I like finding out which colour Pantone has picked as the one that best represents our collective mood for the year ahead. For 2018 they’ve gone with Ultra Violet, chosen as a colour of reflection and innovation. It makes sense – after the political events of 2016 and their fallout in 2017 we all need a bit of mental space to regroup and find new ways to take positive action.
On a more personal level, the last year has amplified and consolidated a lot of things I’ve learned about myself as a writer that will affect how I do things next year. Something clicked for me earlier this month when my daughter was given a short solo in her school play. She loves to sing but worried that she wouldn’t be able to control her voice and it would ‘come out wrong’. And then people would judge her. I don’t know about singing but I know about public speaking, so I gave her some advice about posture and practice and mental attitude, but beyond that all I felt I could do was reassure her that everything would be fine. Then I thought, perhaps there was some more practical advice to be had.
I’ve been lucky enough to make contact on twitter this year with Alison Moyet, who is just a joy, and if you haven’t read them I really do recommend her Other tour blogs which are not only well written, but bursting with honesty and good humour and resolute no-shit-taking. So, I asked Alison if she had any advice for Bea. Alison suggested warming up thoroughly and some ways to do that, because, she said, “Fear closes the throat”. Long story short, Bea took her advice and it all went well, but this idea that fear can stop our bodies doing what we’d like them to do resonated with me.
— Alison Moyet (@AlisonMoyet) December 6, 2017
Of course there are clear parallels with writing. Writers are also sometimes afraid – I am sometimes afraid – afraid that the words won’t come out right, or that they will not be judged to be good enough, or that even if they are good enough they will still be rejected. Fear that the time I give to this would have been better spent giving more time to the people in my life. Fear that some idiot might have started a nuclear war before I even finish the next chapter. And fear can also shut down our writing ‘muscle’, so what can we do to make our writing respond to our will?
Here are a few things I’ve learned that help me:
Avoiding reading or discussing the news in the morning. Starting the day by thinking about the state of the world is the best way to muddle my mood and my mind, and a constant drip feed of outrage and incredulity cripples my productivity. Half an hour of news in the evening is enough. So if this means asking my husband to keep our discussion on news to a certain time of day, or not logging onto Twitter, that’s what it takes.
Not wringing the pleasure out of writing. Many articles on writing say you should write every day without fail, rain or shine. While it’s true that forming a habit is helpful, if you’ve got a miserable cold and all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket and read a book, not write 1000 words, then I think that’s what you should do. Don’t let writing become something you begrudge doing.
Writing exercises or prompts. If I can’t get started on the thing I’m trying to write, coming at it sideways as a warm up often helps. Sarah Salway posts some great prompts, or you could try writing small stones – tiny vignettes of something everyday that you observe closely.
Switching from screen to paper and pencil. It changes the dynamic and wakes up a different part of the brain.
Dedicated writing time. This is about knowing for how long I can go undisturbed and having strategies to manage that. 30 minutes of uninterrupted writing is usually possible (unless you have a baby, when sometimes it just isn’t). If someone is in the house (kids, partners, builders) it means explaining that I can’t be disturbed for the next half an hour unless someone or something is on fire. If no one else is home then I have to make a deal with myself that I won’t answer the phone or the door. It’s doable.
Accepting that routine is not important to me. I’ve tried writing at the same time and in the same place every day. It doesn’t work for me, but when I’ve tried to make it work and failed it felt like the writing had failed. By accepting that having no chance of routine does not mean having no chance to write, I’m already winning.
Being a writer not an author. This means keeping my head clear of publishing stuff when I’m trying to create. Publishing stuff is not writing. Thinking about reviews, sales, rejections, prizes, lists, the dismal state of the market for literary fiction…all of that is author stuff and needs to be dealt with separately.
Gathering people around me who nourish and support my writing, both professionally and personally. This is vital for my energy and enthusiasm and I’ve felt the effects of not doing it enough this year… and then putting that right. I am VERY grateful for all my writing friends and non-writing sympathisers who have given me such a boost this year, and also for my lovely new agent 🙂
Going for a walk. It’s a classic. But walking really does replenish my good and creative thoughts. The bits of the mind that marvel at the shape of a tree, the coldness of the air or the smell of the seasons. 2017 has been the first year we haven’t had a dog since 2002, so going out for a walk has had to be a much more conscious decision.
Of course the things that work for me might not work for you – I’d love to hear what does!
Wishing you all a very positive and creative 2018 xxx