You Don’t Have To Win At This…Clumsy Survival Will Be Just Fine

In the days leading up to the lockdown, my Facebook feed became full of well-meaning posts about how to survive. The ones I paid closest attention to initially were the home schooling ones. These were, at the time, quite reassuring so I saved them to special folder marked Home Education. But of course, schools have been just brilliant at providing everything we need to keep our children happy and learning. Mix that up with some physical exercise, some art, music and general mucking around and having fun, and I don’t think you can go far wrong.

With home schooling under control, the next thing I turned to was the influx of posts, emails and links urging people to get their businesses online and keep earning. As a self-employed person who suddenly found themselves out of work on 18th March, I started saving these too. I run a writing based business called Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. It started in 2017 but 2020 was shaping up to be my best year yet, with three new writing clubs to add to the three I already had established. Everything was going well.

Instantly I started seeing other self-employed people launching online content. I had no idea how, but surely my classes could continue online in some format? If I wanted to keep earning and keep my business going, I had to do this too, right? I started looking into Zoom and Skype and Microsoft Teams but that was as far as I got…

For so many of us, actually scratch that, for all of us humans on this planet right now, life has changed drastically. If there is one thing we can say it’s that at least we all know how other people feel because we are all experiencing this together. We’re not all in the same boat, obviously. Some of us live in mansions, some of us live in tower blocks. Some of us were already poor and struggling. Some of us never will. Some of us are safe at home while some of us are on the frontline in a variety of keyworker roles. But we are all affected by Covid19, lockdown and social distancing and by the ever present fear of one of our loved ones catching it.

I assumed I would be able to home school and keep working. I assumed I could do what everyone else was doing. I felt the pressure instantly. All these wonderful self-employed people popping up all over the internet, moving their classes online, producing quality content they could charge for, still earning! I was impressed and inspired and thought I could do it. I felt I should. I mean, the schools are closed until further notice. I have no idea when I can get back to running my writing classes!

Last week I had to admit defeat and let people who were waiting know that I won’t be doing anything online any time soon. I felt horrible doing this, like a total failure, but once I’d done it the pressure was off and the relief was immense.

We are all dealing with this differently. I’m an introverted homebody who isn’t really missing the outside world, or shopping, or traffic very much at all. I am generally loving home schooling my 5-year-old and I am spending so much time in the garden, its really having an impact. But this is still getting to me. The anxiety doesn’t really set in until my little one is in bed and then it’s just bizarre. I think everything I try to avoid thinking and feeling in the day hits me all at once.

I am exhausted by the time I get on the laptop. Of course, with the four kids here 24/7 there is no time in the day for my own writing, let alone working on anything business related.

I had every intention of keeping my business going. I wanted to create online content and videos but I just can’t, and I am learning to be okay with that. First I had to admit that as much as I knew I ought to, I just didn’t want to. And there were many reasons for that…exhaustion being one of them, lethargy, anxiety, take your pick. I feel bad about it but then I realised you can only do what you can do. You can only deal with one thing at a time and this is a weird old time. It’s bound to mess with our heads and our hearts.

The thing is in our society we have been led to believe that we can and should ‘do it all’. This is not just felt by women, but perhaps the childcare element often still falls disproportionately on their shoulders… Before lockdown, we were all running around like headless chickens. No time to stop and chat, forever apologising for not seeing friends or relatives enough, driving from here to there and back again, grabbing coffees for fuel, pumping our little metal prisons full of poisonous, expensive gas, pulling our weight, doing our bit, working hard, paying taxes and bills and rents, doing what we were told, being good citizens, breaking our backs and drinking too much wine. Sound familiar?

On top of that we were trying to reduce our carbon footprint, drive less, eat less meat and dairy, get enough exercise and look after our mental health as well as raise happy, confident and adaptable children, all while working at the same time, don’t forget!

Was it too much? I think maybe it was. And now? We are being asked to stay at home and stay safe, yet there on the internet gleams the ever present expectation that we should also be winning at this. Learning new skills, new languages, reading the classics, doing yoga, keeping fit, entertaining and educating the children, making meals from scratch on a reduced budget, training the dog, planting a garden AND getting our business online so we can keep earning!

