Tripping up

Things go wrong in life sometimes just to remind you to find the humour

Today I walked in the woods. This is a common occurrence, the setting of my work-in-progress is wooded so I get to call it a research trip. Though I haven’t actually worked on it or made progress for quite sometime, getting out in nature was calling to me. So in the interest of research, -or just indulging my passion for the best season, Autumn– I have been out and about amongst the trees again.

I took a shot of a fairy door, the oaks twisted me around so I got a little lost and there were acorn galore to crunch on..so far, so perfect. And then, the puddles starting to seep through my trainers, I decided to make my way back another way. Winding through soggy earth to spot footholds I made it back to the main path. But my way was not clear, the path was flooded but I couldn’t face going back on myself. Instead I performed a spectacular leap across the path in a bid to jump over a pond-like puddle. Rather than fly effortlessly to the other side, I landed in it, cracking my knee and getting water all the way up my leg. All the way. I might as well walked back along the river.

The worst thing about falling over as an adult is you are not supposed to cry but laugh it off. Alone,there was noone to pull me up, noone to hear me gamely laugh along. Actually, that may be the best thing today. Looking around, I had got away with it. Not a soul to see my fall or more importantly how pathetic my leap had been. I managed an awkward limp along until I established my legs were working alright. I got back mainly unseen in very muddy clothes, stripped off at the door and found a dramatic scraped knee but little else to show.

But you have got to laugh. And I did at myself for being a clutz. And also because I think scraped knees are supposed to be something that happens to children and if I hadn’t been taking pleasure in nature for the sake of it, this wouldn’t have happened to me. I remember someone who read a scene about my main character said to me “I think she’s quite witty.” A compliment, for sure. But also because seeing adults doing childlike things there has to be some comedy there.

When I do something ridiculous (which happens more than it should) I think I can “use this” in my work. Not necessarily to write comedy, but because if life isn’t tripping your characters up then what are they even doing in the woods in the first place?

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?

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?

How to organise a messy life

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).

How has your week been?