Technology overload

Last night, as I walked home from work, I noticed for the first time a small memorial garden outside one of the tower blocks near my flat. Having walked past it many times before without ever registering its existence in my conscious mind I was surprised, especially in light of all the useless information my brain does hold onto each day, the majority of which I’m ashamed to admit is acquired through social media.

When I got home I caught the end of a feature on The One Show about the effects of the digital revolution on the human brain. In it, it was claimed our brains are now so re-wired by all the digital technology we consume that, on average, we wake three times a night because of the sheer over-stimulation of it all. After watching this programme did I, therefore, remove my mobile phone from the bedroom and retire early to bed with a cup of cocoa and a good book? Did I heck. I went to bed too late, checking my Facebook right before switching off the light. Then, five minutes after closing my eyes, I opened them again to make some notes about a story idea on my iPhone’s notepad. And again five minutes after that to check for an email response from a friend and add an action to the To Do list. No wonder I slept fitfully and had the strangest dream about a cannibalistic house…

It’s scary to think we’re so habitually ‘plugged in’ to technology that we don’t see things like beautifully-kept gardens even though we walk past them every single day. There’s too much buzz, too many distractions, our choices are no longer our own and, as a result, our concentration levels ‘in the real world’ plummet. I find that all the time with my writing. Whereas once I would think of a story, sit down and write that story, now I think of ten stories and feel so paralysed by choice I struggle to write any of them. That may or may not be down to my addiction to technology, but it probably doesn’t help.

Maybe it’s time to banish the phone from the bedroom and start using an alarm clock. In the words of Mister Tesco, every little helps…

Cold calls and cupcakes

This morning I came into work determined to blitz my to do list once and for all, so that I might go to Belgium this weekend feeling in control and, dare I say it, ‘on top of’ things. Sadly, however, today was not to be my day. My initial enthusiastic approach was thwarted at every turn. Firstly, I sat down at my desk to find the papers for the hitherto forgotten (in my mind at least) board meeting staring back at me. Then, post three-hour board meeting, I emerged, blinking in the light, to a telephone call from a blocked number which went something like this:

Me: Hello?

Annoying stranger: Hi, yes, I’m calling about your payment protection.

Me: I don’t have any payment protection.

Annoying stranger: But haven’t you recently taken out a loan?

Me: Look, if you’re trying to sell me something I’m really not interested..

AS: No, I’m absolutely not selling anything….

Me: So what are you calling about?

AS: Your recent loan..

Me: But I haven’t taken out a loan.

AS: Really?

Me: Yes, really. Look, I’m not interested in whatever you’re trying to sell me, okay?

AS: But I’m not a salesman, honestly…

Me: Then what are you?

AS (weakly): I’m calling about your loan…

Me: How many times do I have to tell you I’m NOT INTERESTED?

AS (sounding scared now): Um, okay….

Me: Right. GOODBYE (slams receiver down).

I’m not sure my true wrath translates so well in this context but suffice to say I think the poor man might be re-evaluating his career choices from this day forward…

Fortunately the remainder of the afternoon passed without incident and I did manage to make an indent in the To Do list despite the adverse conditions. But the true success of today was the delicious risotto we made for dinner-with peas, beetroot and goats cheese. This was topped off with a bottle of red and two delicious Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes (apple strewsel and tiramisu, since you asked), courtesy of my friend Kaye’s birthday voucher from a year ago, to celebrate two years to the day we ‘officially’ started going out – a low key celebration in light of recent events, but a lovely one nonetheless. Bruges this weekend will be the icing on the (cup)cake. I can’t wait.

Writer’s block

The blank page sits and waits. It does not judge as the writer hesitates, procrastinates and makes another cup of coffee. It is bemused, however, by the writer’s seeming inability to do the one thing they proclaim to love. What, it wonders, is so hard about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? The ideas are there, after all. The font of inspiration never runs dry, not really. The very notion is a construct of the human mind, so small in its thinking, so closed. In reality inspiration is a boundless well, but writers in particular are so shackled in their own self-doubt they fail to see the truth: That it is quite within the realms of possibility for them to lower the bucket whenever they choose.

Perhaps, the blank page muses, the writer is like a fountain pen, the ink being inspiration and the nib the point at which the creativity unfolds. When the fountain pen is first used it must be shaken to activate the ink. Only then can the ink trickle down to the nib where the two can connect and create words. Yes, thinks the blank page with a degree of smugness. That must be it. The writer is like a fountain pen that needs shaking. If only I could be the one to shake them. But alas, I am but a blank page, a canvas for the elusive words the writer struggles so much to produce.

The writer paces, sipping coffee and muttering indecipherable words. From time to time they stop and stand, quite still, in the middle of the room, like a cat that has been startled by an aggressor. They stare intently at a spot far in the distance, their eyes backlit by a fire of recognition that is stirring deep within the chasm of their mind. Then quite as suddenly their gaze softens, they lose focus, and they continue pacing, back and forth, this way and that.

