Tag Archives: writing

Do your anxious thoughts need an outlet?

Anxiety is not uncommon, especially, at the time of writing, in a global pandemic.

Sometimes our anxious thoughts and imaginings can render us immobile and ‘incapable’ of doing something useful or productive. We might even slump into a depressive state where we want to hide and retreat.

If you are struggling with your anxious thoughts and feelings, as well as the practical steps that I have highlighted in other blog posts (simply do a ‘search’ for ‘anxiety’ on my blog and you’ll find lots of helpful articles), you might feel the need to have an outlet for your thoughts.

Talk to Someone who cares about you:

A helpful thing to do to rationalise and untangle some of our difficult thoughts could be to talk to someone who knows you and cares about you and who will listen. If you feel like you don’t have such a person in your life, maybe you can phone a mental health helpline to talk through things with someone or even contact a doctor if you need to. Talking to a trusted friend or family member, even if it isn’t face to face, can help to alleviate your feelings of stress and anxiety and they may be able to help you make sense of some of your thoughts, or even offer a better or more helpful perspective on things. Talking things through can help get you out of your own head space, especially if you are not able at the current time to make sense of things or find a better perspective.

Write it down:

Writing can help externalise thoughts that you are keeping bottled up inside of yourself. As well as writing to make sense of things for your own well being, you could also try to think of ways in which you would help a friend who was struggling with the things you are just now. Imagine or think of what you would say to someone who needed help or encouragement with the problem you are facing, and try to apply that kind and encouraging advice to yourself. Perhaps you could even try blogging about your experience to share and find connection with others.

Read:

On a similar note, we can feel much less alone when we are able to read or hear about other people who are going through or have overcome things that we might be finding challenging. In a pandemic you are not alone in feeling anxious and uncertain, and you might be able to connect with others of a like mind and help each other through. As a note of caution, try not to focus too much on things that are problematic, but try to find solutions as you read and learn more about things you and others are experiencing in life.

Break things down:

When our thoughts get the better of us, it may be because we have too little distance from them. Try breaking things down. If you have a thought that distresses you, why not write it down, and analyse it to find a more helpful perspective, or ask a friend or family member to help you with this.

For example, if you have a thought ‘I just don’t know what’s going to happen or how I’ll handle the future’, take a step back from it, take a look at it and how it is making you feel, and find a better way of looking at it that will help you move forwards.

Know that many, many people right now have such thoughts and fears. Maybe we don’t know how we’ll handle a big, unknown future, but can we handle the next five minutes, the next day? If that seems more manageable start there and build on from that, write down some practical steps you may need to take in looking at future plans or decisions, and ask someone for help and advice so that you don’t need to go it alone.

Take a break:

It can be hard focusing on the negative cycle of thoughts all the time, so make sure you don’t do that. Easier said than done, right? Find something that will intercept your thoughts in a more productive way, for example, plan some small activities that will absorb your mental energy and focus. This could be something like cooking a meal, or making a simple sandwich or a cup of tea. It could be taking five or ten minutes to engage in a creative pursuit. It could be taking time to read a book, or a helpful blog, or to talk to a friend.

Add structure:

Following on from the above, planning little activities or ‘chunks of time’ can help add structure to your day and can help move you through the day in a less anxious way. Knowing what you have to do in the morning, afternoon and evening can help take you away from a whirlwind of thoughts and can help you find enjoyment and productivity along the way.

Look to the needs of others:

Sometimes looking away from our own thoughts to the needs of others can be a real help for ourselves too! Helping someone else, even in a small way, can take our thoughts outwards, so that we can focus on the needs of someone else. It will help us realise that we are able and capable and can do things that bring comfort to someone else as well as receiving help which is totally ok too.

Fresh air and outdoors:

As well as looking to the needs of others, we can look up into the beauty of the world around us. We face so much of the world that is negative through our computer screens and the constant stream of news that we receive. Looking at the natural world can really help to calm our minds and nervous systems, and even bring new thoughts to us.

