Welcome to the third installment of the 2018 series of ‘A Day in the Life of a Writer’. It’s been a great start to the series so make sure you check back and take a read of a day in the life of Sarah Bailey, and a day in the life of Michael Trant, both of which are very insightful.
This month I’d like to introduce you to emerging writer Michelle Barraclough. Now, you may not be familiar with her just yet as she’s currently knee-deep in editing her first novel, but before long she’s sure to be a household name. In 2017, Michelle was not only short-listed for the Richell Prize for Emerging Authors but received a notable Highly Commended and has since been working with an editor to polish her manuscript. The future is bright for Michelle, and not only is she obviously talented, but she is a very warm, generous, and hilarious person which you’ll glean from her day.
A Day in the Life of Michelle Barraclough
Ping! Some kind of body clock malfunction means I’ve been waking at this ungodly hour every day for the last year.
Because scrunching my eyes and having a firm word with myself (“Go back to sleep immediately!”) doesn’t work, I sneak my phone into the bedroom and bring up Google. According to Chinese medicine I have a blockage in my lung meridian and therefore an inability to ‘go with the flow.’ Is that a euphemism for ‘control freak?!’ Perhaps I’m peri-menopausal. Oh flippin’ heck!
I decide to put it down to falling asleep in my daughter’s bed at 7.30pm and resolve to get out of her bed immediately after story time from now on, no matter what!
I spend an hour worrying about all the things (Are the children eating enough vegetables? Do they have too much screen time? Why did I choose a business degree at uni when I really wanted to write? Is that mole on my arm getting darker? If I die of melanoma, is my daughter old enough to remember me? Is that rain I can hear? Did I leave those towels on the line? Does David Tennant have a Scottish accent in real life? Am I a control freak?! )
Why do seemingly small things assume gargantuan proportions at 4am?
I decide sleep is useless.
If I were in draft or edit mode with a deadline, I’d just get up and start writing. A fresh mind in a slumbering house is a fantastically productive combination.
Instead, I’m in that finger-drumming writer’s limbo – waiting for structural feedback, waiting for emails to be returned, waiting for the next novel to flicker into life. I swipe through new releases on the Kindle app (trying not to worry about the blue light affecting my biorhythms). Oooh! The new Tim Winton.
Winton. How does he do it? Decide I should include more peppermint trees and salt flats in my writing.
Flick on the kettle, switch on the iron, sling the bread from the freezer. While the tea is brewing, I iron the children’s school uniforms and think about the article I read yesterday on Haruki Murakami’s writing routine. He gets up at 4:00 am and works for five to six hours. In the afternoon, he runs for 10km or swims for 1500m or does both (both!), then he reads a bit and listens to some music. Sounds a bit of alright doesn’t it? But then, Haruki doesn’t have to iron school uniforms. I don’t mind the ironing; it’s quite therapeutic and I get some precious podcast-listening time. Haruki doesn’t know what he’s missing.
6.00am – 9.00am
Make school lunches, oversee last minute homework, sign school diaries, retrieve sports uniforms/library bags/reading folders, sign excursion notes. And there’s tea. Lots of tea. I constantly refill the pot and top up my tepid cup, hoping to sneak out to the garden for a wander in my dressing gown, steaming cuppa in hand. With any luck I’ll get to watch the sunrise, put all the 4am worries back in their box.
My fourteen year old son has broken his arm so I’ve become his personal dresser. It was a lot easier when he was a toddler in elastic waists and t-shirts. Now there are trousers with complicated fastenings, a proper necktie and feet the size of canoes. I feel like a valet in an episode of The Crown.
With son out the door by 7am, I have a couple of hours to get daughter ready, do a few household chores and check social media accounts. I also check email and respond to anything that’s relatively easy to deal with so it’s off my plate for the day. My husband and I run a consultancy and I also help my stepsons with their business. Okay, so the business degree does come in handy occasionally.
Twice a week I head out for a walk while John does the short order cook routine with our daughter. I love these early morning walks, taking the opportunity to indulge in my favourite podcasts. I’ve become a bit fussy with podcasts over the years. I have to like the voices and I need to feel educated or entertained or inspired or, preferably, all three. My favourite writing podcasts are:
- So You Want To Be A Writer
- Writers on Writing
- The Taylor Stevens Show
- First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing
- The Garret
- On Writing
- The Creative Penn
When I need a break from writing podcasts, I hop into Chat 10 Looks 3, Conversations, My Dad Wrote A, Desert Island Discs and whatever investigative poddies are going around – currently The Teacher’s Pet (OMG! What on earth were those teachers thinking?!?)