The blank page sighs to itself. Watching the writer tie themselves up in knots is frustrating. It listens to the clock ticking and the twittering of birds outside the window. Still it waits, and still the writer does not write. More coffee, a telephone call, a conversation with the next door neighbour about shrubs; the blank page starts to think it will always be like this, an empty canvas, a possibility of greatness but no more. It feels sad.

But just as the blank page is about to give up hope, the writer strides purposefully back into the room and sits down at the desk. They roll up their sleeves, pick up their fountain pen, and begin to write. Or at least they attempt to write, but find that in this latest absence from writing the fountain pen has dried up. They shake the fountain pen and eventually the ink begins to flow. And as the words begin to wrap themselves around the blank page it thinks to itself, you see? The well of inspiration has been here all along. Now lower your bucket and drink.

Doing less better (starting with cuddles)

It was a novel feeling waking without Monday blues today; the knowledge that from now on Mondays are my own time to pursue various writing interests and freelance commissions has certainly put a spring in my step. But that’s not to say it’s going to be easy – I’m already feeling the pressure to cram more into my solitary freelance day than is feasible, and I know if I want to be “a success” (whatever that means) I’m going to have to be selective with what I take on. Tempting as it is to commit to lots of small commissions, I fear in doing that I’ll lose the essence of what I want to achieve. Whilst money is of course a consideration, ultimately I’d just like to get to a point where I’m writing for enjoyment and getting paid a reasonable sum in return. Is that too much to ask? I think not.

But in the short term I know I must be realistic. A good friend who I went to visit this afternoon (for cuddles with her gorgeous son – see pic. I have been working today – honest!) wisely told me not to expect to earn anything from freelancing for at least the first few months, because it would take that long to get set up and work out what I want to specialise in. And I know she’s right. I need to play the long game and not get distracted by the shiny nuggets of £20 commissions to write blogs for people too lazy to do it themselves. What reward is there in that, after all? To establish oneself as a professional in any field one must first learn to value themselves, and never is this more important than when becoming a freelancer. If you don’t back yourself who else will? It’s vital to stay strong and confident in the knowledge that your talent will shine through and it will do exactly that – leave those who value themselves less highly than you to take on the menial commissions and keep your eye on the prize.

My old boss’s motto was “do fewer things better,” and it’s stayed with me over the years because it’s great advice. Whenever things get on top of me and I feel I’m juggling too many balls in my life, I remember the mantra and try to strip it back until it feels more manageable. Because there are always things you can cut back on to make time for what’s important – if what’s important is really as important as you say it is.

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Remember way back in January when I started this blog and I posted a pic of my pregnant friend at her baby shower? Well this little treasure is the result – and I love the bones of him 🙂

The write read

It’s a well-known fact that, for the most part, writing doesn’t pay. Or at least it doesn’t pay until you make it big, though you might be surprised by how few authors ever reach the heady heights of JK Rowling’s wealth, despite being on the best seller lists for weeks on end.

So what do aspiring writers do to make ends meet? Some sacrifice luxury and get a part time job in a cafe, devoting the rest of their time to writing in the hope they’ll have that much needed break and be catapulted out of their Hackney bedsit into a Hollywood condo.

Others, like myself, who have fallen into a relatively comfortable way of living and aren’t keen to suffer for their art to quite the extent of living below the poverty line, get a full time job. Days, therefore, are spent in an office, doing someone else’s bidding for eight hours or more at a time, and nights are spent trying to fit writing in amongst the other many competing priorities.

But I’m not complaining, and nor should anyone who is serious about making it as a writer, because if writing is your passion it shouldn’t be difficult to make time for it. What can be a problem for the aspiring writer, however, is what they choose to sacrifice to make time for their writing. In my case, I’ve realised that what’s all too often being sacrificed is reading.

I take my Kindle to work every day, but on the journey there often struggle not to be distracted by the free newspapers. I therefore spend the duration engrossed in the latest drama in Rihanna’s love life instead of making a start on the latest Booker Prize-nominated tome I’ve downloaded.

Before conceiving my 365 day writing challenge I would at least spend the return journey reading a good book, but in recent weeks even those few precious snatched minutes have been compromised, as I’ve spent them drafting that day’s blog post. What this means is that although I am now (at long last) writing regularly, when it comes to reading I’m not getting much further than the odd sensationalist tabloid press story – hardly inspirational stuff.

What’s troubling me is this: How can I even hope to be a good writer if I’m not seeing how it’s done by learning from the best? To use an analogy, imagine trying to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it first. It’s not that you couldn’t do it – if you had instructions you’d get there in the end – but the whole experience would be harder, and you might not end up cycling to the best of your ability.

The realisation that I’m not reading enough has made me see I need to reassess my priorities again; rather than substituting reading for writing I must make time for both, or risk my writing being so badly compromised that the heady heights of JK Rowling will always remain out of reach.

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This little badge represents me having completed my fourth National Novel Writing Month. It serves as a reminder of how important writing is to me – perhaps in light of today’s post I need a similar talisman for reading?