The last two weeks have been a stress of deadlines: prepping to teach, getting the tax return in, finishing notes etc. But also sticking to my January goals: getting exercise everyday, treating my body well, treating myself well, remembering to enjoy the moment, building my ‘real world’ friendship circle and waiting on news for a project related to my long listing in the Nan Shepherd prize. Oh, the agony of waiting. All part of the journey in the world of creative writing, but goodness; that gap between knowing and not knowing; I have a skill for building storylines and situations that fit the space of ‘no news’. It does me no good. I’ve been frozen by the anxiety of it. All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.
The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. Not helped by me accidentally printing out the wrong year of bank statements and not noticing until I’d spent two weeks adding them to my accounts. I kid you not, I spent days in my dressing gown crying over the computer. Happily, I have made contact with an accountant who is going to help me to get them in order for the next submission. This year I earned more, which is great, but as I was inputting my accounts I can see the months where I went work-mad and took on far too much. Doing my accounts for the tax return is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.
Organising courses and workshops takes a lot of work. Hours of preparation go into making sure that a mixed level group all get something out of any course session or workshop. It’s hard work but I enjoy doing it, and I’m particularly enjoying the course I’m running at the minute: The Caged Bird Sings, which is a good mixed group with enthusiastic members. It’s zoom based, but with extras like the facebook group and a non zoom prompt at the beginning of the week and because I’m working for myself and not for a university I feel I have more control. I’m still open to running courses and websites for outside opportunities too, which makes a refreshing break, and I’m excited to be running a workshop for The Poetry Business on February 16th, as well as my York Centre for Lifelong Learning Course. I’ve been running some short private courses too and they are enjoyable enough that I’m going to run some feedback and mentoring sessions via zoom, watch this space for more details. I enjoy working with people and helping them get the best out of their work, and this year I am also trying to do that for myself, I am really valuing the time I am getting to work on my own stuff. I’m getting more time to attend poetry readings too: Caroline Bird last week and next week Hannah Lowe, which I am so so so excited about. I’ve been raving about The Kids to anyone who will listen, it’s an amazing book of poems.
It is really important to get time to prioritise your own writing, and also to see and hear other writers performing, and to work with them. It’s why I’m so excited by the online Spring Writing Retreat I’m running. I’ll make a separate blog post about that, but it’s lovely to be joined by Steve Nash, Caleb Parkin, Naush Sabah and Kim Moore for workshops and readings and quiet writing and interactive writing. It’s going to be so much fun. I know I’m going to enjoy it as much as the attendees. Nearly half the places are gone for it, so if you are thinking about it, please don’t hang about and be disappointed: Book your place here.
Tomorrow I aim to get out with my metal detector for the first time this year. I have a nice field I’m quartering at the minute, though all it’s turned up so far is a wood splitter and a lovely big horse shoe, but that means the land has been worked. It’s a good quiet field, not a lot of rubbish, and that makes for an enjoyable few hours, head down, listening to the earth and the stories it has to tell. I’ll update you next week if I find anything good.
Until next time