Prospect & Retrospect

Have you ever seen your past laid out on a page? It’s unnerving.
Last week I typed up my 2015 work diary (a daily note of what I did or why I didn’t do anything) into a spreadsheet: a year at a view. It was disheartening, encouraging, and then disheartening some more.

Soviet calendar 1930 color
Consider the numbers. There were 365 days in 2015. Of these, 52 were Sundays, and therefore days of rest. That leaves 313. (Yes, I work Saturdays.)

I took four days off for public holidays, including Waitangi Day, Good Friday and Christmas. I also took three days for private holidays: my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and our family name day. That takes the total down to 306.

I had a startling eleven sick days, although nearly half of that was eye-related – having laser surgery does require a certain amount of time spent in the offices of eye-people, and also a certain amount of time resting the eyes afterwards (total: 295).

Then there were visits to friends or family, including one for a wedding – a total of five visits, to my amazement, which between them ate up 25 of what would otherwise have been working days (270).

I also took Edith Sitwell’s advice and had some days in bed – well below her suggested quota, though, as I only had six in fifty-two weeks (264). Am I super-lucky? Well, yes, but if it’s any comfort, I haven’t had a paid holiday (or sick leave) in nearly two years.

Michael Ancher 001
That’s 101 days already off the total. Disheartening, yes? So what did I do with the remaining days? Did I, you may be asking, do any work at all? I am happy to say, I did.

I did 36 days research; spent 64 days writing; another 40 days typing up what I’d written; a further 8 days reading through what I had typed and taking notes; and a whole 44 days blogging. I also spent a day on a letter to the Prime Minister about the Polish children of Pahiatua and another day on a skit for a local Light Party. 194 days of writing work, not counting the three I spent overhauling my workspace between projects, or the two I spent on working out a mission statement of sorts. Call it 199. (That’s the encouraging bit.)

The advanced mathematicians among you will have realized that if you have 264 days, and write in 199 of them, that leaves 65 unaccounted for. What happened to those days?

I wish I knew.

Some of them likely included unrecorded blogging, since the frequency of posts appearing here certainly exceeds the frequency of blogging mentions in the work diary. But bits of the year seem to have just disappeared, like the calendar of Verrius Flaccus.

Fasti Praenestini Massimo n3

For the most part, the blank days are scattered in ones and twos about the year. There are two and a half weeks looking blank in December – I don’t much mind that, we had some very special guests I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like – but there’s also a great wealth of blank days in May. After the 6th of May, there’s nothing recorded til the 3rd of June. And I don’t know why. There don’t seem to have been any external causes, I just ground to a halt for about four weeks. Except for blogging. (So thanks to you all, for keeping me writing in some form at least!)

2016, I decided, must be different. In preparation, I did my version of the Relaxed Writer’s exercise I did two and a half years ago. Three columns: I Don’t Want, I Want, and I Will. I think I meant to look at my writing life in particular, but it came out very much more general than that. And very repetitive. This is apparently normal and shows you what you’re most concerned about. Happily, this meant that my list of forty-plus “don’t wants” were reverse-engineered to a shorter list of “wants” and in the end my list of “I wills” had only six items on it to cover the lot.

Two or three of these are specific to a single matter, but the others are very general. In essence, what I need to do this year is to trust the process and trust God. I have a routine which I am gradually converting to habit;*; a routine which, if followed, will make sure that the things that need to happen happen, and nothing gets wildly out of control. Like turning the heel, I just have to keep going in faith that it will all come together if I just keep going.

faith ahead - don't panic

So 2016 will be for me the Year of Trust. Trust God. Trust the process. Keep going. And for my theme song, I could do worse than this (try here if you prefer to listen).

*In looking back at this habit post, I note it was written in late May and mentions that I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks. This may explain a large part of the absence of May, although you would think I could at least have left myself a note. In the diary, rather than on a blog. Do I look like the sort of woman who subscribes to her own blog? Still, it’s nice to know I wasn’t slacking off entirely.

The Quotidian QWERTYUIOP

December 6th, 2014: a wonderful day. I wrote “The End” on the first draft of my fantasy novel, provisionally titled Tsifira. It was the culmination of (cough) years of work. But the work was only beginning…

Gerard ter Borch - Die Briefschreiberin (Schwester Gesine)

After spending six months on another project to clear my mind, I turned my attention to redrafting Tsifira. (I feel a bit silly calling it that, since that is the one title I can pretty much guarantee the finished book won’t have, but there it is. Working title.)

To prepare for the epic task, I had a week off, and then spent three or four weeks reading up craft books and taking notes on how to tackle it. And then I began.

Since I think best in long-hand, I had written the whole novel that way: filling seven 120-page exercise books. (Next time I shall just buy a ream or two and be done with it. I can count quires instead of volumes.) Typing it up, I assumed, would be a mere formality, a prelude to the actual work. After all, anyone can type.

ninja typist

Cats use hunt-and-peck; or rather, hunt-and-pounce.

I had reckoned without the sheer bulk of the thing. I can type up the text three to four times as fast as I wrote it, but…
I did the maths. Six pages was an average day working long-hand; twenty is a good day typing up. Seven 120-page exercise books contain 840 pages. Divide by 20 (pages per day) and that’s 42.

42 working days to type up the novel. Doesn’t sound like a lot, until you call it eight and a half weeks, and drop eye surgery in the middle of it.

Or, to look at it another way, since my typing speed is 60wpm, and the manuscript is approximately 158,840 words, typing it up should take about 2,647 minutes (and twenty seconds) – a little over 44 hours. That’s less than two days! assuming I don’t stop for tea, sleep, turning the page, or trying to figure out what exactly that squiggle says.

Sir Thomas More Hand D

Suffice it to say that I began the typing up on the 29th of July, and I still have two and a half volumes to type. I am hoping to finish the lot by the end of October. I am also hoping never to write any draft so long again. I have finally understood the brilliance of early writers who did most of the drafting in their head, and only wrote down something already shaped as close as possible to the final form.

But every time I find myself frustrated by how long this process is taking, I remind myself that I have learnt a massive amount through it, and will no doubt learn more before I have finished with it.
And then I carry on typing.