Over the last few blogs I’ve been writing about routines and habits, which should hopefully help with your approach to this month and Nanowrimo if you’re doing it.
For those that don’t know, Nanowrimo is a writing challenge for the month of November. The challenge is to write 50000 words.
Yup, you read that right – 50k words in one month.
For some people that sounds easy, and for others it sounds like an impossible mountain. Both are right, and both are wrong.
And believe me, because I have done Nano several times, during the month of Nano, you will feel all the emotions that are possible to feel around the idea of writing 50 thousand words.
All the emotions. (you know, like in the film Inside Out, except MORE emotions)
This is something that gets missed in all the ‘prepare for nano’ advice which usually revolves around plots, pens, computers, copious supplies of coffee and chocolate etc. Which is all true, but they fail to mention the highs and lows, the fury, the tears, the laughter, the joy at an easy day, followed by the doom laden angst whenyou can barely get 5 words on the screen. My pre-Nano advice was – make sure you have chocolate, coffee, paper, pens, your computer is functioning and not likely to run out of battery/blow up (it happens!) in the middle. Which wouldn’t matter to you anyway because you have a hard drive to back up to. DON”T YOU?
Please for the love of all the cute puppies and kittens – Don’t forget to back up! All you need is a USB stick.
But also – warn your loved ones, your friends and co workers to expect emotions from you. Anger, grumpiness, laughter, joy, singing, crying, despair….possibly all within one day, or even one hour.
So if you are doing Nano this year you are already one week in.
How are you doing?
Feeling good? On track?
Or maybe you’re already starting to feel a bit lost, little voices are whispering to you that it’s all pointless, you can’t do this, why did you ever think you could do this? Give up and go and eat cake…go on it’s all you’re good for….
Nano has this effect on people, it’s a weird, wonderful thing to do, and one that can have profound impacts on your life both personally and as a writer.
It can also be hell. Which leads me to –
People do it for the same reasons that other people run marathons, or ‘tough mudder’ type obstacle races. Non runners are either in awe or completely baffled as to why anyone would do that.
We writers get the same responses. Either ‘Well done’, or ‘Why?’
So, firstly, don’t try to explain to the people that say ‘why’, just ignore them for the month of November, in fact try not to see them during this period. Surround yourself with positive vibes, people that will help you, even if they think you’re a bit nuts to try this, they will support you in some way.
There a a ton of reasons why you might be doing NaNo – It is a challenge; you might want to finally get a decent amount of words down; you might just be curious about this thing you keep hearing about; or you might enjoy pain.
I don’t know your reasons. MY reasons for doing it were to get the words out my head and to see if I could actually write over 1500 words every day. I had always set myself goals of 500 words a day in the past and not really stuck to it, so it was a case of go bigger or go home.
Since we are a week in, you will already be seeing results. You might be feeling pretty good if you’ve stuck to the words count. You’ve got this, its actually easy!
But, be prepared for the next 2 weeks, when the slump can happen. Life starts to get in the way. One week was easy to reschedule, avoid or ignore things. But week 2 and week 3 things get harder. This is the challenge, not the words per day. Of course you can sit and write 1600 words a day. If you give yourself the time and space to do it.
Also, and this is key – DO NOT THINK ABOUT QUALITY.
Nano is NOT about writing the best ever novel, or even a good novel. It is about the idea of a novel, the roughest of rough drafts. I thought of it as draft 0. Not even first draft. Just a story that was in my head and getting it out of my head and on to the screen. So that it could then be worked in to a first draft.
If you approach it with that attitude then you won’t stop to question what you are writing, because it doesn’t matter if you are writing a book about a jilted lover and it morphs into a zombie story you didn’t even know you wanted to write. ONE of those ideas will be your novel, or maybe a zombie chick lit will be the result. Who knows. That is the key if Nano, it is an adventure into the unknown. You may plan and plot your idea but that may not be the one you write and that is fine.
Top 10 Tips for Surviving NaNo –
1. Don’t expect to write a good novel. Just be happy if there are glimmers within the pile of slush.
2. Do use it to tell yourself the story, don’t worry about quality or plot making sense. That’s for the next draft.
3. Do write more than if you are having a good day and give yourself space for the bad days.
4. Do Celebrate milestones. Chocolate, booze, cake, green smoothie….whatever feels like a reward to you.
5. Don’t sweat falling behind. You can catch up. The online tracker at ‘Write track’ shows you how many words you still need to do per day (it does the sum for you so youdon’t need to tax your frazzled writer brain)
6. Do attend the meet ups in person or online to meet other Nano folk and get some support. There are groups all over the world. See them on the Nano website
7. Do plan your time. Set aside writing time in your day. How fast can you type? Do you need 30 minutes to write 1600 words or hours? If you want to get faster, Chris Fox’s book on 5000 words per hour has useful strategies .Divide up your time if that is easier for you. So you could write 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at lunchtime, 20 minutes in the evening. You may have to forgo lunch with friends, tv programmes and so on. But that is what catch up tv and binge watching in December will be for!
