Tuesday 16 February 2021

Writing and not-writing diary: Day 1

I've not done very well at rebooting. Turned out I don't work well in a pandemic. All the projects I thought I'd do when I had time were really projects I might do when I had time AND wasn't stressing about a deadly pandemic. Ah well. A couple of books came out of it, not least this one. Commissioned April 2020, we did wonder whether it would all be over by the time it was published. Not even close... Even though it took an incredible 85 days to ship from printing China it's still out in good time.

Although the pandemic is not over, publishing seems to be getting back on its feet so I'm working consistently again. Having lots to do is always a spur to me to do other things so that I suddenly have too much to do. Not sure why. Hence I'm back here...

The other day I discovered this wonderful translation diary blog by Daniel Hahn. One of the most talented people in publishing (and one of the nicest) he's documenting the process of writing a translation as it goes, with all the hiccups, embarrassments and strokes of genuis involved. It's fascinating. So much of what he says really resonates — it's how I work, even though I'm not translating. So I thought I'd do something slightly similar here. It won't follow a single book as I'd need permission from a publisher to do that. Instead it will document what I do each day on different writing projects. If you are doing this job it might have some voyeuristic appeal, in the way that nosing around someone else's writing space always does. If you're not doing it but want to, it might show you what you're letting yourself in for. And for me it will be a record of how I spend my time for a week, or maybe longer if I keep it up. I'll add in what else I do occasionally, where it's not too embarrassing.  This reflects my pandemic working mode, not how I work 'normally', which involves a good deal of sitting in Cambridge University Library and going to the tea room a lot. Need-to-know: MB is my grand-daughter who I look after a lot of the time (as her parents are both keyworkers).

16 Feb, Tuesday. No MB today so it's a straight work day. Coffee at my desk at 7am, checking first-pass layouts for a dinosaur book on a tight schedule. There's a couple of pages to write from scratch, but I finish the corrections, edits and extra artwork suggestions for the rest of the chapter by 12:45, taking time out for breakfast (blueberries, Greek yoghurt and chia seeds), to feed the chickens and to do the daily Zoom call check-up on my elderly dad. There's an email from another editor with layouts to check for a project I'm acting as consultant for, but I object as I've read all the text before and commented extensively. We agree I'll just check the artwork, which I've not seen before. I do three chapters, then have lunch (Marmande tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, avocado, olives, pine nuts, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and olive ciabatta — don't worry, there will be plenty of days when it's fish finger sandwiches). 

Back to email. There's a message from an editor asking if I want to write a book for her, with publication date of 'June 22'. Instantly assume she means 22nd June before remembering it's 2022 next year, just in time not to fire off a 'You crazy?' email response. Decide to ignore it for a while as I've spent too long juggling my schedule over the last few days already. Email from another editor reminds me I'm supposed to be doing a short book for her. I've not started it. Deadline is (happily) extended from end Feb to mid March. I'm also aware of a fiction outline I've been ignoring which is now getting critical. I'm hoping it's working itself out in my subconscious but this could prove to be a vain hope. There's also a message from an editor I've just sent an outline to saying he's passing it on to the illustrator to start work. This is a series I write for a lot and I write straight into the InDesign template. The book is already laid out using the rough artwork when I get it, and this method means I can fit the text exactly to the illustrations and there's no copy-fitting faff later. It gives me some happy days messing about with InDesign, which I like. No word of when the roughs will come back so I can't schedule this one, but the outline was so full the book is virtually written. It will be a cut and paste job, essentially. 

I was going to spend today doing the outline I've been ignoring and hoping is writing itself self sub-conciously, but now it's 2 pm and I've got another three chapters or the consultancy text to check pictures in, and two new spreads to write for the dino book. I want to go for a walk but have to wait in for MB's Playmobil ambulance to be delivered. We missed the attempted delivery yesterday as we'd gone to the park to practise cycling and climbing the perilous climbing frame. I'm kicking myself for writing one new dino spread without waiting for the publisher to OK the choice of dino, as now it's been vetoed on the basis of unavailable artwork. So that was a couple of hours wasted and, more importantly, a dino I wanted in is kicked out. So consultancy or dinos or reply to emails? I decide to start this blog diary and another half hour goes. I feel like making a mermaid meme but that would not really be productive at this stage. Consultancy, then — it can be finished quickly.

By 15:45, the consultancy is finished as far as possible, in that I've now done all the chapters he's sent me. I know there's one to go, and this is annoying as I can't tick the task off. Sometimes I think the only reason I do anything is so I can tick it off. I dip into FB to chat to a friend who's trying to work out how to do something in Zoom for a school visit. Other people's problems are always more fun to think about than your own. It's now a choice between more dinos and one of the things I've been ignoring, so I walk to the garden centre. 

Bought some bulbs, backed out of buying a grape vine as it requires serious planning since it will be there for years. In going to the garden centre I completely forgot my plan to hang around outside the vaccination centre to pick up a last-minute Pfeizer jab because they give them to anyone around 5 mins before closing to avoid wasting them. Ah well. At least I have some nice flowers. So I came back and did more dinos, this time choosing replacements and writing a new spread on Ichthyosaurus and having a grumble to the lovely editor. More snacks — freshly squeezed orange juice, which was a weird colour as one of the oranges turned out to be a blood orange, and a slice of gin panettone that a highly esteemed and dearly beloved novelist friend gave me for Christmas. Finally sent in the Ichthyosaurus and associated corrected spreads and made pasta with spinach, mushrooms and feta. Enough is enough. Wine, pasta, and reading Monique Roffey's Costa-winning Mermaid of Black Conch. All the ignored projects have been successfully ignored for another day.

Achievements: Artwork checked, 100 pages; new writing, 2 pages; layouts corrected, 12 pages

Disachievements: New commissions ignored, 1; existing commissions with outstanding tasks and no progress today, at least 3; letters not sent, at least 3; VAT returns not started, 1.


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