Over the last two weeks I’ve re-started work on my novel and my creative writing in general. The past couple of months saw me take my first significant break from writing in a very, very long time. I decided that taking a break was the best thing to do as my mind was divided in a million different directions owing to what was going on in my personal life. I needed time to take stock and analyse my life. Not surprisingly, when it came to looking at my writing goals and ambitions, I was realising how my productivity and quality had (quite obviously in hindsight) become inextricably linked to the ups and downs of bipolar. This was also true in relation to how many projects would get started but left unfinished.
I understand a lot of these issues afflict perfectly healthy writers and you could say that obstacles associated with things like motivation and discipline in relation to finishing creative projects and general management of productivity are all part and parcel of the struggle of getting things done.
But whilst this true, I can only speak for my own personal circumstances and say that for me these issues have been amplified a thousand fold due to my mental issues. The frustration for me comes from that fact that underneath the illness, my natural tendencies are ones that keep me very much on track when it comes to finishing all types of projects, whether they be creative or more personal goals. I have a strong inner work ethic and bundles of motivation. I’m naturally tenacious and focused. Again, most people can access these kinds of traits and use them effectively when they want something (although most find they fade after a while because they want instant results). All I can say is that I don’t have that problem when I am sound of mind; however long it takes for me to finish something, or get proficient at something, is how long it takes, pure and simple. Failures or problems along the way do not discourage me because you actually learn so much from difficult moments on a journey. You just have to keep moving forward.
The frustrating thing for me is that over the years, as I got steadily worse and with no idea what was going on in my head, I was only ever able to intermittently access what I call my ‘natural’ state of being. So, with everything that has happened this year, all stemming from me confronting and seeking help for my problems, it was time for a break as I began a new journey, which has involved educating myself on the effects of bipolar, looking at how it affected my life throughout the last ten years and learning about how it can be worked around so that I can live the life I want to lead.
When I say learning about how to work around it, I guess I really mean incorporating it fully into my life by a process of fully understanding it so that I gain control of it and not have it control me. One of the aspects of this, and one I’ve spoken about previously, is the power of routines. Keeping regular, strict routines and schedules is a proven method with which to gain some control over bipolar and as with all challenges that come your way, it is best to try and turn a weakness into a strength, a problem into a solution.
It isn’t nice to have bipolar, it isn’t nice to have to keep up strict routines and change your whole relationship and interactions with the outside world and friends. But they are minor inconveniences compared to the chaos of before and compared to the joy of starting to become grounded once again in your true self and not constantly being pulled one way or the other. Of course it is all early days but best to form good habits now and have the foundations in place, the kind of foundations that are really bloody useful when it comes to tackling a piece of work that is likely to be upwards of 80,000 words.
Knowing what I know about my mind now, it’s clear that the goals I set have to be realistic, manageable and have a certain amount of wriggle room in case of any issues that arise. So in terms of my novel, which I wanted to start from scratch and work on from the ground up, I had to ask myself what sort of timeframe I had in mind to have it finished. A year sounded realistic, achievable and doable. But it wasn’t specific enough. How many words a week? A month? A day even. The figure of 2,000 words a week popped into my head (I don’t know why 2,000 specifically, it just did). That’s more than doable I thought, in fact it’s a positively simple ask. And of course, the numbers add up because 2,000 words a week x 52 weeks = 104,000 words, which is nice, I mean I don’t even think this novel will hit the 100k mark so that’s cool. As for the word per day calculation, well, 2,000 words a week/7 days a week = 285.7, so 286 words a day.
Now then, I challenge anyone not to be able to write 286 words a day, which is exactly what I have been doing. Every morning I get up at 5am, make myself a cup of green tea, and then work on my novel. I never spend more than an hour on it, and I usually do more than 286 words, but that routine, that schedule, that ritual, is something that is vitally important to me. I have to protect my writing goals and ambitions at all costs, especially when I get back to work, which is another reason for the start time I choose. Even when I’m back in work my writing time would be protected and I’d be able to ease into my day in a way that I find helps me stay in control. The point of all this is to, as much as possible, eliminate the possibility of failure. Do a small, even a tiny amount, each day. As long as it is manageable, you’ll do it. Even on a really bad day, 286 words is ridiculously easy to achieve – especially when the time is carved out to do it. Every. Day. It doesn’t even require that much patience. A year passes very quickly.
I’m also working on a short story that the first draft will be finished for by next Wednesday. I’m planning on entering it into a few competitions, hence I have a word count to work too and can say confidently when it will be finished using the same criteria above.
So yes, I’ve restarted some of my creative projects and it feels good.