8. Do avoid the naysayers and let people know this is important to you, and you need support.
9. Do BACKUP! Invest in a second backup, something like this one
10. Breathe! Since I am all about wellbeing for creativity, I can’t forget the self care. Make sure you take some time away from the desk, to breathe, to stretch to jump about, whatever. It helps the creative flow, honest!
*Some of the links in this are affiliate links, which means I get a few pence if you buy through them. I only recommend things I use myself and they are only suggestions, other products are available.
Next week, more Nano chat and what my own experience taught me.
Image Credit – Watercolour by Undrey@Depositphotos The Cramped Creative
What is your image of a ‘creative person’?
Is it someone who creates art, who lives outwith the ‘normal’ ? Who spends their days either in a paint spattered garret creating masterpieces, or feverishly writing on their typewriter? These people don’t have routines, they are ‘artists’ and dismiss convention.
Well, if you are someone who wishes they had more creative time in their lives. Whether that is for writing, art, pottery, baking, whatever your creative thing is, you might be surprised when you see just how organised these creative folk actually are. It may seem that creative people don’t need a routine because they are waiting on the muse coming to them, and surely that elusive muse wouldn’t turn up to order? Don’t they have to be all free flowing and artsy about it? Surely, I mean, this must be true, surely any kind of routine must hinder creativity?
A quick look through some famous people’s diaries would soon show you otherwise e.g time of getting up and going to bed, specific food, drink, number of cigarettes smoked before entering their study, a run or a swim before starting. They can be a fascinating insight into the world of creatives, and their routines. Check out this book about them – Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
I am not an ‘artist’, in that I don’t create art. I like to doodle and draw, play around with it, and I enjoyed it at school but it was never my thing, so I have never set foot in an art school. I always assumed they were filled with highly creative people floating about creating their art and all sorts of amazing things. Now that I know some people that went to art school I have learned that the reality is a bit different. Of course it is all about creating, but it is also about learning to work at your subject. There is a discipline to it, they have deadline just like every other student in the world, they have to show their work and they were also taught about treating it as a business. I had a chat with one of them once and she said the main thing she got out of her course was not the degree in art, but it was the mindset that if this was to be her job, her source of income, then she needed to be productive, i.e. finish pieces, and also show people her work, no room to be shy, and also get used to charging for it, and know her own worth.
I think these are great things to know, whether we are wanting to be professional or not, whether we bake cakes or write books. Ultimately we need to Share Our Work ( Austin Kleon wrote a fun and useful little book on this very thing), and to do that we need to finish, and to do THAT, we need to have discipline and some sort of structure ESPECIALLY if we are fitting this in around our other commitments.
So here’s a thought for you – having a routine actually HELPS creativity.
If we have a set time and place for it, say 8-9 every morning, we can clear ourselves of distractions, and focus in that period.
We can put it in the diary, we can make it REAL, just like we would if we were going to a meeting or a gym class.
Why is our creativity any different, any less important?
If we say ‘Oh, I’ll do that when I get a chance’ it’ll never happen, because there will always be something else to claim our time and interest – a program we missed on tv last night; Facebook; a game on our phone that is designed to turn us into a drooling addict so we will play more and eventually pay to get past the baddie that gets us every time (*coughs*, ahem, not that I have any experience of that) and of course, the demands from work and family.
If instead we have an allotted time and habit then guess who knows when to show up – the muse! We can call her to us with the routine, we might play certain music, or do a few minutes of yoga or meditation beforehand, or go a run, jump around on a rebounder, whatever gets you in the mood. As long as you do the same thing every time it doesn’t matter, habit brings ease of flow.
For some people it might just take wearing the the same clothes and having the same breakfast every morning. If you are there most days at the same time, doing the same things, your mind can flick into creative mode, the muse can show up on time and you find yourself doing it with almost no thought.
