I'm sitting at home (of course, we all are) in what I believe is week 5 of our self isolation and #stayathome trend to help flatten the COVID-19 curve. I find it so interesting that one day I'll re-read this post or someone will stumble upon my blog and this will be sitting here for posterity.
Like so many others, this entire process has been an ocean of change. Like the tides, we ebb and flow--- one day I feel invincible and strike everything off my to do list. From work admin and content creation to practicing my guitar and studying French on the Duolingo App. Others, I am in a fog. Bleary eyed, and hunched over, the weight of the entire world literally resting on my shoulders.
When the global shut downs started, more and more entrepreneurs and influencers were calling for us to "use this time to write that book!" "Make that art!" "Do the things you've always wanted to do but never had time for!"
To be honest, I was angry. Here I am usually managing through my days with an underlying anxiety that I am not allotting enough time to my own creative endeavours. I'm not writing enough of my second novel, or querying more agents for my first novel. Or researching how to self-publish. Or finishing up my assignments for my Editing Degree (because why not have 15 projects on the go?). This, on top of juggling clients and doing work that actually gets me paid.
Now here we are, trying to keep our heads above the water during a global pandemic---people are dying, healthcare workers are literally facing death on a daily basis, jobs are being lost, airlines are grounded, borders are closed and even attempting the grocery store to get the essentials is giving me palpitations. Then you expect me to sit down and tackle all of those creative projects that I've been mentally drained of doing in normal times, right now?
So no, I call bullshit and you should too. This is a time of survival and while it may not feel like we are at the front lines of a war and we are able to stay in the comfort of our homes (while not the case for many others), with food, booze, Netflix, Wi-Fi and time outside unlike other countries, we are still dealing with the onslaught of news and media updates. Our social channels we used to use an escape have become a constant reminder of this global crisis. If you don't want to "take advantage of this time" you don't have to. Maybe you have kids at home and you and your partner are trying to adjust to working from home, and now being the sole educators in your children's lives. Maybe you struggle with depression or anxiety. Maybe you draw a lot of your own mental health on being out in the world surrounded by people. Maybe you're single and live alone without the possibility to visit friends and family.
Maybe just waking up, showering and eating well is enough today. Maybe tomorrow you stay in yoga pants and drink wine at 1pm. Never has the expression, "you do you" resonated more with me right now. So while some days I tick some items off, and yes, even get some writing done, I'm over the rule or pressure that during this current climate of a global pandemic is somehow supposed to equate to MORE productivity and creativity.
I'm over the rule or pressure that during this current climate of a global pandemic is somehow supposed to equate to MORE productivity and creativity.
I'd like to leave you with one of my favourite quotes when dealing with highly emotional times: "Focus on the light" which is loosely taken from an Aristotle quote. And how about you, dear reader? How are you holding up throughout these days of social distancing and self-isolation?
I recently saw a Tweet that asked: "How long have you been querying for?" I wish I could remember where I saw it (damn you Twitter with your constant refreshing). But as a writer, it definitely triggered something for me.
I've had a few friends recently ask when my book was going to be published, or when they could get their hands on a copy. Thank you dear friends! That support means the world. But until I saw that Tweet, I was kind of blissfully ignorant to how many literary agents I had actually queried + how many had said yes. Spoiler alert: none of them have said yes.
So to answer this Tweet, dear anonymous Tweeter, I have queried 13 agents since September. That includes one blast end of September and another push at the beginning of 2020. I did get one positive response that they wanted to see more but due to their personal circumstances, were being very choosy on their new authors. Which is totally fair!
The funny thing is, when I actually checked my list and saw all the blank spaces of no responses (not every agent has the time to respond to the hundreds of submissions the get), or the few with firm No's beside them, it didn't totally rattle my core or shake all of my confidence. When I first started writing, I dreaded rejection. Like so many writers or mentors we've had, they all say the same thing: "everyone faces rejection at some point in their career." Hell, if JK Rowling can get turned down by that many publishers, and then be the goddess that created an entire world, then we've all got to do our time right?
