The shipping work

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Image: Many Boats by Petr Kratochvil

I’ve received feedback today on three manuscripts: a picture book, a young adult book and a historical fiction. It’s all been helpful (so helpful) but is a reminder that the work is not yet done. It feels a little bleak that I may have started the shipping work too early.

At times like these, I am set adrift in a bay of unanchored boats all clinking into each other. The noise of them rattling against each other unnerves me as I try to determine which needs my attention.

The new and shiny but unfinished one?

The one that has been repaired, stripped, repainted and reconstructed so many times it is hard to see what it is anymore? The Frankenstein story.

The one I can still smell the wet paint and wonder if there are leaks?

Or the small one that I built in a frenzy and it came out whole but I have now realised it has a leak or two or three?

This is all part of the shipping work of writing. I focus back on the new one. My energy fits this best at the moment. I tie the others down, set their anchors and let them know I’ll be back to inspect them soon.

Easy does it

Buds forming on the plants heralding spring

It’s nearly spring. A time for renewal. A time to step outside. The days are getting longer and the sun peeks out a little more but the crisp mornings remind us that it’s not spring, yet.

I’m away, again and finally, with my writing gang at the place that restores me with the women who bolster me, who say ‘you’ve got this’, who cheer me on. We’re all at different stages in our writing and we’ve all squirreled away into our rooms. We’re tapping on keyboards, dipping into books, scribbling in notebooks, listening to podcasts, running through the forest or napping. All of this is creative work. Even the naps.

I’m working on a new thing. It’s hard. I’ve spent so long in my last one, six years, that it’s hard to be working on something new. The last one is still so fresh in my mind. I have been spending so much time lately pitching it, submitting it. I’ve been in my protagonists’ minds for so long.

This new one feels precarious, fragile, that if I speak about it too much it might dissolve or blow away. I started working on it some time back but it is a formless thing. I have words dumped into notebooks, words dumped into a document called Draft 0. I know what it will feel like. I’ve even said it aloud to others: it’s something like The Office meets a school library meets Bridget Jones. People smile and say that sounds great. Which it does, but I haven’t written it yet. I have about 20,000 words in the document, many of which are the beginnings of scenes, character development exercises or various iterations of the plot.

When I arrived at our writing retreat, I noted down my intentions for my time away. They were huge, as usual. I have a long history of setting myself huge to-do lists that can be unreasonable. They included: morning pages every day (followers of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way will know this is an important part of creativity), move manuscript forward, reflect on feedback and take notes on what could be better (manuscript I’m trying to get published), go with an ‘easy does it approach’ and leave the drama at the door, be observational like Helen Garner is in her notebooks, read, catch up on admin of writing work, move forward on the work side of my life.

I imagined I could do it all: the editing, writing, preparing for future work, thinking about the idea of creative work, walking, reading and reflecting.

By the end of the first morning, I had to revisit the list and recognise that what was most important during a time in my creative and uninterrupted bubble, was to do the planning work that would enable me to move the manuscript forward when I am back at home grabbing the moments to write in between work and life.

The path through the forest where I have run during breaks

I have long been a pantser* and this has worked well to get words down that feel hot and urgent, but having now completed two manuscripts, I know that this also means there will be many words that won’t make the cut because they come from some tangent that the story doesn’t need. So, I decided I will tackle this new one with a more analytical approach that will hopefully allow me to move through the drafts a little faster.

I brought The Novel Project by Graeme Simsion with me and am working my way though it. It’s super useful. As I have already done so much of the thinking/brainstorming of the story and have written a few versions of the plot, I have moved pretty quickly to getting the beats down. Graeme suggests that a novel needs about 120 beats.

When I started writing down the beats this morning, I was confident that this wouldn’t take much time…my mind has been playing with this idea for a little while now. But it’s not as easy as I initially thought. I’m halfway, at the midpoint of the story. I have a skeleton of what happens from here, but I need to think about the beats to get the story there. So, it’s time for a nap. Time to have another cup of tea. Time for a walk. All of these things help. Creativity takes time and effort.

I’m reminded when I wake from my nap this afternoon and my mind makes a dramatic plunge at me about the work I need to do, that I’m choosing to write this story. That I need to take an ‘easy does it’ approach, as Julia Cameron counsels in her book Finding Water, that there is no need to be dramatic about it. So, easy does it now.

