Weeks go by when I think about blogging, but don’t actually blog. (My inner drill sergeant would like to point out that if I wasn’t such a perfectionist, I might actually blog more.) Given the current COVID situation, I keep having the impulse to do some sort of life update about how COVID has affected us. But I don’t want to do that—well, not necessarily.
The summary is that this year so far has felt very … haphazard, for want of a better word. Just when I think I have a handle on life, something happens that throws the balance of everything off again. Part of me is impatient because I want to be doing things and there seem to be so many obstacles to doing things—responsibilities, my never-ending To Do list, COVID messiness, my fatigue. Part of me feels like there’s some sort of life lesson here—about learning to work within your own limitations, being content in whatever situation you find yourself (Philippians 4:11, anyone?), accepting the things over which you have no control.
I feel like I’ve been running a bit of a marathon since mid-February. I had my normal work commitments. But on top of those, I attended GenreCon (conference for genre writers) virtually and enjoyed it. (The title of this post is the one big thing I took away from it, which I will get to in a moment.)
(Here are some screen caps of GenreCon’s Gather environment. I loved the secret room that you access through the fireplace.)
I organised family events to celebrate Miss 7 becoming Miss 8. I participated in the Futurescapes Writers Workshop, which meant doing a heap of reading beforehand and getting up at 6am three days in a row. (I am definitely not a morning person.) I went straight from that to running the first live event for the year for work (the first in-person and livestreamed one in almost a year) as well as organising Miss 8’s birthday party with a few friends, dealing with an infected cyst on my neck and working on Miss 11’s high school applications. (Yeah, I can’t believe she’s almost in high school already either.)
And then on the back of all that, Miss 11 came down with COVID and we went into isolation.
It’s more than seven days later and we’re out. Mostly; NSW Health advises those who have been exposed to COVID to avoid people and indoor settings for at least seven more days. So I’ve only been doing school drop-offs and pick-ups, and avoiding the gym. Though Miss 11 was definitely COVID-positive, the rest of us never returned a positive test—RAT or PCR—and our symptoms have been various and very short-lived. So I don’t know if I can say if I’ve had the dreaded plague or not. Is my fatigue COVID-related or February/March madness-related? Dunno.
In an alternate COVID-free universe, I imagine my life running much as it did last year before we went into lockdown in July: I managed to keep my working hours to about three days a week so that I could spend Tuesdays and Fridays working on my novel, handling the housework and all the household admin, and doing all my volunteer stuff (uniform shop, looking after Book Club for the school, church commitments, which included leading Bible Study and doing band for the morning service).
In reality, this year hasn’t looked like that at all. I had one very lovely day a couple of weeks ago when I did school drop-off and then went and wrote in cafés and libraries all day until school pick-up. That was an anomaly and I despair of ever getting that again.
All right. I’m rambling. I know I am.
Back to the post title. One of the best things of attending GenreCon was this seminar by YA crime/thriller writer Ellie Marney called “Finding time to write when you’re busy”. I cannot express how much I appreciated it and how grateful I am that she delivered it at just the right time. In addition, it really meant a lot to me that Marney was coming at the topic from the position of working part-time, writing part-time and being a mum of four boys, instead of a privileged male author who has someone else to take care of all the house and kid stuff for him and who lays down the law about writing every day just because, without taking the time to explore why that can be impossible for some. Marney didn’t lay down the law; instead, she gave us some things to try, with the caveat that not every tip will suit our particular situation and that some things will only work for a time, and then it’s worth trying something else. I’m not going to regurgitate all her tips because I tweeted them all in this thread (but go read; they’re worth checking out).
I just want to share a couple things she said—specifically,
3. Use your time confetti (my term, not hers)—e.g. time spent waiting in doctor’s offices or for trains or Saturday sport. Bring your laptop or notebook, and use those short chunks of time for writing.
Even better, plan how you’re going to use them for short tasks, e.g. the dialogue for a particular scene; how to describe this house; researching something. Don’t expect to sink too deep into your project during this time, but use it well.
4. (Related): plan ahead what you want to get done with the time you have. Ellie says if she knows she has three 40-minute chunks during the week and two hours on the weekend, she will use those 40-minute chunks to do things like Point 3 (above) so that she is ready and primed when she gets to the two-hr block.
6. Thinking is also writing, plus you can do it anywhere. It’s especially good when you’re doing repetitive tasks (e.g. housework) that don’t require your brain so much.
Most of all, think about your characters as that is always going to be enjoyable, rich and useful.
12. Don’t exhaust yourself. It’s fine to give yourself a break sometimes. Writing is important, but not as important as your physical and mental health, and your close relationships. Fallow time can also be helpful and inspirational.
Maybe you’re not blocked, you’re just tired.
Marney’s seminar highlighted for me that I’m not very intentional about my time; I tend to fritter it away instead of using it constructively. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fairly structured and organised person—at least in my professional life—and while I manage to get a lot done by putting certain systems in place to keep the housework from spiralling out of control and getting the major things done, I can be lazy about all the other stuff.
Like writing. I feel frustrated with myself because theoretically, I have two days in which to work on my novel. But instead, I don’t use them well or they get filled with other things. (Or maybe, as Marney said, I’m just tired. I’m tired now, and have given myself a much-needed day off today to just laze around, read books, catch up on my Twitter feed and write this blog post.)
I’m trying to be more intentional about my writing time. I’ve taken Marney’s advice to heart about using my time confetti better. I even bought a steering wheel desk so that I can write in the car because I always get to the school early for pick-up just to score a good parking spot.
I’ve even tried to be a bit more organised with writing the novel by uploading key world building documents (maps, character lists, timetables, the outline of this chapter, etc.) to Google Drive so I can access them wherever I am. (Duh, not sure why I haven’t done that earlier.)
But I’m not just being more intentional about my writing time; I am also making myself be more intentional about my leisure time. I don’t know if this fatigue is because of all the energy I’ve been expending lately on various things or because of COVID (though one good thing I can say about isolation is that sleeping in is excellent and highly recommended). I do know that I continually shortchange myself by continuing to push myself while tired. It doesn’t mean that I will never do it again; I know I will because I’m stubborn and stupid that way. But I am starting to take more of a leaf out of whoever it was who said small breaks more often can go a long way to fuel the rest of your life. (I know it was Alex Soojung-Kim Pang who said something like that in Rest: Why you get more done when you work less, a book that annoyed me because it was filled with privileged men who had other people to look after their households and children. But he was more concerned with vacations, whereas someone else advocated little breaks throughout the work day as a valuable tool for getting through the workday. I wish I had Google for my brain as I can’t remember who it was.)
Right. This seems as good a point as any to end this messy, imperfect post. Until next time, whenever that is.