In fact, when I first got my edited manuscript back from my Editor in the summer, I quickly scanned her notes and email and needed to put it away for a week or two as I just didn't feel strong enough to see all of the red lines or feedback on these characters I loved so much. But once I was ready, wow, did I respect this Editor! She had so many valid points and suggestions and I just knew that my novel was becoming so much stronger as a result.
So while I sit here playing the waiting game, I'm not that worried to be honest. The right agent needs to come along that believes in this world I've created just as much as I do. I wouldn't want someone to take it on just to get a book deal. I'm looking for that synchronicity between us that could lead to a very long and fruitful partnership for both of us. And in the mean time, I'm trying to get back into the world of novel writing as that is certainly one of the best ways to get stronger and stronger in one's craft.
Are you someone waiting on something too? A book deal? Maybe you're a musician shopping around an album or an artist trying to sell some of your paintings. If that's you, I am so here for you my friend. We can play the waiting game together - I have plenty of wine and puzzles to pass the time.
I'm sitting here at a local coffee shop, the sunlight streaming through the windows, full cup of hot coffee beside me and waiting for that "spark". You know the spark I'm talking about right? That one that apparently happens to the brilliant minds around us when they're in creativity mode, their next masterpiece right around the corner.
I finally got out of the house after a short week (Monday was a holiday here), had work piling up around me, working into the evenings most days and little life admin tasks popping up. I threw my laptop in a bag, drove to the cafe with resolution to just write. But here I am an hour later looking at a meager 450 words on the screen. And it's not for lack of ideas. I actually have a good idea of where I want the next stage of this novel to go but I am just feeling so stuck lately.
Can anyone relate? I'm trying my hardest to blame it on anything possible: oh, it's just winter, feeling long and tiring and zapping my creativity; I have too many other jobs on the go (you know, the ones that actually keep my lights on); I just need to look up this one thing (two hours later I've fallen down a rabbit hole and seem to be trying to find out whatever happened to that Red Power Ranger); oh it's time for a snack, and a healthy cookie would be great, but I don't have any on hand so I better dig out the mixing bowl and get cracking on those.
I've been doing a lot of work with The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron lately and from my own googling (read: procrastinating) I know a lot of this lack of "motivation" or "creativity" comes from doing anything BUT what you should be. Are you a painter? Then just pop up that easel and get some paint on the canvas. Writer like me? You just need to plonk your bottom on the seat and start writing. It can absolutely be rubbish (and on those days where I am really fighting that dedication, it often is junk) but the habit is there. Growing a teeny tiny bit every time I fight the urge to fall down an Instagram hole or hit some interesting click bait on Facebook (ya, why won't they hire Brendan Fraser anymore?!).
I'd love to hear how you find that spark you need to get started. Is it being in a certain room that "means business" or going to your favourite spot in a local cafe?
And if it isn't obvious already, I need your tips because of course, this blog post has also become a way to procrastinate (shh, don't tell anyone).
Some of the books I look to for inspiration when I find my personal motivation lacking
I wrote about the value in creating a routine while working from home last year, but it's important you are always re-evaluating to see what works for you right now. So as the nights begin to draw in over here in Canada, the shortened days can make it a little tricky to settle into a routine. And being a full-time freelancer for over two and a half years now, my "regular" routine has gone through a few changes. For all of you other creatives living that #freelancelife I wanted to share some of the activities and goals I try to work into my days that offer up the most productivity, while also keeping me sane! I'd love to hear some of yours too!
1. Morning walk with the hound first thing in the morning. Some days I'll load up an audiobook I've borrowed through the Ottawa Public Library, or (as is often the case) have a Spotify playlist loaded with the best Christmas tunes. Other days, I love to go out without any ear plugs, and listening to the sound of my neighbourhood. Luckily it's quite quiet so I can enjoy and embrace whatever the weather, knowing Kingsley and I are getting a nice dose of exercise and Vitamin D first thing in the morning. Plus, it makes it easier to concentrate without his incessant "when are we going for a walk??" whine from beside my desk.
