to be the best,
my fervent need to win.
The voice wants me to still the roar,
to let the silence in.
I try to listen to the voice,
to what it has to say.
But soon the roar just drowns it out
as life gets in the way.
The roar gets louder, louder still;
leaves chaos in its wake.
In time, the means becomes the end –
a roar for roaring’s sake.
What is this life I choose to lead,
indentured to the roar?
Why can’t I listen to the voice
and be myself once more?
We have recently survived a short visit by the in-laws. I say ‘survived’ not because they’re particularly unpleasant or because they leave a trail of destruction in their wake. In fact, as far as in-laws go, they seem to be fairly reasonable. No, I say ‘survived’ because we seem to have opposing views on, well, pretty much everything. And principal among the topics of disagreement is what, precisely, qualifies as ‘work’.
(I should perhaps mention at this point that this view is not limited to my in-laws. I have had similar discussions with my parents, too, as well as with former colleagues and people I have met whilst walking the dog.)
For my in-laws’ generation, it seems, work involves getting up early in the morning, commuting some distance to an office in a city somewhere, being bored all day doing something that you don’t particularly like, coming home late, grumbling about your idiot colleagues, eating, sleeping – and then repeating the whole thing over and over again until you’re sixty five (or until you conk out, whichever occurs first). Anything that doesn’t meet this definition, in their view, is not work.
Which is a bit of a problem. Because what I do really doesn’t look like that at all, and I’d be horrified if it did. I’m not saying that I don’t work, though. I run a successful consultancy business and spend most of my time on research and consulting assignments for my clients. And when I’m not doing that, I’m generally working on some writing project or other. But I’m my own boss and run my own life.
While I’m sometimes out at my clients’ offices, I’ll often be working at home in my office / spare room here…
Though sometimes I’ll be here…
And while I don’t have colleagues as such, I do have an assistant…
Who can be of varying degrees of usefulness…
This, it would appear, does not count as ‘work’. As far as my in-laws are concerned, being at home is not compatible with working. Nor is having almost full control over what your day looks like. Nor, indeed, is having fun. So despite my best efforts to explain what I do and how it does indeed qualify as a ‘job’ of sorts, they still seem to think that I spend all day loafing around the house while their daughter labours all hours to support my indolence.
(We’ll gloss over the fact that Natalie was only working such long hours because she’d decided that it was better to hide out at work rather than come home and face awkward parental questions about her own non-standard career.)
I don’t blame my in-laws for this. I think it’s more a generational thing. The way in which we work, facilitated by the internet and other technologies, is changing so quickly that people who spent their lives working in the old-fashioned ‘job for life’ culture in large bureaucratic companies find it difficult to relate to the more flexible and varied career paths that are rapidly becoming the norm.
But to avoid future misunderstandings, here are a few key principles that I’d like to clarify:
- Work is something you do, not somewhere you go. So just because I am sitting in the garden drinking a cup of tea, this does not mean that I am not working.
- Similarly, going for a run, doing the hoovering or playing on the beach with the dog are also not incompatible with being ‘at work’.
- I do know what I am doing. In fact, people pay me money to do it. I am a highly skilled professional. Even if I do happen to be sitting at my desk in my pyjamas.
- I am not asleep. I’m thinking. It’s called the knowledge economy. It’s what we do nowadays. Wake up and smell the coffee.
I’d like to think the in-laws will eventually come around to my way of thinking. But, if I’m being honest, I think we’ll just have to accept that times change. They do things their way and I do things my way. It doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong. As with all families, it just means that it’s one more thing on the list of stuff we try not to talk about…
I’m not exactly what you could call a prolific blogger. I mean, I read quite a few people’s blogs, click some ‘likes’ and leave a comment here and there. I like messing around with my own blog, too, and try – and sometimes even succeed – to post a couple of times a week. But recently, things have got a bit more serious.
I set up my blog in October 2010 and then proceeded to do very little with it. I sort of liked the idea of having a blog, but things were fairly hectic and I just didn’t get around to writing anything. This was, unsurprisingly, reflected in a complete lack of readers, visits and page views – as you can probably see from the diagram below.
