From Bumbag to Mum bag – packing light for both handbags and manuscripts

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When I was younger and I went travelling to exotic locations, free of childcare responsibilities, it was easy to fit everything I needed for the day into a bumbag – I’d carry some money, a key, a camera, some suncream, and maybe a small, pocket-sized guide book or map.

Now that I’m a mum, I’ve waved goodbye to those days (for now, at least), and have got used to dragging around everything that I and two children could possibly need when we’re away from the house. This means either taking a really big and extremely heavy bag with me – or – buying everything in travel-sized versions and packing it small. Either option has been tried.

If you have children, or know someone who does, you will probably be familiar with the ‘Changing Bag’. This is usually stuffed full of nappies, wipes, nappy bags, cartons of milk, sterilised bottles, changes of clothes (for both you and your baby, if they happen to be sick a lot), bottles of water, sunshades, blankets, skin cream, changing mats, woolly hats, gloves, sun hats, rain covers, board books, cuddly toys, library books and Tupperware pots full of snacks. This is on top of all the things that you need for yourself, such as purse, phone, car keys, etc. Clearly, this bag is the size of a small house, and, although they are designed to be slotted neatly over the handles of a pushchair, they are usually so heavy when full that, unless your baby is a particularly solid child, the whole thing will tip over when you attempt to attach your fully loaded changing bag to the pushchair or pram. This means that, inevitably, you end up trying to carry it on your shoulder and having to stop for little breaks every few minutes.

Now my children are older, I no longer need to carry a changing bag about with me, which I’m very relieved about. But I still carry about a large (and heavy) hand bag, loaded up with plasters, sun hats, suncream, gloves, note books, pens, colouring pencils, etc. As a result, I’ve discovered the wonder of –

‘Things That Fold Up Small’.

Recently, I discovered that you can buy folding sun hats, which have now gone into my bag, along with my folding shopping bag, folding headphones, folding charger socket, folding umbrella and folding hairbrush. For the benefit of the dog, I even have a folding dog bowl, which he enjoys using so much that, sometimes, I unfold it for him at home, just for a treat.

Trying to get as much as possible into a small space when it comes to ‘mum bags’, is very much like writing, where you are often trying to write within a word count, while including as much detail, description, character building and plot, as possible. Again, these can often be ‘folded up small’, by replacing a few pages of unnecessary dialogue with a small paragraph of description, or taking out a whole chapter that doesn’t really add much to the plot, to keep the whole thing slimmer and pacier. It’s not easy to do though – there’s always a terrible, nagging doubt that, if you take out a page or a chapter, it will turn out to have been the very page or chapter that a publisher or agent would have really loved – if only they had seen it – which would have turned your rejection into a ‘yes’!

But still – sometimes you just have to cut it down and ‘fold it up’ a bit, for the benefit of the whole manuscript. At the end of the day, if the manuscript is shorter but has lost only those bits that don’t add anything to the action of the story, that’s got to be a good thing. Just ask the dog – as far as he’s concerned, sometimes folding bowls are better than non-folding ones – as long as the contents are still exciting!

 

The Procrastination Barrier

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When you have a job (even if you do that job from home), and you have tasks to get through for your boss, it’s reasonably easy to stay focused. If you don’t, you’re likely to get into trouble, and, in the worse-case scenario you might not get paid and you could even lose your job. So you’re pretty motivated to get through the work, right?

But what happens when you’ve assigned yourself the (unpaid) task of trying to write a book, and there’s no one standing behind you telling you to get on with it? Surely, you’ve chosen to do this of your own free will, and as a consequence, you’re incredibly motivated – right…? WRONG!

For me, once I’ve made a start, and maybe been tapping away at the keyboard for half an hour or so, I’m fine, and I could quite happily keep on writing until midnight. But, it can be a completely different kettle of fish first thing in the morning, when the lap-top is still closed – BEFORE I get started…

9am – ‘OK, I’m going to really crack on, this morning! I’ll just have a quick coffee and read the news, and then straight on to the writing!’

9.30am – ‘Well, that the news read very thoroughly. I’ll just do a couple of quick jobs around the house – maybe run the hoover round, put some washing on, a spot of dusting… and then it’ll be, “lap-top, here I come!”’

10.30am – ‘I wonder if the dog needs to go out in the garden. He’s giving me ‘that look’, and wagging his tail hopefully. I think he might do. Maybe I’ll just do that first.’

11am – ‘Well, that was a nice game of “fetch”! I wonder if it’d be a good idea to have a really early lunch, before I get started – just to get it out of the way…’

11.30am – ‘That was a nice lunch! Gosh, I’m feeling quite sleepy. I’d better not close my eyes, though.’

12.00pm – ‘Was that the washing machine beeping? It would be rude to ignore it and not go and get all the stuff out of it, especially when it’s drawn my attention to the situation so politely.’

12.30pm – ‘Oh, I seem to have used up all the milk. I’ll just nip out for some more.’

1pm – ‘Ooh, I’d forgotten that the dog needs to go for a walk. There he is, doing his hopeful wag again, and just look at the cute look on his face. Ahh! I don’t want him to be disappointed… I’ll just take him out for a few minutes – it won’t take long.’

1.30pm – ‘I’d better boil the kettle and make myself another coffee, so that I don’t have to stop to do that later. That’s definitely the best thing to do right now.’

2pm – ‘While I’m drinking my coffee, I’ll check my Twitter feed, and I really should check to see if any of my writer friends have posted any good writing tips on Facebook. That won’t take long.’

2.30pm – ‘Right, I’m putting the lap-top on!’

3pm – ‘What do you mean, “it’s school time”? I’ve only written half a page! How can that have happened? Surely I’ve just put in a full day of writing…?!’