Autumnal Ambitions

Planning to be a bit more productive in my favourite season

As soon as I get a sense of the sharper cold of autumn in the air, I get excited. I have written before there is really no better season to get inspired. A time of finding inspiration in nature and curling up in warm socks to write. But this year, Autumn feels even more important. My life is shifting to our new patterns, my husband back to full time in the office and for me managing my condition knowing I have little help for childcare. I am seeking now to establish the baseline level of energy I have, in the hopes that soon I will not crash every weekend and feel able to socialise a bit again.

I am getting asked a lot how is my “long covid” but like many invisible conditions, it’s just there, in the background and for now part of my life. Usually when people ask you about illness they want you to say you are better but instead of saying “I’m getting there” with the usual passive politeness. I am respecting the condition and fatigue “I am learning to manage it.” I am more comfortable with this honest answer even if most people what want you to say is you are fine. Coming in the next few months I have some medical appointments which may help but in the meantime, Autumn will be the time for me to work out what works for me. I need to continue to listen to my body, but also listen to my mind which is calling out to be more creative.

For now it may be more quiet craft sessions though there are added issues I didn’t have to think about before: my markers now trigger asthma, planning out a card to make can be surprisingly fatiguing, I don’t want to add to my tidying up duties by making a mess. Being more aware of what is tiring is interesting. I know my Mum has said to me a number of times that it is very similar to ageing. Simple day-to-day tasks like taking a shower are just more noticably tiring than before. Equally you have to make plans to build in rests more often even if you do manage a busy day.

As I sit to my journal and make some Autumn goals I try and identify what exactly has held me back from writing. I then have tried to add in the element that might make the task easier in my current condition.

Plan a few research trips. It will need to be a Friday so have the weekend to recover. I love exploring the Newspaper Archives for the historical elements of my work in progress. At the British Library, there is free access and I just find being closeted amongst the books so inspiring. I know already that I probably have to build in a rest if not a sleep to travel into London so I may choose to make my next trip on a day my husband could help out.

Continue mindful walks These have helped so much whilst I recover. Getting out in nature continues to be good research particularly as I have gradually been teaching myself about the wildflowers and plants. Finding bright spots of nature nourish part of me that rejects my urban lifestyle and gives me much needed alone time.

Carry a notebook around I noticed that I have written less in notebooks in the recent years. I find that writing by hand really helps. In addition it means I can do just a little work, sketch out ideas and not feel like I have to sit and edit work in the same way because as I type up whatever I have written, I polish the words.

Re-read my work-in-progress It’s been so long since I have been working on my longest, unwieldiest project that I can use this as a chance to look at it all with fresh eyes.

It probably doesn’t sound like I am pushing myself much in the next few months. I haven’t set word counts or minutes per week. Instead I have defined the things that can help me gradually build up to doing more. Knowing that I adding a few things into my life in a realistic way is far more helpful as I recover. It feels like the right next step to get back to what I love.

How do you make progress when life gets in your way?

Reminiscing is simple inspiration

Away at my mother’s house, I have been enjoying the items that bring back memories

It’s odd how the smallest thing can send you off into your memories. This last week we have been away at my mother’s house for a change of scene. Everyday I have been noticing things with a funny jolt of recognition. I suppose when you are home, your eye becomes blind to decorations or you are too busy to stop and look. Being here I have been more aware. We are not rushing around because my fatigue has stopped us from doing too much. Staying in a different home, I am aware of spending time appreciating the things from my childhood more.

A small basket of shells arrest me at a window ledge. We collected them on the Welsh coast thirty years ago. I trace my finger down turritella shell or towers as we would call them. I think I remember the time we collected it, we used to take old sandwich loaf bags out and on a particularly blustery weekend, we walked up and down the beach stooping for more and more. I think I filled two bags. At some point I had to choose my favourite as I was told we couldn’t take the whole beach home! The crystalline pink were always my favourite though it’s a lot smaller in my hand than I remember.

I think everyone scans the bookshelves of homes they visit, many of her favourites have stayed over the years but I am not sure I have read. I pick through the shelves idolly. There are some older volumes that I think have always fascinated me, probably because I know some were her childhood editions, some her father’s. Amongst them is the copy of Little Women from our trip to Orchard House, the Alcotts home. Like the other hardbacks, it’s not in fact an antique but I still hold it with reverence. Our day in Concord is a really special memory. The postcard of Alcott’s desk sits in my writing trolley still, reminding me to stop complaining about a space to write.

Sounds too are reminiscent here. This is not my old home, though we have been welcomed here in holidays for years now. But the pigeons sit in the trees outside the back of her house just as they did in my first house and I realise that I miss the sounds of the birds coo echoing down the chimney when I am at home. We have sat this week and watched the blackbirds who play in their garden and cheep loudly when they haven’t been left food. There’s a bush here they have occupied as their own and I remember back to similar times watching birds play in our garden growing up.

Often memories can feed inspiration for me and it occurs to me in my nostalgia there is the essence of something I have been trying to capture for a while. The hard work I have been putting in in mindful walks to notice nature and neighbourhood around me. It has been come a goal to slow our time, to appreciate life. To listen to the world around. But these were things that were, at least some of the time, part of my life as a child. These sights and sounds are a reminder for me that this mindful enjoyment of the simplest things is natural to us all.

