Determination and deprivation

(A post which deals with food and writing at the same time, in which I make two scary resolutions, but both for good reason.)


So, it’s been November for a week already. This brings me to the first of my resolutions:


Thousands of crazy writers, professional and otherwise, wow to try writing a 50 000 word novel in 30 days. It might not be for every writer, but I think it’s worth giving it a shot. This is how I discovered I could actually finish something. Some people use it as an opportunity to hammer out a first draft of something they need to write anyway, others will see it as an ‘holiday’ from their normal, ‘serious’ writing – a month where you give yourself the license to write something without thinking too much about it, while others (most of the participants, I suspect), do it for the sheer fun of it, just to create something, even if no one will ever read it.

I’ve done NaNo twice before, but this year it will be a quite different challenge for me. Cause this year, I’m also doing rewriting/ revisions on a manuscript that my editor is waiting for. Yes, proper, ‘serious’ writing that I’m getting paid for and stuff. (A first for me.) I’ve decided to try doing NaNo as well as working on my MS. For NaNo, I’ll be trying to finish another novel that is half-finished, and has been sitting around in a drawer for ages waiting for me to rekindle my enthusiasm for it. I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will help with that. It’s been a week already, and although I’m way behind on the word count, I’m optimistic and starting to care about those old characters again (while not losing interest in my other MS either, so I’d call the experiment a success for far).

To any writers who has never tried the wonderful November madness; I highly recommend it. It’s wonderful what deadlines and optimistic pressure will do for productivity. Also, they run @NaNoWordSprints on twitter, and sprinting is fun, and awesome! Also, the NaNoWriMo community is fun and supportive. Check out the website.

Now, anyone would think that this would be enough of a challenge for one month, but I figured I might as well use the November momentum for a food-related challenge as well. Which brings us to my next scary resolution:


Wheat-and-dairy-free Month

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and it seemed the right time for it. One challenge can propel the other along, so to speak. The (rather uninteresting) background for this, is that I’ve had some pain in my joints for over a year now, and so far the doctors have been unable to tell me what it is (except that it’s NOT arthritis). After some googling, I’ve seen that many people experience relief from similar symptoms after cutting wheat and dairy, so I’ve decided to try it for at least a month to see if there’s any difference. (I tried just going dairy-free for a month, and while there wasn’t much difference to my joints, my skin was noticeably clearer and healthier.)


So far, so good. I’ve been doing this for almost two weeks now, and so far, no big difference to my joints, but a huge one to my skin (and also some improvement in digestion).

I’d like to think that I don’t really see this as something scary and restricting, but rather as an exciting opportunity to try something new, and cook in ways I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. But the big challenge here is of course, TREATS. (Hey, if you’re going to write a novel in 30 days, you’re going to need a LOT of treats. You know, stuff you can nibble while typing, that will fuel you through sleepless nights when your characters won’t let you go to bed (ok, maybe not, after all, I have another MS to work on, and a normal day job every other day)). So because the job that really pays the bills (for now, anyway), is only every second day, so I’ll have time for writing in between, this means I’m not exactly rich. I’m on a rather tight budget, so there’s no money for lots of expensive gluten-free baked goods (3 times the normal price for a packet of Jaffa Cakes that taste less than the normal ones? Are you kidding me?). This means I had a big baking day, where I tried to make my own treats and breakfast foods (but mainly treats, to be honest), without dairy or wheat.

No real butter? No cream, milk, cheese, yoghurt, or white flour? How can you bake anything yummy with these restrictions challenges?

Very soon, there will be a big, bold Baking Bonanza Blog post, in which you will find out whether I succeeded in making anything edible.



PS. Bedtime reading!

I’ve finished The Book of Negroes (which, I’ve discovered, is called Someone Knows My Name in the US, because the word Negro just wouldn’t fly there, even though the title is lifted from a historical document which is vital to the story). The last time I mentions it, I said it was a bit of an anitclimax after The Book of Night Women (written by the extremely talented Marlon James), and I know why -the latter is written in such a rich, evocative, almost hypnotic language, that it makes other books seem almost simplistically written in comparison. However, that is not the case with The Book of Negroes, which is actually written in a straighforward, et sometimes lyrical style. It just took some ‘acclimatizing’ to normal English again after the ‘vernacular’ of The Book of Night Women. (I think the language and writing style might merit its own blog post at some point, because it made me think a lot about writing voive.) And I highly recommend both books – the suck you into their worlds and make you care about their (very different) protagonists.

