The Deadline of Forty

How I live without regret (most of the time)

I saw a post today on another writer’s instagram to the John Lennon quote “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans”. She felt filled with regrets for time lost, when she wasn’t creating. As my child grows up, I get older I feel this existential dread often and hauntingly. Life is what happens when we are busy planning other novels and dreaming of our name in the book shop.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans

John Lennon

But also no regrets. We come now to the work, enriched by these full and busy challenging lives. Life is also what we make of it and our ability to reflect on the life that actually happened. I remember working alongside a number of students, listening to how they were planning their futures and laughing, not unkindly. Not a single day I have ever planned has gone exactly as I thought and yet in youth I was obsessed with the idea that I ought to know what was next. That is not to dismiss goals or even dreams but just to assert that they’re also to be expected to go off course. Constantly.

It is both niave and beautiful to believe in plans. To believe that there are not a million fracturing moments in each day that shifts and restructures the life that happens. But enough of the philosophy. How I see it is that for me my books, just as my life, are constantly being derailed. The life train hops track quite often and the final destination is nowhere expected. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so accutely if I had reached the infamy of a Beatle but given the Beatle we are talking of, we can assume no-one can predict the ending. No-one protests peacefully for a living expects this violent end. No-one who grew from working class roots assumes they’ll one day offer and reject a Knighthood.

But life is also in the small things. One of the quotes that I come back to for my writing is “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Chekov is interested in how we experience life, the mundane details of things are so much more evocative of true experience as well as of course avoiding exposition in our writing. If you don’t believe the the unplanned, novel will ever happen well you might be right. But you just try and write a character exactly as you intended and like any other person, you will find they have their own ideas and take you a different way.

As I tackle the final the furlough towards forty, I am inevitably reevaluating what I have achieved. But over the years much has happened to redefine success. At some point I may have thought it was a certain job or certain financial position. At other times I have of course wished to be published. And this year, as I recover from fatigue, I reframed it to mean working hard on looking after myself. How we define ourselves is often the work of an artist . From our unique perspective, we can also reflect on everything around ourselves. But not plan nor regret what has gone off course. Because the song John Lennon is singing is really a lullaby to soothe us. We do not have control of life. And it’s easier to learn that as soon as possible.

What gets in the way?

It’s hard to lead a creative life but here are ways I have found that help

I have been writing this blog for a few years and I thought it was time to reflect on how I help myself achieve my goals. So what is it that gets in the way of your writing? Because I have the answer for that. No more TEARS (Time, Energy, Artistry, Reading, Some Other Things) What do you not have enough of…?

TIME

It’s no joke not having enough time. I have explored on a number of occassions the way I schedule in small amounts of time to write. It is miniscule sometimes but it’s all chipping away towards the final goal: write the darn book!

I believe you can always do a little something towards your project.

And the best way to get some time to work is planning your time however messy life gets. And I use a Sunday reset to ready myself to take advantage of any slot of time that pops up in the week.

ENERGY

This is a big issue for me. I have a fatigue condition as well as lacking sleep from looking after my child. I don’t know why children are such morning people. I suspect the energy levels my child has is the real rate we are all supposed to have but for many reasons it gets stolen away as we grow up. Maybe by the fairies? Anyway if you struggle with energy start here:

Making the most of your higher energy moments by being just a little creative. Short creative activities can help you be more mindful, and also very calming. I also have to create on little sleep quite often and taking time for simple things like music, walks and meditation can have a surprising impact on your energy and your creativity.

ARTISTRY

I will recommend to everyone that you use The Artist’s Way programme if you haven’t come across Julia Cameron’s book, I have a series of posts about using the programme and how it helped. Here are some of the key things that have come part of my life:

You could try the Mum version of morning pages in my Imperfect Guide Each morning you write three pages of rubbish in your journal, get it all out and so when you do start your art, you’re ready!

I also use my journal in a number of ways and here I suggest some ways to use your journal to get more creative.

Finally, Cameron suggests you take two hours every week for an Artist Date. As much I would love to have more time at the theatre or at museums, I have a guide for some cheap and easy dates to take to inspire you. Whether it’s a wander around a market or taking photos of trees, I take weekly time out to explore a bit and feed my creativity.