Just today I scrolled my Facebook feed and felt a wave of guilt at the sight of so many motivational videos and tutorials urging people like me to create online content and sell it. I have read some of these. I have watched some of these videos. And then I have turned it off and gone to find out why my 5 year old is peeing off the side of the trampoline.

I just can’t do it. At least, not yet.

I don’t want to win at this. I just want to survive. Maybe I’m just not that driven by money, maybe I’m just not that ambitious. Maybe I am just really tired.

I want my kids to survive and I want their mental health to survive. I want my garden to survive and my sanity. However clumsy it may be, survival is fine. Winning is not required here.

Maybe you are feeling the pressure in other areas. Home schooling is another can of worms if you let it be. There is so much advice. So many posts and links and articles. So many well-meaning people suggesting this and that. If it stresses you out or makes you feel like a failure, ignore it. You are doing fine. Again, you don’t have to win at this. You won’t get a certificate. You just need to get through this and come out alive. It’s not a competition. Some of us are barely holding it together but we will come out smiling, I swear.

So if you would rather dig your garden than watch a tutorial or webinar on how to build your online business I salute you.

If you would rather lie in the bath and drink wine than join a Zoom coversation, just go right ahead. Guilt free.

If you would rather do Just Dance with a 5 year old than PE Joe, don’t you worry about it. If you want to let your small child play with the hose by themselves until the garden is mud, I’m not going to judge you. And if that same child is offered the x-box as a bribe so that you can sit on the doorstep and enjoy a cup of tea in peace, you’re just human and surviving the best you can.

We won’t all come out of this as winners, and we shouldn’t aim to if that stresses us out in an already stressful situation. Survival is all that is required.

And Just Like That…Everything Changed

I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.

For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.

A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.

It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.

Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?

A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.

Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.

I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.

And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.

I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.

It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.

My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.

Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.

My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!

Stay safe folks. Look after each other xx

My 2020 Goals

It’s become a tradition for me to write down my writing goals for the year ahead and then at the end of that year, to compare the goals to the reality. Last week I examined the writing goals I set myself at the start of 2019 to see how well I had done. You can read the results here;https://chantelleatkins.com/2019/12/20/my-2019-writing-goals-vs-the-reality/

So, this is my post for 2020 setting out what I hope to achieve. You might notice the word ‘writing’ is missing from the title, and that is because this time, my goals are not all writing or work related. Other things are just as important, sometimes more so. My list is a little different this time around because my life is a little different and because I feel a lot different. I have blogged about the perimenopause and how it’s affecting me here and I am sure I will blog about it again, as it’s dominating my life so much at the moment. I’m not going to go into it too much now but I will say that my goals this year are different because of it.

