NaNoWriMo: Writer’s Agreement

In November 2018, I will participate in NaNoWriMo, with the goal of completing 50,000 words by midnight of 30/11. This averages out to 1667 words per day. I know that I can accomplish this because I have done it twice before, so I will not let  anxiety or negative self talk try to convince me otherwise!

I will write every day, between noon and 5pm, with no exceptions barring serious illness or natural disaster. Playing catch-up is hard, so my actual daily goal will be 2k words just in case the serious illness or disaster does occur! If the worst happens, I will not give up just because I’ve fallen behind my word goal. I will carry my notebook and iPhone with me so that I can write anywhere at any time.

I will not give in to boredom, laziness, or FOMO. To achieve this, I will follow the plot plan that I have created, and write the parts I want to write, regardless of order. I give myself permission to abuse coffee if required.

I will shelve my inner editor. I will not re-read anything that I have written until December. I give my novel permission to be terrible until December. This novel is ultimately for me – I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards.

I will not let outside interference dissuade me. I am allowed to prioritise this for myself, and the world will not end just because I have done so! I will retreat to my office if required, or the cafe, or the library. I will wear headphones and turn up my music.

I am allowed to be excited about this, even if nobody else understands. I will use FB groups and write-ins to discuss this with like-minded folks.

I want to accomplish this because I need to add structure and discipline back into my day, so that I have solid foundations for the rest of the work that I do. I want to teach my mind that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and encourage no-holds-barred creativity. I want to give in to the urge to write.

What and Why I Write

For me, writing is a method of learning about myself and the universe at large. “Know Thyself” instructed the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and Socrates declaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In a modern life full of distractions, we can hit retirement age before realising we’ve not once paused to ask these most important of questions: who am I? why am I? how can I become what I desire?

All things change as they age. This change is inevitable (and vital!) – so I believe it’s important to embrace it, and choose how to shape it for ourselves. One of the key methods of doing this, for me and probably for a lot of other people, is by examining my values, core beliefs, ideas about self. With that knowledge, I can guide my life towards purpose that makes life worth living.

As a child, I believed that life was a straight line, and that all I had to do was follow the “correct” steps to be successful – but of course I didn’t really know exactly what success I was hoping to achieve. My plan was typical and straightforward: school, uni, career, marriage, house, children, age, die. But during my teen years, I came to a crossroads where I realised that I had to make a choice – keep blindly following one path and ticking off goals as if life was some sort of game with a strategy guide to help me win, OR change my paradigm to acknowledge that life is an ongoing, fluid process – and that reaching a destination doesn’t matter as much as enjoying the journey.

I mean, I realise that this is pretty cliché, but I think that’s because it’s also true. Trying to achieve goals set by other people led me to anxiety, depression and crisis. That old worldview walked hand in hand with worry and regret, and drove me to a breakdown, aged 16.

Nearly two decades later, I’m trying instead to live in the present, and to explore all life has to offer with curiousity and an open mind. I’ve always been mad about learning new things, but instead of limiting that education, I’ve opened myself to a variety of experiences by practicing being vulnerable and brave, honest and inquisitive, patient and accepting.

And this too is a work in progress.

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of.” – Josh Weldon

Journalling for Mental Wellbeing

Originally posted at The Catastrophe Club.

If you’ve ever talked to a health professional about your anxiety, they probably mentioned journalling. That’s because there have been a number of studies that demonstrate how useful regular journalling is for managing stress, anxiety, and depression – and it’s something that anyone can do, which doesn’t cost a lot of money or take up a lot of time.

How you journal depends entirely on your needs and preferences!

Want to focus on the positive? Try gratitude journalling – every day before you go to bed, write down three things that have happened that day for which you are thankful. Sometimes, this can be the big stuff (the war is over! I got married! Brooklyn Nine-Nine was renewed!) and sometimes it’s the little things (I woke up feeling peaceful, I found my lucky pencil, the way my cat stretches and yawns is cute). The idea is that we spend enough time and energy worrying about all the bad stuff (apparently something like 80% of automatic thoughts are negative!) so by investing time in noticing and being thankful for the good stuff, we build up our resilience and regain some control over our reactions.