To start you need to decide on a time when it would be easier for you to do this. You may have a preferred time already. Put it in your diary or calendar. Mark it in. Just a few minutes to start with, no need to commit hours. Think about what you need to have in place for it to happen easily. If you are a writer, can you have your computer come on at a certain time? I have a Mac and I can have it come on and be waiting for me in the morning. If you write or draw on a pad, make sure you have it laid out, pencils and pens ready to go. If you need a coffee or a certain breakfast, can you lay things out so they are easy to make? Be prepared, the less you have to think about the easier it is to fall into the routine. Also, plan what you are going to do. There is no point sitting down, all set and have no idea what you are working on. If you are starting fresh, spend a bit of time before your first day coming up with topics, you can use prompts to get you started, but have some in mind so on that first day you can sit down and know that you are going to write/draw such and such, then you do it, and you stop.
And that’s it.
Now the hard bit – REPEAT!
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Daily until it becomes a ‘must do’.
And that really is the hardest bit because things will get in the way and when they do, you will be tempted to give up as you have in the past.
But not this time!
No, this time you say ‘Oh well I missed a day or two, I need to get back to it.’
And start the process again,PLAN, PREPARE and DO.
This is how creatives work, they keep going back to it even if they have missed days or weeks/months, they go back to the start and begin again.
And soon, it is just their life, their day, their new normal routine.
If you need some help finding the time to create I have a short email course on it you can sign up here (its free)
Last week I wrote about the impact of David Bowie on my creativity, and also how his death affected me. I spent the rest of the week listening to his music and being cheered by both it and how many other people seemed to feel exactly as I did. Grief for someone you have never met is a weird one, on the one hand, I can see why people would say it’s ridiculous to feel that way, but as someone who has experienced ‘real life’ grief I can only go by how I feel. I relate to DB’s death the way I would to an old friend, perhaps one I haven’t seen in a while but was still aware of their life/occasionally in touch with. Memories come flooding back, the impact they had on your life, and yes, your own mortality, are all part of the emotion, mixed in with sadness at their suffering, and in David’s case, awe at his ability to create right up to the end, and of course inspiration from his catalogue of work.
In times of sadness I find that I cannot read, my eyes won’t take in the information, my mind won’t let me focus. So I turn to other forms of distraction, film and music. I was listening to BBC radio 6 a great deal, it’s my go to radio station anyway, but their programming just fitted with my feelings last week. I also turn to playing my guitar at these times. I follow several guitar teachers on YouTube, for lessons and inspiration. Needless to say, many of them posted Bowie songs as tributes. I found one that I have never tried to play before, by the NYC Guitar school. The guy doing the lesson marched in front of the calendar and played the song, with the chords added over the top. He didn’t speak, and looking at him, he seemed pretty upset. The raw emotion was very clear. It was very moving, and also made me want to be able to play that song. Really play it.
Then, it dawned on me that I have never learnt any Bowie songs, not properly anyway. Then a major realisation – I have never learned ANY songs properly.
Second flash of clarity – I don’t want to because then I might have to play them to someone. I have said before how I can’t play in front of anyone. Possibly because I can’t play anything al the way through.
Third self awareness moment – I do this with ALL my creativity. That’s why my novel is taking on a mythical status. Why I start so many new ones but never continue.
AHH! It all begins to fall into place.
This is the next stage in uncramping – realising where we still hold ourselves back. I am not the ‘cramped creative’ of past years. I write most days, I play my guitar (and tell people that I do), I go to drawing classes. But, there is still a step up needed.
The step to sharing our work.
As Austin Kleon says in his little book – we need to show our work.
Where would we be if all the writers, musicians and artists had stayed ‘cramped’, never showing their work, never feeling it was good enough, that they weren’t good enough?
What if your ‘ART’ is enough, whatever form it takes?
What if YOU are enough?
What would YOU do if you BELIEVED you were GOOD enough?
2016 – Best Yet?
January is the time of year when it can seem that everyone is talking about resolutions and ‘best year’ ever plans. Getting fitter, giving up, starting new…..Does anyone ever stick to these January ‘better me’ lists?
Hmmm, I thought so!
I heard a chat on the radio the other day, which was about avoiding the usual resolutions but instead looking at ways for getting more creativity into your life. Obviously, I paid close attention as they talked about the benefits of creativity and having a daily practice. They talked about finding classes and online groups. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have called in to tell them about my book!
I have to be honest; it’s been a while since I attempted resolutions. I have done. In the past, I was quite the annual planner, but for me, it was a recipe for failure. I decided I don’t need another reason to get at myself and let the gremlin start to tell me off.
I do have goals but they are no longer about improving a behaviour or giving up a ‘vice’ (dark chocolate is good for you right? ;-)). I look at things I want to achieve and break them down into what I need to do to get that thing done. This may involve giving up stuff, like too many sweets, or it may require me to commit to doing something like getting up earlier. But, the ‘resolution’ is not the give up/do part, the resolve is in the outcome. The how I will feel (fitter), the what I will be able to do (run 5k, fit into jeans that I can’t fasten anymore).