  1. Achieve a successful, well-stocked, functional vegetable garden! Okay, might sound strange, but this is linked to my current state of mind. Being outside, doing dirty, outdoorsy things in the fresh air, especially things that have a positive impact are very, very good for me right now. The best thing I can do when I feel down is get outside. I’ve had a vegetable patch since we moved here ten years ago. Over the years it had got bigger and better and some years I have been very successful with daily harvests in the summer months and it has been great. The last few years have been a lot less productive for various reasons, but this year it’s my top goal. Weird I know, but more than any writing or work related goal, this is what I want to achieve the most. I’m not sure why other than that I know it does me good to be outside, I know I can do it because I’ve done it before and it might be a wise move what with all the Brexshit uncertainty! It just seems really important for some reason. I will be starting in January. Making plans and buying seeds and starting some off and weeding. I can’t wait. This really is going to be my top priority.
  2. Learn to play the guitar! Another goal not related to writing or work! But another one that suddenly feels very important. Perhaps because I’m increasingly aware of life passing me by, of running out of time and chances. Perhaps because I have always wanted to try. Perhaps because I so admire anyone that can play an instrument. Perhaps because my characters in the Holds End trilogy are playing instruments and writing their own music and it would also be research? Perhaps because my daughter has agreed to teach me and it will be a good thing to do together. I don’t know why. I just know it’s important and I am really excited about trying it.
  3. Release Emily’s Baby in the Spring – Doable. Emily’s Baby is the follow-up to A Song For Bill Robinson, the second book in the Holds End trilogy. It’s having a final round with beta readers at the moment and will have another few rounds of edits/proofreads with me after that but I anticipate a Spring release, perhaps April.
  4. Finish The Search For Summer – Doable. I am currently writing the first draft of this in a notebook and I’m three quarters through. It’s going well. I should easily finish the first draft by early 2020 and will then start the next million drafts and aim to release it towards end of 2020 or perhaps the start of 2021.
  5. Finish Parts Five and Six of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – These books are currently at draft number four. Next will be a read through on my Kindle, followed by another edit, and then it’s beta reader time. I’d like to think I will release them in 2020 but I think that’s too ambitious so I will just aim to finish them and be happy with them and plan a 2021 release for both books at the same time. It might be wise to finish the Holds End series first and get that promoted and then turn my attention back to this one.
  6. Finish the first draft of the YA series I was working on… – This refers to the post-apocalyptic YA series I started some time ago. The first draft was going very well for the first in a four book series but it got side-lined by The Boy series and the Holds End series…I hope to at least finish the first draft of book one in 2020.
  7. Do a second draft of YA novel We Hate The cool Kids – This was a book that jumped the queue in 2019. I wrote the first draft in a notebook pretty quickly but the ending troubled me. I don’t have any immediate plans to release this but I do think aiming for a second draft and a tied up ending would be good for 2020 depending on how things go.
  8. Continue working hard with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – No specific goals this year for my little company. I have three new clubs starting after Christmas and this will keep me busy enough. Long term, I would like to get more writers on board to help deliver my ambition of encouraging children and adults to write and keep writing. I hope to get a community project off the ground finally but life is so busy and the after-school clubs take a lot of time and prep, so I am not going to put too much pressure on myself here. Just keeping it all going is enough of a goal
  9. Keep adding stories and poems to a collection – I’m not putting a time scale on this next collection of short stories and poems, but I will try to keep adding to it and working on it when I feel the need!
  10. Slow down, enjoy life, breathe, cry, listen to more music, be outside as much as possible, be honest about my feelings and keep writing them down – a little jumble of goals and aims to end on, but perhaps these are what will make the others achievable. I’m only at the start of this perimenopause fun, and it’s knocked me for six. It’s brought back emotions, thoughts and anxieties I thought I had long walked away from. Sometimes it is genuinely exhausting getting through a normal day. Moods shift and change with no warning. Some days I feel totally normal. Other days I sit in the car and cry. It’s okay. I’m okay. I’ve just got to remember to talk about it, write about it and just allow it. It is what it is.

So, that’s my list for 2020. Longer than last years, but a bit less writing/work related. I feel like it’s more about just surviving!! How about you? Have you got anything you particularly want to achieve in 2020? Please feel free to comment and share!

My 2019 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

At the start of 2019 I wrote my yearly post setting out my writing goals for the year ahead. I only gave myself six goals, so how did I get on? In what has now become a tradition, I will go through them and see how many I achieved! Next week I will set out my 2020 goals.