2. Unroll my mat and get some yoga in. This one has gone through a few changes over the months. I used to have to do it first thing to feel like my day was starting off on the right foot. If I have a pass to a local studio, I'll work it into my day in whatever way suited. If I'm joining the always lovely Tina at Yoga Attic, I'll make her 9 am class to really connect with nature, like minded people and start my day off right! Or, when I had a pass to local Yogatown, I'd actually try and make the 12 o'clock flow class as a way to break up my day and give me a mini reset before the afternoon. What I'm digging right now? Post-walk yoga (Boho Beautiful is my go to link for all the vibes!) in the comfort of my home, surrounded by mellow tunes and my twinkling Christmas lights
I can enjoy and embrace whatever the weather, knowing Kingsley and I are getting a nice dose of exercise and Vitamin D first thing in the morning."
Enjoying an oat milk latte at one of my favourite local coffee shops
3. Indulge in excellent warm drinks. You know by now I'm a little addicted to coffee - decaf, half-caff, full dark and bold - like it all! I invested in a pretty nice espresso machine a couple of years ago and it has been an absolute life saver for me. After that morning yoga, I'll go make a second cup of coffee (first cup of the day is always big and black...nothing fancy!). But this second cup, I'll froth up some nice dairy free milk (new addiction is oat milk - it foams up way better than any other dairy free milk I've had) and make a fancy little latte. This is what I'll take to my office and get the ball rolling for the day. Post lunch? It's time for a hot cup of green tea with fresh lemon.
4. Lists, lists and more lists. On the podcast I host with my sister, Life As We Try It, we recently took some personality quizzes, and it was no surprise we both thrive on writing lists and ticking them off. When you're juggling various clients, while also working for yourself, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Lists help me stay on top of it all, while also giving me that little jolt of serotonin when I smugly tick off another item, no matter how small.
5. Get out and spend time with humans. While it is excellent to be able to work from the comfort of my home, sometimes you just need to be around other humans and the hum of the real world. I find I get invigorated in a different way when I'm sitting in a local coffee shop trying to get some work done. It's excellent for letting my creative side out a little bit. When I'm out, I get to bounce energy off of other people, gain inspiration from new surroundings and not get called into non-work related things (anything from "the dishes need to be done", to "there's nothing to snack on, let's bake some fresh cookies!" are all excellent distractors sometimes.
6. When working late, wine is always a good idea. When I was in the final push to finish my first novel, A Week at the Woods', I found a glass of red wine was very helpful in those final late night pushes! Never very much as this can often lead to a drastic decline in productivity, but whether I'm editing copy, writing, or working through a social media marketing plan, sometimes you just need a glass of wine at the end of a long day, and while living that #freelancelife we all know there is no 9-5!
I hope you have found these ideas helpful and would love to hear how you create a routine while working from home too!
Or clubs of any type really. The important thing is that we have clubs and communities where we can belong. And I'm talking old fashioned, face to face meet ups where you can see, feel, and emote with other humans. Social media has created this entirely other universe where we can connect, grow and yes, even create a community. And while this is great, hell, as a freelancer who works from home, if I didn't have my online community, some days I would feel incredibly lonely (cuddles with Kingsley aside).
But I read this incredibly interesting article from Buzzfeed News this week: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. While it's a bit of a longer read than we millennials are used to these days (it's not a perfectly packaged video that fits into the 60 second time limit of Instagram? Or three paragraphs under a cute photo in your feed? Let's be honest, sometimes even those feel too long to sit through), it had sound bite after sound bite that I couldn't stop reading. It was all so real and true. And what's even more, I was just trying to vocalize similar feelings to friends and family recently.
I have a great recurring gig that pays my bills, feeds me, and allows me to put money away every month, with the freedom to take on clients here and there with interesting jobs or brands I want to align with too. I have time to do my own writing, like my novel, A Week at the Woods' or manage and work on this blog. I'm able to do all this from the comfort of my home. I don't battle traffic, or have to sit on a crowded train to get to work. If I wanted to, I could work in my underwear, leave my hair unwashed for days (seriously, how many days in a row is it socially acceptable to use dry shampoo? Asking for a friend!), and never leave my home.