You get the picture.
For me, 2015 was a ‘getting better’ year, after a difficult 2014 which set me back health and creativity wise. In fact, the last two years have blended into one as I spent so much of each in physical recovery. So I’d like 2016 to be the year I finally finish some of the things I started back before the health stuff got in the way.
Stuff like –
- The novel. I did the first rough draft in the Urban Writers 6Month Novel course back in 2014. I’m now starting proper editing. It WILL be finished this year!
- The creativity courses I have been developing for years now. (Almost ready!)
- Get my fitness back to where it was in 2013. Being fit and strong allows me to sleep better, get up earlier and create more.
To do those things I may well have to give up, start to do and form some good habits and rituals, but they will not be for their own sakes, they will be part of the bigger picture. For me, that helps me stick to them. Each thing on it’s on is too easy to let slide, but as a small segment of something bigger, something truly important to me, it’ll be easier to see any slips as a hesitation rather than a grinding failure.
The other thing people often miss is to look back at what they did achieve in the past year. We are so good at seeing our own fails and others’ successes. Before you start resolving to do everything right this year, look at what you did last year.
So, for me – Last year I wrote a non-fiction book and published it.
Which wasn’t even on my plan!
Sometimes plans just are meant to be, but what does happen is even better!
What has yoga got to do with creativity?
Being an ‘uncramped’ creative involves more than just doing more of you creative thing.
It is also to do with your wellbeing – your physical AND emotional health.
Sometimes that factor gets a bit lost in the goal to create more. I don’t want you to be so intent on creating that you lose sight of your health and wellbeing.
This past year I have had several health issues including breaking my shoulder joint. Not the best move for a massage therapist, writer and guitarist. Since it was impossible to move my arm, I couldn’t work for 3 months, writing was ok for short bursts, but the guitar was off limits for the longest of all. Which did not suit my inner rock goddess at all!
I was also in a great deal of pain and had to do excruciating physio twice weekly with the physio and 4 times daily myself. (I had to take strong painkillers just to go to the physio, so that they could do the necessary. I’m talking the type of pills that make you too spaced out to drive.) And you know, being in pain, constant pain, is exhausting. So even though I could write for a short bursts, most days I was too tired to think straight, after I’d done my physio exercises, walked the dog, not to mention washed and dressed myself which took twice as long as normal too.
This is one of the reasons I got out of the way of getting up early and writing. And although I was doing plenty of stretching for my shoulder, I wasn’t doing much for the rest of me. This came home to me a few months ago when I hurt my back, and I realized that I’d let the physical side of my self care slide. I needed to get back to my old habits of running and yoga. I’d also not been doing so much fiction writing. I was busy writing my non-fiction book, but my own personal creative writing had taken a back seat. So the two sides needed addressed. Funny enough I had started getting cramps in my legs, something I hadn’t had for years.
I literally needed to ‘uncramp’ myself.
So, as I wrote about the other week, I started to get up again, to give myself space to write. I took part in NaNoWriMo, albeit on my own terms, and I signed up for a yoga class. Even before I got there, the idea that I was going encouraged me to do more stretching, I didn’t want to go to the class and be too stiff to take part.
Yoga is a fascinating activity. There are so many forms, and attitudes to it. Some people see it as a challenge, to be able to get into certain poses. Others are all about relaxing, the breathe and the inner focus. I like it because it stretches the body, and it is done at the individual’s pace. So, in theory, you should be less likely to injure yourself. Although I do see people in my massage clinic who have overstretched themselves trying to keep up with the person next to them.
For me, it relates nicely to creativity. We all go at our own pace, but we do need to challenge ourselves and aim a bit higher. So, in writing I want to complete a novel. In yoga I want to be able to the Salute to the sun with more flow and control. I want to feel my muscles stretching and gaining strength. Both these things take practise, they require discipline and space. The more we do either of them, the better we get, the easier it is to do them, the more results we see (and feel).
They are also things we can do alone, but equally, we can share with like minded people. They can take over our lives, they can fill us up in new ways and take us to places we didn’t know existed, physically and emotionally. We can meet new people, and more, previously unknown doors may open to us. They are a journey, and there is not necessarily an end, we keep learning our creative passion, as even the best yogi will say they are still learning their yoga practise.
And with both, we may just surprise ourselves with what we can achieve.
Photo: Beaubelle, Deposit Photos
Are you a morning person? Or a night owl?
