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BEING HUMAN

the fire to stay human and the hope to stay alive

The “so how’s the book going” series: #3 finding my writing practice

I’m posting this a bit later than I intended because last week was taken up by one of my kids needing some emergency dental work. But I’m showing up now anyway for the sake of continuity.

For the entire month of May I managed to write almost daily for the first time in ages. This is a big deal for me because it means I have figured out a writing practice that works for me at this point in time. I find it hard to keep up with the flow of life and had slipped out of the practice. It is a big deal for you guys because it means the magic of your attention is working. At least, that is what I choose to believe.

It was not book writing but it was article writing on a topic I’ve wanted to explain to myself for a really long time. The original note to self about this sat in my Evernote folder since December 2015 under the title “unpaid work infographic”.

Even though the actual infographic turned out to be a shonky looking scribble I did by hand, the rest of what I had to say ballooned out to 6000 words which I didn’t quite mean to do but I wasn’t sure I could edit any further without losing the point of what I had to say.

Besides, I like reading long form articles and have pretty much resigned myself to producing long form articles even though the internet doesn’t like that very much. And this one felt like a manifesto for me to live, or the beginnings of one. Maybe the other things I have to say won’t be quite so wordy, it was feeling pretty unwieldy by the end of the process, or maybe I’ll just get better at expressing myself if I keep on trying.

In any case it was good to clear the channel of that thought. The post is here if you want to read about the value of unpaid domestic work and what I think needs to be done about it. I posted it on Medium as well as my own website because I love the look of Medium and there might be people there who want to read my stuff.

Now that my article/manifesto exists I find it somehow easier to remember to advocate for my own time and my writing. There has just always been something magic for me in putting words to paper, it really crystallises things for me. Even more so, when I’m trying to make it make sense for other people too.

It reminds me of the reality (that women still do the majority of the work at home even when they work out of the home too), the world I’d rather live in (one where assuming shared responsibility of the housework is natural to everyone) and the ways I can begin building that world in my own home (by actively working against the ways I’ve learnt to just do everything myself).

What was useful about committing myself to completing this article was it gave me a focal point which forced me to figure out a way around distractions. While my job search languished at a standstill with my limp resume doing me no favours, the act of writing the article made me more and more adamant about insisting that everyone pull their weight. So all I was left with was figuring out how to consistently manage my internal distractions and focus on writing.

Finally, finally, through making myself stick with this article I have useful data about the conditions I need, internal and external, to be able to concentrate on writing as though it is my job (one day I hope it will be).

I’ve always known I needed a routine and wasted lots of my life trying to perfect one on paper before actually testing it out. Also, life is always shifting, especially with kids and when you own a business, so whenever I would come up with something I thought could work, something would show up to throw everything off course.

I spent years writing late at night, I’ve tried writing first thing in the morning before anyone woke up, I’ve tried doing little bits at a time and I’ve tried forcing myself to sit for hours trying to produce something. This past month I found out that my very best hours are the morning ones, straight after the kids have left the house.

I made a decision to protect the child-free hours I have as though writing is already my job. This took a bit of brain training but what helped was making a list of everything I need to get done and allocated it to either the morning or the evening hours when I’m with the kids.

I was doing my workout at 9.30 am previously, which meant I was effectively wasting my best hours for mental work, on physical activity. Instead, I switched to an afternoon class which is when I am more or less brain dead anyway and never get anything done. Working out at this time also helps me to be more alert and more relaxed and patient for the evening routine with the kids.

Finally, I employed all sorts of tricks to manage the way my mind would wander even if the house was completely clean, the door was shut to my husband working in the other room, the kids were in school and I was at my most mentally alert. What I learnt was that every day, resistance shows up in a different form, so I needed different strategies depending on the day.

Some days it was enough to just be ready to write. Other days I needed apps to block the internet. Quite often it helped to use a timer and write to the clock. I’d also switch between hand writing and typing depending on whether I was expressing myself or fleshing out an idea. And some days, no matter what I did I would end up with 17 tabs open and those were the days that taking a nap or getting out of the house was all I could do.

The main thing that was different this month though, was that every single day I showed up and found a way. Along the ways I found, I took notes about what worked for safe keeping. What I also realised is that the more I write, the more I can write. Which seems weird. But it was how it worked for me. Writing out my thoughts alongside writing something to share seems to help everything move easier.

After getting through the cycle of writing a thing, putting it out there and dealing with the internal freak out of having exposed myself, I gave myself a couple of days to just relax and do other things. Distraction, fear, resistance are nifty creatures however and the couple of days turned into a whole week. Then we had the whole dental emergency last week too which distracted me.

So right now I am here to re-instate the cycle and start all over again. What I remember from the last month’s efforts was reassuring. It showed me that as hard as it is to start a new habit, it really does become easier to do than not do after a few days of consistent effort. But the opposite is also true: not doing it so easily becomes a habit too.

The next time I publish something I will try going straight onto the next thing rather than having a break so that distraction can’t get a foot in.

The other thing I want to do is to use the past month of daily writing as a template for the book writing too. There is no reason why I can’t be writing daily on some shorter piece and then also having a daily book session as well. It’s just fear and resistance and floppy executive functions. I know this is obvious, but on the ground, with all the distractions and an uncooperative human body and brain, it can seem impossible. 

That’s what these updates are for. For me to talk through why I’m not doing the thing I said I want to do and to re-adjust and keep my eye on the prize. Here’s hoping that the next book update is one that is actually about the book.

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