The Lies I Tell Myself

I’ve been lying to myself.

We all tell lies, little stories, versions of the truth that comfort us somehow.

We justify our behaviour. Tell ourselves we don’t care about something because we’re afraid of losing it. Tell ourselves we’re more important/prettier/better than someone else, because we know we’re not.

Me? I’ve been lying to myself about not having the time to write.

The little story I’ve been telling myself is that there are two sides to me:

  • Writer Anna, a creative daydreamer who loves stories and romance
  • Work Anna, an efficient, no-nonsense print production manager

In the last few years, my job has grown rapidly. The more success I have, the more responsibility I’m given.

Yet this eats into my mental energy. By the time I step out of the office, my brain has turned to mush. I’m drained; I cannot face writing.

That’s why I haven’t been writing, I tell myself. No time, no energy. There’s nothing I can do about it.

That simply isn’t true.

I see authors on twitter juggling jobs, kids, partners, friends and writing without batting an eye. If they’ve found a solution, why can’t I strike that balance?

The truth is, “it’s a scheduling conflict” is a far more comforting story than “I’m lazy and/or lack motivation”. (Ironic, really, given that my day job is all about workflow management…)

Yes, work is tiring, and I need to pay the bills, and I need a social life… but it’s a lie to say that I’m doing everything I can.

Ultimately I have two options:

  1. Keep lying to myself, and pretend there is nothing I can do to change the status quo.

  2. Or admit that however I ended up in this creative rut, this dry spell of blank pages, it’s my responsibility to find a solution — because no one else will.

Now, let me get those schedules out…

My Top 9 Bookish Pet Peeves

Please tell me I’m not crazy.

While browsing for an airplane read in WH Smith, I started thinking about books and reading habits — along with my top pet peeves.

(Yes, I think about these things. Not crazy, I promise.)

From least offensive to most offensive, here are the worst offenders:

  1. Stickers on book covers
    Because they NEVER peel off properly. Ever. Particularly those neon yellow 3 for 2 stickers. Who wants white fluff on their book? Grrr…

  2. Weirdly shaped books
    Living in a one bedroom flat means space is at a premium. I don’t want books that stick out of my shelf at weird angles, it messes with my OCD.

  3. Movie covers on books
    I’m not a huge fan of having someone else’s vision shoved in my face, or of carrying around an obvious advert. I’ve wanted to read The Martian for a while, but didn’t buy it due to the huge Matt face. Sorry, Matt.

  4. Being interrupted whilst reading
    This youtube video says it all.

  5. Folding the corner of a page
    Your innocent little fold will eventually develop into a tear, and the corner of that page will be most forever. Bookmarks exist for a reason!

  6. Cracking the spine
    Even worse than the page-folders are those who fold books in half whilst reading, irreversible breaking the spine. Besides being unsightly, the glue bonding the pages to the spine wears down and pages eventually fall out. YOU ARE KILLING THE STORY.

  7. Writing or highlighting text
    Thou shalt not write in books unless for study/exams. Do not distract future readers with your underlining and margin-scribbling. Even the Kindle popular highlights feature drives me mad.

  8. Books in (grubby) toilets
    Even worse than visible damage is the secret world of germs. I don’t want a poo-y book, damp and festering with mould. Bathrooms are the antithesis of libraries!

  9. Book thieves
    If you think I’ve forgotten about that book you “borrowed”? I haven’t. I never will. You’re on the naughty list for life.

So what’s the verdict — am I crazy?

If you’re guilty of any of these sins, fess up! Or let me know if you have another pet peeve to add to the list.

On Book Reviews

GoodreadsReviewer I received an email today informing me that I’m one of the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads.

After my initial wooohoo! — who doesn’t love unasked for praise and sexy badges? — I had a sudden thought: I haven’t written THAT many reviews, have I?

Turns out I’ve written 331 reviews since joining Goodreads in November 2008.

I admit: an average of 40+ reviews a year is considerable. (Most of it is down to my 3 year stint running a book review blog.)

BUT… Goodreads has more than 40 million members. That means there are at least thirty-nine million six hundred thousand people who write less reviews than me, if I’m doing my maths correctly.

As an author, I hunger for reviews of my work. They give me warm fuzzies! (To anyone who has ever reviewed my work: THANK YOU!)

While I’ve always known that few people review, thinking about the actual numbers is disheartening.

How huge is the long tail of book reviewers?

And what can we do to encourage more people to review?

