Life in Lockdown, part 2

Watching the headlines, wondering when you are going to see your mum again has become my main past time

It’s been one of those months where I am just trying to cope. I am going to be honest, I have lost count of the rules. I think there is a Grandma exception now so my Mum can come and see my son and look after him but I am not sure as households can’t meet. So, I assume that means Mum and I could meet outside but she lives miles away. And there is no unnecessary travel. Is anyone really sure? Will I ever see my sister again?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Back to that Zoom life

So instead we try Zoom birthday parties and remember fondly how we wrapped up warmly for a wintery picnic while we could. In anticipation, I got heat-tech clothing and my big coat out of the loft weeks ago. But now we are staying locally, I will make myself walk again in nature near my house. Like in March when the government told us to exercise everyday, I can do this again. I have committed to this goal at least.

I don’t remember if I signed up for anything new in the first lockdown. I think I was just trying to survive, but I have just got enough sense of FOMO when I see friends attending art classes and sound baths that I might just book online experiences this time around. Or maybe I will go back to baking comfort foods and listening to audiobooks.

The term lockdown has been overused to the point where it is at once meaningless and terrifying to me, triggering that first shock in March when you could not believe it would happen. But it has happened again and I am a little numb to it all apart from these vague plans.

I am perhaps more aware of needing to entertain myself virtually, whilst trying not to numb out with hours of Netflix. I also now need to finish the massive project at work so that I can work from home again. Despite the government saying weeks ago now that you should work from home if you can, this hasn’t been feasible for me. Based on the buses and trains we have been on, a lot of work places are not facilitating this as much as they were in Spring so we will see what happens with this in the next few weeks.

Through all of this confusion and readjusting to lockdown life, I have made little time to blog or write. But I have set myself a project I have set myself this lockdown month. I will whisper it, in case trying it curses me with writer’s block. NanoWrimo. Just a small word target to keep me at it each day we are stuck inside. I am not sure how it will go, as pressure to work sometimes backfires but I will let you know if I can reach my target as the month goes on.

How about you, is anyone else using lockdown to write? Even just a little?

It starts with an image…

There are bored people, hanging out in parks and it reminded me so strongly of childhood I started to write…

It is strange to reflect on where inspiration can strike, I wrote last year that prompts are everywhere. But the people doing nothing, freed from lockdown, perhaps still not able to work, stood out to me as I sat and watched. It’s noticeable that more people are in the parks. In this area they have become the saviour of our lockdown lives. Many people with little or no garden rely on this space to see some green. Whether because there are fewer places to go, even now, or because we have remembered the great resource of green space, there always seems to be people just hanging around.

Well, I was hanging around on purpose this week as I was completing the Bored and Brilliant Project. I have been taking the challenges suggested in Manoush Zomorodi in her book in order to unleash my creativity. This has included less time online and taking fewer photos. This week I had to take a holiday from my phone so I deleted the addictive game that had been my go-to distraction. It was a wrench, I certainly notice that the phone is where I go to escape a bit from overcrowded living and work stress.

I had no choice then to take myself out to try some time doing nothing, noticing more around me. First I tried sitting by the river, a treat because I have not been so far afield until this week. I counted forty swans parading under the Thames bridge. But I also had to combat the fear and anxiety of being outside and on a pedestrian thoroughfare which still seems riskier right now that I am comfortable with.

From Seligr on Flickr, not taken by me

Plagued with the anxiety and trying to keep my tears to myself, I decided I needed a quieter spot to try and people-watch. So off to small, local park, where people of all ages lounged in small groups or exercised. Sat on a bench watching others, I had a brainwave and broke the rules. My phone is often where I put snippets of words that come to me and a nostalgia for my home town struck me.

I can still see them sat on the green electricity box, legs swinging, swigging from a bottle.

I don’t know that all the little sentences and phrases and collect have to go anywhere, but it was interesting to see that the bored brain did come up with the germ of an idea.

As far as the challenge goes, I would recommend it as a way of considering the impact of our fast-paced, online lives. The caveat I would make is that this book may not be for you if your anxiety often overwhelms you. I think there is a place for the way that we distract ourselves, particularly if you find your mind doesn’t wander to brilliance but spends time in rumination.

You can read more about my project here, have you tried being bored and brilliant?

Perfectionism and productivity

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.

BrenĂ© 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.

Do you think perfectionism holds you back?

Don’t ask me if I am writing

The pressure to feel productive gets too much at the best of times!

I snapped at a friend this week who asked if I was writing. They were making kind enquiries and didn’t expect my reaction I am sure. It’s smoothed over, but I think my sharp response is probably a sign that I haven’t come to terms with the fact that I am not writing. Or only just a little.

The usual problems of time and interruptions are in addition to the unusual issues of living through a global pandemic, managing my anxiety and getting through each challenge day-by-day. The sense that I have is that the current normal, which is likely to continue at least until the end of the next month ( where we are all at home, all working, all doing school) is perhaps not just a tough situation but a relief too. I can forgive myself for writing so little.

