Blog #3 The Winter Blog: Hibernation, Writing Habits, Productivity
“I’m afraid we shall waste an awful lot of time.”
“Don’t worry,” answered Snufkin, “we shall have wonderful dreams, and when we wake up it’ll be spring.”
― Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll
Monday the 1st February. Hallelujah. It’s 7.20am and it’s starting to get light, I realise, as I pull the blind still half in sleep mode and see the pinky glow appearing from behind the houses at the bottom of our garden. It suddenly dawns on me (ha ha) that it feels like there’s at least fourty minutes more light each sunrise and sunset.
I feel a shiver of excitement pulsing into my belly.
This is good. Light is good. I missed the light most in January, although I still feel firmly in hibernation mode, it’s nice to spend it dreaming of brighter, lighter times, don’t you think?
And winter dreaming. So nice, so needed. If you agree, I wrote this article about the power of daydreaming for creatives.
Yesterday we had a big walk around the University campus – ideal until Flora (it could only be Flora) – fell into an icy pond. All the way in! The walk pretty much ended there.
We came home damp and got in our comfiest clothes, curled up on our new, gorgeous floor cushions in front of the fire – a present from my friend Hester – and bing-watched Winter Watch.
God, our country looks bloody gorgeous when you turn off the news and forget we have an evil Tory Government and that we are no longer part of Europe.
I’m both comforted and inspired by the film of red squirrels bounding about in the snow..”Ahhhh we all sigh” as we snuggle up a bit closer.
Enthralled by night-time footage of beavers chasing off foxes, deer gently grazing, blissfully unaware of the infra-red cameras live streaming them to the Nation. Lochs in Scotland with an abundance of marine life underneath the ice. Welsh waterfalls. Yorkshire / Polish ponies the colour of snow and sand, camouflaged against the white landscapes.
Storing, preserving, breathing more slowly until there’s more light, more sun. How cute is this illustration (by Jessica Boehmann)?
It’s nothing new, is it? Living like this, guided by the seasons. But we’re made to forget it with all the rigmarole that comes with being human; distracted by capitalism, religion, greed.
I know it’s really shit for many, many people, the news is shit, times are shit, loneliness is shit. Covid is utterly devastating for so many.
How I’m trying to be productive
I might be enjoying hibernating, but in a slow way I’ve been more productive than for most of last year. And, it really is down to structure. Structure has let me slow down, to focus on what’s important, and not to do too much.
Bringing back timetables
On Sunday night, after Winter Watch, I sit at my desk – an old Danish bureau that used to be the epicentre of my mum and dad’s life admin – and look at my planner for the week, writing in my daily habit tracker and must-do’s. Then I clock myself.
One of the things I’ve told myself – for forty-four years is that I’m not a routine person.
I’ve done a lot of reading about the benefits of structure for a person with ADHD and, in the spirit of loving post-it notes, stationery and bright coloured Sharpies, I decided to bring them back into my life.
There’s something comforting about knowing I’m stacking up good habits, keeping my brain flooded with positive talk instead of thinking I’m failing yet again.
Tiny elements of control in a mad world.
My 90’s timetable
The last time I did this, I was fourteen and the most important job I had was getting ready on a Friday night.
Here’s a diary entry from 1990.
5pm. Have a bath and shower
5.15pm Scrub, mask, tone, moisturise
5.30pm Watch Home & Away
6.15pm Do make-up and hair
6.25pm Get dressed, spray perfume
6.30pm Go out
FUUUCK! life was so simple back then.
My 2021 timetable
6 ish Tea and write a few pages of my diary
6.15 – 8 Write 1,500 words (doesn’t matter if they’re shit)
8 – 9 Sort the kids, breakfast / domestic shizzle
9 – 10 Run or walk 10k
10 – 12 Vaguely home-school support / work calls
12 – 1 Lunch
1- 4 Work (deep work – based on the book by Cal Newport)
If I manage all this in a day, I AM WINNING and you’ll find me snuggled by the fire eating pickles and prawn cocktail crisps for the rest of the day.
