Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives (see below for this month’s installment), but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… Staying Connected
They say writing is a lonely profession and perhaps never more so when we can’t leave the house (weeps into extra large G&T). But, fear not. There’s no need to be entirely isolated while self-isolating because if there’s one silver lining to come out of all this, it’s seeing the many brilliant ways in which people are staying connected with readers, with each other, and with writing events that can’t go ahead in the flesh, so to speak. Here are a few tips to help you stay connected with the publishing industry and other writers, and to help you stay the course, and, well, stay sane.
- Sign up for virtual festivals. So many writing events, carefully planned and curated for months and months, have been cancelled (more weeping and gin), but it is amazing to see so many events going ahead in a virtual format. Cuirt became a digital literature festival in April and was a resounding success, Big Book Weekend had an amazing line-up last weekend celebrating the best of the cancelled British book festivals, and Hay Festival is currently taking reservations for its free virtual events from 18-31 May. Sign up, plug your headphones in, and enjoy!
- Attend virtual book launches. It’s been so upsetting to watch lots of friends have all their book launch plans crushed by coronavirus, but it has also been very encouraging to see innovative virtual launches via Facebook Live, Zoom, Twitter Q&As etc. Lots of book launch parties are happening on social media, and are accessible to anyone with a half decent WiFi connection. Grab a quarantini and watch, listen, learn, and participate, all from the comfort of your sofa in your PJs. What could be better?
- Interact with other writers and readers. All writers need support right now, so there really is no better time to read like mad and rave about books on your social media channels. It’s amazing how much a lovely tweet, private message, or email can lift a flagging author in lockdown, so don’t hold back. Share the love, while we make sure we don’t share the virus. And be brave with your own social media. I’ve started doing a weekly video on my Facebook page to stay connected with my readers. I’ve gradually got over my loathing of seeing myself on camera, and if nothing else, it’s an excuse to put on makeup once a week! Take a look here if you’re interested.
- Buy books and pre-order. Order online. Go mad. Buy everything you always meant to read but never got around to, and better still, pre-order new releases. Pre-orders can really help create buzz around a book, and help keep the industry moving at a time when we can’t move much further than the end of the road. All bookshops need our help and support, especially some of the smaller indie bookshops, so please remember to shop local, even when shopping online. Share your thoughts and reviews. Start a virtual book club, or turn your existing book club into a virtual one. Let’s all play our part in keeping the publishing alive and well.
- Keep writing. Even if it’s only a few words a day, try to water your WIP now and again. It will bloom, in time.
Have you been to any virtual events or launches? Are you doing anything creative on your own social media pages? Let us know in the comments below, and stay safe and well. Now, over to our Class of 2020 …
No doubt I’m not the first to think this, but this morning when my alarm went off at six thirty, the same time it always does, blasting Highway 20 Ride by the Zac Brown Band, the same song it always plays, I leaned over, turned it off and said to myself…Good grief, I’m Phil in Groundhog Day. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably know the plot. Bill Murray plays the main character, Phil, who appears destined to relive the same day (February 2nd) over and over until he learns the lesson(s) which will help him evolve and break the loop.
Most mornings my biggest challenge is trying to figure out what day it is. As the days click by, each often indistinguishable, I’ve convinced myself it doesn’t really matter, unless of course it’s trash day. At the moment, my routine is some variation of the following; coffee, write, walk, clean, cook, eat, wine, read, shower, chat/zoom with family/friends, sleep, REPEAT.
Theoretically, in the movie, Phil had all the time in the world to figure things out. In fact one website estimates he endured Groundhog Day for eight years, eight months and sixteen days. Which makes sense when you take into consideration all the skills he mastered. Isn’t it an interesting question to ponder…What would you do with all the time in the world? Despite occasionally feeling as if we are stuck in the Twilight Zone, we are in fact living in the real world. We don’t have an infinite amount of time to figure things out and a ‘do over’ isn’t always possible, but as each day passes, I can’t help but wonder if there is a lesson I am meant to be learning.
While I’ve written each day, I don’t feel I’ve been as productive as I could be. If the truth be told I think my repeat button has gotten stuck. Nevertheless, instead of beating myself up about it, I’m going to take a lesson from my buddy Phil and focus on growth, not wasted time. So what’s the plan, you ask? Nothing fancy, just to remember it’s the ordinary days which provide the biggest blessings…for they are the ones which give us the best opportunity to learn, change, and evolve. Oh, and one more thing. Think I’ll live on the wild side for a few days and turn off my alarm clock. I’m pretty sure Phil would approve.
Does the fact that the weird new normal we all live in now, is starting to feel routine mean that I have become acclimatised? Institutionalised? Perhaps the fact that I have been continuing to work three days a week means I have maintained a semblance of routine and I am suffering less cabin fever than other people? Either way I am less anxious than I was and starting to get more writing done. I am constantly flitting from one project to the other but I’m not beating myself up about it, because if that’s what it takes to get results then that’s ok.
I have been working on the community help line for Louth County Council which has been helping to put vulnerable people in touch with volunteers who can help them to get groceries, pick up prescriptions or anything else that they need while cocooning. It’s been good to feel helpful. I have also been working some days in the library recording story telling videos and that’s been fun and there has been some lovely feedback so I hope it’s been useful for parents and children.
Books have been a wonderful escape during the last few weeks. The children’s books that I have been reading and sharing in the videos and the books I have been reading in my own time. It’s been a reminder of the power of stories. My own stories that I am working on now, whether they are brand new ideas or older stories that need to be edited or re-written are a haven right now. I was struggling with anxiety and lack of focus in the last few weeks…months even, but I think now, at least as far as writing is concerned that I have managed to get that under control for the time being at least. I still haven’t found the peace and quiet that I crave. The house is still full of noise and people but I’m finding a way to work around that.
It’s been months, and time has become almost irrelevant as it simultaneously slows and whizzes pass us. With a house full of people, I find myself busier than ever and carving out time to write is becoming more and more difficult. When I do grab a wedge of time the page is terrifyingly white and blank. Even the romance novel that I have begun has been set aside for now. It seemed such a daunting task and if five hundred words were written in a week that was the most it was progressing.
My Covid-19 poetry epic is evolving and growing remarkably mind you. It seems that the daily tasks of fighting over schoolwork, magically producing dinners from ingredients I didn’t even know I had and wondering how the hell we have SO much laundry contribute to what Kit de Waal says is essential thinking time. A topic germinates in my mind having been sown there by some observation I have made or come across. Words mingle. My locality, which is my garden and the dust bunnied hallway, yields a myriad of minute details that otherwise are unseen. The topic then emerges as a bundle of words, sometimes in order, sometimes not. They fall into a stanza and like the peas that I have sown, they need training and staking. Rewriting. This micro focus gives me words to wrangle, and I find it easier to concentrate on one stanza completely and utterly until it seems to work. Each stanza has a topic and is also its own poem in its own right and this smaller structure is something that I can manage to do at the present moment.
Reading is essential to writing, yet I find that I am having trouble engaging with the novel. I am forcing my way through The Talented Mr Ripley, but otherwise I have four novels begun and left aside in favour of reading Mary Oliver’s poetry and her instructive book on writing poetry.
But what’s really carrying me through this difficult time is the wonderful conversations I am having with other writers. Conversations that veer from the craft of writing to sharing gifs and giggles. I urge you, if you can, to keep in touch with those creative friends of yours… If nothing else this is what is what will keep you sane in a world that seems daily more and more like something from a novel.
Stay safe and healthy.
Join us next month and each month for the rest of the year for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes. In the meantime, we hope you and yours are safe and well.