Leaving the phone home alone

Bad phone, naughty phone

Bad phone, naughty phone

I don’t do New Year resolutions (I don’t think I like giving myself an opportunity to fail) but this year I had to. This year, I realised I was overly attached to my phone and that this seductive little chunk of chips and shiny pixels was sapping my concentration levels. So, I made a promise to myself that at least once a day, I’d leave my phone at home.

Why did I have to make a rule for something so silly? Because that phone seems to sneak its way into my hand without even a second of conscious thought. One minute I’m daydreaming about something, the next I’m checking this and checking that and my head is filled with all kinds of minutia. Enough, I decided. So far this year, I’ve left the house sans mobile at least once a day. Something that’s not even an achievement, but that has brought about a definite improvement.

My phone-free time is normally just a walk round the Links, a trip to the shops or some uninterrupted writing time in a cafe. And, it’s been kind of brilliant. I am a bit worried by how often I seem to pat my pockets, even when I know my phone isn’t in them, but I’m hoping it’s a habit I can begin to break.

A word of warning, however. If you do decide to leave your phone at home, remember to pick up your house keys before you go. Yesterday, I managed to forget this vital piece of advice and spent several hours wandering around Leith with some heavy bags of shopping. Partly because the dawn of the mobile age erased my abilities to remember anyone’s phone number. Ah phone, you wee trickster.

A writer’s game: competing to take part

The writing world is rife with competition – the prizes, the race for an agent, a publisher, the need to push your books into the hands of the readers over all of the others grappling for their attention – there’s no avoiding it. The second you start sending your work out, you’re pitting yourself against all other writing out there, simply by saying it’s worth someone time to read yours and not someone else’s.

That’s a big enough ask, but these days I’m finding myself getting caught up in trying to ‘win’, whether that means placing in a competition or having a story accepted. No big deal, maybe. Isn’t that the whole point? A shiny wee medal of encouragement and a pat on the back, who wouldn’t want that? But the more I find myself thinking about writing as something you can win or lose, the harder I find it to actually concentrate on what I’m writing.

With talk of branding, book as products, authors as equity, it’s easy to start to think about this business as a game, as something you can squeak past the finish line of. We’re in it to win it, but should we be?

Winning street sign

Competing for reader’s eyes, that’s important to most writers, but equally important should be fulfilling your own desires. If you’re always looking at the podium, imagining yourself there, spraying champagne, when are you going to spend time thinking about what you’re writing? How are you going to forget about everyone else and write something true?

A few recent near misses of one kind of another almost knocked me off course recently, until I remembered that I’m not writing for a gold cup or a badge, I’m doing it because I want to – just for me. And if you take part, it doesn’t really matter whether you win or not, because if someone else reads one of your stories, that’s a pretty awesome prize.

Biting off more than you can chew

Review 134 Launch

It’s tempting to say yes to everything, isn’t it? Especially when the things you’re agreeing to could lead to money/friends/adulation/fame. Well, maybe not the last one, but we can always hope.

When someone asks me to do something, there’s always a pause, a moment where I riffle through the baggy filofax of my mind, looking for the many reasons I can’t. But in the pressure of the moment, the pages I’m looking for aren’t there, and somehow I find myself saying yes. Then, when it sinks in that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew yet again, I toss that mental filofax across the room in a fit of despair, howling ‘how will I fit it all in?’

Resigned, I add the new task to my list, for it to then be ignored in turn when the next request comes up. And so it goes. I tell myself I’ll shake it up and start saying no more often, but how can I, when by turning something down I might be missing out on something?

Some of that hard work paid off last week, after all, with the launch of the latest Edinburgh Review, which we held at the lovely new Looking Glass Books, and it was great fun. The readers were fab and there was some good chat in the pub afterwards.

Do you say yes when really you mean ‘No, I’m too busy, go away and leave me alone. Unless you have cake.’?

