Getting Serious about Writing (Wk 6…&7, &8, &9!…): Turning a roadblock into your own personal fortress

Sorry for the VERY overdue post. Don’t worry, there’s a story behind the whole thing.

The whole family were isolated again a few weeks back. My youngest son developed a cough. Even in normal circumstances, this isn’t exactly a great thing but in our current situation, this was even more unwelcome than usual. We all got tested, mostly fine but something in his test wasn’t right. We got a home test. It was sod’s law but as we waited for the second set of results to come in his cough cleared up.

Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

However, despite a seemingly healthy family we were now locked down and had to await the go-ahead to resume ‘normal’ life. Finally, after more than a week stuck in the house, we got the result which confirmed that it had been, as we thought, just a cold. It was obviously better to be safe than sorry but it was still frustrating to lose a week. However, as you’ll see, and entirely due to my own actions, we lost a lot more time than that.

It was a great big upside-down experience. Among other things, I took the week off blogging. That week turned into two, then three, and now here we are.

I say I ‘took the week off’ but what I really mean is that I am now the proud owner of what I call a ‘deconstructed office’. This consists of a pile of boxes, disconnected computer equipment, and a very dusty desk.

My deconstructed office came about under the misplaced hope that reorganising my working space would be a two or three-day thing. In my mind this was worth the lost time; I would become more organised, get more room, and set myself up in a better working space, but…well here’s the story.

Locked in…

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For me and my wife, one of the more obvious side effects of being ‘locked in’ was that our home environment started to grate on us. After three or four days stuck inside, it was inevitable that some changes would have to be made. Our project of choice drifted around until finally settling on getting a ‘proper’ office space divided off in our room.

My office has always occupied a small corner of our bedroom and the plan was to shuffle things around and make the divide in room-use more pronounced. It was a simple plan, it was achievable, and most importantly it helped us both at once.

This ‘simple’ idea spiralled a little. It all started with one exploratory hole drilled in an oddly hollow patch of wall.

Taking a chance on writing

Before I go any further I should check in on what is so ‘writerly’ about this post. The short answer is that life happens (even to writers).

The longer answer is that sometimes we take a chance on things that will improve our ability to write, and sometimes that chance doesn’t play out exactly the way we thought it would.

For a long time, I’ve been contemplating the ‘long game’ in my writing career. Two big goals that are part of this are a podcast and a vlog. However, for both of these, I’ll need a more controlled environment and a more organised office space.

These seemed like distant ideas, something to do ‘when there was time’. That was until we got locked down and all of a sudden there was ‘plenty of time’.  No excuses.

“Just drill a hole…”

Photo by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels.com

Initially, I planned to reorganise the room. That was it. The desk would move to the window (nicer view than facing a wall), a new bookcase would be put up as a room divider, and a new delineated ‘office space’ would materialise where once there was none.

We set about moving things; packing possessions into boxes and doing a clear out of things that had lived at the bottom of a cupboard, serving no purpose, since the day we moved in.

At the time our shelves and cupboards spanned the entire length of our bedroom but about half of that was about to go. I had just finished clearing a built-in cupboard when I noticed how hollow its back wall sounded.

This cupboard had been built into the layout of the room years before we moved in. In fact, my parents used to live here, and it had been here before they owned it too. We thought we knew everything there was to know about the house, so hollow wall wasn’t to be ignored.

Desperate for any extra space we could get I wondered if it might be worth ripping back the plasterboard (‘drywall’ to American readers) for what looked to be an extra few inches of hollow space.

However, as I imagined the work that would take (and the fact that I couldn’t remove any mess/rubble while locked down) I almost gave up on the idea.

Then my wife suggested that I should drill a couple of holes to see what was in there. Maybe seeing the extra few inches would help us decide. I drilled the hole and here’s what I found:

So the wall came down.

A few inches could be debated, a few extra square feet of space was a whole other matter. As with most semi-structural work in an older building (our house is two-hundred/ two-hundred and fifty years old), there’s always a ripple effect.

We pulled down another wall. Then our planned room layout changed. This new layout necessitated moving the electrical sockets so that I could get my desk set up. I rewired that end of the room and installed new sockets. We noticed some areas where this new layout might lead to potential dampness/ poor air circulation so I added floor vents.

Then came the more recent discoveries like the fact that the old plaster on the brickwork needs to be repaired and, since we’re doing that we decided that we might as well decorate (I mean why wouldn’t you). That suggestion of ‘just drill a hole’ sort of got away from me…

I don’t have an office anymore. I barely have a bedroom. We basically live in a building site. Funny how a furniture move turned into a full room remodel (not ‘funny haha’ but you know…). We’ll get there eventually.

Plans change

I normally have my writing etc. scheduled out. All my weekly activities are laid out in a planner and I typically know what’s coming next. However, when you’re not allowed to leave the house you can get a lot of commitments cleared in surprisingly quick time.

Back in that lockdown week I dutifully got all of my most immediate commitments covered as I jumped into this surprise opportunity to improve my lot.

However, it has taken a lot longer than I anticipated so now I feel wildly behind on my writing. Sadly there’s no doubt that this will lead to a negative ripple effect in getting my next book ready in time and I can’t pretend that all of this delay isn’t affecting me. My anxiety levels are definitely high and I haven’t felt like a ‘proper writer’ for weeks.

However, I can’t miss the opportunity to jump ahead a couple of steps in my other writing plans.

I may sound a little negative at the moment but it will be amazing if this new situation works out. I can’t wait to start vlogging and getting my podcast up and running. Even a more dedicated writing space will be a solid payoff. Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up taking me till Christmas to do it.

It’s a gamble, I know it is. I’m going to have to double down on the ‘real’ writing work once I get my office back in order (I’m writing this blog post on my phone as I’m currently without a computer). However, I don’t mind that if it means an overall improvement in what I can do as a writer.

What changes have you made for your writing?

Still not done… ;P

This experience got me thinking about other writers and the sacrifices/ changes many of us have probably made in order to take our writing more seriously.

A few years back I made a commitment to put my writing first. This meant a drop in earnings, a move to being more of a ‘house husband’, and a host of other small but noticeable changes in my day-to-day life.

It’s not easy becoming a ‘professional writer’ and the ‘professional’ part is a much greyer area than it originally looked from the outside.

Since committing to writing I’ve helped run people’s social media accounts, written copy for a local distillery, I’ve set up full websites for people, all alongside the more ‘obvious’ writer jobs like school author visits and other author events. (I’ve written about how writers earn money in more detail here.)

As a writer, you become a Jack of all trades and somehow you tell yourself that it all falls under the banner of ‘writer’. However, I wouldn’t change it. My changes so far were all worth it in the grand scheme of things, and I’m sure that being without an office for almost a month will prove to have been worth it in the end as well.

I know I’m not the only writer to have flipped their life a little upside down to make their dream happen. I also know that this isn’t the only way that this story goes, so I’d love to hear about your own experiences.

What changes have you made in your life in order to take your own writing more seriously? In hindsight would you regard any of these choices as mistakes? What were some of the more advantageous changes you made?

I’d love to hear from you, please feel free to leave responses in the comments below or catch up with me over on Twitter.

As always, thanks for reading. Hopefully, there won’t be such a gap between this and the next time I get to post.

All the best, John

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