It’s been an interesting few weeks, hasn’t it? We’re all coping with something which, frankly, I could never have imagined.
First of all, I’m not complaining. So far, my family’s doing OK. The grown-ups are still working, the kids have been studying (as far as I can tell!). Most importantly, we’re all well.
Of course I knew that the form of lockdown we’re going through in the UK would bring changes. What I hadn’t anticipated was how that would affect my writing routine, such as it is.
I’m not a write-every-day sort of writer. I tend to have a bit of time between projects, but when I am working on something, I like to write every day. And for the last 3 books, I’ve written the draft by dictating it into my phone on my daily walk.
Then a UK lockdown was mentioned.
At first, I didn’t think about writing. I was busy with other things; wondering when the schools would close, both the school my kids go to and the schools I work in. It was clearly a case of when, not if.
Then the schools were closing, and I was busy writing short final reports, and goodbye letters to my tutees, since it’s very unlikely I’ll see them again before they go to high school.
At the same time my husband began working from home. We were sorting out separate spaces for ourselves, and getting used to sharing the house during the day. I was also adjusting to spending most of the day editing for clients. I’d recently made the decision to expand the editing work I do, and found myself booked up till around July. Which is great! But now I was editing without that other work outside the home.
And then we were in lockdown, and the kids were at home all day, too. Checking in on their studying periodically, devising nice lunches (instead of my usual sandwich made and eaten in 10 minutes), and asking them nicely to be quiet during the remainder of the working day got added to my schedule.
I still wasn’t thinking about writing, though, because I had a book of my own to polish up and format once my wonderful proofreader had finished with it. So that filled my spare time till it was safely loaded onto Amazon.
And then I looked about me, and wondered how the heck I was going to write another book.
Ambling around the village talking into my phone clearly wasn’t an option. When I’m dictating, I’m not moving fast enough for it to count as exercise – and social distancing requirements might mean I spent more time avoiding people than getting words down.
Could I dictate at home? The thought of being overheard or walked in on made that a resounding no.
Could I retreat somewhere with my laptop? Obviously I could… but it wouldn’t feel the same. I’d always be conscious that I’d rather be speaking the words, and impatient with my slow fingers, and frustrated.
Then I read a post in an online writers’ group from someone else whose writing routine had been knackered by lockdown, and who had moved from a sustained hour of writing to sprints as a way to get something down.
That motivated me. There had to be a way round this!
For me, keeping dictation as my writing method was really important. I’ve got used to it, and it’s fast. So I thought, well, if I can’t dictate on a walk, and I don’t want to dictate in the house, what about the garden?
And so, equipped with a water bottle and the plan for a Pippa Parker short story, I headed into our small back garden, moved a couple of chairs and a pot of sage out of the way, set a 20-minute timer, and had a go.
As I talked, I found myself wandering towards the narrow side passage which connects the front and back gardens. It’s well-paved, with one small step. There’s nothing to look at, or walk around. And so I paced up and down and dictated for 20 minutes, with occasional forays into the back garden for variety.
Then another 20 minutes, and another. One hour later, I had about 2500 words and I could have cried with relief. It wasn’t even too horrendous to edit afterwards.
I went out the next day and did it again, and I’ll be heading out later today to finish the story. I’ll do a quick edit to pick up errors and duplications, and then it will sit and stew till I’m far enough away from it to edit it thoroughly. Meanwhile, I’ll outline a full-length book to work on as my next project.
It isn’t the same as going for a proper walk. But it’ll do, and it’s much better than nothing. And I’m so, so relieved that I’ve found a new writing routine that will work during lockdown, since we have no idea how long it will be.
Have you had a breakdown in your usual routine? If so, I hope you find a way round it.