Bad morning habits of a freelance writer

    1. Check emails before getting out of bed or even opening eyes properly.

    2. Close eyes again in a huff when emails are all spam related/have a little cry when they contain rejections.

    3. Tell self you will work on your novel/short stories/sonnets before anything else, instantly check work emails.

    4. Spend four hours writing about insurance/pets/holidays to earn a small amount of money.

    5. Take frequent coffee breaks but forget to eat proper breakfast.

    6. Get around to opening your creative files.

    7. Stare at them in despair.

    8. Realise you missed breakfast and eat whatever unsuitable handful of biscuits you can scrounge.

    9. Return to computer and find yourself writing about insurance/pets/holidays again.

    10. Decide you need a change of scenery. Comfort yourself for your lack of creative work with a large cake in your favourite café. Tell self it’s too late in the day to start writing your opus anyway, better to get a fresh start the next morning.

Safeguarding the spark

Some people seem to rain sparks. Their ideas come thick and fast, characters emerge fully formed from the flames and entire fiery vistas open in front of them the second they close their eyes.

Not me. I’m a slow burner. Each new idea feels like a long struggle with a tinderbox, a soggy attempt with two stones or a slow alignment of a magnifying glass and the pages of my notebook. And when an idea does catch alight, it’s not guaranteed. It needs careful attendance and nurturing.

I ignore the spark at my peril. If I leave it alone for long enough, I’ll come back to find a small scorch mark that smells of all the cigarettes I’ve decided not to smoke any more.

Feed the spark too much, and it is smothered. It dies off before it has the chance to take hold, and my head is full of smoke and regrets.

A few days, weeks, months of tending this little idea carefully, looking at it from behind shielded eyes, being careful not to let a cold rain of self-doubt touch it, and it might turn into something bigger. If I’m lucky.

Secret chocolate stash in old books

The Antiques Roadshow generally makes me think of that sad, Sunday feeling, but it does sometimes uncover a lovely story or two. The current favourite has to be that of Mr James, who was given some books by his schoolmaster back when he was 11 and, rather than giving them a read, he shoved them away unopened.

Skip forward a couple of decades, and his wife discovered that the inside of the books had been hollowed out and a variety of chocolate bars had been secreted inside.

Hollowed out book with sweets inside

Now, I disapprove of cutting up books in general (how can you deface those poor defenceless words, you monsters!) but this story did make me giggle. Just imagine the disappointment of that 11 year old, when he realised he’d passed up on the goods.

That said, I’d like to think that what you find in a decent book is even better than chocolate. It’s tends to last better, at least, but really, the ideal situation is a combination of both. Maybe with a bath and a glass of wine thrown in for good measure, mmm.

I did always want one of those fake books though, although I think the only thing I really wanted to hide at that age would be my diary, which would kind of defeat the purpose. Although I suppose it would be a grand way to hide my chocolate stash from Ink

A few short lessons on impatience

I want, I want, I want. I am of the instant gratification generation. All of my desires have a postscript: as soon as possible please. I don’t want to wait until I get home, I don’t want to put it off until the weekend, I don’t even want to look forward to it, I’d much rather have it all now.

Not a good mind set for an aspiring writer. Of all of the things the writing life is, it isn’t speedy. Writing takes time, getting writing until it’s somewhere near publishing takes even more, and getting it out there, yup , you guessed it, takes more still.

I’ve made (uneasy) peace with the process, but there’s one place my impatience is always waiting to trip me up: submissions. I’m constantly trying to fire things out there before they’re ready, even when I know they need one final going over with a fine tooth comb.

In an effort to remind myself to reconsider, I’ve compiled a short list of the things impatience has rewarded me with over the years:

  • Watery coffee – plunging a plunger prematurely.
  • A spoiled story – flicking forward to check the main character doesn’t die.
  • Indelible, online spelling mistake – hitting publish without thinking.
  • Blisters on heels – embarking on night out in un-broken in shoes.
  • A cold half hour walking back to the right bus stop – taking first bus instead of the right one.
  • Red cheeks and no job – submitting application before double checking job

And many hundreds more. You got any?

