When Life Gives You Lemsip!

Feb 4 / Jude

How to reconnect with your creative work when it’s the last thing you feel like doing!

The season of lurgy is upon us, and in the last week, son number one has been floored by the flu, the baby is a snotty, coughing, crusty-eyed little dumpling and I sound like I smoke 40 a day, despite the fact that I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Not a whole one, anyway. Oh, and I’ve also had mastitis. For the second time.

Why am I telling you this? Because my creative plans were scuppered the moment I got the call from lovely Anja at school.

‘Can you come and collect Ollie? He’s not feeling well at all.’

And that was it. The hours I had earmarked for writing were spent administering Calpol for the children and Lemsip for myself while I went slowly out of my mind watching endless episodes of Danger Mouse, little boy lying like a ragdoll in my arms.

Just to be clear, I wouldn’t change a thing. But…

I miss having time for my creative life. It’s tough enough when we’re all in the full bloom of health, but when the January bugs descend and it’s all I can do to pull back the covers of a dark and gloomy morning, creative Jude is nowhere to be found. (Probably off in the Caribbean somewhere – sensible girl.) And my work sits neglected. My stories don’t progress. I’ve still not figured out that character’s intention. I’m nowhere closer to a finished draft. And the truth is, it all seems like far too much to deal with and I really struggle to be bothered.

And then the gloom descends yet further still.

Now, If I were, a creative coach, for example, I would probably have some good advice for myself, and I would encourage myself to ‘listen up and listen good. (My creative coach was a Drill Sergeant in a former life.) And the advice I’d give myself would be as follows:

  1. When life gives you Lemsip, add some honey, collapse on the couch, crawl under a blanket (when children allow) and look after yourself. You need this time out. Now is not the time to stress about finishing the book, or finding a producer, or sorting out your non-linear story arc. Your creative work does not need to become another stick that you beat yourself with. Not now anyway. You have a temperature.

  2. When you can’t be creative, immerse yourself in it instead. Pull over the beanbag, crawl under said blanket and find ‘The Greatest Dancer’ on iPlayer. Dance was my first love and watching a wonderful dancer dance gives me such joy. It reminds me of just how beautiful humans can be and soothes my soul in this mind-boggling era of daft politicians and the senseless destruction of our planet.

  3. Grab a little notebook and do a little brain dump. Let your fevered mind go where it will, don’t put it under pressure and just jot down ideas as they come to you. Ideas can be shy – they’re likely to appear when they don’t think you’re looking for them.

  4. It’s been a while since you shook the metaphorical dust off the BOOK folder on your laptop – so just open the folder and read back over the last paragraph you wrote. But you’re not allowed to do anything with it. Confession: I got this one from one of Liz Gilbert’s magic lessons. When you’re struggling with your creative work, she suggests you ban yourself from doing any. Guess what usually happens? You get back in the saddle pretty darn quick.

  5. And finally, remember, there is no such thing as balance. (Another of Liz’s revelations). You’re doing the best that you can do. Being a mother / wife / daughter / sister / colleague / friend can, occasionally, be ‘challenging’ (translation: unbelievably fucking hard). There will be ups. There will be downs. The whispers of your creative soul will grow faint from time to time. As long as you can hear them and keep doing all you can to answer the call, you’re doing bloody great.
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