Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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Recombobulation

In the past five and a bit weeks life has undergone a pretty big transformation, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve hit a bit of a wall where energy levels are concerned. I’ve moved country, moved house not once but twice, and started a new job in a new country where the employment system is more complicated than the Matrix. Not to mention the fact I’ve gone back up from working four days a week to five, which in itself is quite a shock to the system (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mourning my Mondays off – sniff). So yes, I guess I need to cut myself some slack, as my transatlantic friends would say. Getting into a new routine takes time, especially when the repercussions of that new routine involve a run of terrible nights’ sleep that leaves you feeling like your head is full of cotton wool.

Oh, and did I mention that good old Lady Karma has bitten me hard on the arse for boasting about my amazing new flat by sending me the neighbour from hell who appears to have no concept of bass control on his/her stereo, nor a concrete understanding of the less than concrete thickness of the wall that separates our living rooms. But hey, these things are incidental, and they shall pass. I just hope they pass sooner than later, because I need to get back to writing my screenplay and setting myself on the path to making the millions I need to be able to give up working for someone else and start setting my own agenda in life…A girl can dream (or at least she would if she was actually getting any sleep at the moment…Grumble grumble).

discombobulation

Listening to the Universe

You’ll likely think I’m mad by the time you’ve finished reading this post (my boyfriend certainly does), but as the threat of public ridicule has never put me off posting my opinions before, I’m figuring: Why stop now? So if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin….

I mentioned in my last post that I’m currently reading a creativity-unblocking self-help book called The Artist’s Way. In it, the author talks about the importance of opening oneself up to what she refers to as ‘God,’ but which I prefer (despite being of Christian persuasion – albeit not exactly practising) to think of as the universe. She says it’s important to listen to the guidance that it offers and pay heed to clues that you’re travelling along the right path.

Admittedly that sounds a bit far out, but in the past couple of days I’ve begun to wonder if it really is. Because all of a sudden I’m noticing the very clues she mentions, or at least I think I am. Take this for an example: Many years ago I woke from a dream with what felt like an entire screenplay in my head – a comedy screenplay, about two men who lived together, Men Behaving Badly style. Their names were Jeff and Pear (!), and I was so enthused I wrote a description of the show – and even drew the floor plan of the flat – before I could forget it (but then obviously did).

Fast forward to a few months ago when I stumbled across one of my old NaNoWriMo novel drafts – a light hearted chick-lit style story about a woman who owned a flower shop and got caught up in an accidental snogging session with a fifteen year old boy at the Hammersmith School Disco. I didn’t remember the story being particularly good, so was surprised to find myself laughing as I read the first chapter. But then, as with the Jeff and Pear screenplay, I forgot all about it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across the City Academy website and its range of creative arts-related courses. Seeking some creative enlightenment, I signed up for the taster classes in stand up comedy and sitcom writing, not believing either would be something I’d pursue. The stand up one was fun, but as predicted not ‘my thing.’ Then, last night, I did the sitcom writing one.

[Interlude: I’m just interrupting this story to add that, last weekend when I saw my Mum, she told me that she thought I was really funny; a naturally humorous storyteller. Obviously she’s my mother so I paid no heed to her generous but biased encouragement. Okay, now I’ll continue.]

So I went to the sitcom taster class and I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t sure. The teachers seemed fun and slightly off the wall, but the other students largely more experienced in sitcom writing than me (though admittedly that wouldn’t be difficult given that the sum total of my sitcom writing experience amounts to zero). But over the course of the two hours something interesting happened. I felt the familiar feeling of my imagination stirring into life from its often dormant state. And I found the theory on structure and characterisation of sitcoms both fascinating and logical. I can’t explain it better than to say it was as if something was finally falling into place. Which is ridiculous really because I hardly watch any sitcoms, though I remember now I think about it how much I loved them when I was young: One Foot in the Grave; 2.4 Children; Fawlty Towers; Absolutely Fabulous. And when I think a little more I realise I’ve loved them more recently too: Friends; The IT Crowd; The Office; The Inbetweeners; Peep Show. What I don’t like is the shows with canned laughter, but those are only a subsection of the larger sitcom field.

After two hours of sitting in a room in Farringdon with eight complete strangers, this strange epiphany unfolding inside my head, I went home. And no sooner had I turned on the television than a sitcom came on – the new one about people working at the BBC (the name of which I forget, but it’s very funny). Whilst I watched it I absent-mindedly looked up the sitcom writing course page on the Internet – and I swear I didn’t click on the ‘book course’ button and it took me to the payment page anyway. Which is when I started to join the dots together and re-visit all the happenings I’ve mentioned in this post.

I decided to sleep on it because, let’s face it, £345 is a lot of money to spend when you don’t actually have £345 of your own money to spend (close your ears Mister Bank Manager). Then, this morning, I posited the potential plan to my online writing group to garner opinion. The result was unanimous encouragement, with the lovely Emma Darwin providing these wise words: “I think one way to think about these temptations is: It would be great to get a script out of it (or a later script) which was bought, but we all know that there are all sorts of reasons why things don’t get bought. What else do you think you’d get out of the course, that would feed your writing and your life and so on? I think that learning to write drama is fantastically good for prose fictioneers, so I’m sure it would be worth it.”

So I was sold, figuratively and literally. And the final nudge from the universe? Well that was someone else from my writing group deciding to sign up too (unfortunately not to the same dates as me, but still…) and her saying how happy she was I had brought it to her attention, as she had written scripts many years ago and wanted to get back into it.

To cut a long story short, I start the eight week course next Tuesday, and I can’t bloody wait. Thanks Universe – I think. Although if I don’t love it you’ll have a lot to answer for…

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