I started to make a bit more of an effort in August last year, when I decided to try a little harder to be a decent, well-rounded human being. (Read my very first post.) This is when people actually started to read my blog, which was all extremely exciting. And when I got my first ‘like’ (thanks http://princesayasmine.wordpress.com/, by the way), I was almost beside myself. My first comment, a couple of months later, provoked similar jubilations.
You’ll notice, though, that I experienced a further bump in views (if going from 50 views a month to about 150 can really be called a ‘bump’ in the big scheme of things) in January this year. So what’s that all about? Well, it shames me to admit this, but this is when my wife started her blog, and I was darned if she was going to have a more popular blog than me. You know all that drivel you read about the male of the species being insecure, egotistical, shallow and pitifully competitive? Yup, it’s true.
So I tried hard to up my blogging game. I read more of other people’s blogs. I wrote more posts of my own. I wrote about what I was doing, thinking, reading, eating, growing and shouting at. I used tags properly so that people could find my blog. And it was great. I’m not saying that I have millions of readers or anything like that, because that’s clearly not true, but I have started to build up a little community of people like me across the world.
So at least a couple of evenings a week, Natalie and I come home from work, walk the dog, have tea and then settle down on the sofa for a couple of hours of blogging*. We catch up with the blogs we follow, we share things that have caught our eye and we write some posts of our own. Far from being a solitary pursuit, like so many people would seem to have us believe, blogging for my lovely wife and me has become a bit of a communal activity. And, thank goodness, I still have more views, ‘likes’ and subscribers than she does.
* This is not a euphemism. I really do mean blogging. Please don’t write in.
I’d like to think that one of my strengths is my ability to focus on a particular task to the exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, one of my many weaknesses – you’ve guessed it – is my ability to focus on a particular task to the exclusion of all else.
Whether I’m writing an article, working on my studies or potting up plants in the garden, I can get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that hours can pass without me noticing. Which is fine, except that I rarely, if ever, have just one thing on my ‘to do’ list. So while I’m getting absorbed in one thing, there’s a whole load of other stuff that’s just not getting done.
Take this afternoon, for example. I was working on an assignment for my studies, and got so involved in it that it was six o’clock before I realised that I hadn’t watered the plants, prepared dinner or walked the dog. All relatively minor things, but things that I needed to do, nevertheless. And more importantly, things that I’d promised my wife Natalie that I would do.
We all have many roles to play in our lives. I’m a husband, son, brother, colleague, friend and pack leader (to a small orange Labrador). I’m a writer, employee, student, home owner and gardener. I’m also a hiker, runner, sailor, swimmer and lounge lizard. All of these roles need constant attention if I’m to do them well.
Life is a juggling act. While I don’t need to focus on each of my roles all of the time, I do need to make sure that I don’t neglect any of them. I need to strike the right balance between the things that I need to do and the number of hours in the day. And that’s going to take some effort (and a lot more lists).
Step one in sorting out my life is to set a few ground rules; some simple priorities for how things are going to work from now on. So I’ve had a think and have decided on three things that I can do to get the ball rolling.
Firstly, I’m going to eat more healthily. I’m usually pretty good at eating the right sort of things, but when I get tired, worried or stressed I do have a distinct propensity to munch on stuff. And when things get busy, I tend to grab a packet of crisps rather than rustle up a salad. So I’m going to try harder to prepare proper meals and snacks, using fresh food and lots of things that I’ve grown in the garden.
Second, I plan to take more exercise. I already walk for a couple of hours a day with the dog, but I want to do more to improve my strength and fitness and – if we’re being honest – to shift a few pounds. I used to do yoga in the mornings, and I’d like to get back to doing that every day. I also used to run quite a lot when I was younger, so it’s time to dust off my trainers and get back out there.
Finally, I want to write more. I really enjoy writing; the act of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and working out how best to communicate what I want to say. And the more I write, the more I enjoy it. So I’ll try to make sure that I write something every day, whether it’s a post for this blog, an article on something that interests me or part of a longer term project.
I’ll start with these and see how things go. They’re not revolutionary steps, but some simple things that I can do to be a healthier, happier and more balanced individual. And once I’ve got them sorted, they’ll provide me with a solid base from which to move on to other, more ambitious goals.