Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…
The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.
The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.
This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.
Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?
Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.
This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.
Having a reading detox is supposed to help creativity but I wonder does it help your writing too?
All the times I have felt my creativity blocked, I have turned to reading. As well as setting a reading challenge and making time to read, I keep myself up-to-date by following my favourite book bloggers (see below). Reading is comfort and if you ask me to go to my happy place it would be a beautiful chair in a quiet cottage, blanket, coffee and a book.
I find it odd if I hear others say they don’t read at all. I have no idea how you survive without books in your lives. Apart from a week off for a detox, I am always at least trying to read something. Several things in fact. But as I return to read this week, I do think about the influence what I am reading has on my writing.
As the dark night’s draw in and after the interview on the Spirits podcast I picked up Garth Nix Old Kingdom trilogy. They are books I have seen for years and done nothing more than admire the typeface. I have also started the next book in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. I don’t know if both these books would be considered Young Adult (YA) and/or fantasy. I just love at tale with dark twists and turns. The Winternight Trilogy has the advantage of having the historical setting too, medieval Russia is cold and full of courtly rules which feeds my fascinations too.
I share what I am reading to recommend the books if you want to curl up in this cold weather but also to show how this influences me. I start to think of the spookiness of my setting and wonder if i should lean in to it more. I have been writing about a sickness in the trees and I can see how the richness of descriptions in the books I am reading at least inform my word choice as I write, if not the genre.
I also think reading can lead you to adopt a style. I know that the strength of voice of Jane Austen has informed earlier attempts of other books I am trying to write. That aloof and witty narrator is quite irresistible as one writes ones prose. It’s like you are hearing voices, and letting them tell you what to do. That’s the power of strong voice.
I find that listening to audiobooks I particularly take in a style or voice because I learn so well through aural input. Despite my negative thoughts about my ability I have found myself writing poetry in recent months. I find short lines and sharp turns a great way to throw out my anger. They are political and I don’t know yet if they will see the light of day. But I notice too that the cadence and search for internal rhyme is influenced by rap music. I do not of course claim to be rapping, I can just hear the beat in my head.
Should I read less?
So at what point do we see it as positive to avoid reading or even listening to lyricists in order to write?
I think first, there is no way to avoid influences. To stay relevant you need to know what is being published. To be a human of many experiences you need to read. But really if my work does swoop from high fantasy, to Austen via rap I probably have to question: have I found my own voice?
The search goes on.
If you enjoy great book reviews an recommendations, you can’t go far wrong with these women:
Don’t worry, I am not going to sell you charcoal or cider vinegar…although my suggestion may be worse: is it time to take a digital and reading detox?
I avoided this step when it came up on week 8 of The Artist’s Way programme but I knew I would give in eventually. I have already been monitoring my time on social media with a phone app. But giving up reading too? Hadn’t one of the reasons I reduced my screen time been to make time to read?
According to Julia Cameron the reading detox is the section her attendees moan about the most. Since the book The Artist’s Way was published, she has also updated the detox to say no digital media consumption.
The idea is instead of going online or reading, you allow your brain to go
other places. Hopefully creative places. Here’s what I did during a week detox:
Puzzles, crosswords and also a jigsaw with my son. I suppose when I started the week I was optimistic that I would have quiet time but when it came to it I still found I needed busy work. Down time is so important to me that I did not find I could launch into a new project straight away. In the quiet moments I got out a puzzle book or finished a jigsaw my son had walked away from,
Craft project more to come on this, but I started learning about book binding. I used to have a lot more craft supplies in the house but since clearing the clutter I have admitted that a lot of the craft supplies hanging about the house were more ambitions that actualities so I just have basic tools. I found this frustrating that I had to go out and buy new things to make craft happen but when space is a premium, you can’t keep everything arty in case inspiration strikes once every five years.
Wrote but only a little. I was too tired to really use the
time for writing which may seem like an excuse, but we are coming off some busy
weekends, a birthday and a child with a cold, sleeping even less than normal.
Maybe then the “detox” was not as inspirational as it could be because I could
not summon the energy to do much.
Napped: this feels embarrassing to admit and gives stay-at-home parents a bad name but I rested in the afternoon twice in the week. As I mentioned my sleep has been poor and this means I have to be realistic about what I can achieve in the limited time I do have to myself.
Worried My phone is a major distraction from the overactive part of my brain. But what is odd is that I found it a relief to be away from the News and stress-inducing social media. Unfortunately, my brain just worried about other things, so I had to combat the feelings with a lot of journaling. I think that this has highlighted to me how much I need to return to meditation and relaxation because without my usual distraction it was often quite hard to quiet my mind.