READING

As a Mum, I have to work hard to get time to read . The biggest revelation in the last few years has been audiobooks. Having come to terms that audiobooks is actually real reading, I have actually managed to read some classics that I may have blanched at before because of their size and the concentration levels needed to track the cast! I loved Anna Karenina and Vanity Fayre and I am so grateful that, despite my fatigue condition, I have listened to these even when I haven’t been able to do much else.

SOME OTHER THINGS

I am a carer, under stress and have a fatigue condition. Life gets in the way. But I am always doing something, working slowly to chip away at my projects. The sites tag line is: if not now, when? So whatever I can do towards my goal helps. I suggest using vision boards and found an easier way to keep the vision updated by doing it online. I use Instagram and Pinterest to be creative and find ways to explore the world even if I don’t often go further afield, I always feel inspired in a new place.

How do you overcome your personal obstacles to be creative?

The Sunday Reset

Transform your week with a reset

I have dreaded Sundays. They were the day I rushed around tidying, did the food shop and panicked about all the things in the week ahead. But having a fatigue condition has changed my attitude. I cannot do all-the-things and I am better for it. Having a Sunday reset routine helps prepare me for the week without rushing around. And I think it can help everyone to pace their life, work, maybe even increase productivity. Here’s how I try to reset:

Sunday Morning

Start as you mean to go on. If there is ever a time to envoke your morning routine, I think Sunday is the day you have a chance of getting it right. Now I always have a vision of my perfect morning : mediation, morning pages, self-care. This is the point to remind you you can do things but do them imperfectly. So as soon as I can, I do a meditation. Often I use short guided meditations like Mindful in Minutes podcast. And I have a few options to help if you are a fidgety meditator like me!

After meditating I use my journalling practice. Often during the week my Morning Pages happen at another time of day or with distractions as my guide explains. Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way that you write it all out in three pages each morning to help your inner artist. Sunday is a great time to reset the habit. So each Sunday I try and do my pages as it is intended as there is a chance for me to leave my son to tv without the usual challenges of getting him ready for school.

Skincare Sunday

Then is time for self-care. Although it may be too tiring to always shower I can take my time over skincare actually doing all the steps: cleanse, polish, cleanse, serum, serum, face roll, wait, moisturise. I love my jade roller and I have been influenced into a number of wellness products which may or may not work! But Sunday is a great time to use all these products taking time over the whole routine. I still don’t understand how people make it to twelve steps but there is something that feels extra indulgent doing my seven step routine.

Tidy up

To help with fatigue, I now divide all my cleaning tasks on to different days of the week and frankly at times only do the bare minimum. One task that has become an essential on a Sunday is tidying up the table. In our house this means a place to eat a family meal and play games together after dinner. It is also a place to work. I wrote recently about setting myself up to succeed by making space to write. Whether it is working on my novel or on my volunteer role, having a space that I tuck myself into to get on with work is motivating. Not only that, clearing you work area is a quick reminder to yourself what you wish to achieve in the week ahead.

Check the Calendar

We often try and coordinate diaries for the week ahead and this can help with being more productive, planning meals ahead for example. But it is also an opportunity for me to work out what I can and cannot do on my work-in-progress. So this week just gone was Easter holidays with my son. We even managed a few outings which is no mean feat with my current energy levels. So realistically I did not plan to read or write. That is a bit sad for me because these are my two favourite things. However, by planning ahead my pacing, I can feel proud of what I have achieved.

Next week we are away and with family so again I will be busier. I have got the benefit though of fewer jobs to do at home and childcare so my trusty notebook will travel with us. Often a new place can provide inspiration and I hope if nothing else I can note snippets of stories whilst we are out and about.

Do you find a routine helps you be more creative? In some ways it feels counterintuitive not to be spontaneous and free in making art but, at least for now, I need these regular resets.

Make Progress, not Perfection

As I round up the month, I consider the need to keep moving forward

There is a special sort of acceptance that comes with being a slow writer. Whilst productivity hackers will tell me I do have time to write, I will always say do just a little. But as I round up this month’s work, I have to contend with the reality of feelings of failure that I haven’t got that far. As I wrote this time last month I am developing an idea around how the antagonist meets and becomes closer to my protagonist. I have written a further scene with this in mind. But mainly I took myself to a cafe to do some thinking (drank coffee.)

