I had big plans. A blog post, followed by at least a few thousand words to punch through the dreaded middle section of my work-in-progress. The conditions should’ve been perfect. It was overcast (rain = writing). The husband and teenager were out of the house (no requests for food). Daughter had a friend over (plenty of food hoarded in her room, facials and nails to be done, iMovies to be made). I’d finished reading the latest book (no more excuses).
The blinking cursor drove me nuts after a while. I had nothing. No, really, NOTHING.
Seemed like all my writerly friends on Instagram were being productive, providing proof of their work with high-angle pictures of laptops and coffee and taunts of #amwriting. Others were busy on Facebook sharing all manner of inspiring quotes by famous writers and must-read blog posts about what publishers really want. It took quite a while to check out what everyone else was up to. They all seemed so motivated, so chipper and hopeful, loving their #writerslife, while here I was, struggling to string some words together.
I was onto my second coffee of the morning by the time I’d gone through the usual social media checks when it struck me. I hadn’t posted anything in ages. I’d been in a fog, so consumed by the achingly beautiful writing in A Little Life that I’d neglected sharing. So I snapped a picture of the dog who was looking me with a look of resignation (or was it accusation?) and popped it on Instagram with what I hoped was a jaunty sounding #dogsofinstagram #writerswithdogs followed by the guilty disclaimer #procrastinating.
Enough of the distractions and back to the task at hand. I was more determined than ever to get cracking.
The re-reading of the last paragraph I’d written took longer than expected. It was rubbish. After 20 minutes of re-writing I was back to the blinking cursor. The rain outside was falling steadily, the drumming on the tin roof a reminder (so obvious!) that lately I’d been neglecting my personal commitment to be more mindful. I took some time out to listen to the constant rhythm noticing, as I stared of the window, how the muted light made the garden an iridescent green. As I was posting a quick pic (#nofilt #mindfulness #procrastinating) a nasty idea offered itself up to me. If that last paragraph was such garbage, maybe the rest of it, months of writing, was just as bad.
I nervously scrolled all the way back to Chapter 1 (breaking the rule of reading the first draft before it’s finished) when my phone buzzed with a notification. The daughter, tucked away with her friend, liked my photo of the dog. There were a couple of new posts by writers mocking me with #amwriting #writerslife. Over at Facebook, at the top of my feed, was a link: Why Your First Draft Is NOT Crap. Timely? Or was someone monitoring my #procrastinating pleas for help?
OK, so there was lots of positive cheerleading and by the end of the post I was reminded of a pragmatic piece of advice from author Allison Tait: just finish the damn book. Yes @allistontaitwriter, you’re correct, despite the #writingcrisis of the day I will #finishthedamnbook. Tomorrow.
If there’s one phrase that I really can’t stand it’s ‘me time’. Along with ‘date night’ and the term ‘mojo’, hearing someone lament that what they really need is some ‘me time’ gives me the shivers.
It’s not that I’m against taking time out from routine – quite the opposite. I love nothing more than being on my own or doing something relaxing like walking the dog, reading the paper, going to a café, etc. But the idea of scheduling this sort of thing seems like a contradiction. Making time in your diary to do nothing… What’s up with that?
It’s also the term itself. I love words and well-put-together phrases but this one… Yuck. It seems to me that it has more than a whiff of self-absorption about it.
When I started writing the first Finn McMartin story earlier this year I had a timeline in my head of deliverables. No self-indulgent mornings or afternoons swanning about for me! To keep productivity up I thought I’d do 1,500 words a day, have the first draft done in a month, then re-drafting and editing another month.
While some days the words rush out with the force of a projectile vomit, other days it’s a struggle to string a sentence together. And it’s then that I find myself having guilty snatches of ‘me time’ all over the place. Early on the café around the corner was my go-to place when it was just too hard to come up with something decent to write. I usually came back feeling guilty for wasting an hour and still had nothing to add to a chapter or scene. I started to notice that if I took the dog for a walk instead, or even went outside to hang the washing, by the time I was back in front of the screen I actually had something to write.
Apparently this is pretty common. According to a study by Stanford University, low level physical activity like walking leads to more creative thought and generates new ideas. And here I was thinking that I was just procrastinating.
Writing, and other things that require a bit of imagination or creativity, need some room to happen. Everyone works differently and I’m a bit in awe of people who can write an entire novel in between full-time work and family. I couldn’t do it. Apparently what I really need is quite a bit of me, sorry, walking time.
I hadn’t imagined that I’d be spending too much time reading during our trip to Japan. After all, this was going to be an epic snowboarding trip (well, skiing for me) to a little-known mountain in the middle of Hokkaido. Our friends, experienced snowboarders (@pacificprizmboardstore @design_detail), had let us in on this special spot and were happy for us to tag along on their holiday, and we'd been counting down the days. We’d be away from all of the other Australians who flock to Niseko and Rusutsu and smack-bang in the bullseye of the famed Hokkaido powder belt.
The book I’d been dying to read would be great for that 9-hour flight, but I figured I’d be way too busy to read during the actual holiday. All that powder… Not a moment to waste sitting inside!
The very civilised Yukku Yukku book café had my name all over it. It's an oasis of calm, peace and civility - a Scandi-style café/bar with soaring glass windows framing a run lined with elegant poplar and alpine ash trees, branches draped heavily with snow. This was a place with comfy chairs, minimalist blonde timber furniture, great coffee and cheesecake. But it was the bookshelves and library-like quiet coupled with Hokkaido wine and cheese that got me. Oh yes, my new happy place.
I found it on the first day of our stay and usually ended up there each afternoon for a few hours with a glass of wine and my book. It didn’t take long to realise that this is just one of the benefits of a longer snow holiday – no guilt about relaxing and just enjoying the view. Until this holiday we’d only ever had short, intense trips to the Australian ski fields – it was just too expensive to swan around in on-snow accommodation in Australia for a whole week. But this eight-day stay in Japan cost as much as a weekend in Perisher, with better snow, no crowds and the peace of the Yukku Yukku café.
I finished my book (guilt-free), enjoyed the local wine and cheese and had time to soak up the incredible scenery and peace of the Japanese snowscape on the other side of the glass.