Personally, I don’t think I am either of those, my peak time is more 10-4. If I had to choose though I’d say I was a morning person, or at least a light morning person. The trouble is, I live in Scotland where from November-February, the mornings are dark. Sometimes the entire day is dark. Not black, night time dark, but grey, heavy clouds, oppressive and depressing. I’m not the only one that struggles in the winter. Several of my friends have SAD lights, and we have all worked out our own strategies for coping better. Sometimes that involves more cake than is good for us, and other times it is exercise and juicing.
Photocredit: 72 Soul @DepositPhotos
So, when I read books or blog posts where people encourage us all to get up at some ridiculous time (to me ) like 4am, and go to the gym or go a run on the beach, I get a bit fed up. The people writing these things seem to live in Australia or California, where they don’t have dark mornings and days where they sky stays oppressively grey, the wind howls and the rain lashes down, and the temperature scrapes towards 6 degrees. Would they be so keen to go a run at 5am then I wonder?
There are a lot of books and courses on why we should be getting up earlier but I think you need to find the time that suits you. I know that if I want to write fiction every day, I want to write a book, then I need to find the time. For me first thing is best, but it needs to be before the proper day starts. So before I walk the dog, before I do any work stuff. A lot of these books and so on will also have a lot of things to do first thing – run, journal, yoga, write, gym, juice.
Ummm, all those things? Every day?
That can seem a bit daunting, even if they do appeal. But if you try to set yourself up to do everything, it will feel overwhelming. And who loves overwhelm?
The Gremlin, that’s who.
Because then they get to laugh and point out how you never do anything you say you will do.
So here’s what I do.
I pick the most important one.
Which for me is writing. Then I tell myself that I won’t get up early until a specific day – say a week on Monday. I deny myself getting up. I say ‘No, no, not yet…next week’. I think about the writing I am going to do, I may even sign up for some sort of challenge or just work out a daily amount of words I want to do and put them on my calendar. Then I can give myself a big tick (or a sticker!) when I hit the target. I get myself anticipating it, looking forward to it. Then the weekend before the Monday, I let myself get excited, as if I am going on a trip.
‘Monday you get to start writing’.
I set my alarm, I make sure I have back up alarms, and I say I will get up at 6:30am, but next best is 7am. So if I doze a bit, I’m still within the goal. I also set up my desk and room. I clear away anything not relevant.
The Monday morning, my first alarm will go off. I use my Fitbit vibrating function, and then I have my sanity saving ‘sunrise’ alarm clock, which starts to light up at 6:45, before it will beep at 7am. So, I get up, having been gently woken up. I am not in that horrible stupor that I am in if I have a harsh beeping alarm in a dark room.
Once I am up, I let myself write. I enjoy the release after all that build up. I hit my target words, and I feel good. Me 1, Gremlin 0.
Then, and this is the hard bit, I need to repeat this the next day. And the next, and the next. Now, this is hard, because the anticipation and excitement wears off. The dark days of winter encourage snuggling in bed not getting up. So, what I try to do, is build that anticipation for another thing.
Now I am writing, what’s next on my wish list of ‘do more of’. I might say, tomorrow I get to go a run, or I get to do yoga, or I get to have a juice…The process is the same. Build the anticipation, and then allow myself to do it after writing. I might need to get up a wee bit earlier again if I want to fit in everything I plan, but I have found that I get slicker at transitioning between the activities. At my best ever morning rituals, I was up by 6:30, wearing my running gear. Then I wrote while sipping a green juice I’d made the night before. After that I did some yoga, walked the dog, went a short run, then back to stretch, shower and make breakfast. So that all took about 2.5-3 hours in total. I’d got up at 6:30, I was at my desk working by 9:15. That seems a long time…but you know I used to get up at 6:45 and commute to work, where I started about 9. I then used to go to the gym after work, so I didn’t get home until towards 7, having had another hour plus commute. No-one seemed to think those hours of travelling and gym were ‘wasted’.
I know which morning routine I prefer.
Yours will be different. It all depends on your situation, maybe you have to split things around school runs or work. Maybe mornings just would never work for you, but evenings might. Whenever works, start with one thing, the main thing, and aim to stick with it as much as possible.
Then, of course, life will get in the way.
I have done this process several times.In the past year alone I got sick, broke my arm, and went on holiday. It is easier to fall out of this routine than to get into it. But, because I have done it before, and I know I liked it, and felt better for it, I can do it again, and I will.
That is the real trick, to keep restarting, to know what works for you and keep resetting. The past few months I haven’t been doing morning writing, but this week, I reset. I got up, I wrote. I ticked my word count off my calendar. Next week maybe I’ll add in a yoga session. The dark winter mornings are here, but I’m going to try to beat the blues by getting up and doing the things that make me feel better.
Pin this to remind you – and Start…and keep on ‘Starting’!