I don’t think anyone noticed I was trying to take a selfie of my thinking!

I do think there is a place for driving your ambition, so it is hard not to beat myself up when I have wasted that quiet time I had drinking coffee and not writing. But I also need lots of quiet time and breaks to manage my life with chronic illness and as a SEND parent. But then again I shouldn’t even provide these excuses. Brene Brown explains that our perfectionism is a way of avoiding judgement and shame. So when I feel this sense of shame for not working harder, I have to remind my inner perfectionist I am making progress.

So with that confession out the way, I will go forward with a better mindset that says make progress, not perfection. Some things I did achieve: I started to share my writing prompts on the MumWriteNow instagram and managed a thirty-minute sprint. The hashtag is writerightnow if you want to join this Saturday. I also started publishing a fortnightly newsletter for the charity I volunteer for. So this month has included some writing even if it is not the perfect progress I would have liked.

And I do believe that without realising perfectionism was holding me back, this, I would have never put pen to paper. Perfectionism tells you: you left it too late, you can’t write that, you’re not unique, no-one wants to read this. I have always felt inadequate in my writing skills but secretly I wanted to write. Over the last ten years I have worked on ideas and progressed to the point where I do not feel worried or ashamed to saying I am working on a work-in-progress. Including myself

Writing Prompts for New Ideas

Do you use Youtube to help you generate new ideas: here’s an example of what you can do…

I recently watched this brilliant youtuber Abbie Emmons, she has loads of advice for writers and I tried her video working through a writing exercise to
generate ideas. I had a go at developing some new ideas this way and I wanted to provide a step-by-step that helped me develop this idea into a new short story.


The advice in the video asks you to write down your favourite book, the genre, themes and take the plot of a key scene that you love. You do this with a few of your favourites and end up with a load of things you can mix and match. I choose Pride and Prejudice but set it in a modern-day knowing fiction, where
we would laugh at Darcy’s snobbery even more.


To create my new character, she needs Elizabeth Bennet’s sassiness but the rudeness of a blunt modern-day heroine; I picked Eleanor Shellstrop from the amazing The Good Place, a show in which her unpleasantness is central to the character being placed in The Good Place by mistake. In Pride and Prejudice we hear mainly from the indefatigable narrator; Jane Austen’s voice is afterall the powerhouse of her fiction. But this is the twenty-first century so Liza, my new hero, speaks in first person and gets to react and describe her Darcy from her perspective.


I found this mixing of characters a fun way of forming an idea in my head, but I also needed a setting in which they would meet. I had been reading about village life, so they were suddenly at a cricket club. I
liked the fact that this idea sparked. I would not recommend forcing yourself to stick to something to make it a perfect mix and match between two books. It is less derivative for a start to let the ideas form,
but also I don’t think the idea is to create a new Romeo and Juliet but rather that the only thing new in the world is your voice: every story has been told already, but not by you.

the only thing new in the world is your voice: every story has been told already, but not by you.


Finally, to spark off the story, I thought about how the antagonist would get her alone to confess his love. This time we would not expect a proposal but he would be critical and rude of her manners and
how much she drinks, how much she, like Eleanor Shellstrop, loves to party. Unlike in Pride and Prejudice where she has been isolated by her circumstances of being trapped at the Collins’s house. Her
friend Charlotte would not be preoccupied with paying lip service to a formidable aristocrat, instead she would be there speaking up for her friend and in my story she comes to interrupt the fractious exchange.


By the time I had worked through the dynamics of the three people and their motivations in the scene, I felt like I had heightened the tension. Darcy may flinch at being called ungentlemanly, but this character would go away cowering under the wrath of the women he had crossed.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think this exercise produced something better than Pride and Prejudice or The Good Place. I am not sure if the piece I wrote will even go anywhere, but it was a interesting way to find a new way in to writing. If you are feeling a bit stuck this would be a great way to get started again.

Let me know any channels you follow, here is the amazing Youtuber I enjoyed.