Let Them Write Cake

Last Sunday I baked a batch of jam tarts that failed spectacularly.

I rolled the pastry too thick, didn’t put enough jam, and proceeded to overcook them. My boyfriend kindly described them as “interesting” — I’d show you a photo if I wasn’t so embarrassed.

It’s rather ironic, therefore, that one of my most viewed posts is this delicious analogy comparing fiction to baking cakes.

The truth is, I consider myself both a good baker and a good writer. Not brilliant at either, mind, but certainly past novice level.

Writing credits aside, I’m a brownie queen. A chocolate chip cookie ninja. I’ve successfully made jam tarts numerous times.

Yet last weekend I screwed up. My skills are rusty. I’m cake-deprived!

Before you start questioning my sanity and/or blood sugar levels, I’ll get to the point:

Writing — and baking — take practice.

I’ve no qualms about throwing a failed cake into the bin. I didn’t let those jam tarts prey on my mind, or give me baker existential crisis.

There’s nothing wrong with having an “off” day: I know I can do it, I’ve learnt my lesson, and I’ve moved on.

Yet when it comes to writing, I take each failure personally.

I come away from an unproductive writing session with nothing to show for it and feel DEFEATED. Plagued with doubts.

It was only when I was surveying the desolate landscape of overcooked crumbs, that I remembered to stop beating myself up.

While writing means a lot more to me than baking does, the principles are the same: practice makes perfect.

Instead of letting my failures knock my confidence, I should treat each writing setback like that batch of jam tarts: learn and move on.

Eventually, I will write cake.


Vicky was wearing new shoes.

They were gold gladiator saddles, weaving up her foot in a delicate series of loops that glimmered under the mid-morning sunshine. Impractical for the countryside, but she’d never wanted to come here anyway.

She stood on the porch, one foot outstretched, turning her ankle from side to side. The sandals matched her handbag perfectly, the two providing a neutral backdrop for her patterned dress.

The perfect outfit – if only she had somewhere to go. All this village had to offer was a petrol station that doubled as both a post office and supermarket. A rubbish supermarket at that: they didn’t stock Custard Creams.

The rest of the village was a series of almost-identical houses inhabited by almost-identical people. The type who took one look at her skin and asked her where she was from. Who couldn’t understand when she said she was British. Who asked if people knew of Pink Floyd “back home”.

(No, she’d reply sarcastically, we only got electricity last year. Still waiting on toilet roll, she’d add with a smirk.)

How her mother had grown up here without tearing her own hair out was a mystery. Why her mother had chosen to come back after the divorce…

Some questions were better left unanswered.

Her mother’s house was at the end of the road, two sides facing a long expanse of forest. Vicky stepped off the porch, grimacing when her footsteps stirred up a cloud of dust, gritty from the overnight rain. She hurried across the road to the grass, then took a tissue from her handbag to wipe her sandals clean.

She heard his chuckle before she saw him. Ted, the neighbour’s son, was lounging on a tree branch, arms crossed behind his head.

“Going somewhere?” His stare made her feel anxious, like her hair was out of place.

Vicky’s expression soured as she glanced at her mother’s house. “Anywhere but here.”

“That bad, huh?” He dangled his feet off the branch and jumped down. Her forehead came up to his nose. “I better come. In case you get lost.”

She rolled her eyes. “As if I could get lost here.”

The corner of Ted’s mouth curled up. “You’d be surprised.”

Vicky huffed but was secretly pleased when he kept pace with her. They strolled along the edge of the forest, circling the village, avoiding the potholes still filled with rain. A round trip would take ten minutes, fifteen tops. Twenty if they stopped by the station, but that would ruin her shoes.

But when they reached the first turn, Ted led her deeper into the forest. Pine needles pricked at the sides of her feet, the air heavy with the scent of mulch. Eventually the trees thinned and they came upon a set of abandoned train tracks.

Ted walked along the rail with his arms outstretched, eyes closed. When Vicky held back a giggle, he cracked open one eye.

“Harder than it looks,” he said. “You try.”

The train tracks were slicked clean by the rain. Vicky put one foot on the rail, felt it slip and slide beneath her. She managed to walk two paces before having to jump off.

“It’s not fair,” she protested. “My shoes have no grip, and my handbag makes it hard to balance.”

Ted smirked. “Now you know what to wear next time.”

“Next time?” Despite herself, her lips curled into a smile.

Maybe the countryside wasn’t so bad after all.

(Cross-posted from the Writers’ Discussion Group Weekly Writing Excercise.)