  • Submit some writing-related articles –  I’ve written some well-received articles for Author’s Publish in the past and have quite a few drafts of potential articles. I’ve just not had the time to polish them up and submit them! I need to get back into doing this. It’s fun, it’s great for exposure, it improves writing skills and it pays! I should have more time in 2019 with my youngest finally in full-time school.
  • REALITY; I did this! I think I had three articles accepted by Author’s Publish this year, but I would need to double check that’s correct. But anyway, this one can be ticked off as achieved!
  • Continue To Work On The Six-Part Series, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and release parts 3 and 4 early in the year – This was a surprising thing that happened in 2018 and pushed some other plans out of the queue. I reworked and revised the original novel into two parts and re-released in 2018. I then wrote a brand new part 3 and reworked what was the sequel This Is The Day, into what will serve as part 4. I then penned a very rough part 5 in a notebook and planned part 6. I know how it will all end and I’m so excited to get it done! In 2019 I aim to release parts 3 and 4 very soon as they are almost ready, and get part 5 to second or third draft status.
  • REALITY; I did this too! In fact, I did more. I released parts three and four at the start of 2019, finished part 5 and wrote part 6! Currently I am working on parts 5 and 6 side by side, and we are at draft number four. I am very happy with how these have turned out and can’t wait to release the final two books probably towards the end of 2020 once they have been fully polished up!
  • Publish A Song For Bill Robinson – this book is ready and has been waiting very patiently for over a year! I spent all of last year polishing up Elliot Pie and getting side-tracked by The Boy series. This YA novel should see a release in 2019. I may try a few small press publishers first and if no joy, I will publish it with Pict and release probably late spring, early summer.
  • REALITY; I did this too! A Song For Bill Robinson was released on 6th December this year. The second book in the trilogy, Emily’s Baby will be released Spring 2020 and I am currently writing the first draft of the third book, The Search For Summer.
  • Continue to work on YA post-apocalyptic series and get first draft of the first book completed– This is another thing that keeps getting pushed back, but I have got to Chapter Twelve now in the first draft of book one. If I can get that first draft done in 2019 I will be very happy.
  • REALITY; Nope, didn’t achieve this. I did work on it now and then and I think I’m at Chapter 20 or something similar. I haven’t worked on it for a while now because A Song For Bill Robinson and Emily’s Baby needed so many more edits/proofreads in the last few months, plus I’ve dedicated every evening to working on The Boy series parts 5 and 6. I hope to get back into this series in 2020.
  • Continue to work on the various writing projects under my Community Interest Company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – There are two on the go. One in planning stages. Lots and lots more I want to do, but in 2018 time and fear really got in my way…I’ve decided I really need to get braver and more pro-active with all of this. I started the business in 2015 and became a CIC at the end of 2017. 2018 was my first year as a CIC and I’ve felt out of my depth the entire time. I’ve been on the verge of quitting more than once. I really, really want to do it. Not just the community writing project, but the school project and another project I have in mind. I think about them all the time and feel so passionate about it…yet it all seems too hard sometimes. I’ve decided the main problem is I am all alone. I do have a treasurer and a secretary and they are wonderfully helpful and supportive, but other than that, I’m juggling it all alone. I need to buck my ideas up this year and get things done. I need to work harder and faster and with more determination. And I really really need to work with others!!
  • REALITY; Mixed results on this one. None of the projects I was working on have been launched yet, but one is getting closer and my dream of not working alone all the time came true! For one big project I am working with The Red House Museum and the manager Laura has really been like a mentor to me this year. I also took part in a literary festival this year, giving a talk to teen writers. And I started more writing clubs! I have three new clubs starting after Christmas, and three on the go, so if they all take off, there will be six regular writing clubs. Two for adults, two at schools, and two for home-educated children. It’s still very much an up and down thing for me, but I have got more confident this year and received the kind of feedback and praise I really needed to keep going. Encouraging other writers is my big passion and my company will continue to look into ways of doing this!
  • Work on short story/poetry/blog collection – I would love to say I’ll publish this in 2019, but I think that’s too ambitious, and I know it will get overshadowed by The Boy series and Bill Robinson…Still, I do hope to work on it a bit more. I had so many short stories lying around (some new, some from a previously released collection) that I decided it was time to get them all together and release another collection similar to Bird People. I’ve polished up a few and have loads more I need to work on. I’ve also got some old blog posts I want to include and even some poetry. Eeek! Yes, that’s a bit scary. I’ve always been intimated by poetry, reading it and writing it. But the thing is, my head is so constantly full of words it gets hard sometimes, and I just want to expel some. We will see what happens,  but to release another collection would be really, really fun.
  • REALITY; I didn’t release a collection but I had admitted that was ambitious. I have been working on a collection throughout the year though and it’s really coming together. There are still some stories I need to write and the poems just keep coming. I’m not sure I will release this in 2020 as I don’t get much time to work on it. I think I will just keep adding to it whenever I feel like it and release it when its big and good enough!

So, I didn’t do too badly at all. In fact, if I look back, it has been a pretty good year for my writing and for my company. Everything is heading in the right direction, which is all we can ask for, I guess. I feel positive about these goals and how I tackled them. In other ways, for other reasons, this year has not been easy. When I write my 2020 goals next week you might notice that they are not entirely writing related for the first time.

But over to you! Did you set any goals at the start of 2019? How many did you manage to achieve? Are you going to set any for 2020 or just go with the flow? Please feel free to share and comment!