*A pantser is someone who writes without a plan trusting their instinct with the story. The panster most often needs to restructure their story a number of times and spend a lot of time in the redrafting stage. The opposite of this is a plotter who spends a big chunk of time at the front end of the writing process.

And breathe…

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

Today is Lockdown 6, Day 1. Where I live, we have had a huge number of days over the last eighteen months in some form of lockdown. In Victoria, we have only had a week of some form of freedom. As I left work yesterday, a few friends who are teachers popped by my desk to say goodbye and wish me luck with this snap lockdown. We had all reflected on the last one and how difficult Lockdown 5 had felt for us. With each of them, we talked about how we could tackle this one differently so that it didn’t wipe us out again. It has made me think about some of the things that made the last one feel so hard for me. I was in the waiting stage with my manuscript as I had sent it off for an assessment and that would have most likely been an anxious period for me anyway. I didn’t do any walks or walk-and-coffee catchups with mates. I didn’t go out into nature and breathe. I was anxiously trying to sort out temporary accommodation for our family and for one of my sons. These are all things I can tackle differently this time. Each lockdown has had its own personality.

As I roll into this one, I am in the throes of editing my manuscript. I have received my feedback from the manuscript assessor and it was incredibly useful. I feel more confident with the edits now. She is the first person to have read my story and it was a terrifying few weeks wondering if she would come back with heavy feedback on why it wasn’t working. Instead, I had the wonderful moment of hearing someone gushingly read back some of my words to me. The work that needs to be done will strengthen the story. I can see this already. So, this time around, I’m focussed and in a more positive mindset with my creative side.

This morning as I scrolled on Instagram, I came across this post below from Chris Cheers Psychology and it resonated well.

A snapshot of an instagram post that reads: To complete the stress cycle try: 
- slow deep breathing (5 deep breaths, or try an app)
- exercise (what ever that looks like for you)
- hugs (hold for 20 seconds, pets count)
- have a big cry or a big laugh
- engage in a creative activity.
Try one and notice the change in your body.
@chrischeerspsychology https://www.instagram.com/p/CSL_YC4Hw_r/

I stopped scrolling and took five long slow deep breaths. It does help. I have always found focussing on my breath helps. I remember after my mum and my eldest was incredibly unwell I heard someone say that if you are breathing, there is more right than wrong. Ever since then, I have come back to that in dire times. Breathe. Focus on the breath. Count the breath. Feel the breath fill you up.

My workplace has started some wellbeing groups and the one that I am in is yoga and meditation. The groups have been running for about four weeks now but I have only done one meditation in that time. I haven’t been to the gym, I have done any online yoga, I’ve barely done my exercises that are essential for my knee. It is all beginning to show. My knee has started to stiffen and swell. My shoulder is sore. I know I could probably get into the physio under essential care, but I know it really starts with me. This time around, I have recommenced my exercising. I started with a walk this morning before my writing. When I finish writing this, I’m going to do my knee and shoulder exercises. Later today I’m doing a walk and coffee with one of my friends. I know it helps but I think I’m fairly slack with these things. So, I’m scheduling it so that it has to happen. I made a plan with one of my teacher mates to meet for an afternoon walk along the way. As I write up my exercise schedule, I’m including Yoga with Adrienne sessions, walks with mates, knee and shoulder exercises, and bike rides by the river. Last year, they were like magical moments for me as I watched the cormorants warm their wings in the morning sun, the pelicans perched waiting for a fish to pass them by, the ducks and their ducklings gliding across the water. Exercise not only is good for the body, it’s good for the mind.

I’m lucky enough to live with three others and a dog. At least three of those love hugging so a hug is never too far away if I need one. Great hugs are memorable, and even more so since COVID come into everyone’s focus. I hope you have someone or a pet you can hug and receive a hug from.

Luckily, I drove to work yesterday as I needed to bring a few more things home that usual so that I could work from home next week. As I drove home, the tears came with big sobs. The weight of it all hit me. By the time I got home, I was okay. I’m thankful for the things I managed to squeeze in between Lockdown 5 and Lockdown 6. My hubby and drove up to see our son who has his placements in Bendigo this semester. The sun shone, we had lunch and walked around, had a cup of tea and drove home. It was a treat to get out of town for the day and to see him. My Improv showcase was on Sunday and it was huge burst of fun and laughter. A good friend and comedian came along to support me and it was so good to catch up with her and my classmates afterwards over beers, chips and wine. Laughter and tears. All the emotions that help release the tensions.

