Sometimes you have to acknowledge you are what holds you back
If you looked at my messy hair and sometimes messy house, you wouldn’t think at all that I suffered with perfectionism. Increasingly we see a world where we are surrounded by perfect. Whether it’s facetune or show- home-style houses, I have probably seen a hundred images to show me perfect in the last day.
Even though we are savvy to the filter of social media influence, it still does effect our perspective on what we believe is achievable. These are really just a few ways that we say to ourselves, perfect is possible. Some weeks there are just small things I do to keep my head above water (and that was before this global crisis.)
I was writing recently about goals and how for some people it is freeing to say “Dare to be average”. What I understand David Burns means by this is not actually do a poor job, instead do the job as it needs to be done. So rather than procrastinating because we cannot do it perfectly, we get the job done well enough. Compared to a job not done, average is suddenly above average!
I think this relates well to one of my creative blocks. Realising that perfectionism is hampering my productivity. To the point, at many times in my life I haven’t written at all. Though it was a passion as a young child, two short stories were rejected at 20 and I didn’t write again until I was 30. That’s a pretty devastating consequence of perfectionism.
Brené Brown writes that perfectionism is a way of avoiding anyone else’s judgement. This has been a real revelation for me. We actually try and protect ourselves using perfectionism as a tool to mitigate shame. The shame for me is I will never achieve my ambition, or I will achieve publishing something and it will be terrible or even one person will read my work and think it is terrible. The worst piece of writing ever written. Or, they will laugh when it’s scary, recoil when it’s funny. And if all these thoughts preoccupy my imperfect morning pages, it’s a wonder I start at all!
The whole point of Mum, Write NOW in shouty capitals is to remind me, today is as good a day as ever. It doesn’t always work to motivate me. But it reminds me to plod on, to tackle my perfectionism with the work.
A year ago I wrote I had nowhere to write but my productivity has improved this year so where do I write?
In my bedroom mainly, in my messy house. This is not where I want to be working. I have many dreams of aesthetically pleasing book nooks, or a book-lined library and an antique writing desk. Or maybe also an attic. I mean I got actual palpatations watching Jo March spread out her work page-by-by in the old Alcott attic in Greta Gerwig’s brilliant Little Women. My soul soared to see such a loving reproduction, or an attic, for space and for all night to write.
But I do not have this. I have forty minutes of childcare and a comfy mattress and a laptop that is getting warmer on my lap as I type. I have silence in the house for now but in my eye line is the busy-ness of a cluttered surface and I won’t be able to stay like this for long without making some adjustments.
I do not share this to garner even a shred sympathy, (even if that were available) because I am so lucky. My home is warm, I have many things and I have many benefits of modern life. But I also have a problem with this comfort. I mean I am glad I don’t have to write for candle light, but I also wonder whether the discomfort helped. Fuelling creativity through pain? A romantic cliché. Although I wouldn’t mind my own writing room, even if it was chilly.
I have been secretly eyeing up the shed since we have all been inside. Never mind that it’s got a drawer of zoflora, some spare soup my husband thought we might need and several spiders. Certainly on a softer day, I’ve sat in our grey backyard and tried to write though the shady spot is not quite warm enough.
I suppose I am thinking about all this to say to myself, you can write anywhere. Yes, even here: busy, cluttered house. Yes, even now: busy, distracted mind.
Being a hot mess sometimes, I have learnt a few ways to simplify life…
Hold meetings with your partner
It has been a tough few weeks and little things always get missed, dates in the diary creep up on me or I forget to email back. When life gets messy I know I have to be a bit more structured to help me through the chaos.
Diary management is the touchstone of an easier life. After many times where I have been wondering where my husband got to, he now gives me a rundown of his whereabouts each week on a Sunday. I would do the same back to him if I ever went anywhere. While we are combining our calendars, I jot down meal ideas on a food planning pad and make the shopping list.
This may seem like a simple step to be organised but he knows if he wants a shopping list and to eat during the week, I need to know how many meals are to be made. It’s not a difficult thing to do but I find whenever we wing it, things go wrong.
Listen to your body
I have become very mindful of my need to rest. I’ve been more tired with changes at work and a few busy weekends and sometimes that means I need time to zone out. Although I see escapism as a sign that I am not coping well, there has to be a place for trash tv or rewatching an easy comedy.
I have a certain amount of pain, in addition to surviving on little sleep. Forgiving myself is important because like many people I have bought into the idea of productivity. If you want to achieve, you have to hustle. That may be true, but if I fail to listen to my body then I know I won’t get anywhere.
Keep it routine
The need for cleaning my place on a schedule has become paramount to my well-being. I know which days I do certain tasks so if get through these things as well as my daily routine, I can feel on top of things.
Leaving the odd post-it note of what I need my partner to do is not a bad idea either. What I find is if the basic stuff gets done around the house, I am much more likely to pick up the faffy jobs that need to get done. It’s a form of self-care to at least achieve those set things and I often find I do more by starting the basic tasks.
Write a Little
There is no limit to how little you can do. On weeks where I am just keeping the basic stuff together I might only dip into my work-in-progress a little. But I do something. I have written before about the importance of Morning Pages for my creative process. So on some days I just write these but end up highlighting something that is a new idea.