Not a words person? Try colouring! You can buy colouring-in books and journals, simply print pages off the internet, or create your own drawings – then sit down and focus all your attention on the act of creating art. This is mindfulness in practice: engaging the senses of your body, focusing on the moment, making time. If anxiety is worry about the future or past events, then mindfulness is a solution that brings you to the present, meaning your brain has less ability to give anxiety space.

Can’t stop worrying about a particular incident? Try a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy trick – the thought record. Write down the context of the worry: what happened, where, when, with whom? Describe how you felt, and on a scale of 1-100%, how strong those feelings were. Think about facts that support how you’re thinking about that incident – remember, facts are externally verifiable evidence, NOT judgements or personal interpretations. What things might contradict the thoughts you’re having? How could you think about this incident in a different, more balanced way? Finally, rate your mood again to see whether this exercise helped. You can find a basic Thought Record Template here (PDF).

Do you lie awake at night, thinking about all the things you have to do? That sort of rumination builds anxiety up, making it more and more difficult to get to sleep! One of the best tips for dealing with it is to keep a notebook by your bed, and make lists of the things you’re worrying about. Tell yourself that once it’s written down, it’s dealt with for now. The next day, you can work through the list at your leisure. If you’re a stationery addict, there’s a huge range of day planners available to make this easy and enjoyable.

One new type of planner is the bullet journal. These have been around for several years now, and are terrific for people who are prone to writing to-do lists on every scrap of paper they have, as well as people who like beautiful stationery, arts & crafts. Bullet journalling is exactly what it sounds like – instead of writing diary-style entries, you make bullet point lists and can use symbols, grids, diagrams and all sorts of creative ways to track items. There’s a huge fanbase around bullet journalling, so if you become obsessed, there are plenty of like-minded people to share and create with. Try searching #bulletjournal on Instagram!

Okay, I hear you say, it’s 2018! Who still uses pens and paper?? Well, I have good news – there are more journalling apps for your devices than you could ever imagine. A really simple, mental health focused one is “What’s Up?” – available on both Android and iOS. Along with tools for managing your calm, coping strategies for managing your thoughts, and information on a range of mental health issues, What’s Up also has a diary section to help you log your day, habits, and more. If you’d like to try digital colouring-in, take a look at Colorfy for Android and iPhone. Both of these apps are free, but there are also paid apps with more in-depth options, if you decide that the digital life is for you!

If you’re keen to give journalling a try but don’t know where to begin, try these writing prompts:

  • What made you feel joy today? What made you feel sad? What made you angry? What other emotions did you notice?
  • If you had to write a letter to someone in particular, what would you say to that person?
  • Describe what your anxiety would look like if it was an external object. What does it sound like? Smell like? Taste like? If you touched it, what would it feel like?
  • What advice would you give your past self?
  • What is your favourite memory? How does it make you feel?
  • If you could paint a picture of your dream life, what would that picture look like?
  • Do you have a hero? How would they deal with the life problems that you’re experiencing?
  • If something bad happened today, write about how you’d encourage a friend if they had gone through it instead of you. What would you tell them about themselves? How would you build them up?
  • Make a list of the people you can contact when you’re feeling down.
  • Make a list of things you can do to distract yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • What inspired you today? Write down a quote or a story that gives you hope.

Final thought – don’t censor yourself. This is your personal journal – spelling and grammar are not important. How other people will perceive you is not important. Let your emotion flow out onto the page. Promise yourself that for at least this journalling time, you will practice self-compassion and self-kindness. Remember: you are stronger and more capable than you realise.

Recommended Products

Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal by Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha’s Worry Journal by Lori Deschene

Self Care Journal by Rachelle Abrellar

Me, Myself and I: A Bullet Journal Notebook with Dot Grid Pages – Perfect for To-Do Lists, Dotted Journaling, Diary, and More

Knock Knock’s I’m So Freaking Freaked Out Journal

How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley

A Writers Group Prompt – Cafe Review

Coffee Club.

