I love being self-employed and organising my own schedule, but early in January I had decision fatigue. I struggled to decide when to read, write, edit, do housework, do admin etc. I often ended up in ‘freeze mode’. On a particularly bad afternoon, when I was tempted to procrastinate for the rest of the day, I said, ‘Mum, please tell me what to do – jobs you want done, or things on my list here. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’
I loved it; as did she, naturally! It would lose its appeal very quickly, no doubt – for me anyway – but it was a useful exercise that triggered some realisations.
In ‘Replenishing My Writing Stocks’, I said I was taking a break from submitting my stories to competitions/publications. Yeah…that might change.
I was delighted to be shortlisted in the Fish Publishing Short Story Competition last week! There were 58 in the shortlist, out of 1631 entries. And then I saw that the other story I submitted also made it onto the 218-story longlist.
The two stories were part of my MA dissertation and were directly inspired by my time in Cornwall. They are special to me because of the time and emotion I poured into them and because they remind me of that significant time in my life. It’s lovely that other people liked them too.
The shortlisted one was submitted on a whim, with no expectations – clearly ‘whim’ sometimes knows better than ‘reason’! The story is humorous and light-hearted in tone (on the surface, anyway), so I didn’t think it would be noticed; I’m incredibly happy to be proved wrong.
It’s amazing how life changes, even without Covid in the equation. Playing my trombone (which I nicknamed Gwendolyn!) was a huge part of my life for so many years; I never thought a day would come when it wasn’t anymore. I have numerous amazing memories of practising, rehearsing, performing, teaching, and conducting – some of these are covered in my Conducting Experience and Menai Bridge Band posts.
On Tuesday I picked up my trombone for the first time in about a year. ‘Gwendolyn’ could do with a bath…and I’d have washed the mouthpiece if I’d known she’d be put away for so long! Oh well.
I enjoyed reminding myself how to breathe properly and how grounding it is to play a wind instrument – it feels as if every part of your body, mind and soul is involved. It was natural, nostalgic, and a little bit sad.
One of my friends asked this question on Facebook: ‘What are you most looking forward to being able to do, once it’s safe to do so – hugging/visiting loved ones obviously – but I mean an activity you miss the most?’
I found it difficult to answer. What DO I want to do?
It’s almost as if I’m struggling to remember what life was like pre-Covid. I can remember if I try, of course, but I think I’ve deliberately put out of my mind anything that I can’t currently do so that I don’t feel the lack or loss. I’ve tried to focus on the things I can do, like reading, writing, taking a daily walk, occasionally walking with a friend to catch up, and eating a lot. Those things make me happy and content. As I like to say, for someone who’s hard to please, I’m very easy to please.
It’s hard not being able to see family and friends; that’s a universal struggle. It’s what I think about the most. I want to hug my dad, pop round to my friend’s when one of us is having a bad day, visit my brothers etc. It was also horrible that I couldn’t be with my great aunt when she passed away or go to her funeral this afternoon. These things eclipse everything else.
But anyway, back to the question about ‘activities’…
Why do so many people enjoy writing first drafts? Yes, it’s exciting when the words flow. I appreciate flashes of inspiration, shiny new ideas, and riding on the waves of creativity, blah blah blah. It’s not always like that for me though.
Most of the time, a first draft means squelching through the land of This Is the Worst Thing Written by Anyone Ever. Yes, squelching. Trudging, plodding, slogging, until I reach the land of Editing, where everything starts to make sense.
‘Just get it down on the page,’ they say. It sounds like a great idea, but I’m terrible at it, because…
I thought it would be fun to record a day-in-the-life for anyone who’s as nosy about people’s routines as I am! I’m a creature of habit, which is useful for self-employment and working from home, although I’m happy to switch things around whenever necessary. I try to work intensively and then switch off completely; drifting between the two makes me tired and anxious. Every day is different and is mainly determined by my energy levels/health – this one’s slightly better than average, as Mondays often are, and writing this post kept me accountable. I wasn’t quite as productive during the rest of the week.
8:00 Normal morning routine: Bathroom, medication/water, coffee, Italian on Duolingo, breathing exercise on Headspace, Bible reading, and other reading (Fast Focus by Damon Zahariades).
8:40 Dressed, fifty deadlifts with my 16kg kettlebell (daily minimum to get me moving), brushed teeth, washed face, and skincare.
9:00 Admin (AKA getting organised and trying to remember what on earth I’m meant to be doing today!). Answered a few texts. Messaged my friend, which I do every Monday to remind her to be sociable, and vice versa…Covid hasn’t helped, but hey, we’re doing our best.
9:30 Got on video chat with my wonderful writer/editor friend, which we now do most weekdays – will write a blog post about this soon. After a few minutes of lively writerly discussion, we both got to work in our ‘virtual office’. I spent nearly two hours working on a third edit of someone’s short story collection, with occasional pauses to stretch my legs or drink water.
Step 1 Crawl out of bed at some point.
Step 2 Use the bathroom.
Step 3 Climb down the stairs, gripping the handrail, and walk into the kitchen.
Step 4 Drink water, take your medication, and make coffee.
Step 5 Return to bed, collapse.
Submitting to publications and competitions takes a surprising amount of time. The vast majority result in rejection, which is to be expected, but I feel that my recent rejections are because my stories simply aren’t good enough. (This isn’t false modesty or a cry for encouragement. It’s the truth.)
My best stories, with only a couple of exceptions, have already been published/shortlisted. Many of these were developed slowly over a long period; several were Creative Writing MA assignments, which benefitted from hundreds of drafts and constructive feedback from peers and tutors. I haven’t been putting that amount of time into my stories recently and I’d like to do so again.
It’s exhilarating and encouraging to be published, as well as gratifying to have positive (or at least constructive) feedback, but it can also be a distraction from the actual writing. I’m putting submissions on the back burner while I replenish my story stocks, read widely and deeply, and improve my technique. I don’t know how long I’ll do this for; I expect I’ll know when the time’s right.
I might make a final flurry of submissions first though… I can quit, promise.
I wrote this last year but couldn’t persuade myself to put it on my blog – too emotionally raw. I’ve had a few seizures and migraines again recently, which reminded me of this post and how hard it is to be kind to yourself when poor health undermines you. I couldn’t come up with a ‘conclusion’ and decided to leave it as it was; it reflects how I felt at the time.
I had tears in my eyes and not because I was washing dishes. I soon got on video chat with my man, propping my phone against a flowerpot on the window ledge. I described the drained feeling I’d had all day.
‘It’s just…’ I gripped the bowl with my yellow-gloved hands, paused for a moment, and tried to find the right words. ‘I think I’m suffering from Hannah Fatigue.’
Loose translation: sick of myself. Detailed translation: I was struggling with the ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ days*. Bluntest translation: The number of ‘bad’ days made me feel increasingly worthless.
It can be scary to put your writing out there. In a previous blog post, ‘How I Persuade Myself to Submit My Writing’, I finish with a simple perspective that helps me: Think of submitting your work as technical not emotional.
- Do It.
Everything’s hard enough as it is; let’s not overcomplicate the matter.
- write as well as you can
- edit, edit, edit
- ask for feedback
- edit, edit, edit
- find suitable publications and follow submission guidelines to the letter
- send out your work
- forget about it
- briefly mourn (hundreds of) rejections with your favourite food / briefly celebrate successes with your favourite food
- and repeat.