A Tangled Path – Where Do We Go From Here?

As we move through these strange times, I suppose we each have our way of dealing with what’s going on. While we are linked on one level by the shared experience of lockdown, each of us has our own set of circumstances to deal with in how we find our way forward.

I found it difficult to focus the first few weeks of lockdown. Perhaps I was tapping into a larger, more generalised global anxiety, or simply finding the constant stream of news upsetting – or perhaps a mix of both. Whatever the case, I couldn’t do much writing, only able to sit for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I concentrated on short stories, working on some I already had, improving them for competition entries. Otherwise, I busied myself around the house, doing laundry, cleaning, tidying, baking, working out how to get food for myself and my family, cooking, clearing out cupboards… you get the idea.

And walking. Each day, the dog and I would head out for our state-sponsored walk, and I’d try and let my mind go free as well, releasing anxiety. It helped, a little.

Then April began and, with it, a commitment I’d made to do Camp NanoWrimo with a group of likeminded writers. It wasn’t our first time in the cabin together, and it was a welcome change of focus. It also forced me to write. My goal was 20k words, a big chunk of the first draft of a new middle-grade novel I was working on.

And I did it. I reached my goal with days to spare, the satisfaction at seeing my word count creep up, day by day, sometimes by only a couple of hundred words, keeping me going. As did the group I was in. All of us had goals to achieve, and each of us, though we lived in different countries, were dealing with lockdown and the impact of the pandemic. It was nice to check in and see how they were doing, to congratulate each other with every badge achieved. And it got me writing again.

Now it’s May, and lockdown continues, though things are beginning to ease. I do think this will be the shape of things for a bit longer yet, though, until a vaccine is developed. What was strange has almost become normal, now – it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to changes in circumstances. It seems normal now to go to the supermarket and see hardly anyone in there, to see empty shelves, to wave hello at people from across the road but go no closer. Even though I live on the very edge of London, close to the busiest airport in the world and two major motorways, when I go out for my walks, most days, all I hear is birdsong. The skies are clear, the hedges filled with butterflies and buzzing bees as large as my thumb. There seem to be more flowers than I remember seeing, too.

I wonder what the world will be like when we come out of the other side? I wonder whether there will be lessons learned, not only about the way we treat the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and their habitats, but also the other lessons. About how people who actually keep the world going are often paid less than anyone else. About how much we pollute, simply by living our lives – the pictures of clear skies in India, of cities seeing the Himalayas for the first time in years, are proof of how quickly things can change when we change our behaviour. And what about corporate culture? Big expensive offices may become a thing of the past, as many companies have realised they can still run with people working from home. Why pay for someone to have a desk in an office when they can do the same work from the comfort of their home?

There will be divorces and babies and love stories and breakups. There will be people taking leaps, trying something new. There will be business failures, and success stories. In twenty years’ time, our children and grandchildren will be learning about The Great Pandemic in school. But what their world looks like depends on how we rebuild this one. Which path we choose.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well – let me know how things have been for you in this strange time xx

(Photos from a recent dog walk – thank goodness for the lovely weather we’ve been having!)

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Breaking Blocks


Writer’s block.

I get a tremor just writing the words, as though I need to cross my fingers or turn around three times to ward off bad fortune.

I’ve been fortunate in this regard but then, when you’re getting paid to write for other people and have a deadline, writer’s block is an affliction you can’t afford to have. I’ve posted previously about how I’ve had to write about things that lie outside  my sphere of interest, and how I’ve had to work out the angle – I also have a little trick I employ to get myself going. I set a timer, either 15, 30 or 45 minutes and, once it starts, all I’m allowed to do in that time is write. I can’t check Facebook or emails, make a cup of tea or do any of the other things I might faff around doing to avoid writing. If something unavoidable happens like the phone ringing or a knock at the door, I pause the timer and then come back to it. I’ve found this remarkably effective and on several occasions find myself still writing once the timer is finished, the words in full flow.

So I wonder if the same would work if I had *whispers* writer’s block. Sure, I’ve had times when ideas are at a lull, where I’m not sure what my next blog topic will be or when certain scenes need a few days to gestate before I can get them on paper. But it hasn’t stopped me from writing. I try to write something every single day. There are loads of excellent writing prompts and challenges out there in blogland – if I’m stuck, I find one of those and give it a go. Or you could write about something that interests you, a hobby, something you saw on TV, or even about how you’re feeling at that exact moment – the important thing is to set the little timer and focus on writing and writing alone.

I’ve trained in martial arts for many years, and in my youth did try breaking blocks of wood with my hands and feet. I say try – I actually did break the blocks, except for one kick that went astray and led to me running outside to stick my bare foot in the snow, the sting from my flesh hitting wood intense like fire. Because the key to breaking blocks, you see, is to think yourself past them. To visualise your foot or fist on the other side of the board and hold that image in your mind – your body takes care of the rest.

And so perhaps the same holds true for *shh* writer’s block. If you think yourself past the block, rather than focusing on the block, you’ll break through it to a place where you can write again. And, instead of using your foot or fist, use your words. Start writing about anything, just pick a topic and write, focusing through to the other side.

So what do you think, fellow writers? Have you any experience with *crosses fingers* writer’s block you’d like to share?