I recently took a short break from writing to attend a 3-day meditation retreat in Oxford, London.
Although I am in the midst of editing and have a lot to do, I allowed myself to take a few days off. And this is something I am trying to incorporate more of into my life, to take regular breaks and be kinder to myself…and not feel guilty about taking time off!!
As writers, running a business (or at least like me, starting an author business) there always a lot to do. And overwhelm is usually my unwanted sidekick.
But I have finally come to the realisation that we are only human and we need to take breaks and to rest. In fact for creatives, it is during these rest periods where our ideas take shape and come to life.
From the outside, writing looks like a solitary and sedentary life. But it is mentally exhausting.
Our brains are squeezed for words, sentences and paragraphs. We search for the perfect word which expresses the essence of what we are trying to capture onto the page.
Yet sometimes, I feel I need to be in full-on ‘writer mode’ all day, or for at least 10 hours a day if I want to be a serious writer. But there is no profession in the world where you need to work ‘in-mode’ for 10 hours a day straight!
So if you too, also sometimes feel like you need to be doing more, stop and just allow yourself some time to rest. And you need to do this guilt free.
Luckily for me, the location of the retreat was in the country side where my mobile phone reception was poor. So I happily ignored email for three days and allowed myself to journal old school style. I hoped the few days break and being surrounded by beautiful countryside would inspire me and give my creativity muscles a good work-out.
The grounds were beautiful and legend has it that this was where Lewis Carrol came up with the idea of Alice in Wonderland.
The retreat location was a stately home where the Dean of Oxford university stayed whilst he was teaching at Oxford university. He once had Lewis Carroll over for dinner. After dinner, Carrol went for a walk in the beautiful grounds where he saw the Deans daughter, Alice, playing near the wishing well. And that is where the idea of Alice in Wonderland was born!
Ideas are a beautiful notion but are elusive. You quite never know when you will be struck with an idea which is why I usually have a notebook with me at all times, or I jot down some words or phrases into Evernote on my phone.
Although I am still working on my non-fiction book, I do have a desire and inkling to write a creative fiction book. At this point in time I don’t think I have many ideas but I am going to be patient and let them come to me.
But what I can do in the meantime is to start to notice things around me. I can follow my curiosity and take note of even the smallest nugget of an idea because all great stories start with just a tiny speck of magic stardust called ideas.
The retreat was focused on mediation but there were so many parallels with writing that I picked up such as:
If you are just starting out writing, you need to take the time necessary to write. There is no point in breaking yourself over self-imposed deadlines.
The process of writing in itself is what brings me joy. I feel satisfied and full after I have emptied my mind and thoughts onto the page. This is also why I have decided to allow myself the time I need to get editing done correctly.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that gave myself a 100-day challenge to write and publish my first book. 100 days have come and gone and I am still working on my book. Before, I would have got very stressed and anxious about it. But now I am allowing myself the space and time I need to get this book right.
Many people on the retreat had not meditated before and this retreat was the first introduction of it. At the end of the retreat, we were all asked what ONE thing we would take away and start implementing in our day-to-day life.
There was one particular young lady, who having not meditated before, said she wanted to develop a regular meditation practice…..by meditating for 2 hours a day every day.
Wow I thought. From going from a place of never having meditated to planning to sit for 2 hours a day was a big feat. Kudos to her.
But then I also saw how unrealistic this was and how her good intentions would inevitably set her up for failure.
Lots of people tell me they want to write a book but just don’t have the time. So they decide it can wait till they have a free weekend or when they retire.
But it doesn’t work like that.
First of all, time is something we don’t know how much of we have. So if there is something you really want to do, then think about doing it sooner rather than later.
Secondly, if you are doing something new for the first time, you cannot expect to be a Pro at it on the first attempt.
If you have never mediated before, you wont be able to sit for 2 hours straight. Especially if you don’t know whether you can even sit in silence for 10 minutes.
I have cultivated a meditation practice over the past three years. There are days I miss and days where I struggle to sit in silence.
And after 3 years I can only sit for 30 minutes before my mind wanders off. But there is no race. This process is intimate and private. And you need to put in the time to get the results.
The same goes for writing. I wrote my first book in 30 minute chunks of time writing just 500 words a day.
When you are standing outside the swimming pool, its easy to make plans. But its only, when you jump into the water, can see what it’s really like. You cannot guess the temperature from the outside. You need to jump in and get wet!
So start small. You need to build a habit so that it becomes a part of you. Otherwise you risk failing before you have even started. And that can de-motivate you and make the journey even more difficult.
Having big dreams is great. We need to set a vision compelling enough to allow us to stretch and give our best work to this world. But you need to understand that the only way to greatness is by starting small and being consistent.
So if you are new to mediation, start with just 1 minute a day. When you get comfortable with that, increase it by another minute. These small success will build your confidence. The repetition of the task will build your character and in grain good habits.
If you want to start writing your book, then commit to writing a few sentences today. Just write 10 sentences. If you can do that, repeat the process again the following day. And then again for the next day. Don’t worry about the quality of the words. At the start, you need to put in the time.
Quality comes from quantity.
Don’t wait till you have a chunk of time to do it. Take small steps and repeat it consistently. Then move fast. Publish your work. Get feedback. Make corrections and then hit publish again.