Oh dear! On Wednesday my darling children will again be learning at home. For me this is something of a mixed blessing – on the one hand they’re disappointed that they won’t be at school with their friends and teachers, and I’m sorry that my writing and creating time will be curtailed. But on the other hand, at least when they’re home I know that they are absolutely safe and sound.
In regards to my writing in general, and this blog in particular, it’s time for me to take an indefinite break. I was hopeful when the kids went back to school a few weeks ago things were beginning to return to normal and I’d be able to devote more time to Pieces of String. Clearly, in my part of the world anyway, that’s not the case. Eventually things will settle down, but right now I need to devote the time to my family.
So, there may be the occasional Two Sentence Tuesday but, in the short term, know that there won’t be any new posts. I haven’t dropped off the map, I’m just taking a break. Don’t give up on me. And above all, don’t give up on your own writing endeavours. More than ever, the world needs writers and creators.
I’m excited. This week I’m starting an online workshop with Writers Victoria – Writing Children’s Stories with Jane Godwin. Jane is a prolific Australian author and I’m looking forward to getting her, and the other participants, opinion on my work (and, I’ll admit, a little nervous).
Getting feedback is always a little bit confronting. Writing is so a often a solitary pursuit, but eventually you get to a place where you have to share your work with others. I’m a big believer that art, all art whether it’s in the written work, or visual or performance, is only meaningful when an audience can interact with it.
Sometimes, your audience might not interact with it in the way that you hope. Even so, if you want to grow in any artistic medium, you have to be open to that.
I’d love to know, how do you handle feedback of your work? And, how are you at giving it to others?
No, really. Coz I’ve got to say, I’m on edge. I am scanning the news for information, hanging on the words of politicians and medical specialists and generally wondering, “Do I have this?”
Since March the message I’ve been giving my kids is, “Remember the three Cs – calm, cautious, common sense.” Buuuuuuut, sometimes is hard to stay calm, not spiral into full blown paranoia and not to start hoarding toilet paper and spaghetti sauce. And I think I’m probably not alone.
So, not for the first time and probably not for the last time I’m going to say…
If you’ve reached a stage in your writing career where you submitting your work to publishers you’ve probably noticed that many of them say they welcome or encourage submissions by authors from marginalised communities. Usually it’s only a sentence at the end of the submission instructions. It’s an important sentence.
I am a straight, white, cis woman. While I have experienced racial prejudice I don’t know what it’s like to be judged by the colour of my skin, to not have dolls that look like me, to only see my people represented by stereotypes or in tokenism. I have never had to explain my sexuality to anyone. I’ve never had to argue that my feelings and experiences of my body are real, and that my genitals do not match the person I feel like inside. I’ve never had people from outside of my community take my experiences and, no matter how well intentioned, use them as their own and profit from them.
Publishing is a competitive world. Honestly, getting published is a struggle. But in my mind, letting authors from marginalised groups know that their stories, their experiences and their unique points of view, are not only welcome, they’re desired, is a good thing for everybody. It’s wonderful for readers but it’s also good for writers regardless of their background because it means the playing field is becoming more even, that we are getting closer to equity of opportunity. That if you are a good writer, with a compelling story to tell, regardless of your race or religion or gender or sexuality, there are people out there who want to bring your stories to the world.
And that’s the world I want my children to grow up in.
I am one of those people. One of those people who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, who’s always looking for the thumbs-up or the gold star to tell me I’m on the right track. It’s not that I don’t have internal motivation to follow certain paths, it’s more that I don’t trust that internal pull and therefore look to others to validate that I’m doing the right thing.
This works well when you’re a kid in school because extrinsic motivators are a big part of schooling. It works less well as an adult when so much of life doesn’t have anyone watching over you and telling you you’ve done well or, conversely, you can find just as many people telling you you’re doing wrong as telling you you’re doing right.
For someone like me, that leads to a life lived in doubt and guilt.
Are there really people out there that know what they’re doing? They’re adulting and getting it right? REALLY!?
Are you one of those people. And if so, can you give me some tips?
Struggling to find your creative mojo? You and me, both. There’s something about a daily diet of infection rates and global death tolls (not to mention the kids being home and constantly hungry) that makes it hard to sit down and make up problems for your characters.
So what do you do?
Here’s three things I’m trying right now to reboot my creativity and get back on track.
Try something new
Or, go back to a hobby you’ve let go. I know, I know, you’ve got to get the words on the page, fight the blinking cursor and push through to get the story on the page. Why? Are you working to a deadline? Do you have an agent or publisher demanding to see the finished product? If you do then good on you, but if you don’t then taking some time to do something creative just for the pleasure of it may help you relax, destress and get back in touch with your creative self. So go knit that scarf, decorate that cake or paint that picture. If you need some inspiration Bluprint is offering free lessons until the 9th of April.
Start a new writing project, try a different genre, or form
Do you always write in prose? Try verse. Give in to your angst or your appreciation of the natural world or today’s current events and immortalise it in poetry. Or put your novel on the back burner and give short fiction a try (I’m always open to receiving two-sentence stories to publish here for Two Sentence Tuesday). Or step away from romance for a while and give sci-fi or contemporary or some other genre a try. Rhiza Edge – the young adult imprint of Wombat Books – have just opened their short story competition. Trying something new might land you in an anthology!