Missed Out: but only a little. There was some people’s news shared on Facebook and I didn’t see, some sad, some happy and I felt bad not to have commented. We are all so out of the habit of calling people I suppose I may not have learned this news other ways. I did take the opportunity to catch up with a couple of my closest friends on the phone.
Binged TV at some point it was inevitable that I would give in to the TV. I am not sure whether it is just synchronicity or my current questions that brought me to Mr Robot. But, that’s going to help you really re-evaluate your relationship with social media even if the conspiracy thriller also leaves you a little paranoid.
And finally I….Cheated I am not going to say I was totally offline all week. I certainly didn’t manage without TV. I also posted on my blog and ended up on Twitter to share the post. Then I went down an Instagram rabbit hole after a Real Housewives story came up on my Google homepage. Finally, someone was leaving from my old work and so I had to use Messenger to join in the chat. But still I reduced my use to just a few hours in a week.
So, would I say that a detox increased my creativity?
Not really, but I would say that it has made me stop and re-evaluate. I logged out of the apps on my phone so I have left them like that so that it takes some effort and a conscious decision to use them. I also realised that I was using my phone in particular to distract myself. Although I have written about it being a great tool, maybe I need to use it less. I came back to reading with a lot more enthusiasm and I think that this shows this is a much greater priority for me than social media.
I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading and digital detox? Did it help your creative brain?
I have been dreading the end of The Artist’s Way programme, so how do I learn to say goodbye?
This is the blog I have been putting off writing, you may have noticed I have been writing my guides to doing the steps on The Artist’s Way Programme. This is partly because I think the Morning Pages and taking Artist’s Dates have been helpful, I also think I have been avoiding the inevitable, coming to the end.
As the final week ends, I am reflecting on the resistance that I feel to ending the whole process. This mirrors my continual revising of the ending of the book I am writing, which of course changes the start I come up with and continues the process of drafting for evermore. This may just be the way I write, though I would like to think that there may be a time where I am confident in the writing a story I have plotted, I have a feeling my tangents are part of my process. So why are ending so hard?
Change is the only constant, for one.
I had the opportunity to test out how difficult endings can be, I learnt that someone from my son’s school whole family had moved away over the Summer. As is typical, we had not seen them in the holidays, but I am sure my son would have been happy to see their little boy in his class again, as they have been in school together for the last three years. When I learnt the news, and that they had had to go with no notice, I was shocked. It threw me completely and I think I was far more upset than my son at the change.
I have a history of finding goodbyes challenging and have left schools suddenly myself, so I am sure like a lot of things, this linked back to childhood fears. Saying goodbye is something is you learn to do over and over. So I called the family and also helped out a little here. It felt good to get closure on this phase of my son’s life as well as my own. And I got some satisfaction that I was a good friend on his behalf. I think stopping to acknowledge parts of your life that are changing is very important. That this happened as I finished the programme is something the author Julia Cameron would call synchronicity and I am inclined to agree.
I know as I step off the cliff from the comfort of the programme, I have to carry on writing my pages and using Artist’s Dates. But I also have to get the work done. That is not to say that I will not revisit the programme or dip into the exercises but in a sense, I have done this programme all the way through for the first time. That should be celebrated. Early on in the book, Cameron says a lot of people drop out or resist the programme which in the main part I haven’t. Although I did avoid the digital and reading detox in week eight. I am in fact coming back to it now and will report back soon.
So, it must be acknowledged, I did it! I have found ways to adopt pages into morning although sometimes it means I snap at those around me to leave me alone. I notice if I have a bad day, I will find I haven’t done my pages in the morning. It’s become an essential lifeline. I can also say that I am writing though still not as regularly as I like. The next steps are making the goals into tangible steps and using the #last90days of the decade to really finish what I started. With this in mind, I have a new writing planner on excel including blogging schedules: mundane but necessary to try and use the time I do have to work efficiently.
But the goal of the final week of the programme is to “Recover a Sense of Faith.”And that means being surer that your life will lead you to where you need to be if you continue to work towards what you want. I am still uncertain, of course, but I think I approach doing my work with more confidence than before. And I think having insight into my resistance was a great way to uncover things for me. As I don’t like endings, as is clear, I will leave the post I didn’t want to write on a quote from this chapter:
“Life is meant to be an artist
date. That’s why we were created.“
I would love to know if anyone else has completed The Artist’s Way programme, do you still use it, has it changed your life?
Although a divine experience for an Artist might be a night at the ballet or spending a weekend away, just you and your journal, for most of us this isn’t an option. Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way that we spend two hours a week nurturing our Artist. Here are some great Artist Dates you could try that are free (or pretty cheap) and you can even bring your little one along for the ride.