Now, I’m going to start The Long Song by Andrea Levy, and hope it lives up to these two! Also, I’d love reading recommendations! (Not just about slavery! Although it might seem like I read about nothing else at the moment. I’m open to anything, although I have a fondness for well told historicals, magical realism, and realistic/urban/historical fantasy.)




Time yourself – a quickie

(In which I try to conquer procrastination and lazyness. Ambitious, isn’t it?)

First of all, mind out of the gutter. Not that kind of quickie, you dodgy person. This is just going to be a quick post about quick stuff.

Second: Yes, time yourself. No, don’t time yourself doing any old activity. In fact, I can think of a number of activities which are vastly improved if you manage to forget time completely. I’m talking about writing (or any work which can be divided into chunks and, well, timed).

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll have the occasional problem with procrastinating. (If not, you’re either inhumanly structured, or lying. Most likely the latter.) Working at home there’s no one to see if you’re actually working, which can be a blessing and a curse. Suddenly the dishes need washing, and I’ll just check Facebook before I start, and shouldn’t I colour-coordinate my sock drawer? Wouldn’t my mind be clearer and thus more prepared for writing if my flat was all organised, feng shui-style?

The thing is, I love writing. I love when everything is just flowing, the words keep coming I forget time, and it doesn’t seem like work at all. I just have problems starting. It sometimes seems like there’s a huge step up to the plateau of flow, and my legs are too short. I need a good kick up the bum. If only there was an escalator.

Actually, there is. 15 minute magic. I’ve found it helps a lot to trick myself, saying ‘I’ll only work for 15 minutes’. 15 minutes is nothing. It doesn’t seem like a big commitment. I set my timer for 15 minutes and see how much I can get done in that short space of time. (If it helps, you can imagine you only have 15 minutes to save the world, and everyone is depending on you writing down something. Picture yourself as Jack Bauer, Doctor Who, or Flash Gordon if you will. Whatever floats your boat. It certainly lends a hint of excitement to the proceedings.)

Can’t get anything done in 15 minutes, you say? Go on, I dare you. Try it. You might find that you’re quicker than you think (or that 15 minutes is longer than you think. Maybe times moves differently when you’ve got an egg timer on. Who knows?). Also, when my time is up, I usually find that I’ve tricked myself into becoming sucked into the work, and I’ll be in the middle of something and don’t want to stop. So the 15 minutes can turn into hours if you’re lucky.

Sometimes you only have a few minutes, and it can be great to cram some work into those pockets of time that you wouldn’t have used for anything useful anyway. Grab your pen and notebook (or your preferred instruments) while waiting for the laundry or when you’ve got a dinner in the oven. You’ll be forced to stop when that dinner is ready, of course, but hopefully it will leave you in a good place, hungry for more (your chunk of work, not your dinner). So the next time you’re sitting down with your work, you’ve been interrupted in the middle of something, and you’re eager to continue.

The frantic, timed writing is great when you’ve got a first draft to get out, but getting yourself started by timing small chunks works for other stuff as well. It worked great for me today with some rewrites of a manuscript that my editor is waiting patiently for. I started my 15 minutes with reading through a scene which needs to be amped up a bit, tension-wise, and when the time was up, I had discovered new angles to the scene and started jotting down quick suggestions for improvement. By this time, my interest in the scene (which I thought I had re-written and re-read so many times I couldn’t possibly see it a new way) was re-ignited, and there was no stopping me. This provided a great starting point for more than an hours work, and some new love for a scene that I thought sucked. 


I would never have discovered the wonders of timing if it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and though there’s nothing national about this crazy venture, it’s certainly novel, and if you write, or have ever wanted to, you should check it out.


Well, that’s just one of my strategies for kicking myself up the bum! Do you have any good ones?


Bedtime reading: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. I’ve just started it, and so far, it’s ok, but a bit of an anticlimax after reading the marvellous, hypnotic and harrowing Book of Night Women  by Marlon James, which deals with similar themes. But I’m giving it a fair chance – I’ve read some really glowing reviews of this book.