What You’ve Got

I don’t need to tell anyone how strange the world is these days. Things have changed significantly in the last few months and this outbreak will likely leave a mark on our society, economy and culture for many years to come.

Right now, we’re in lockdown in England. Confined to our homes and our only reasons to leave are for medical help, buying food or one short period of exercise. These are the most far-reaching measures imposed by a British government since the Blitz and even then, they probably go further.

But one thing I’m realising is that this time can actually be a positive. I’m into my second week of working from home now, the first was fraught. Bedding in technology and managing childcare. Social media and the news battered my senses. Come Friday, I wondered how I’d survive. But then something changed.

The way I look at it now, this is an opportunity. I have no commute. I have no office job. I work from home. We won’t get another chance to spend this amount of time together as a three. In time, we will be back at work and school, spending more time apart than together.

These are some of the changes I’ve made to get the most out of this time. I hope that they can be of use to others too.

  • Exercise – make the most of the weather and the time. Where it’s safe to do so, go for a quick walk well away from others. Leave your phone behind and stretch the legs. I’ve been doing Joe Wicks’ PE Lessons via YouTube. He’s not my cup of tea as a person but his enthusiasm is infectious and the workouts leave you feeling good.
  • Step Away From The News – it’s tempting to scan the news every few minutes hoping to see something positive or in some perverse way, stay on top of the negative. All of the decisions have been made now. The world is this way for the foreseeable. Let that go. Check the news less. Twice a day, perhaps. But not first thing and then all day. That’ll just make you anxious.
  • Wind Back Social Media social media can be great but there are times it is the armpit of the world. For me, this is one of those times. Fake news. Moronic opinions. Inaccurate facts. Political agendas. They all make us feel worse. Step away from it. I’ve put a time limit on my social media apps and they shut me out after 30 mins a day. My mental health has improved immeasurably thanks to this.
  • Drop Your Phone Altogether – with no social media and no constant news, there’s not so much need to have a phone in your hand. I’ve come up with a replacement technique. Usually when bored, I’ll reach for my phone. Those 2 mins when the laptop boots up – phone. Waiting for the kettle to boil – phone. These last 2 weeks, I’ve subbed in a book and I’ve raced through two books in less than a fortnight. Again- my mental health is through the roof because of this.
  • Write – I usually write at work on my lunch hour. I write in the silent area of the library. I don’t like noise. Now my lunch hour has a small child shouting and my wife asking me questions. It’s different, but it isn’t bad. I’m staying positive and adapting to this new environment. After two weeks, I’m happy with my concentration levels and I’m back being as productive as ever before.
  • Find Something New – we live in an age of bountiful information and access, despite being at home. Maybe now is the time to carve out a niche for yourself. Learn a language? I’ve done over 365 consecutive days of learning German on Duolingo, for example. It keeps my brain in good nick. You would learn to play that dusty guitar sat in the spare room. Get the old PS2 out and play Resident Evil. Make a stop motion film on your phone with your kid’s PlayDo. Get back into Lego. Brew beer. Bake bread. The list is endless. You’ll have stuff in the house to do. Give it a shot.

This sounds like I’m preaching but I promise that I’m not. At times like this we can stay strong and come out better, or crumble and give in to anxiety and stress. I’m doing my best to rise up in this difficult time. I hope you all can too.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay busy.


Something to Love

We’re all aware that in 2020, it’s easier than ever to be distracted. Our phones want to eat our time. Twitter wants to suck out your soul 240 characters at a time. News apps want to implant the world’s misery into your brain.

There are more and more platforms and media competing for our attention. More books and films and games than ever before.

As a writer, it’s easier than ever to become distracted. I don’t necessarily mean distracted from the writing, I mean more distracted by the writing. Distracted by ideas and characters and scenes that come along for other things.

I recently met up with David Jackson, crime writer. I hadn’t previously met him but after a quick chat on Twitter (see, I love it really) we met up for coffee and cake. Dave is a great guy and I’m getting onto reading his stuff. But in the process of giving me a rundown of his career, he imparted an important lesson which I’m going to paraphrase: –

Find something you like writing the best, and stick with it.

At the moment, I’m writing like a kid in a sweet shop. Grabbing a bit of crime, horror, football, social commentary and comedy. I enjoy a wide range of things and I’m trying them all on for size. Much like what I read, I want to write EVERYTHING.

All of these things are more than a fad for me right now. They’re things I love and enjoy and am basically obsessed with.

But Dave is right, if I want a career in the writing business and if I want to build a strong, loyal readership, then I need to pick something and excel at it.

And that’s the plan. Right now, I’m finding my groove, finding my voice and having a hell of a lot of fun finding out what kind of writer I am. But this third novel is clicking with me, something has evolved in the way I write. It’s different. It’s still me, but perhaps a side that hasn’t come out before. It’s not a tentative feeling. I’m coming to the page ready and the words flow naturally. It’s an unusual but incredible feeling.

I’m having fun and I think (hope) that this new work is falling that niche I can call my own.