If you could sum up your attitude to where you want to go with your writing in 2021 with one word, what would it be?
This is the question I asked members of the Savvy Writers’ Snug I run on Facebook on New Year’s Eve. The words they chose were varied and inspiring, as you can see from the word cloud above (and yes, you'll notice the Platypus addition from one author! I mean, why not?).
I found some writers needed to enter this year carefully and take their foot off the acceleration pedal. Others were buzzing with energy and a real determination to take their writing life up a gear.
I’m usually like this. Take 2020 for example. I leapt into the year with goals galore. I even wrote a blog post about it using an array of boating metaphors, ha ha! Like previous years, I was fizzing with anticipation and expectation. I had a new book out with a new publisher. I had plans to write more than I ever had. I’d even planned an event to look forward to, the Savvy Writers’ Fest.
But then… well, you know what happened. A global pandemic hit. A global pandemic that is still here, nearly a year later (in fact, as I type this, my daughter is in the room with me as her school has been closed again).
So thank God I chose the word I did to describe my approach to 2021: healing.
Why healing? 2020 has dealt me a few blows (not just the pandemic) so this year, I want to take it slowly and softly.
Have a think. Which camp are you in? The buzzing with energy camp, or the ones that need a bit of softly, slowly approach?
If you're in the buzzing camp, then I have a host of blog posts here to help you out. But for those of us who want to go softly and slowly, here are three tips:
1. See writing as therapy
The reason I really got into writing in the first place was a form of therapy to get me through years of struggling with infertility. My debut novel The Atlas of Us was the result. I was blessed enough to have my daughter and my focus turned to making enough money with my writing to leave my day job so I could juggle family life better. As a result, I became more ‘savvy’ and looked at writing through more of a commercial lens (while still adoring the writing itself and finding comfort in it).
When the horrors of 2020 came along, I started to feel the need to write to heal again. But I had deadlines and a new book out so combined with everything else - including the need to just DO NOTHING on some days - there simply wasn’t space to be slow, to be soft.
And when I mean being slow and soft, and luxuriating in the healing process, I mean things like taking time to think, to research, to visit places and do things as a form of inspiration. Now it’s time to return to that. I will still be busy in many ways: my latest novel Circle of Doubt is out, and I have a summer deadline for the next. But I’m going to make myself play more with ideas without imposing a deadline on myself for those ideas.
How can you do this? Have a think about something you’ve been longing to write but haven’t for various reasons. Or if you don’t have an idea, spend some time inspiring yourself. This doesn’t mean you neglect your contracted deadline. I will still write my contracted novel but I will also give myself permission to luxuriate in a ‘passion project’. The difference is, I won’t aim to finish it this year. Slowly, softly isn’t about that. Instead, I’ll tell myself to enjoy the process. The research. The thinking. No deadlines. It will be written when it’s ready to be written. When I’m ready for it to be written.
Routine went out of the window in 2020, especially with school closures here in the UK. I’d become used to my weekday routine, pre-pandemic: dropping my daughter off at school, going for a walk, then writing / dealing with admin stuff until I had to pick my daughter up again and embarking on the family side of life for the rest of the day. My days were neatly compartmentalised.
But then 2020 happened. And even when my daughter returned to school in September, my mind wouldn’t let me settle back into that routine. I was all over the shop and frankly, didn’t work as much as I should have, choosing some days to just lie in bed, hiding.
I needed that. It was fine.
Now, in the original draft of this blog post, this was the past where I was going to tell you about how I was going to make sure I returned to routine because a routine means you don't have to think too much about the necessary parts of the day, you just do them, which in turns frees up headspace to be creative. But then in the UK, we were thrown into another lockdown and my daughter's school is closed. So sticking to a routine is about as likely as a me laying off the chocolate this month!
So I've had to re-think. Did you know the word 'routine' in part comes from the French word for 'road'? So I'm seeing it like this: each week is a journey and as long as I pass some regular sights along the way - a daily walk, any home learning I can manage, specific work tasks to tick off the list and some 'slowly, softly' thinking, researching, creative time, then that's enough.
But (and please let this be soon!) when lockdown eases, I've promised myself I will get some semblance of a routine back.
How can you do this? I found this blog post from the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck on using routine to guide your way through this pandemic, so insightful. While you’re there, check out another of his posts where people share their life lessons from the pandemic.
Like a lot of people I know, I have punished my body in 2020 with lethargy, over eating and over-drinking. Like so many others, I told myself I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, I needed to do all this to cope. But the truth is, by doing all that, I actually ended up doing what I wanted to avoid: I ended up being hard on myself as it made me feel naff.
So now I must remember that and I need to stop telling myself it’s fine to eat rubbish and be lazy because of what I’ve been through. I’ve had months of it. Time to change, to move more, to eat better and in turn, that’ll surely have an impact on the way I write too? I might have less work hours with my daughter being at home but by making some changes in my eating and moving habits, maybe I’ll have more energy to make the most of the writing hours I do have available?
How can you do this? Each person will have their own ways of approaching this. I’m not here to dish out health advice. But I have found Joanna Penn to be a brilliant inspiration when it comes to being a healthy writer and guess what? She wrote a whole book on it! More about it here. She also talks a lot about walking, and her experiences with lifestyle changes such as intermittent fasting. Have a listen to her podcast for more. I'd also recommend listening to the Virtually Minded podcast which my virtual assistant runs. It is so insightful, in particular her second 'Mindset' episode.
I hope this helps. Remember, we will all have our different approaches as authors to 2021. Whatever approach you take, I hope it’s a good year for you and your writing.