This weekend ended up being the One Where I Didn’t Do Things.
I didn’t go to a social meet-up I had been planning to go to due to feeling unwell. I didn’t send off a story before a submission deadline because I realised it needed a lot more work to properly shine. I didn’t work on any other stories like I’d planned because I just wasn’t feeling motivated.
What I did do was unplug, spend time with my family and read a lot.
I strongly believe that absolutely everything will work a little better if you unplug it for a while… including you. So on Sunday I decided that I would have a No-Screens day, specifically social media and other chat groups, just to give myself a break. It’s amazing how often I reach for my phone to check Twitter or respond to an email or message as soon as it arrives “so I don’t forget,” yet what I also fail to remember is that this takes me out of being present in the moment. I am listening to other people’s voices over my own and prioritising other’s demands over mine. It makes me grumpy, anxious and unproductive. Yet every single time I think I’ve liberated myself from it, it sucks me back in again.
On Sunday, I effectively cut the umbilical. I used my phone only as a handy camera instead of an “internet communications device” (thanks, Steve Jobs).
I didn’t miss it at all.
I went for a walk with my family to the Botanic Gardens in Wellington, which is always one of my most favourite places to go, and had a good explore of the pathways and planted areas. The tulip garden was especially wonderful, and I was particularly taken with the lone red tulip lost in a sea of white. It felt strangely symbolic.
I love seeing the patterns and colours that nature provides; shapes and form that humans might try to emulate but never really manage quite as effortlessly. Changes in light, soil quality, the amount of rain that has fallen – all are unique and essential factors to growth. Sometimes we walk so fast we miss the little intricacies and complexities, we stop feeling awed by what surrounds us and simply take it for granted. I wanted to make time to look – really look – at what was around me and re-ground myself. Immerse myself in the real world rather than a pixellated one.
I took a lot of green pictures: textures and shapes, close-up details of leaves and trees being throttled by vines. As much as I would love the moss “skull” to be real, I rather suspect that it was made by a mischievous human. The knot in the tree which looks like a watchful eye, however, was definitely created by nature’s hand.
This weekend I started reading a new book by award-winning and bestselling author Tom Cox called “Ring the Hill”. I love Tom’s writing style, it always feels less like reading a story and more like going for a long walk with an old friend who I haven’t seen for a while, but with who I can instantly reconnect. The Guardian describes his writing as “loose-limbed” and while I know what they mean, I would argue that rather than loose, it would be better to say it was “leisurely”. He pulls the reader with him on a gentle meander, exploring life and people and geography, and there is something truly wonderful about his poetic descriptions.
I walked back to my car along lanes where large flocks of unseen sheep could be heard shouting together at the tops of their voices, a noise that from an individual sheep can seem to smack of the most terrible depression but in chorus sounded totally joyous, as if rows and rows of hearty pensioners were behind the hedges saying ‘Yeah!’ over and over again. (Cox, Tom Ring the Hill p. 20,21)
How lovely is that?
It’s made me consider own writing style and how I might evolve and improve. I was thinking recently about my writing goals for 2020 and beyond “keep writing daily” I didn’t feel like I really had any. Or not anything I might add to a structured list and keep a timesheet for. Some might argue that I’m not taking my “career” seriously, but I know myself well enough to say that holding myself accountable to specific targets will only make me rebel. Just like if someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me even more determined to try. Not to prove them wrong, but to prove to myself that I can.
When I write, I meander too. I’m a wanderer, I write whatever comes into my head and sometimes I just have to stand back and see what falls out when it decides it wants to. I tend to see the best stories as strangely organic creations and writers as mere vessels which allow the words to take form.
But I do have goals. I am looking forwards to a short holiday at the end of the month and finding some more inspiration in being outdoors. I am very much enjoying being an integral part of a team who are pulling together an anthology to support a Kiwi mental health charity. I am happy to be bringing people together through ‘Well-Written’, both online through Slack and social media, and via associated workshops. I have joined NaNoWriMo and I am writing an elvish fantasy YA novel for my children. I have an idea for another anthology and a series of novellas which I hope will be published next year, or even the year after (assuming I actually get on with writing them!). I sold two stories this year and have another two in published anthologies, so I’d like to do a bit more of that. And I have made myself a village of people, both emerging and established writers, who have embraced my wildness and become firm friends. So, I think I’m doing okay.
It was nice to unplug over the weekend, and even nicer to discover that I appreciate the value of online communication when I do go back to it. (Although 124 unread Slack messages was… a lot!) I can see that No-Screens Sunday is likely to be a regular occurrence for me, not least to provide a necessary work/life balance in my writing too.
“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.
Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”