When we arrive at the Coffee Club, I’m tired, overheated and sweaty from a particularly hard session with my rehab physio – never an enjoyable experience, today’s workout was made worse by summer heat and lack of air-con.

I’ve stolen hubby away from work to have a quick lunch break, but I can tell by the deep V of a frown line that he’s doing his multi-tasking worrier trick; thinking about projects to be finished, clients to be billed, and packages to be sent, even as he decides on a coffee. I send him to the balcony outside to find us a table, and peruse the cabinet of food.

There’s a trolley parked almost blocking the till, piled high with cardboard and a black bag of trash. I edge away from it, revolted mostly because I’m cranky and therefore prone to revolting.

The barista greets me, but I still haven’t decided what I want, so I don’t reply. Then it registers how rude I’m being, and I remember those good ol’ days when I worked in a cafe and customers ignored me. Good is definitely a euphemism. I try to make up for it by forcing myself to smile as I order, but the smile disappears when my card is declined.

Blushing redder than the raspberry-topped muffins that sit in front of the till, I realise I’m using the wrong card – hubby has the correct one, and now he’s nowhere to be seen. I try the trick of struggling small business owners worldwide, and whip out my phone to transfer money across accounts, but the bank isn’t playing ball today, and my card declines again.

The patient barista takes pity on me, and gently suggests I pay on the way out. She hands me a table number, and I scurry outside, embarrassed but grateful, and trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

I nearly fall over a vacuum cleaner that someone has left in an aisle, so when I make it to our table, I’m short-tempered indeed. But it doesn’t take the staff long to brew up our trim no-whip mocha frappes and heat a couple of muffins, so my grumpiness is quickly turned into delight. The drinks are perfect: sweet and creamy and oh-so-cool. The muffins, one orange poppy seed and one apple & cinnamon, are fresh and delicious. Hubby and I go halves on each, so as I enjoy the feel of poppy seeds popping between my teeth, he drools over the oat crumble that tops the other muffin.

A staff member seems to appear from nowhere, smiling and nodding politely at us as he moves the vacuum cleaner out of the way.

These franchised cafes can be a bit hit and miss, but Albany’s Coffee Club has definitely scored a hit today. When we leave, I’m happy and refreshed, and thank the servers as we leave.

Best of all, hubby picks up the tab.

Written 3 February 2017 for a Writers Group.

A Writers Group Prompt – Matariki + Horoscope

The Little Eyes See All.

Sometimes she thinks that the inevitable end of her union with her husband was heralded by the birth of their children. It was unavoidable that her attention, mental and physical, would be drawn to the care and raising of those helpless babies.

She knows that, and yet in her depths she mourns the loss of that intense connection shared only by the two of them. They had been each other’s entire world, and now the aching distance between them is breached only by the demands of their offspring.

She worries sometimes about her stormy middle child, who loudly and violently expresses his anger over the separation. Alone of his siblings, he is blind to the necessity and benefits of the divorcement. When he throws those fierce tantrums, she soothes him as only a mother can. She knows that he too mourns for those days of closeness. But the others, auē! His brothers and sisters rejoiced when their father finally took his leave, and frequently reassure their mother that it was for the best.

At night she still dreams of her husband’s embrace, and in the morning as she watches the sun rise into the sky, she wonders whether he too reminisces fondly. Sometimes, when it rains, she imagines him weeping for her, and it is a comfort of sorts.

But during the day she works as she always has, and cares for their tamariki as best she can. In truth, she openly cherishes her children as her greatest joy and it is in her hidden heart that she laments the changes they have wrought. And if she never mentions that part of the reason she takes such delight in her children is that they often remind her of their father, it is because that is a blessing she is happy to hold close.

Sometimes she thinks that her children know her secrets anyway, and then Papatūānuku does not attempt to conceal her sighs as she yearns for her husband’s warmth, and the earth heaves and strains to reach the sky.

Inspired primarily by Matariki – the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades which rise in mid-winter. Matariki literally means the ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

Inspired also by a Scorpio horoscope which warned of an interfering third partner between two people who were unlucky in love.