I am an only child.
Also: a freelance novelist.
Also: a freelance lighting designer.
Also: I live alone.
My life is somewhat devoid of other people to boss me about. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure my family would boss me around, but actually my kin consists of my Mum, my Gran, and some uncles and aunts who I see maybe once a year for a few hours tops. And I’ve got friends who I value more than anything else on Earth, and colleagues and peers from the theatre world, and my editor is awesome and my agent is a fairy godmother… but damnit, they have lives of their own so let’s not kid ourselves, when it comes to my daily routines I’m a fairly self-motivating creature.
As a writer I motivate myself to write – which is easy, it’s just fun – but I also have to convince myself to do my editorials, which is less zingy.
As a lighting designer I have to remind myself to get my bum in gear and work out lighting angles, colour calls, plot details and attend rehearsals. Sure, there’ll be irritated directors and producers out there if I didn’t, but it’s very easy in a profession where not many people understand what the hell you’re talking about, to just coast along, perpetually a single parcan away from lazy mistakes. The challenge is not about getting the job done – it’s about doing it well. A job will get done because it has to be, and retribution awaits if you don’t pull your weight – but that’s not the same as actually putting pride into it.
So! As a sorta public service announcement, (and as a mental kick-up-the-bum) I figured I’d waffle a bit about how I actually convince myself to do ‘real work’ in the morning.
1. I live by alarm clocks. Not merely by the alarm that makes me get up even if I could lie in, but by timers and alarms that go off whenever I stop to do anything too frivolous for too long, or fixate on one thing too much, or am simply cooking a casserole. My life is lived to the tinging of little bells. And while in principal this is a great thing, it also lends itself to madness, as I’ve proven to myself several times by being a bit merciless on myself, or, say, setting an alarm for 7 a.m. even though I have an evening show call that starts at 9 p.m..
2. I live by lists. I list everything. From tiny tiny details like ‘hey, you’ve got left over carrots in your fridge. Remember to make THIS meal today that involves carrots’ through to ‘finish writing novel’. Again, this used to lend itself to a certain kind of insanity, in that if the list said do it, it had to be done. These days, I’m somewhat more laid back. Lists are good… but they no longer induce guilt at the things are undone, merely satisfaction in doing them. More to the point, they’re tools for focusing thoughts. No point ‘doing the lighting design’ if you haven’t done the first few stages of ‘visit the theatre’ and ‘read the script’. Breaking things down into manageable chunks is probably the only way I have the guts to walk into any theatre, ever.
3. I love my jobs. This kinda just solves itself and should probably be at the top of the list.
4. I live to the sound of music and podcasts. Music when I’m writing; podcasts when I’m doing anything else. How much I retain from the podcasts is questionable, but trivial tasks and boring chores, whether it be cleaning or drawing a 3D model of a venue I’m going to work in, are always made better by the sound of cheerful voices telling me about trepanation or Middle Eastern politics in the 1790s.
5. I have outlets. Often this equates to exercise. Sometimes swimming – which I enjoy as a sport because I always feel like I can get better – and mostly escrima. Because who doesn’t love violence? I love violence. I mean… ahem… yeah….
6. I have friends. Friends who deny that their lives are inspiring. My medic mate staggers in of an evening with a cry of ‘yeah, rubbish day, had two babies with obstructed bowels we had to send for surgery and an emergency C-section, my life sucks’. Or my linguist friend shrugs and goes, ‘average sorta week, you know? Had a discussion in Arabic about the philosophy of Socrates and there was a word I didn’t know, so I guess that was something.’ The lives we live always seem dull to ourselves. I imagine rock stars and royalty are bored, bored, bored by their routines. I love hearing about my friend’s lives, because what to them is tedium, to me seems proof of a) just how big and interesting the world is and b) just how awesome it is possible to be, sometimes without even noticing. Comrades: I thank you!
I should also add, however, that for all these positive influences in my life, I am also very much a creature of fear. I live in fear of doing a bad job on a show, and never working again. Of the next book flopping and my publisher walking away, but more than that – I live in fear of growing old without a habit of exercise or the habit of learning. I live in terror of never eating vegetables simply because I forget that it’s a good idea, or of becoming a mad woman in a tumbled down flat because I neglect to ever clean or maintain it. I live in absolute dread of thinking that the worlds in which I move – theatre and books – are it. That this horizon is the only one there is. I live in fear of losing my independence, and at the same time dread never being supported.
And that’s fine!
Somewhere there is a line to be walked – that line between the positivity of a list as a thing that you achieve and power through, and the terror of a list as a thing you have not yet achieved. Somewhere there is a perfect balance between the pride of being your own woman, and losing all sense of the big wide world. It’s this, I think, which is the hardest thing to achieve when you work alone all the time, and for my part, even after 13 years, I’m still kinda dancing round it….