Journal Prompts for Creativity

Whenever you feel a creative block, turn to your journal

Although I completed The Artist’s Way programme two years ago, I still dip in for journalling prompts. Some of these ideas are adapted from themes Julia Cameron asks you to explore. Here are 15 tried and tested prompts for your journal
 
Encourage and nurture your Inner Artist:
1.       A letter to your encourager, Write to someone who has helped you but has no idea that their words spurred you on

A notebook with pen resting on it, ready to write

2. A letter to your detractors, are there some inner critic voices that have stuck in your head? Tell them! But don’t send the letter.
3.       What is your perfect day, if you no obligations. You may be surprised how simple your needs are but you should definitely write as if money is no object. Then take even a small piece of that dream day and put it in your week.


Make plans for the life you want
4.       If you have a list of goals, review them and write down even small ways you have worked towards them. This can be so encouraging and also remind you to break down those goals into more manageable chunks
5.       List places you love going, this has been a really helpful one with so much staying at home in pandemic times. It will be no surprise that I quickly identified woodland as places I want to go as well as missing the theatre and cafes for writing.
6.       Ask yourself what your dream job looks like. If it doesn’t align with what you do right now, what are the steps you can take


Take Account
7.       The five senses of gratefulness. You should probably write what you are grateful for eveyday, but it is fun to think about each sense and write five things for each that you love having: warm socks, a favourite album -all those things that bring you joy.
8.       Friends you have forgotten. I have been working on a book a lot about friendship and this lead to me listing lots of people who have been my friends for a season and how they have helped me
9.        Write your alternative reality. Are there other lives you could have led. Are there opportunities you didn’t follow? Jobs you didn’t take up? I was supposed to move in with a friend when I took up a place in another city, what could have been?
10.   Write down what you remember about your Grandma or any important relative or friend who has died. This can be emotional but also a heartening way to live, remembering small things about a person that was uniquely theirs is a beautiful way to hold the still.
11.   Take Fierce Medicine. As Ana Forrest advises we should take fierce medicine or practice a death meditation to open us up to what we truly want, keep your journal close and reflect on what the thoughts of your last moments tell you. Then follow this guidance to change your life.


Find Inspiration
12.   List song lyrics stuck in your head. This is a great way to realise what you are focused on. You can even make an inspirational playlist if the songs inspire you.
13.   What books have you read recently? What are their commonalities, its surprising when you realise how you are going through a phase- I have read or listened to lots of classics, need light humour or adventures to listen or read about.
14.   Plan your dream holiday. I took this one to a Pinterest board in the end. Even if it is not for now, it felt good to think we might go on holidays again. Some of the ideas may be far in the future as they are not practical for our family but I felt lighter just taking the trip in my head
15.   Who do you admire and what do you admire about them? This can be interesting one to reflect on particularly if you follow people online but don’t know them. What are the things that you find so inspiring?

I would love to know if these journal ideas work for you. They always help me through a creative block.

Writing to music

Is there a best way to concentrate, I find I need a soundtrack but choosing one is hard.

It seems like a simple thing, to set up a soundtrack and be whisked away somewhere else. Particularly while I am working with distractions in the background. But when I am more mindful, it is amazing to see how much of a distraction my music can be. Within beats of a song, my mood shifts and I have been transported elsewhere. Listening to music I find my mind has wandered to so many places

Paying attention more, I notice that the boy band song sweeps over me with an irritation. It’s only as I explore the emotion, I realise that I have been harbouring resentment from 20 years ago. I was invited, then uninvited to a concert by some mean girls at school. This has left me finding this particularly saccharine pop extra unpalatable. I had forgotten this slight and I suspect that the truth was there was no room in the car. Or I had no-one to take me or we didn’t have money in time for the tickets. All of which are perfectly reasonable reasons that invite was rescinded, but still a bittersweet taste. I didn’t like them then, still don’t, their pop a little too dull for even my abysmal tastes, but a hurt unrested.

I will be trying to complete the housework with a playlist and wonder why I suddenly feel despondent, only to realise the song I am listening to is morose. There was a particular time of day when I was working at the shop where I would slow in my tidying jobs, down-hearted at the continuous tasks of straightening, round and round the store. It took me nearly a year to recognise that my blood sugar was dipping and my mood was brought down by the repetitive strains of “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods?” Something about Taylor Swift’s pleas tugged at my emotions that I would be effected at roughly the same time each day.

(Not me!)

So what instead can I do to listen to music and write. Well, one strategy is to listen to music in another language, Jennifer Lopez’ Spanish albums or I listen to “Coffee and Chill” playlists on Spotofy. Weirdly I still find the hypnotic pull of a Morcheeba album. This was the album that I studied with through A’Levels with and I wonder if my brain has remember what it was like to work really hard with that on in the background.

Do you find music too much of a distraction to work? I wish my busy brain would work in silence but for me I find that is the most distracting thing of all. Will someone please fix that tap…

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.

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.

Do you think perfectionism holds you back?