But that's just not how I work for a number of reasons. But one is that I'm quite a social person - years of office life filled with travel and event networking mean it's just part of who I am. And two, the pressures of the online world, or the millennials who do it all, can get to you a lot more if you choose to go it alone. I've actually found that the more my online and home office life grows, the more lonely it can become. When I open Instagram, I'm rarely scrolling through friends feeds to like their cute photos, I'm trawling for content, or sharing likes and spreading brand awareness. I have six different Instagram accounts I run and manage. SIX. When I open IG, more often than not, it's a cause of anxiety. Facebook is just the same - I manage seven pages on FB. Do you know how many notifications I get in a day? For someone with borderline OCD, seeing constant notifications on my lock screen makes me want to run for the hills some days. But it also forms the bulk of my business and is something that I love doing and is what keeps me going. It's just a side effect of the world we live in.
It helps to remember that there is an entire world outside of online that was always there. Like when we were kids (yes Millenials...before we had cell phones, or at best, the Nokia 6310 with changeable face plate), and we could just pop over to a friend's house for a visit. We'd knock on their door and hang out, or as we got older and needed an escape from university or work stress, head over for a glass of wine or coffee for casual conversation, and more importantly, connection. This doesn't happen anymore. If you haven't texted me to tell me you're coming over, and I hear the doorbell ring, I ain't answering the door. And I know I'm not alone here!
I had some girlfriends over last weekend for book club. It was my birthday weekend and I was so happy to have these amazing friends of mine over to help celebrate, while it may not always be about books, it's what initially brought us together and let these friendships grow. And the way this club came about? When I first moved back to Ottawa, aside from a handful of very close friends I kept in touch with since moving away almost 10 years ago, I had to start meeting people all over again. Do you know how hard that is when you work from home?! So I joined Bumble BFF (hey, it helped me meet my boyfriend, why not some girlfriends?), met a bunch of fantastic ladies, and after a Bumble BFF double date with a few (totally adorable right?) we started a book club. And this, this regular connection with peers is what I was so missing.
When I first moved to London, I had a look online at meetup.com (before there was an app for that!) and found The Girly Book Club hosted by the lovely Erin Woodward (and BFF of a hometown friend of my sister's back in Canada!) Being able to connect in these ways makes us all feel a bit more human and bit more connected to the real world around us. So those days when we feel like we haven't been "offline" work at all, or the stress and anxiety of living and working in today's landscape of constant notification, it helps to have a safety net to catch us.
As we head into winter here in Canada, I'm wanting to get cozy and hibernate but I'm also wanting to try new things that keep me cultivating those real connections. Every year I try to select a few things that I know will push me out of my comfort zone but that also help to connect to new people, new things, new hobbies. And with that comes so much more than growth.
How about you? How do you stay sane in an online world? Do you have any clubs or hobbies you would recommend trying? I'd love to hear from you!
Welcome to the first edition of Behind the Scenes (BTS) Friday! That's a thing right? As any writer knows, sometimes the process can be a long, lonely and arduous one. But it is also filled with deep love for our characters and enchantment as we build and create a completely new world populated with our own imagination of characters.
After completing my final round of edits on A Week at the Woods' last month, I made the decision to send out inquiry letters to a few different reputable literary agencies - eek! Very exciting and nerve wracking but I decided to take a leap and see where I landed. The only thing is, now we wait! It can take up to three months to hear anything back so I have actually begun to work on my next novel in the mean time. Yes, the first one isn't published yet and only my editor and I have actually read it through from start to finish, but what better time to start creating another new world to get lost in?
Before I go into too much detail on this new project - it is after all, a very new relationship and I don't want to rush anything just yet - I wanted to share a tiny excerpt from the book jacket of A Week at the Woods' since I have had so many supportive friends reach out and ask me what it's all about:
Following an explosive revelation from her family on her wedding day, Rachel leaves for London with her new husband and hasn’t seen her family in three years. Now divorced, she returns home to a family reunion at the lake but while there, the past and present situations of everyone in the family come to light. Is a week in the woods long enough to bring this family back together?
If you love a big family dramedy filled with multiple points of views and a deep love for one another, than this is the book for you!
I'd also love to hear from the writers out there - how do you celebrate finishing a novel? Do you immediately start reaching out to publishers? Take the self publishing road? Do you start right into your next project? Or sit with the finality of your cherished characters and how their stories ended?