Write from start to finish

I’ll never been a plotter, but I have been experimenting with writing from the start

“And what about your writing”, a kind friend asks as I recount my months of coming to term with chronic illness alongside my usual life stresses. What about it? Well, it’s clear that I always bristle against this question. But the truth I have been making small slow steps in the direction of finishing a draft. One of biggest, and hardest revelations has been that I may have been doing it if not wrong, then definitely the hard way.

While I confess I enjoy the spark of an idea leading me to write a scene, as inspiration really is everywhere, it might not be the best way of getting to the end of the draft. I have scores of words written on the same book. But will the end ever be in sight?

To disentangle my plot I resorted to an excel spreadsheet of scenes and started to see where there was too much jumping around. I stripped away these scenes so that I could follow the main character. It is a story told from more than one perspective, but I was unbalanced by the main character who kept insisting on her chapters. Once I had more of a handle on the chronology of the scenes, I was able to start again from the beginning and write, you know, what happens.

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com – Time for more tea?

It has been a laborious process and I suppose it could be called rewriting really. I have been training myself to go through from start to finish – what a revelation! On the way I notice the gaps and write them. I also notice the
repetitions which are numerous and seem to be mainly based around having cups of tea. Set in a quaint English cottage, I suppose we have to expect that she would drink a lot of tea but I really did notice how much she used the kettle. I repeated the Word Cloud exercise I have recommended before as a technology that can help writers. Definitely a lot of tea and kettle!

And even in this systematic process, I am not at the end. Well, maybe I am. I have a scene written, but I am really not satisfied with how we ramble our way there. As I have worked through from the beginning, diligently start to finish, I come to another even more disturbing revelation; I am not happy with my start. My start is probably a middle, a twist midway.

So, since the beginning of the year, I am filling in the characters that been on the peripheral of the story and shaping much more to the journey where my original start comes in. And in the thickets and weeds of the story, I have started to pull out other elements and be merciless with others. What is it they always say about writing: leave early, enter late. Seems like this is the issue I have been wrangling with – where is the start, how do we get to the finish and hoping others will care enough about where this person is in her life. About the disruptions and problems she faces.

I have been writing, even in small fits and starts but “It’s difficult” I tell my friend. I have to keep my energy packets for my son, for work, leaving the house occasionally. But it’s also difficult because I have made it so. With other projects that have snuck in to take my attention, I am being much stricter now to give myself a chance. My writing process, though always likely to be slow for a variety of reasons, well now it goes from the start and plods on to the finish. Unless inspiration just happens to strike again, of course!

Reuniting is the best Self-Care

Real life is returning

I am a little late updating the blog this week because real life is on the return. For now, restrictions have lifted a second time and we have been allowed to travel to see family outside and go back to shops. I have been busier than I have been for a while and had to work hard to get the balance right as I am still managing fatigue.

I think it is interesting to reflect on the very first things I wanted to do now that life can return somewhat. As well as getting my hair cut for the first time for seven months, I did wander into town. It was so busy and I had little desire to shop (a cardigan may have slipped into my bag, I confess.) But I did feel the need to see people I know so I visited my old work place to catch up with friends who work there. Reconnecting, even if it is just the casual trips to cafes or seeing a familiar faces, felt like such a tonic.

I recently took a self -care assessment from Therapist Aids. I could identify a few areas where I had a deficit at the moment but by far my lowest score was in the socialising category. There’s a great explanation on the Get Self Help website about how many elements feed into self-care, and interacting with others is part of the picture. It’s surprising but studies show that social contact, even if it’s the everyday pleasantries with people in your community, can improve your life. An article in the Washington Post about the studies show it is “psychologically protective” to have casual daily interactions. And all of this we have been missing a lot of the last year.

Socialising can be simple interactions (but with masks of course) Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Missing people has become a difficult part of the year. And so the most important part of the week were the two separate trips we arranged to see family. On neither occasion could we manage long walks, what with my fatigue and my son struggling to be back in a busy environment, but to be together as soon as we could was so important. Even though with kids around you can barely finish a sentence together, there is a calmness that comes with being around people who “get you”. I have always enjoyed visiting with my closest family members, but there is an added layer of appreciation after we have been forced apart for so long.

I think that given the busy week I would expect to be very tired this weekend but so far I have been alright. I think it reminds us that doing the things that nourishes us, boosts our happiness, really does have an impact even when there is an actual physical problem that causes our tiredness. In amongst I have managed two 45 minute sessions of writing. So not only does self-care allow me to manage my fatigue, it is helping with my creativity too. Despite it all, I really can see the glimmer of normal.

Never a good time

What has 2020 taught you about planning life?

Like a lot of fans of Gretchen Rubin’s, I made a list of 20 for 2020 last December. It had already been a challenging time but during my Happiness Project I identified areas that I could spend more time on: friendship, writing, wellness. So in 2019 I made a list of things to do, things to achieve.

I had already identified that it was a challenge for me to keep on track with goals my post in 2019 I had goals so I don’t know if I was setting myself up to fail with the new list for 2020. I know that I had tried to be more specific ie. write first three chapters of my new project, rather than arbitary time goals. I didn’t know of course what challenges 2020 were about to throw me.

Like many making resolutions, I started quite well. Reconnecting with a friend in London, blogging more and having specific targets for my writing. And then, out of the blue, I became my son’s teacher as well as working from home. I got the worst bout of anxiety I have probably ever experienced (I mean who didn’t) and then a snowball of personal circumstances changed. Out of control and uncertainty being the main themes of the year.

Slowly, writing targets went way down the list. So did healthy habits like swimming and actually using gym – hello lockdown. Now I could have reviewed those goals when we first went into lockdown. Adjusted the schedule, used the million online workouts or free classes. I could have done a lot of things. But I didn’t.

I certainly have friends who were able to achieve a lot. In fact I have friends in many different boats, as I wrote about last year. For some their lockdown life seemed to bring out their drive to embrace life: friends who learnt languages, rededicated themselves to keyboard playing, made renovations or wrote books (hmm). It is hard not to judge myself harshly that I didn’t complete my list when there are these examples of productivity around me.

I learnt in a wellness seminar this year that in times of stress we all have a window of tolerance. Dan Siegel‘s term means that we have a zone that we are most effective but in difficult times some people will go more towards over-action or hyper-arousal, others will gravitate towards inaction or hypo-arousal. So in some ways this may explain how I could lack motivation when others seemed to be doing so much. We all cope in different ways. While setting goals may give some people a sense of control over their lives, for me it has often served to mark how little I have achieved and in 2020 that feeling was very apparent.

So, it may come as a surprise that I have once again set about to make a list 21 for 2021. The categories were very similar to last year and it was easy to see what would be important this year. Reconnection after months apart from love ones was a big theme. As was health after my recent brush with mild covid. But what I have also done is divide these goals into subsections under each theme, and started a bullet journal to track certain habits like reading and yoga. I have tried to break down the goals in specific and I am going to focus on each by what I can achieve month by month.

This first month is all about trying to feel well again. It is about not pushing myself too hard as I am dealing with post-viral fatigue (a few weeks in and my body is demanding I go slow.) I will try and report back on each month’s achievements here. I will also try and not beat myself up. Goals shouldn’t be punishments but a way of making our lives, as Rubin would say, “a little happier.”

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?