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I hate to break this to you, but if you’re opening this on the day you received it (apart from being freakishly on top of your inbox) you are staring down the barrel of Christmas – there are a mere 31 days to go.
If you’re more like me, and tend to arrive at these things a few days late on account of adulting getting in the way, the situation’s even more dire.
How did this happen? I could swear it’s only been a couple of weeks since I was alternating between choking down wildfire smoke and dodging sunburn! Yet here we are, poised at the top of the slippery slope that brings every year crashing to an end in a pile of wrapping paper, empty Bailey’s bottles and un-checked-off to-do lists, leaving us blinking in a daze and wondering where the bloody hell the last twelve months disappeared to.
(It’s even worse for me. No, really. My birthday’s Christmas Eve, so hand-in-hand with the whole vanishing year thing, I have to deal with the annual shock that I am no longer in my twenties, not by several decades, and that they are, in fact, diminishing in the rear-view mirror faster than a bothersome relative’s house on a gift-dropping-off run.)
When your twenties, thirties, or forties are disappearing faster than that dream of retiring to Tuscany…
On my desk, there’s a hardcover notebook with a neat little list of things I’m supposed to do today, this week, and this month. Some of the items even have tick-marks next to them. It looks very plausibly like I am in full control of my workload. But lest we forget, I am a fiction writer. Making unbelievable stuff look realistic via the odd little marks I scratch into notebooks is what I do.
Not only do I not want to look at today’s schedule, I very much don’t want to look at the inside front cover, where, in January, high on the heady fumes of a whole new year to play with, I sketched out an ambitious list of all the things I planned to achieve by this Yule. Did I manage them? Well, let me ask you, have you noticed me trying to flog you a single audiobook so far? ‘Nuff said.
Now I was going to seamlessly sync this with an amusing writerly disquisition on how novel crafting works the same way – when you set off, you have a lovely open vista of about 70,000 words waiting for you to fill with whatever you like. The possibilities are endless. Entire worlds are yours for the making. You sketch out a beautifully organised plan, with chapter headings, plot points and everything. Maybe you even crank out a table with columns for word counts and character development and how this moves the action forward, etc. etc. It all looks so easy, so straightforward, and above all so very little to accomplish in all that wriggle room you have. Like when the SatNav shows you the estimated time to the shopping mall, and neglects to account for the impossibility of parking once you get there.
Somewhere around the middle of things (the novel writing, not the drive to the shops), reality kicks in as you wrestle with a plot that doesn’t want to untangle itself, and recalcitrant characters who insist on falling in love with or murdering people they really absolutely should be doing the opposite to.*
Heroically, you muscle your way through the madness, biro brandished like a Sword of Legend. Somehow, you make it to the three-quarters mark, with most of your ducks in a row. Or at least not deceased. Gradually the dreadful realisation dawns that you have to end this thing. The mayhem you have let loose, and barely reined in enough to stagger this far, is going to need to be transformed, as if by the wave of a magical wand, into some kind of satisfying ending. Saints preserve us, perhaps even a happily ever after!
The Sword of Legend. Oddly, “Brandishing the Biro of Legend” doesn’t return many hits on Depositphoto.
It’s sort of like staring down Christmas from the wrong end of November. All you can see ahead of you is a diminishing space to cram in all the shenanigans that have been building up since that hopelessly optimistic beginning.
I did say that’s what I planned to do, but I’m not. Why? Because, like the bossy little self-deluding list in the front of my notebook, the whole issue of novels is something I don’t want to squint too closely at. I was supposed to have another one finished by now. At least.
I do not.
And with shopping, and card writing, prepping the house for guests, and all those looming end-of-year concerts at the kids’ schools jostling for space in the calendar, the chance of me doing it now is about as likely as a Christmas fairy showing up to wave that wand I was on about.
Unless you’re a creature of devastating organisational abilities, I imagine you feel pretty much the same (swap out “write novel” for whatever the big looming guilt-monster on your year planner is).
Sigh. So what do we do from here?
Well, let me begin by reminding you that this is the season of mulled wine for a reason. Our sage ancestors apparently lived through the same “how the hell did we get here so fast?” crisis we’re currently facing, and with admirable wisdom decided the best way to meet it was with a steamingly fragrant glass of vin chaude in hand, hence establishing this fine and sanity-preserving tradition. Scroll down to Time for a Tipple for this month’s recipe, and fortify yourself against the chaos to come.
…and that was when she realised she’d accidentally wrapped the scissors and her phone.
And what next?
Well, my friend, we must do two things. Firstly, we must meet our own eye sternly in the mirror and remind ourselves that we have survived this madness before. Every damned year, in fact. And it’s never as disastrous as the annual re-watching of Die Hard makes us fear it might be. (Seriously. When was the last time you had to rescue a loved one dangling from a window? Ok, there was that unfortunate New Year’s party at Uncle Norman’s, but other than that?)
Secondly, we must focus on the enormous pile of crud over which we HAVE managed to heroically clamber this year. Yes, you did somehow manage to hold it together that time the basement flooded / the cat got covid / the “big end” went on the car. Not only hold it together, but you survived it all so well you’d almost forgotten about it, hadn’t you? See. It’s not like you’ve been doing nothing. As someone very clever once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
(I would humbly suggest the same is true of novels. They sort of happen, in the end, despite all those pages of lovely neat plots. At least that’s what I’m hoping, and don’t you dare dash my dreams.)
So take a big, deep breath, sit down with the calendar, and make a checklist of all the things you’d like to get done before the end of the year.
Highlight some of the items. Add stars to others.
Now look at it closely, and realise you’re free to ignore it and do something entirely different instead. And, like the seemingly hopeless chaos of Die Hard, and like every other Christmas, it will all work out fine in the end.
It just won’t look the way you thought it would. And that’s fine. Because how deathly dull would life (or novels) be if it did?
* In the case of driving to the mall, replace this with wrestling with unmentioned roadworks and recalcitrant children who insist on throwing things at each other across the back seat, or engaging in violent hand-to-hand combat for the phone charger cable.
ABOUT F.K. MARLOWE
F.K. Marlowe is a Shropshire lass who lived in London and Beijing before settling down with her husband, three daughters and rescue pup in Vancouver. She writes horror stories with a tendency to the paranormal, and Young Adult fiction with fangs and sass.
Marlowe doesn’t worry overly much about the placement of semi-colons and the like, having spent far too long pootling about in academia to take them seriously. (She has an Oxford first in English Lit, plus a Master’s and PhD from Leeds). She has, however, discovered that life is the best education for a writer, and plans to continue her studies there as long as possible.