On Sabbatical: The First Week

I’m not really sure who I’m writing this for. People like me, I guess, who find it useful to see other people’s writing practices. I’ve just finished my first week of a writing sabbatical paid for with a small bursary from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. It is making so much difference to my work and my self esteem as a writer.

Right now, I genuinely feel like I am living the life that I want to live. Despite having to do some work in the afternoons, I have stuck to my original plan and I am in a good routine. Currently my day looks a little like this:

6.10 alarm goes off

6.20 at my desk ready to work while watching the sun come up from my office window

7.15 dog walk down the village and out into the countryside

8.00 coffee on, sort out my husband’s medications and feed all the animals (dog, cat, 5 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits)

8.15 coffee and reflective practice. Since going on holiday in Great Ayton in June, where I enjoyed breakfast outside every day, I have taken to having breakfast on the patio, or in the conservatory daily. Last year I cleared all the old hutches (remnants from my small animal boarding business days) off the patio to make somewhere nice for Chris to sit while he was recovering from the stroke, but I’ve actually ended up using it more myself. This year I cleared the conservatory of, yes you guessed it, lots of cages and hutches for my own animals, cleared the brick shed of all the old junk and old hutches (I was hoarding a lot of hutches, maybe something to do with my anxiety around failing in my current career and needing something to fall back on) and moved my own animals into there, creating a slightly cluttered, but no less lovely conservatory oasis so that I can continue my peaceful morning routine throughout the year, even when the weather is rubbish. I open the doors even when it’s raining to hear the outside sounds and it is a calm, peaceful way to start the day.

My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth.

9.00 Back to work, starting with whatever I wrote yesterday/in the earlier writing block and readjusting to address plot problems, voice, style etc. At the minute I am in the ‘Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written’ stage of writing the novel, but because it’s historical fiction, I also need to be spot on with some of the details, a small mistake has the potential to derail the book later down the line. So a lot of what I am doing is reading, researching, asking questions, writing, re writing. At some point I will have tortoised my way to the end of the first draft of a whole book, and then the editing starts.

12.30 My husband comes home for lunch, I eat something that is usually a just a vehicle for cheese consumption, and we watch bargain hunt together and shout at the people who think scent bottles and trench art are good buys. Reader, they are not. Every day we consider applying to bargain hunt, but secretly we feel we may not be the antiques aficionados that we think we are.

1.30 I decide what work jobs need doing – endorsements, planning of courses, Spelt work, editing, mentoring and set to work for a few hours.

3.00 At this point I do my daily meditation. Sometimes I do this on a morning, which is my favourite time to meditate, but I think possibly that’s not the mot helpful time, it is more beneficial to meditate when I am feeling any frustrations from the day. Before I can get down to my zafu for zazen I have to stretch my hamstrings out and my knee and my back because I am old and fat AF which is not conducive to the lotus position*

3.30 I start to think about tying up my day now, and what jobs on my list I can let go. It would be really easy to start panicking about the work that builds up, and get anxious about it, but at the minute I am super aware of this and don’t let that happen.

5.00 I take a bike ride or a walk or do something not related to writing or work.

*I do not get anywhere near the lotus position. I do get both knees on the floor and a good straight back though, which I am pleased with.

One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.

I’ve also taken my first research trip, to Haworth. We had a great time. I didn’t write, but I did record, explore, note, read, walk and think and that bled into the work I am doing. It was very successful and I managed to get everything i wanted as well as meeting some friends for dinner. I will definitely be going back at some point.

The other difference to my life and work that I have made lately, and something that I am certain has helped me to stay calm and bright is that I’ve been working with a health coach to help me to address my appalling habits around alcohol (I use it to counter anxiety) and bad habits around food. It’s working. I have a video chat once a week in which the coach is mostly subjected to my anxiety around the book and we set a small, manageable target each week to help me to improve my health without tripping my heart into a weird rhythm. I have cut my alcohol consumption down, but don’t feel restricted, at all. I feel like I am finally, finally enjoying my work and my life and myself.

Oh, one more thing, the other thing I’ve done since 1st September: I stopped checking my emails and social media on a morning. I don’t engage with social media (except Spelt) until five pm, and I don’t check my emails until around 1.30 pm, after I have finished the bulk of my writing work for the day. The out of office response on my emails is a game changer too because it seems to have put a wall around my own time, around which I can peek, unnoticed, to see if I want to address the stuff that streams into my inbox daily. I can feel the anxiety rise when I check social media, so am mostly avoiding it, apart from TikTok which does nothing except make me laugh, which I love.

Congratulations on getting to the end of my happy ramble!

Until next-time


3 thoughts on “On Sabbatical: The First Week

  1. I can identify with that. You seem to have a good balance of reflection, research, actual writing and daily life.
    I remember a similar pattern of journalling when my parents were ill. It helped me remember I was/am a writer.
    I’m pleased all’s going as well as it can and you’re happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. liz parkes

    So lovely to share your happiness. Can identify with this

    I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me

    Sounds like you have cracked it though, and your journey is an inspiration for others. It will be such a wonderful experience and your journal gives you a chance to relive it. I hope this is a page of your journal, scary to think this might be in addition.


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