The school bell goes and I join the throng of other mothers making a beeline for the local coffee shop. We form lines like handmaids in active wear, slaves to the almond latte and the skim decaf cap.
Chat ensues. Someone asks about the novel and when they can read it? I provide an update, hoping they find the writing journey as thrilling as I do but I think they really just need a good little page-turner for their upcoming Fiji holiday. I’m happy to oblige, as long as they’re not taking that holiday until sometime in 2020. Sometimes I question my decision to ‘out’ myself as a writer-of-novel-in-progress. It was supposed to make me feel more accountable, and it does, but I also spend a lot of time letting people down gently. Fortunately, my friends are a patient lot.
10.00am – 3.00pm
Five marvellous solitary hours stretch ahead of me. If this was drafting or editing time I’d be hunched over my laptop in a frenzy, madly trying to get as many words knocked out as possible.
With a deadline only two weeks ago, that frantic rush is still fresh in my mind. It was strange doing such a big structural rewrite. I was adding so many new scenes but having to edit at the same time so I felt like I was constantly swapping my floaty feel-good first draft beret with the green visor and sharpened pencil of a Fleet Street editor. I ate far too many convenient lunches of Vegemite toast, exercise was non-existent (unless you count steps to the toaster) and the pile of unopened mail eventually toppled into the overflowing basket of unfolded washing.
But with the latest draft off my plate, I’m filling those precious school hours with, in no particular order:
- Planning the next novel & writing a synopsis – dreaming up the characters, their wounds and journeys; turning the plot around in my mind; playing with pops of setting description; wondering how I can work Simon Baker into one of the roles…
- Planning a series of blog posts for my website
- Putting together a social media plan to replace the haphazard posting of unrelated gibberish and random shares (here’s a One Month Social Media Plan for Authors that I found online – shall we give it a whirl?)
- Dreaming up a podcast series (stay tuned!)
- Accounts, admin and other mindless hoo-haa
- Opening all that mail!
Sometime during the day, if I remember, I make myself lunch, usually a mushroom, cheese and spinach omelette because it takes me about five minutes and gives me a shot of protein. If I don’t remember, it’s a piece of Vegemite toast on the way back to school.
3.10pm – 5.00pm
School pick up time. Despite having been sunny all day, there is a sudden deluge. Of course there is. The sun will magically appear again when we get home in our sodden shoes.
Various after school activities give me an opportunity to check social media and emails or sneak a few pages of whatever novel I’m inhaling.
I used to feel the need to finish books but now I only stick with those that give me absolute pleasure, whether it be a riveting page turner by Michael Robothom or a delicious prose-filled slow burner by Maggie O’Farrell (my current author crush). I’ve just finished The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland which I adored so much I immediately jumped online and read/watched/listened to everything Holly has ever said about writing Alice. Aren’t we lucky to live in the 21st century and be able to connect with our favourite authors so easily?
This is when I squeeze in a 30 minute workout to keep the ticker in good nick and hold the tuck shop arms at bay!
Feed insatiable daughter from a repertoire determined by her limited preferences – soup, spaghetti carbonara or mashed sweet potato. She likes ‘spoon-food.’ If this author business doesn’t work out, I could probably get a job as a cook in an aged care facility. While I’m cooking I’ll usually listen to another podcast.
Cook grown-ups dinner for husband, son and myself – preferably something that requires a knife and fork to eat.
Read a chapter of Famous Five to daughter. Enid Blyton is her current addiction. She has begun referring to me as Mother and asking for tinned peaches and midnight feasts. I tell myself I will jolly well NOT fall asleep in her bed tonight.
Wake, bleary-eyed, in daughter’s bed and stagger to own bedroom.
9.30pm – 10.00pm
Read for half an hour before falling asleep, usually with my cheek smooshed into the book/kindle.
Ping! Bloody body clock. Resolve to get out of daughter’s bed immediately after story time from now on, no matter what!
Michelle’s Favourite Thing About Being A Writer
The little tingle I get when people ask what I do and I now say ‘writer’ instead of ‘business consultant’! I’m going to New Zealand next week and can’t wait to fill in the Occupation box on my landing card. It’s the realisation of a lifelong dream, all wrapped up in a tiny field on a form.
You can connect with Michelle over on Facebook, and Instagram, and check out her informative website where she shares some great insights into not only her journey towards publication but also writing in general.