In my previous existences I always built regular reviews into the development work I was involved with, so it is probably time (one year in) to review where I am getting to with all this reinventing myself as Geoff Bateson: the Writer (as opposed to being Geoff Bateson, full-time city officer who also writes in a number of other ways).
I started my career with the intention of being a scientist. I did chemistry at University, followed by a couple of years postgraduate research on the biophysical chemistry of haemoglobin, and was heading for a life in industrial scientific research. Much later, when I came across Miroslav Holub as a scientist who was also a recognised poet I was fascinated by his stuff. One in particular stays with me. He wrote about being a poet and, in the poem, had a dialogue with himself about what that means. He had written poetry (So used to be a poet) and fully intended to write poetry again in the future (So would be a poet again at that future time). The logic was that he could only think of himself as a Poet when writing/doing poetry.
Writers write. I suppose that is the touchstone for me, then. If I am to be Geoff Bateson: the Writer I had better be getting on and doing loads of writing (or writing-related activities).
I certainly feel that is the case. I need to be doing writing, and doing it in my way. Each writer I read about has their own pattern to writing and my writing activity is built on a base (The place where I ‘stand’ when I think of myself as writer) that is made up of a number of elements. (Using words like Elements, and thinking in terms of analysing the richness of what I do in terms of separate components, all gives away my scientific training I think).
My approach to writing comes not out of a necessity to make a living from it (and I realise that being retired gives me time and the income to see things this way – which is a privilege that I have not had before) but from being curious. Writing and learning go hand-in-hand for me: exploring a wide variety of things and packaging them up in my own way. Behind the actual written stuff is a set of activities that pull in observing the world, reading newspapers and magazines, visiting university libraries as an external member, finding interesting references via Twitter or searching the internet more generally – all within several themes/topics that I want to look at more roundedly. I feel that I have balanced serendipity and being led down all sorts of interesting byways with sticking to the framework of interests that was in my original ‘Plan’. Having a plan written out (and seein that as a loose guiding framework not a rigid set of tasks) is a strong residual legacy from my previous work experiences.
There have always been routines in my life; it is just that these are different ones now. I get to stay in bed a bit longer each morning, there is a nice walk across the park to get newspapers from the corner shop, there are occasional unexpected but welcome drop-ins from grandchildren. There are blocks of time that I make sure are for writing.
To help me stick to planned writings I carry with me a sheet of paper with a broad timetable; a loose schedule of timescales for different bits of writing that I am committed to doing. This commitment doesn’t come from any contractual deadlines etc. Instead I have made a number of’ ‘expectations’ on the www.thewordsthething.org.uk website (and use that website as something I manage but which also ‘manages’ me making progress in the direction outlined).
Rather than work on sequels, or things that are in the same style, I want to do a variety of writings. There are thus a number of separate Works in Pogress at any one time, and it isn’t easy making sure that I stay with each one and push it along appropriately. That is where the lists, schedules, timescales etc help. I don’t beat myself up if I am not getting everything done as quickly as possible. Going slower is part of the plan. As a development manager there were always too many things to do at once and real-life consequences if promises weren’t delivered on fully and on time. A legacy of that is the feeling that I still have to complete enormous amounts in a day or a week. I have had to adjust to the fact that just because I have made a list I don’t necessarily have to do it all there and then.
One other aspect of my approach is to try to deliberately get double-duty out of things. If I can tie things together then some writings can serve more than one purpose; some can be linked up with visits to places, or to various bits of learning. I want there to be separate strands but I also want some sense of integration of things so that it feels like one big adventure. So there is lot of anticipated writing on the list (with hoped-for timescales that can be extended as I choose). Maybe there are too many things on my Work In Progress/ Still To Do list, but that is fine. Here are some of them (knowing that several are not even really started – just titles/aspirations/intentions):
- Short link articles to use as part of my (somewhat moribund) presence on LinkedIn
- Keeping this Writer blog going with frequent-enough postings when there is something to write about
- Postings monthly (or thereabouts) on a wordpress blog (www.themanfromthebox.wordpress.com ) that is based on the main character from the ebook ‘Another Glorious Day’ that is already up on the Amazon Kindle site
- Writings (from random thoughts and selected bits of understandings) that are about cities, neighbourhoods etc – and which are being done collaboratively with colleagues – and, when polished up a bit, will appear on www.thewordsthething.org.uk
- Setting aside November 2012 as National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November – and to make that as credible piece of fiction: This year’s may be set in the near future and be done as a record kept by a ten year old … not sure yet
- Editing the final bits of the outcome of November 2011 writing: called ‘Five Men’ and based on a set of characters who end up together on a hospital ward in Manchester, England in the mid 1950s
- Pulling together ideas and reading on the notion of the possibility of progress in contemporary art
- Doing a couple of pieces of writing based on specific places
- Starting on the already-promised fictional report on The First Grand Virtual Tour of the Stans (In which a collection of famous people from various times in history, all called Stanley, go on a parallel-universe tour of the several Central asian countries that end in ‘stan)…
- Extension of the work already partly published called ‘Sides and Edges’ which takes the tales in my kindle ebook ‘Made in Birmingham: The Tales, and treats them as case-studies for a fictional sociological research project …
- and so on ….
So there is more than enough writing there to keep me going at the moment. Also, writing is just one part. Since ebooks, self-published via Kindle is my preferred route, at least for now, that makes me a Publisher as much as a Writer. This puts an onus on me to do much more than come up with a final draft. The editing becomes my responsibility. Having willingly accepted that then it is easier and more manageable if I see editing as a necessary and enjoyable part of the whole rather than as a chore that has to be done. There is also the responsibility for producing the look of the cover – and this is something where more energy is needed on my part. Some other aspects I am good at: researching ideas and generally sitting in a cafe or on a train and mulling things over. Other aspects are, I realise, far from my strength – including self-promotion. ‘More to be done’ would be the end of year report comment on that topic.
So, after a year: Good progess being made; much has been learnt; staying broadly to plan; more to be done on quality of book covers and on promotion, but staying true to my own style; broad and varied activity; all still being enjoyable. Not too bad I suppose.