On other days I manage to type up something on my phone. Or I see a snippet of a story in an ordinary day. A man running full pelt behind an oblivious teenager who had dropped her card; parents trying to get their toddler to walk along, though their legs kept crumbling beneath her. If nothing else, watching people around me, keeps me curious.
And I suppose in all these ideas for simplifying life, I am saying sometimes you have to let go. Lower your standards!
This is the opposite of advice I see all the time to increase productivity, how to write everyday. I am not dismissing these ideas but in a tough week I say KISS (keep it simple, sweetie).
My phone, my constant companion, offers me some great tools, but is it really good for me?
I have been tracking my phone use with the Yourhour app for months now. Recently I switched off it’s tracking of certain apps like phone use, WordPress and Kindle app. The plan is I to hone in on where I “waste” time. The hours of use recorded are not quite as high.
I have a good excuse to ignore these stats. I read on my way to work which I think is a good use of two bus journeys. I talk to my mum for an hour every week or so, that one is essential. And I also turn off monitoring of my blog activity: this is my outlet, my glimpse into the world of new books and other creative people.
But still, I worry when I see the figure so high. Hours of my day off last week glued to my phone. I know why, I needed a day to recover and chose to slouch in front of the tv, browsing the internet. I was tired after two nights out and knew I was up late to go to a friends leaving do. And did I mention I have been experiencing insomnia again.
Of course I have read much about sleep and screen time with regards to my little man. We are trying to reduce screens for a few hours before his bedtime but I do not give myself the same courtesy. I use a blue light filter and screen shade on my phone which should mitigate the effects of the screen before bed. But when my sleep is poor, I have regular headaches and my mood is effected by it all, can I really say this phone is my friend?
Well, maybe. Here are six great ways your phone is your writerly friend
1. Social Media Blogging, tweeting and on #BookBlogger Instagram is a fun place to be. Although social media does seem to suck up hours of your time, it will also give you the most amazing, tailored to-be-read pile. It helps you keep up with the industry, publishing trends, genres you love and meet great people who may even read your book one day.
The downside: not only do I get hooked on finding more people to follow, I get lost online. If you’re not careful, you never really interact with anyone at a deep level and have used up time you could be writing. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself Twitter is just procrastination.
2. Browse your manuscript. Twiddling with your manuscript if you pay for the Word app or at least keep notes on it is a good use of time I am sat in a traffic queue on the bus. It’s amazing the typos you spot when you revisit a scene for just a few minutes.
The downside: You can always change a verb in one sentence but I find I still haven’t got to the end. Work does need to be polished but do you need to work endlessly on one sentence, if you haven’t yet got a full draft?
3. Editing tools Grammarly is an essential add-on and I also had a version of the Hemingway App on my old phone. Both allow you to paste text in and check it. It’s always interesting what it can pick up that you may miss. Hemingway certainly tells me off for my adverbs and passive voice (haha). Like anything, you can take as much advice as you like but I think they are useful.
The downside: copying and pasting across work, creating an endless list of new drafts you’re working on because it contains the correction. It can get very confusing. Also, is Hemingway really my writing goal, I’m not sure I enjoy his work that much.
4. Voice memos a great way to write dialogue is to say it out loud, even better if you record a conversation. If you enjoy the acting part of writing, this is a great way to think about how intonation comes across in your writing. Can you give clues to their mood? The sisters in my novel argue a lot so this has been great way for me to develop their voices.
The downside: there may be things that just never get written up. Because of this I duplicate work. Also using memos when I am out and about means I have recordings ruined by ambulance sirens or I have stopped mid-sentence when I realise someone is coming the other way and they might think I am talking to myself.
5. Read more As I have mentioned, I consider the Kindle app an essential but what about all of those other interests I can pursue at random? Yes, we rely on Google and Wikipedia to learn about something quickly. I am really interested in Folklore so I flit through articles on this topic, littered too with interests of my son and my guilty pleasure: gossip from Bravo. Googles front page on my phone is certainly a strange mix. Some of this time reading may be considered more worthy than others but it’s also sparking ideas, I don’t know how I would cope without instantaneous information.
The downside: We all know the internet is full of unedited, unsourced ideas. It’s so wonderful having everything at our fingertips but it also requires a savvy approach to take in what you are reading and constantly filter the information. I love researching this way at the start of an idea, but honestly I see it as a jumping off point. Research into something I am writing about in more depth, I still think I need a library day.
6. Pinterest This is a good research tool too despite my above proviso, I love Pinterest for keeping my interests in one place. I am just setting up my business site but I have enjoyed the personal site for years. It is a great way to remember where you have put something on the internet. I also love to collect and post inspiring quotes.
The downside: again you can get lost at procrastination station. Like many places on the internet, it gives you false ideas of what you can achieve. Whether it’s beautiful bullet journals or cake decoration ideas that “nailed it” meme is just too accurate. If comparison is the thief of joy, then Pinterest may be the thief of your artistic self-esteem.
Given the pros and cons of using your phone to support your writing, I have been questioning how I can reduce my use and still enjoy the tools.
My plan is to try a digital and reading detox. Julia Cameron reccomends it in The Artist’s Way programme. Part of this will mean no Twitter, no Kindle, no Pinterest for a week. Reading only essential things like work emails. I will report back and let you know how it goes…