Maybe it’s just an excuse, but I have had for a while thought that there is a cult of productivity or demonstrating that you are productive in the Writing Community. Bear with me if you think I am trying to offend you, please. It’s just that I have seen a lot of you “you should be writing” memes and such which impacted me negatively if I am not in the right headspace to work. More productive than I are producing work and I am not, and it is discouraging to me. Well I suppose that’s my problem!

I have been reading a few articles about identifying your core values, such at this. It’s a new way of thinking about what drives and motivates me. In completing the exercise Ivan Martin recommends, I noticed as well as diligence and concientiousness, I came up with words such as peace, calm and comfort and ease. These competing values or ideas about how I want my life to look, probably explain why I have such a strong reaction to seeing others productivity. I won’t always put myself into discomfort to work through in the same ways others would, because that is not in my make-up.

I have been rereading the excellent “What I Talk about when I Talk about Running.” Having read this at the beginning of my writing journey, no wonder I think that writing is all about being able to write everyday and having hours to give to it. Murakami’s book is a marvel and so inspirational but on this reread it was so clear to me that I cannot work with the same method. Though with even a tiny bit of Murakami’s commitment and dedication would be a great improvement.

I am not a marathon runner, but completing a novel or long-form work is a marathon. But pushing myself to the extremes of my body or mind’s capabilities, that was never how I could run it. I haven’t the stamina. Nor have I the luxury of time and energy that it takes to get into running a marathon – to extend the metaphor to breaking. Murakami first wrote after his bar closed into the early hours. His commitment to anti-social hours is so admirable but also completely unrealistic in my life. While he inspires me with his discipline, he also teaches me about my own energy levels.

So, I have to consider what sort of runner am I? I conclude it’s what I knew already, I’m a jogger. A slow, plodding jogger who makes frequent stops to catch my breath. It’s not the most flattering depiction but, nonetheless, it reflects a realistic picture. And so no, I haven’t been writing of blogging much at the moment. It turns out, when you’re living through unprecendented times, you have to forgive yourself if it leaves you out of breath.

Have you found inspiring books about writing help your practice?

Writing With a Distracted Mind

If you are finding it hard to be productive, you’re not the only one…

You know how if you had all that time, you’d write your novel? How’s that working for you? Ha! If you’re like me then your distracted mind is struggling. I think it’s clear from my posts in the past that I don’t do great creative work when life is too much. And it’s all a bit too much for me at the moment

We are in the lucky position of still having work that we are trying hard to do at home with our son alongside. A privilege because even as a keyworker, I am not on the front line and a relief because we don’t have quite the worries that other people have around finances. So believe me, I am thinking about others in a lot worse positions than us when I write this. All this extra time at home and I am still too distracted to write.

Not me but…mood.

It’s frustrating. But this time in isolation is unique in its character. I am on an emotional rollercoaster. Right now, blogging on my phone while my son is on the laptop I am enjoying sitting about in comfy clothes. No school run stress. No demand to dry my hair then pick if I do makeup or eat breakfast today because I didn’t leave time for both. (That’s my usual week day) So I am even feeling good enough to write. But later I might try and read and manage two pages before I want to nap.

In this hour by hour existence, I have been thinking about my son’s mind. His neurodiversity means his attention can be very short if he isn’t motivated. And anything remotely schooly for him has to be of interest to engage him, particularly if he finds it hard to do something. The thing that his dyspraxia and attention make it hardest for him to do: writing. The physical act of writing is very complicated. He gets intense support for this at school. It takes time. And he’s got to be interested.

It is not without irony I realise that I am battling to help him do any writing while school is closed. And I think looking at his highly distracted mind can teach me something about how to approach any work I can do while this is our reality.

How to Help Your Distracted Mind Write (or A Seven-Year-Old Learn)

  1. Keep it short. Don’t expect to stay on topic a long time. I have been using a free Skillshare login to do some courses and quick writing exercises. This has led to a short story. Maybe this isn’t the time for long form! Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  2. Make it interesting: while I won’t pretend to be reading a lot, I have been indulging my obsessions in audiobooks and podcasts. Just as my son has been indulging his Minecraft interest, I have been enjoying tales of antiquity. Mythos by Stephen Fry and podcasts such as Myths and Legends. These stories are short and inspiring. And delving into something that really interests you may keep your mind engaged a little longer.
  3. Use time limits. Often it doesn’t feel like you have done much if you have only sat for 10 minutes. But you have to accept if you have done that, you have achieved something. A time limit is a great way to remind yourself to do nothing else in that time. And I have surprised myself with what we have achieved in a short time.
  4. Use a task list. My son gets stressed by timers as he has to watch it count down. We use a list of three tasks he has to achieve instead. This is also a good way to approach work, for me it’s about polishing some work with a few questions in mind: get information across, let the characters move forward, leave early enough. These are all things I learnt in writing classes that I can tick off when I revise work. And an achievable set of tasks to do with maybe a scene or a story.
  5. Reward any effort. You might be giving yourself more treats anyway but the thing that keeps me motivated might also be a little sit in the backyard. It doesn’t have to be much but if you did anything towards some writing you need to do, reward yourself!

So these are my distracted thoughts on getting work done...how have you been managing to write?