1. JOURNAL ART Talking of journalling, I took the chance to learn some lettering. I’ll never own a beautiful bullet journal but even I can play with titles and doodles
2. DOODLE Speaking of art, Cameron also encourages you to draw. I have little talent in this area but I have challenged myself to sit to my ideas and doodle about them. The pictures were poor, but the expression still engaged my mind and made me laugh.
3. MIND MAPS I was taught to use these at school to revise. I am still not sure if they helped me connect the dots about science and history: my grades at the time I suppose were fine, but can I remember it now. But using a mind map whether to track your hopes for the future or plan out bold new ideas can be helpful and creative
4. COOK SOMETHING Particularly something new. I have been reflecting on food memories recently and dug deep to think about things I loved as a child. But if nothing else you can basically put any ingredients you have into Pinterest and come up with a recipe. It doesn’t have to be fancy, I recently made microwave mac ‘n’ cheese. This may not suit your tastes but I was delighted with the ease of it.
5. BUY FRUIT I recently taught my picky eater about pomegranate. This is a relatively inexpensive buy at our local market. Given he despises pips in fruit this was a minor triumph. Talking about it, even looking up how to cut it was interesting and new. And that’s got to to be a kick start for creativity.
6. SHOP FOR FOOD AT A MARKET So the overpriced sourdough rosemary loaf was not free and fives times the price of normal bread, but it was divine. Wandering around any foodie market counts too because smells can transport you to other worlds. Like a Chai stall taking me back to my trip to India.
7. BAKE BREAD Alright so my banana and pumpkin seed bread turned more into a stodgy cake but this is one I will definitely try again. To make a traditional loaf is my next challenge. It feels bold and I doubt I have the proper patience but anything that takes such concentration and effort while also yielding results quickly has got to be good for my inner artist.
8. LISTEN TO MUSIC Online is a great place to find anything and if you happen to want do a deep dive on Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring you can spend hours listening with your eyes closed to the Philharmonic of your choice. This was another easy one I could do one evening so didn’t need childcare but was very inspiring
9. STAY SILENT I tried this one while I cleaned. No podcast, no cleaning video and no music on in the background. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one but I did notice that I really concentrated on the cleaning, finally removing a stain on the stairs carpet so there was that.
10. TREE-BATHING A practice from Japan, that has become popular – shinrin-yoku – spending time with trees can be very relaxing. As I understand it this can be as simple as walking in the trees in your neighbourhood. This one is an easy one for me as we have a large Royal park on our doorstep and I could take my son along too. Trees are always inspiring and the air is good for your health.
13. PINTEREST Make something, not just pin something you have seen. I choose a project about the lunar cycles to do with my son. This is more practical for me as I can’t always be alone. It engaged him well but best of all we were proud of ourselves and pinned it on the fridge.
14. USE THE INTERNET This could be a disaster and a distraction but it might be worth the risk. I am not sure it’s what Cameron had in mind, but after many joyful hours finding Broadway tunes online and reading about shows I hadn’t seen, I included this one on my easy-to-do list
15.BROWSE BOOKSHELVES This may be an obvious one but I have been taking more mindful trips to the library. Browsing books in different genre and reading a few pages about Japanese flower arranging before I realised I was too impatient to take up the practise. It’s the browsing that fires up your creativity.
16. CHARITY SHOP BOOKS There are so many great reads at charity shops. As I wrote here, it’s one of my favourite places to find a book bargain.
17. SPOTTING COLOURS This is a favourite that I can do in charity shop too. Looking everywhere for pale mint and aqua that are my “signature colours” I spotted them then in other places, like the chemist signs and a pretty shopping bag. This can just be a game and again one you might do with a young one in tow.
18. COLOURING IN My son doesn’t really like that I have my own set of Sharpies in pastel colours that he is not allowed to touch, but there you go a few years back I gave in to the craze for colouring in. I recently got an Autumnal book in a bargain bin at the Works as I think they are less popular as a past-time than a while back. I like it as an activity to occupy my hands instead of my smartphone which I am trying to use less often.
19. PLAYDOH is another one to get out when you have a little one around, he doesn’t seem to mind that I cut out flowers and cute animals while he makes letters or planets (much more his thing)
20. LEAF-COLLECTING This is my favourite Autumn activity and a little different from tree-bathing where you are just silently contemplating them. There are games to be played with the perfect leaf, spotting different shades of colour. I don’t feel the need to have a child along for me for this one, I think secretly everyone understands the impulse to pocket the perfect horse chestnut.
I think the main thing is to approach any Artist’s Date with a sense of play. Part way through the programme, Cameron advises you get used to taking mini-breaks. I think I have had to be quite creative and often take my son too so it is important to acknowledge these simple things can help inspire you too. While it is great to line up trips away, perhaps trying a new class or visiting a new museum, there are easy and cheap things you can do at home too.
You can catch up on my weeks on The Artist’s Way programme here: