The Deadline of Forty

How I live without regret (most of the time)

I saw a post today on another writer’s instagram to the John Lennon quote “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans”. She felt filled with regrets for time lost, when she wasn’t creating. As my child grows up, I get older I feel this existential dread often and hauntingly. Life is what happens when we are busy planning other novels and dreaming of our name in the book shop.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans

John Lennon

But also no regrets. We come now to the work, enriched by these full and busy challenging lives. Life is also what we make of it and our ability to reflect on the life that actually happened. I remember working alongside a number of students, listening to how they were planning their futures and laughing, not unkindly. Not a single day I have ever planned has gone exactly as I thought and yet in youth I was obsessed with the idea that I ought to know what was next. That is not to dismiss goals or even dreams but just to assert that they’re also to be expected to go off course. Constantly.

It is both niave and beautiful to believe in plans. To believe that there are not a million fracturing moments in each day that shifts and restructures the life that happens. But enough of the philosophy. How I see it is that for me my books, just as my life, are constantly being derailed. The life train hops track quite often and the final destination is nowhere expected. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so accutely if I had reached the infamy of a Beatle but given the Beatle we are talking of, we can assume no-one can predict the ending. No-one protests peacefully for a living expects this violent end. No-one who grew from working class roots assumes they’ll one day offer and reject a Knighthood.

But life is also in the small things. One of the quotes that I come back to for my writing is “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Chekov is interested in how we experience life, the mundane details of things are so much more evocative of true experience as well as of course avoiding exposition in our writing. If you don’t believe the the unplanned, novel will ever happen well you might be right. But you just try and write a character exactly as you intended and like any other person, you will find they have their own ideas and take you a different way.

As I tackle the final the furlough towards forty, I am inevitably reevaluating what I have achieved. But over the years much has happened to redefine success. At some point I may have thought it was a certain job or certain financial position. At other times I have of course wished to be published. And this year, as I recover from fatigue, I reframed it to mean working hard on looking after myself. How we define ourselves is often the work of an artist . From our unique perspective, we can also reflect on everything around ourselves. But not plan nor regret what has gone off course. Because the song John Lennon is singing is really a lullaby to soothe us. We do not have control of life. And it’s easier to learn that as soon as possible.

Make Progress, not Perfection

As I round up the month, I consider the need to keep moving forward

There is a special sort of acceptance that comes with being a slow writer. Whilst productivity hackers will tell me I do have time to write, I will always say do just a little. But as I round up this month’s work, I have to contend with the reality of feelings of failure that I haven’t got that far. As I wrote this time last month I am developing an idea around how the antagonist meets and becomes closer to my protagonist. I have written a further scene with this in mind. But mainly I took myself to a cafe to do some thinking (drank coffee.)

I don’t think anyone noticed I was trying to take a selfie of my thinking!

I do think there is a place for driving your ambition, so it is hard not to beat myself up when I have wasted that quiet time I had drinking coffee and not writing. But I also need lots of quiet time and breaks to manage my life with chronic illness and as a SEND parent. But then again I shouldn’t even provide these excuses. Brene Brown explains that our perfectionism is a way of avoiding judgement and shame. So when I feel this sense of shame for not working harder, I have to remind my inner perfectionist I am making progress.

So with that confession out the way, I will go forward with a better mindset that says make progress, not perfection. Some things I did achieve: I started to share my writing prompts on the MumWriteNow instagram and managed a thirty-minute sprint. The hashtag is writerightnow if you want to join this Saturday. I also started publishing a fortnightly newsletter for the charity I volunteer for. So this month has included some writing even if it is not the perfect progress I would have liked.

And I do believe that without realising perfectionism was holding me back, this, I would have never put pen to paper. Perfectionism tells you: you left it too late, you can’t write that, you’re not unique, no-one wants to read this. I have always felt inadequate in my writing skills but secretly I wanted to write. Over the last ten years I have worked on ideas and progressed to the point where I do not feel worried or ashamed to saying I am working on a work-in-progress. Including myself

Writing Prompts for New Ideas

Do you use Youtube to help you generate new ideas: here’s an example of what you can do…

I recently watched this brilliant youtuber Abbie Emmons, she has loads of advice for writers and I tried her video working through a writing exercise to
generate ideas. I had a go at developing some new ideas this way and I wanted to provide a step-by-step that helped me develop this idea into a new short story.


The advice in the video asks you to write down your favourite book, the genre, themes and take the plot of a key scene that you love. You do this with a few of your favourites and end up with a load of things you can mix and match. I choose Pride and Prejudice but set it in a modern-day knowing fiction, where
we would laugh at Darcy’s snobbery even more.


To create my new character, she needs Elizabeth Bennet’s sassiness but the rudeness of a blunt modern-day heroine; I picked Eleanor Shellstrop from the amazing The Good Place, a show in which her unpleasantness is central to the character being placed in The Good Place by mistake. In Pride and Prejudice we hear mainly from the indefatigable narrator; Jane Austen’s voice is afterall the powerhouse of her fiction. But this is the twenty-first century so Liza, my new hero, speaks in first person and gets to react and describe her Darcy from her perspective.


I found this mixing of characters a fun way of forming an idea in my head, but I also needed a setting in which they would meet. I had been reading about village life, so they were suddenly at a cricket club. I
liked the fact that this idea sparked. I would not recommend forcing yourself to stick to something to make it a perfect mix and match between two books. It is less derivative for a start to let the ideas form,
but also I don’t think the idea is to create a new Romeo and Juliet but rather that the only thing new in the world is your voice: every story has been told already, but not by you.

the only thing new in the world is your voice: every story has been told already, but not by you.


Finally, to spark off the story, I thought about how the antagonist would get her alone to confess his love. This time we would not expect a proposal but he would be critical and rude of her manners and
how much she drinks, how much she, like Eleanor Shellstrop, loves to party. Unlike in Pride and Prejudice where she has been isolated by her circumstances of being trapped at the Collins’s house. Her
friend Charlotte would not be preoccupied with paying lip service to a formidable aristocrat, instead she would be there speaking up for her friend and in my story she comes to interrupt the fractious exchange.


By the time I had worked through the dynamics of the three people and their motivations in the scene, I felt like I had heightened the tension. Darcy may flinch at being called ungentlemanly, but this character would go away cowering under the wrath of the women he had crossed.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think this exercise produced something better than Pride and Prejudice or The Good Place. I am not sure if the piece I wrote will even go anywhere, but it was a interesting way to find a new way in to writing. If you are feeling a bit stuck this would be a great way to get started again.

Let me know any channels you follow, here is the amazing Youtuber I enjoyed.

Developing Your Ideas

How to get a spurt of writing energy when you get the chance to write

The end of the month comes all too quickly in February. This is a relief when you look at your bank balance, but when it comes to reflecting on what you have written it is almost a bit too soon. When I reviewed my January work, I posited that sometimes the work is done off paper by letting your ideas fester. However it did also push me to work more this month, knowing I would be updating the blog with what I had achieved.

So despite half term (and ill health yet again,) the good news is I wrote two new scenes for my motherhood project. One was prompted by an old photo. Because as much as I feel like I remember those early days, writing about the early years and the joys of toddlers has been blotted out by later tears and tantrums (and joys of course.) My own memories, along with knowing my characters better, helped me develop a scene where we see the strain of dealing with a difficult child through the impact it has on their parents.

The other scene I developed was on the back of the character profiles I have been developing. I wrote recently about avoiding clichés in my writing by using character profile worksheets. I love this activity to get the ideas flowing. I took this a step further and wrote a scene where the antagonist met up with my main character. I had identified both her flaws and the obstacles she faces so that both characters are more fully formed when they interact.

Just thinking about what next…

To really develop the idea, I wrote the scene from the antagonist’s first person and then rewrote it from the main character’s viewpoint. This was a technique that I learnt in a writing class that I would recommend. It is a really good way to develop the scenes because you have full awareness of what each character’s intentions are and are more aware of the tension between the two or more people. Whilst I highly recommend this idea, I would also caution not always do this. I have swathes of writing where the viewpoints have got mixed up either conciously or unconciously. This may be a style you choose to adopt, but it is best to choose a viewpoint and stick to it at least in the first draft.

Finally, to really develop your ideas, I like to leave an unfinished sentence at the end of your writing time. This week I finished the scene where the main character has been allowed into the home of the antagonist and at the end we know she has been invited out to an event. I know now that I have to write next about the event or at least the aftermath so I am setting my brain up to fester on that idea whenever I get back to the paper again.

I would love to hear any tips and tricks you use to keep going at your writing projects.

Avoiding the Cliché

When you’re writing down a well worn path, it’s hard not to stumble upon clichés along the way

I wrote recently about trying to avoid the pitfalls of the same old motherhood jokes. This is because I have been trying to write about the experience of motherhood in an honest and hopefully comic way. And it is hard not to fall into the same patterns of jokes.

I have followed this advice before to find your characters quirks, often a short hand for their personality. I like this on one level, trying to find everyone’s inner Amélie. But writing these also can become little too much to read, if everyone is blushing all the time or always holding a coffee cup, are you going to notice the tension between these two people or just notice how often the writer repeats themselves.

Character development worksheets are a great way to feel your way into more depth. I certainly enjoy the listing process of the background things that only you know about them. Horoscopes, their earliest memory, what car they drive – thinking at least some of these things is helpful way to world-build around the characters so that they start to become real. These lists are particularly useful if you are lacking inspiration or brain gets fogged like mine. Lady Writer on Pinterest has an amazing array of resources. I was using a great one this week about character quirks.

It’s amazing how thinking about their inner life, can spark you into other ideas, for example the character who is obsessed with her horoscope, may become the more susceptible character or she becomes more empathetic to other’s emotions albeit because she knows when mercury is in retrograde. The “perfect” character may have many more quirks than the other women in her life, she just works even harder to hide them.

Ultimate quirkiness. How is Amélie twenty years old?

Once the characters are a little more fleshed out, you begin to write about someone you know. Less drawn from a stock character and more from an understanding of how that person acts. And then, the characters start to tell you what to write. I had a battle with a character who keeps trying to take over my other work-in-progress.

The final thing to avoid clichés may depend on your writing style. I have been trying to write from start to finish in my newest project, usually I have written scenes when I am inspired which has landed me in quite a mess of thousands of words for the aforementioned other project, where the puzzle isn’t quite fitting together. What I would say being a bit stricter writing my story in this more planned out way is that I don’t avoid clichés at all. Just as names are stand-ins for the name I choose in the end, sometimes trying to plod through a first draft means having the confidence that you will go back and flesh out the writing. And brain-fogged, sporadic writers like me need to use clichés to get to the end of the scene whenever they eventually sit down.