A relatively news-free update

For the last week or so I’ve been having trouble remembering what day it is. This is a sure sign I’ve been too busy, but as much as I’d like to step back and get my bearings again, there just isn’t any time for it right now.

I took on a bunch of freelance work in preparation for the long hoped for day when I cut my work hours. Unfortunately this will have a drastic impact on my salary do I’ve been trying to save/stockpile money. I’d be doing better at this if I didn’t keep getting lured in into bookshops… I’m also spending a bit of cash attending various readings and writing events, but I consider all of that money well spent.

Tonight Ink and I are nipping through to Glasgow for a natter with writery and comicy types (fun times) and tomorrow I’m off to Oxford to give a day of copy training on Friday (nerve wracking times).

Then next week I’m going to head off to Manchester for a night to take part in the Flash Mob Literary Salon where I’m planning to read my shortlisted story and meet lots of lovely writers.

After that, I’m planning to sleep for a few days then get back to my early morning writing regime. I decided to take a break from it this week and just get up at the normal time to try and avoid sleep deprivation, but it’s making me feel super nervous already. If anyone has plans to invent some kind of magic machine that will squeeze more hours into the day, please do tell.

I assumed that one day I’d grow up and be good at this stuff

Me as a wee 'un

Look at me. I thought it was all going to fall into my lap didn’t I? I should have known better.

There were plenty of things I assumed I would be good at, as soon as I hit some magic age.

Silly me.

Things I assumed I’d be good at by the time I was an adult:

  • Meeting new people
  • Paying bills on time and knowing what all the charges are for
  • Understanding taxes
  • Voting for the best political party
  • Exercising twice a week
  • Effortlessly maintaining a loving relationship
  • Writing

Things I am good at:

  • Getting embarrassed, even when new people are very nice
  • Paying bills blindly, assuming companies know what they are doing
  • Ignoring taxes
  • Voting for the party I think sound nicest
  • Swimming when the mood takes me
  • Forgetting why it’s important to pay attention to your relationship sometimes
  • Wishing I was better at writing

It seems these things do not come automatically with age.

It seems I will have to work hard on them if I want to improve.


Carefree colleagues = serious concentration corruptors

So far, the new flat has been wonderful when it comes to noise. Aside from the time the dude upstairs played something widdly for four hours (prompting Ink to pay a visit – whereupon the culprit opened the door to his dark flat bleary-eyed and wearing his jammies) we’ve been pretty lucky.

This hasn’t always been the case when it comes to my living arrangements – man, I’ve been in some bad places for noise – but it’s a welcome development. So welcome, the peace at home is showing me just how much my colleagues are annoying me during the day.

An old pic of me looking grumpy

Basically, noise pisses me off – unless I’m making it. Partly because it breaks my concentration but also because lots of the time, when you’re busy doing something, all kinds of innocent noises start to sound like nails on a blackboard. Laughter, chatting, bad music, irregular noises like slamming doors, all of those things have the power to change my from laid-back-typing-Lynsey, to snarling-sighing-and-huffing-Lynsey, who seems to have stopped typing.

I know it’s not fair to be pissed off at people for speaking, or even, god forbid, laughing, in the workplace, but what do my clenched back muscles and screwed up eyes care about fair? I want them to shut up, and to do it quickly, because I’ve got three new stories and four pages to write before the end of the day and I’m never going to manage it if they DON’T SHUT THEIR DAMN FACES.

Most of the time I wear headphones, and that works out fine for us all. But sometimes, they just don’t have the power to cut out all of the office chatter. I think the only solution is for me to work from home, does that sound good to everyone?

PS. I feel really guilty about the negative way I keep reacting to laughter, tell me I’m not alone?