Excuses not to write or create. We’ve all got truckloads.
Don’t waste mental and emotional energy trying to push through or fight with your excuses. Don’t try to rationalise them, either. Don’t take them out, hold them to light, polish and stroke them. And don’t try tossing out your everyday life in the name of your art. (Unless you want to…)
There are quieter, steadier ways to move forward.
I learned this years ago when I was a student nurse. In those days (it was practically Call the Midwife) we didn’t have posh systems like ‘patient allocation.’ We just had one sister, six student nurses and, I think from memory, about 38 patients per ward. You’d come on duty and the first thing you’d do was grab the roster. It was important to see who you were working with—or who you were stuck with. It could make or break your day.
Some nurses were notorious FLAPPERS. The minute they came on duty they’d start wringing their hands, waxing lyrical about how busy they were. Talk, talk, talk. Yada, yada, yada. Even at the ripe old age of nineteen, I knew that sort of behaviour was exhausting and pointless. Better to sit quietly for a moment, look at what had to be done, then get in there and DO IT. FFS! It’s not that hard. One foot in front of the other, one bedpan after another, moving steadily but briskly from one disaster to the next. Amidst the turmoil, we often had a lot of fun. One time, I even recall playing dress-ups during night shift. I got hold of a sister’s veil and, well, let’s just say it was bloody funny…
You see, despite what’s going on around you, despite the demands on your time, you can learn to embrace the necessities, deal with them and keep moving with confidence and good humour. You can learn to create in the cracks— be productive and positive in the squishiest, most hectic spaces.
Here’s three things I do consistently.
1 SET LOW EXPECTATIONS
I never sit down to write a book. I sit down to write 500 words. That’s easy. I can nearly always achieve that. Even if they’re a crappy 500, they’re still better than nothing. And they give me a sense of achievement. And they let me know I’m still in the game. And they stop me feeling sorry for myself or resentful or anxious or fecking PUT UPON! Please hear me when I say, set the bar low. Be content with 500 words. But do it five days a week. Or three days if five overwhelms you. But do it. Set the bar low. Take the pressure off.
NB If you’re writing picture books, aim for 100 words a day. See how that goes…
2 RESPECT THE MOODLIN’ TIME
Understand that during every book, there are times when you should NOT write. These are the planning, doodling, moodling days. These days— or weeks— or months, are essential. This might sound like a ruse. Cleverly disguised procrastination. Or, heaven forbid, a waste of time. God, we hate ‘wasting time’ in our society. Hand me a paper bag, I’m hyperventilating. But dedicated moodlin’ time is not a waste of anything! (See that exclamation mark? Shows how passionate I am.) You must FOCUS ON and PROTECT your daydreaming time. As you move towards a new project, you must carve out regular time to sit quietly with your imagination and take notes. Like the unflappable nurse coming on duty and quietly reading her patient list, take stock before you launch in.
Moreover, you MUST NOT WRITE during this time. You are only permitted to jot. Scribble. Catch ideas, good, bad and totally daft. Dot points. Flights of fancy.
Get out your calendar, sugar! Schedule some damn fine moodlin’ time. Remember, if you don’t schedule it, it won’t get done. You can schedule canteen duty and dentist appointments and hot dog night at the soccer club. You can also schedule half an hour of moodlin’ time three days a week. Or more. Do it and watch how much better you feel— how much more in control.
Once again, breathe.
3 FOUR MINUTE DIARY
On those days with everything cuts up rough, when your life is a total bun fight and you honestly haven’t got a moment to yourself, you can always find time to scribble a four minute diary. Yep. Four minutes. I got this idea from Lynda Barry. Check her out here.
But for now, here’s how it works.
Take an A4 sheet of paper, or a journal page, and make it look like this:
Then set the timer on your phone. Spend two minutes on each column. First column, jot down everything you remember about yesterday. Second column, jot down everything you saw yesterday. Remember, you only have TWO MINUTES for each column.
This exercise will keep you in the game even when you’re feeling defeated.
It will train you to take notice.
It will encourage you write with spontaneity and energy (thus helping develop your voice).
It will ease your resentment.
It will provide a creative reprieve from the demands of tick tock.
It will nourish your inner artist (she doesn’t ask for much, honestly, we’re the ones who think it has to be all or nothing).
It will give you breathing space and symbolise your ongoing commitment.
All that in four minutes?
My pleasure. xo
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