By the time you read this, I should be on a train heading to the wilds of Derbyshire to enjoy my annual week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.
As well as learning from the variety of courses on offer, I shall catch up with writing friends from all over the country face to face, rather than via social media as I do for the rest of the year. (That’s great incidentally but it can’t compare to having a good chat over a drink in convivial surroundings!).
I’ve been told Swanwick is a bit like a writing freshers’ week but, not having gone to university, can’t pass judgement on that one. I do know it is fun, I come back invigorated, and usually having written a lot on the projects I will be taking with me to work on when I’m not in the study rooms. (I always have at least one project on the go!).
I suppose one of the biggest advantages to all of this is that for one week, I am writing full time (no domestic chores to worry about!) and in the company of others who understand the joys and frustrations of writing. The break from the usual routine is beneficial. And whether you take your break by taking part in something like Swanwick, a solo writing retreat, or decide to get away from it all in a glider (hello, Mike!), having that break is crucial to our well being, physically and mentally.
It is too easy to feel you must be on call 24/7. Social media does have its benefits but it can make you feel as if you should be on the go all the time to “keep up”. Don’t bother! There is no race. Ignore the advertisers who claim you should have the latest gadget to be “complete”. You’re perfectly okay without it. Let the Jones’ keep up with themselves – there is nothing anywhere which says you have to join in.
Whether you are writing, taking part in some other form of art or creative activity, you should work at the pace that is appropriate to you and what you are working on. Nobody wrote a novel in five minutes after all. And, despite its title, while flash fiction is quicker to write, you still need to spend time honing it. I do spend a lot longer editing a piece to ensure that I’m using my limited word count to its very best advantage and that I have chosen the right words to make the best impact.
Fast is not necessarily better, as the tortoise no doubt told the hare when the latter discovered he’d lost their famous race.
Whether you share my Christian faith or not, the idea of having one day “off” in seven as a chance to recharge your batteries regularly is a good idea. So how else can you recharge? Some methods I’ve used include:-
1. Working on a different writing project to the one I’m currently doing. Mixing things up keeps my writing fresh and it feels almost as if I’m having a break when I work on something new. I have the joy of just being creative here. I can edit and cut and tidy up later. So find something to work on that is just for the sheer fun of it whether it is writing, painting, gardening etc. You can work out what to do with your new project in a more practical way later. (And not to worry if you can’t – creating something for the fun of it is worthwhile in itself).
2. Classical music on in the background can be a great relaxant. (If you don’t want to be too relaxed because you fear nodding off, the 1812 Overture, The Planet Suite – Mars especially or Beethoven’s Fifth will sort that worry out nicely!).
3. Take time out to read. Read magazines, papers, books. Vary what you want to read.
4. Take time to just be in the garden.
5. Take time out to do something different, whether it is visiting a museum, going on a train trip somewhere etc.
6. Exercise funnily enough can be a good way to unwind. For me, when not walking the dog, it is swimming. When I first started, I thought I’d use the thinking time you have while doing the front crawl or what have you to come up with story ideas etc. Not a bit of it. I don’t think of anything in particular – and that is what is so relaxing! When I come back home again, then I’m ready to use the old brain to get on with my posts and stories but I come back feeling fresher than when I left which, of course, is the whole idea.
7. Appreciate wildlife whether it is in your garden, you’re walking the dog through Hocombe Mead, or you have gone to the New Forest or the Isle of Wight (or any of the many places easily accessible from Chandler’s Ford). If you’ve not been, the Otter and Owl Centre just outside Totton is well worth a visit. The otters and owls are great but there are other species there too, including a magnificent wolf pack. Taking time out to appreciate other species is never wasted time. I think it does us good to remember we are not the only species on this planet (though sadly we are easily the most destructive one).
8. Watching or listening to something lighthearted. The news is rarely cheerful and a good comedy can act like a tonic at times.
9. A little bit of pampering does you good from time to time, whether is thanks to having an extra long soak in the bath or having a spa treatment (though I appreciate the former is considerably cheaper!).
10. I’m bound to say this I know but nevertheless read a book by an author new to you. (And you can always visit the libraries to try different authors out first. The libraries will be pleased to see you!).
Chandler’s Ford Library images taken from Chandler’s Ford Today archives.
Have a wonderful summer, whatever the weather may bring.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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