I have more creative projects than I have time for but this is how I like it. I could probably stay in lockdown forever and never finish them all but I’d be really socially deprived and probably be going out of my mind. I’ve been working on a chunky knit jumper that is so quick and fun to make so I’ll probably finish this tonight. My other knitting projects include a jumper for my husband, a summer cotton jumper for me and a baby blanket. I’m also still enjoying playing with illustration as I’d love to illustrate my picture books one day.

My friends from work are on my mind this morning as they will be delivering lessons to students remotely again. They have a tough gig. I’m thinking about how to support them in this, how to lift them from this a little. In the end, I think it will be the small things: staying in touch with them, coordinating a work from work day, sharing a moment of gratitude.

Take care, my friends. These are tough times for many, some experiencing tougher times than others. Tread gently, keep safe, get vaccinated and be kind to yourself and others.

How to survive uncertain times (or how to stop being grumpy)

This week I’ve been tired and grumpy. It feels as though there are too many things requiring my attention and not enough things filling my cup back up. I’m running on empty and I seem to have forgotten how to replenish my energy. I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling like this at the moment. I’m in Melbourne, where we are deep into our fifth lockdown for COVID, and while I’m thankful I live in a state where locking down early means that we can avoid some of the catastrophic situations that are being seen around the world or in other states, I’m tired. Is it just the current situation that is making me tired or is it the increased medication for my migraines?

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I have a job that isn’t shrouded with uncertainty and my family are safe. I know many others who are struggling deeply. What I’m feeling is something that is much harder to put my finger on. I’ve been going into my workplace (school library) to work on cleaning up the library collection and supervise any students who need to come to school to study and by the time I get home, I have nothing left to give. Is it the silence of my workplace that is disconcerting?

Last year when Melbourne was in that really long lockdown, I managed okay. I woke at my usual time, wrote, went for a ride, worked, did my yoga then congregated with the other two in my household for dinner. It was okay. We had a quiet rhythm that breathed gently on us as we danced around each other. This time it doesn’t feel so smooth.

When I come home from work now, I flop on the couch with nothing left in me. My body aches, my mind aches. It’s as though everything is too much. I’m juggling my health, work, writing life, renovation plans and emails, housing for one son, housing for ourselves and I’m at the point where I’m snapping at the people I love.

Maybe I run out of spoons (What is the Spoon Theory). I’ve resisted calling myself a Spoonie as I often think that I don’t have it too bad, but my reality is that I do have chronic health conditions that impact my every day life and how I interact with the world even if I don’t look or sound sick. I forget that some others don’t have to navigate life with a filter to protect their health, that there are things they can do that I just can’t, that external things can send my body into a spin.

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

So, how do I pull myself from the fug I’m in and fill up my cup again?

Routine

Stick to routine. It worked last time, it will work again. Keep up the writing, exercise and work. Add in self care and laughter.

Self Care

I’m not doing any. I remember my psychologist talking to me about this years ago. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me for many reasons. I had to come up with a bunch of things that looked like self care, then I had to make sure I was doing at least one each day. I’m not doing any at the moment and it shows in my body aches, my migraines, my tiredness and my lack of positivity. So, time for a list of things that I can do each day to release the pressure. Things like: a bath, day naps. I can’t see the phsyio who would help iron out the pain in my back and neck, but I can do my exercises.

Exercise

We all know it helps but when it’s cold and you have to force it to happen, it’s hard. I have been walking and riding to work, but I suspect it’s not enough for times like these. Usually, I go to the gym a few times a week, but I haven’t replaced that with anything for the last week. Today, I’m going to do my exercises for my knee rehab and my shoulder and neck injury. I’m also going to do a yoga session. I know I’ll feel better afterwards.

Laughter

Time to watch some comedy. I miss my improv classes that were guaranteed to make me laugh for most of the three hours. I need an injection of laughter. Any suggestions are welcome.

How are you coping? Are you tired and grumpy like me? Has this latest wave of COVID that’s rippling through the country sent you into a hermit-style spin? What are your strategies for surviving? Please tell me that it’s not only me who has hit a flat and grumpy state.