Let it go
Do an Elsa and let it go. Not forever. Not even for the next six months. But we are living through an unsettling period of time, so let yourself breathe and let yourself adjust. When things settle down again and the world returns to normal, and sooner or later (probably later, to be fair) it will, your writing will still be there.
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing at the moment? What strategies could we use?
Anxiety for me is not something new. I’ve mentioned before that I have an anxiety and depression disorder, which I control with cognitive behaviour therapy and medication (I love my medication. For me it has made the world of difference). But in circumstances like we’re in now, anxiety is a pretty universal feeling.
Right now, all I want to do is take everyone I love and put us all in a bubble where nothing can get to us. Possibly a little unrealistic. I said to my (long suffering) husband last night, “We just need to take care of ourselves, and our little boys…and mum and dad, and your mum. And my brothers and sister and their partners. And T1. And your sisters and their families. And Adrienne. And then we’ll be OK.” And he laughed. Because what can you say to that?
Swimming in this anxiety, let’s take a breath. Let’s all try to be our own therapist. You feel anxious, but what are the thoughts that are driving that anxiety. Are those thoughts justified? If so, can you fix the problem right now? If not, let it float for a while. If you can, go do it.
I feel anxious. I’m worried about my children getting sick. Is this justified. Yes and no. Yes, because they have a compromised immune system. No, because children are less likely to develop Covid-19, even if they do contract the virus. So what can I do? I can keep them in isolation for the time being.
I still feel anxious. But, honestly, less so.
And remember, you are not alone. We are all feeling the same way. So try to be calm, be courteous, be compassionate and have courage.
In one of his books Terry Pratchett says a curse for your enemies is ‘May you live in interesting times’. I’m currently away from my beloved bookcase (and my computer) so I can’t tell you which book right now, but we are certainly living in interesting times right now.
In the words of another amazing author, Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC.
Right now, panic is our enemy and common sense and compassion are our friends. In Australia right now fear and panic buying has put everyone in a more tenuous position. Panic, not Covid-19, will be our undoing.
Here are three things that I’m trying to keep top of mind in these ‘interesting times’. Perhaps they can be of use to you.
This is not unprecedented. Within my lifetime there has been zika, swine flu and bird flu. In history there has been Spanish flu and, yes, bubonic plague. We are a long way off painting red Xs on our doors.
Compassion and generousity will not only help others, it will make you feel better. At this stage those in the know are saying that it is the elderly and immune-compromised people who are most at risk. The rest of us may get ill, but we’ll most likely be fine. With that in mind, as you scour the near empty shelves for dinner, remember your elderly neighbour or your friend who’s child has astmah or the homeless person on the corner, and ask if there is anything you can get them, so they can avoid going out and meeting with risk.
You are in control. Of how you think, what you say and how you behave. Fear can make us do and say things we otherwise wouldn’t but while fear may be a reason, it’s not an excuse. Treat those around you, your fellow shoppers, the busy checkout person, the harried medical staff, with care and respect.
I’ve written about time
management before. There’s no end of ideas out there about how to get more out
of your time. So many in fact that I know in writing this I’m adding to the
din, but I’ve been trying something new and it’s been working for me. Really,
honestly, working for me.
A month ago, I decided that I
needed to up my game. Not just in my writing career but in my personal life. In
classic Wendy style I headed to the library and picked up a few books. I read them
all and settled on the one that really stood out for me, The Five Choices of
Extraordinary Productivity from Franklin Covey. I mean the name says it all.
Five choices. I make a load of choices every day, I can add another five.
The five choices are:
Act on the important, don’t react to the urgent
Go for the extraordinary, don’t settle for the ordinary
Schedule the big rocks, don’t sort the gravel
Rule your technology, don’t let it rule you
Fuel your fire, don’t burn out
I’m not going to summarise
the entire book because there’s so much in it. I do encourage you to check it
out, because time management can make a huge difference to finding time to
For me, acting on the
important (writing, spending time with my kids, calling a friend) rather than
being distracted by the urgent (what Jennifer Aniston looks like now,
reorganising the spice-rack) has being really helpful. I’m very much a ‘oh, shiny’
sort of person and while that means I notice things that others don’t, it also means
that I’m pulled away from meaningful tasks more than I like.
Scheduling those things that
are important and getting them done, rather than drowning in the mess of things
that “need” doing has also really helped me. In the book they say the first
step is to identify if something is important or meaningful, and then to put it
into one of four categories – either it’s a task (and goes on a list), an
appointment (and goes in your diary), a contact (and is added to your contacts)
or a note (and is filed with other notes for easy access).
I’m still working on getting
a handle on my technology, but I have to say that I’ve managed to organise my
inbox which is really the modern-day equivalent of climbing Everest (I bet all
those mountain climbers have overflowing inboxes).
I’m certainly not saying this is the only or best system out there, but it’s a system that I’ve found easy to implement. As with all time-management systems, there is an element of discipline at play. While I’ schedule a walk at 11:30, it’s still up to me to make sure I take it. That said, if you’re finding it difficult to find time to write, it might be worth looking into. And it’s a fairly easy read, so you could probably read it and watch TV at the same time.