What helps me, productivity wise is to spider diagram concepts every thing I’m working on before I start. Things to write, projects, pages. Then, when I have periods of work I can dive straight in….I do definitely subscribe to the idea you can be as productive in a few hours as you can sitting there for eight.
I find leaving my phone in another room and working offline helps a heap.
Busy is not cool, so I keep telling myself.
Building writing habits
2021 feels like the right time to re-wire my brain.
Something I have been doing is writing every morning. Partly I was just doing this anyway, out of habit, but then I got inspired by some notes I had written last year and then I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for a second time.
Brain dumping words is up there with moving outside and lots of sleep with my daily positivity essentials.
I find it’s not really what you write that matters. There is some structure to Julia’s book but I use it more as a stream-of-conscious thing; it’s an act of meditation to me; a chance to empty the contents of my brain so there’s more room for creative energy to come through.
Filling up creative energy
“Morning pages feed your artist child” says Julia.
Each day I write at least three pages of random shit.
Then I grab an early morning niblette (joining in with the kids on hourly snacks, why not?) and carry on with my large orange A4 notebook (I find writing in anything smaller too irksome).
Then I start up again – in my incredibly messy handwriting, interspersed with doodles of birds and eyes – and create the spider diagrams, working out the purpose of things so there’s plenty of direction when I come to get seven minutes to sit and do something before I hear ‘Muuuuuuum” from another room, get a Face Time from upstairs or a text message from the other end of the sofa.
I also remind myself of what I want (the bigger picture). I have a list of “REALLY WANTS”. Other things get demoted. And a list of my TRUTHS (what’s important to me).
What I want
~ Write a nonfiction book
~ Create an inspiration space for people to get excited about living more how they want and less how they should
~ Enter a screen-writing competition
~ Live by the sea again
~ Solitude. Bloody hard right now, with everyone at home, but essential for maintenance.
~ Spiritual connection. Feeling like there’s a higher purpose, exploring ways of thinking and living; I’m curious and open-minded. Right now I’m reading Lunar Living by Kirsty Gallagher. I’m fascinated by it.
~ Friendship and connection. I’m not great in big groups, I like big, funny, deep and juicy conversations; this is why I have a love/hate relationship with social media, large events etc. I’m much better one-to-one friend.
~ Intuition. Being guided by what feels right and not listening to external influences.
~ Daily doses of serotonin, sunshine and solitude.
~ People to observe / listen to. I genuinely love people so I’m fascinated by dynamics, relationships, human chemistry. At the moment i’m missing people-watching, so instead I can turn to books, movies, audio to get a fix of how other people think.
~ Originality. I’m always looking for original thinking and stories. It’s important to me not to follow the crowd, to use language that sounds like me, not like everybody else.
~ Calming influences on my busy, ADHD brain that often feels like Kings Cross at 6pm on a Friday (pre-lockdown). Hot baths are good, long walks, learning new stuff, classical music, cinematic scores.
~ Healthy habits. I know not drinking alcohol, early morning writing, spending time alone outside, eating well, getting the kids outside, early nights all make me very, very happy and content.
~ And finally, a big theme for this year. Self-expression. Voicing my truth. Living it. Feeling like I’m creating a version of my truth through my writing projects. FEELING MORE WHOLE.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know about what you’re doing to keep sane, too.
Love, R xx
PS: A side-note of ‘shroom Biryani joy that I made in the rice cooker (you could also use a pan and just slowly cook the rice in the pan once you’ve done the first part).
I fried up onions, mushrooms, star anise, cardamom pods, ghee, cloves, loads of spices and garlic and ginger in a frying pan. Then I put some rice in the rice cooker, added in the fried mixture and a tin of coconut milk and just left it to do it’s thing. We ate it not more than fifteen minutes later in front of the fire with mango chutney and pickled red onions I made a few weeks ago….unbelievable…hope you enjoy it. I ate it too fast to take a pic, sorry.