Embrace the chaos

This is a shamelessly rewritten blog post from a couple of years ago, mainly because it seems very appropriate for how things are right now, and partly because I was stumped for ideas. 😉

A while ago, I blogged about routine and how I think it’s essential to productive creativity. But what do you do if your routine goes to pot and everything is unsettled and out of sync? (Like now!)

Answer: Just go with it.

I’m thinking of that song by Scott Walker about a million years ago, ‘Make It Easy On Yourself.’ That’s just what you should do.

If you allow the stress of being disorganised to get to you, you will become depressed, anxious, you will feel guilty, and become increasingly non-productive, you’ll be snappy and mean to your loved ones, then you’ll get even more deeply depressed and even less productive. So allow yourself the room to just do what you can manage, and don’t sweat it. Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up if you feel you’re not achieving as much as you think you should, or you planned to achieve.

My planner is a mess of crossed out items that I have not achieved, or not within my self-imposed deadline. That used to send me into a bit of a panic – I love to feel in control, that’s my security blanket.

But now I’m learning to accept and adapt. Or at least I’m trying to. To begin with, I found it quite difficult to have first my husband then my daughter at home all day every day. But now I really like it. We’ve spent so much more time together. (I know, not always a good thing, right?) And the house and garden are starting to look a lot neater now I’m not the only one doing it.

And I’ve seen how hard it is for them to get used to having no colleagues for the usual office banter, or just making work-related catch-ups easier. Thank God for Skype, Facetime, etc! (Seriously if you have colleagues who live alone, check in with them – they might be really lonely and finding it hard.)

At home, we have none of the fancy amenities of the corporate office. Our internet is sloooooooooow. We haven’t any of those comfy swizzle chairs that support your back. There’s ALWAYS someone else in the loo when you’re busting for a wee. No oggy van comes to our place. (Hot snacks and confectionery food van) (Non-Brits, Oggy is a slang term for a Cornish Pasty.) (Here’s a link to the Cornish Pasty association, you can find out how to make an authentic pasty, much better than typing up that report!)

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Meetings are more bearable when your bottom half is in your jammies and fuzzy socks, and only your top half has to look work-ready. We have three cats on hand at all times to help with difficult calculations or to open up a line of conversation with a prickly client. You can have your choice of music playing in the background, sit in the sunny garden for lunch, and your commuting time is down to 30 seconds. You NEVER get stuck in traffic! We are saving a small fortune in petrol.

I don’t advocate, as some have suggested, drinking shots every time you read some email that begins ‘In these troubled/challenging/difficult times’. That is not a good plan. I would be off my face by lunchtime.

Once adjustments are made, I can see that a lot of people will come to love this life.

Do what you can, go with the flow, and gradually normality will reassert itself.

If you only write a small amount, remind yourself it’s a step forward from yesterday, and any progress, no matter how small, is good. You may even find, as I am beginning to realise, that it can be a normal part of your creative process.

I usually start strong, like most writers. I have a good idea of where the story is going, I know what it’s about. But for me, again like many writers, the problems arise about halfway or so into the story when suddenly I realise a) I’m useless at writing, b) my story sucks, and c) it’s never going to be ready in time. This is all the more difficult when you can’t give 100% of your concentration to what you’re doing because you’ve suddenly got more people around you and a mad scramble for bandwidth and table space.

Over the years there have been a few times that my routine has been vandalised by circumstances. The first couple of times, I found it too hard, I struggled to keep my usual impetus and as a result, I gave up on the story. But gradually I’ve learned that I can work through the mess, embrace the chaos and finish a book.

This current crisis is a stressful one, and pressures can take their toll. Old anxieties may resurface, undermining your determination and your control of everything in your life. It becomes harder to push them away and carry on. But that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what you are going to do. Because what choice do we have? Do we want to give up writing? NO! 

So now, we will embrace the mess, and work with it, secure in the knowledge that, regardless of our feelings and the muddle that is our so-called routine, we can do this. It might take a longer than expected, and it might be baby steps all the way, but we will get there, and finish our book.

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Keeping on top of it all – or how not to get distracted!

Like a lot of people who work from home, I can so easily get distracted by everything that is NOT work. I don’t really fall into the trap many have problems with – social media – as I am still kind of ‘oh fine if I absolutely must’ when it comes to interacting with others. Although I do like a good meme!

works well with others

 

But no, social media is not my guilty secret.  I tend to drift off in my thoughts a little too often – not always a good thing, even if I am a writer. And I also get distracted by the garden and what the birds are doing, or what my cat is doing…I play lots of Sudoku, and like a lot of home-based workers, I often notice little things I suddenly need to tackle – but don’t get the idea my home is a shrine to cleanliness. So there’s the ever-present housework. And then there’s the laundry, the shopping, food preparation and menu planning (which consists mainly wondering if those fish fingers I found in the back of the freezer are okay. They could only be a maximum of seven years old, ‘cos that’s when we got the freezer, so…?)

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And of course I have to hone my IT skills by learning how to do things on the computer, and I need to keep up with what’s happening in the world of books and stories and authors – sometimes I also need to squeeze in a good gloat over my book collection…

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So life for the home-based worker is very, very busy. Heaven forbid if you have any young children too. It can be all too easy to forget to do any actual work. That’s why deadlines help me.

Leaving aside my editing and proofreading actual paid work, when it comes to my own writing, I have to actually force myself to achieve. if you are not a writer, or maybe even if you are ( I know a number of writers who never have the least trouble getting on with their WIP – work in progress) you could be forgiven for thinking all you have to do is sit down and – well – write.

But I know that many people, including myself, find it quite difficult to begin – even when they have notes and an outline, and know exactly what they want to say. It’s like a kind of stage-fright, I guess. Often known as the Fear Of The Blank Page.

So I have now obtained a desk diary, (yes, old school – actual paper!) and I have started putting in my ‘due date’ for each project, and working backwards like my Criss Cross protagonist Cressida, I then work out how long it will take me if I work around the commitments I already have, and how much time I have available. So far so good, I am pleased with this strange, newly-efficient me. I have also begun to limit myself to twice-weekly social media binges, which was an easy thing to do for me, and I am working solely in my teeny tiny office ‘out back’ on my new all-signing, all-dancing laptop, which keeps me away from the dishes and the state of the floor, and I can no longer see the birds, and only occasionally get walked on by a cat.

So I have sorted out my work-space and I have sorted out my time-keeping – all of this, I hope will lead to improved productivity and a sense of achievement that will spur me on even more.  Maybe Virginia Woolf was right, and all we need to work, is a ‘room of one’s own’? Now if only I could get some good, fresh ideas…

 

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This may look like a picture of one of my cats, but actually it’s an IT exercise! Or so I told myself for the time it took me to create it, when I should have been revising my novel-in-progress!