As well as looking up and out at nature, we may find the benefit of reaching up in Faith. ❤

I hope some of these tips have been helpful for you. You’ve made it another day in this pandemic, and if you’re feeling anxious, know that you’re not alone. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and try to find something to enjoy today, even if in the smallest of moments.

Take care. Be blessed. ❤ x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (14): A Tried and Tested Trusty Hobby!

We all have those days when we find it hard to get ourselves going. Perhaps you’ve been working from home or working on the front line (thank you!), and that has given you a sense of structure and purpose to your days. However, quite a few of us are on the approach to the Christmas holidays or a period over winter where we may not have the structure of work each day.

Whatever your situation is, this next self care ‘tip’ if you like, can come in handy in all walks of life. It is to have a hobby that you can turn to that will give you a sense of enjoyment, relaxation, creativity and rest. You don’t need to be particularly good at it, but let it be something that you enjoy and that helps you take your mind off things. This can be a particularly helpful ‘go to’ on those days that might otherwise feel a bit wasted if we can’t quite get ourselves going.

My personal favourite for the past few years has been ‘adult colouring in’ and while I know not everyone is keen, it has helped me through depression, complex PTSD, anxiety, and now is not only a source of self care but is an artistic and creative pursuit. I am able to link up with creative groups, and see and be inspired by artist quality works that spur me on to better my own technique. It is something that is relaxing, fun, but also something that can be calming, develop my motor skills, creativity and open up a whole world for me. It is easy to pick up and put down without any pressure, except from the self-imposed pressure to better myself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

On those days when you are unable to find structure, especially when you are staying at home during the winter seasons if that is the case, then having a hobby can be a real source of comfort and strength and calm for your mental health. Instead of feeling depressed at not being able to do what you would otherwise want to do, whether because of restrictions, health or lack of motivation, having something that you can work away at over a period of time can be so beneficial to your mental, emotional health and sense of wellbeing. You can see progress, and you can continue to form those important positive neural connections that are so vital for brain health.

Another thing you may have noticed that I do is obviously blogging. I do it as a hobby and don’t get any income from it, but with the times we are living in, it may be worth seeing if I can develop it as a ‘side hustle’ once I develop the skills and know-how, if that is what I am being led to do. But as it is, blogging as a hobby can provide me with so many positive things in my life, and as a blogger you may also find the same. I am able to express my thoughts, share them with an audience, and hopefully help and encourage all of you who read them (thank you if you do read my blog! 🙂 ). It can provide new insights into my own thoughts as I express them. I have created a holiday booklet for myself to keep me accountable in how I use my time, and one of the pages is dedicated to ideas for my blog posts and as I progress in them I can see that I have been using my time and mind well and helping and encouraging other people.

Some of you are very outdoor focussed when it comes to hobbies, and perhaps you are able to continue these. Where I live, winters are generally cold, dark and rainy, and with increasing restrictions it is good to also be able to find indoor pursuits that can benefit our mental health.

What do you have that you can pick up every now and then especially on those less structured more ‘wobbly’ days when you may not be feeling your best? Do you have an instrument, or can you do some cooking, doodling, singing, dancing, or colouring and drawing? Do you enjoy blogging, designing art work, knitting, reading, writing, sewing or crafting? You don’t need to be any good at a hobby for it to be beneficial to you and remember we all have to start somewhere. The key thing is to have something relaxing that you enjoy that can help your mental health instead of allowing your mind to chase those negative trains of thought when you are unfocused and not putting your attention to something positive. Sometimes we don’t have the energy or wherewithal to use our skills and in those times maybe just watching a show can help.

But do have something in mind that can help you get through those days that you struggle with so that you keep your mind engaged and active, and move your thoughts away from those dark tunnels that you otherwise might let yourself delve into.

What works for you? Any other adult colouring in fans out there? If so what are your favourite books? Add your own special little sparkle to the world, even if it is just a ‘doodle’ on a post-it note, that in itself is special and it is a good place to start. x

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Making the most of time after work…

This is more of a ‘life as it happens to be’ learning as I go type of post, rather than an article of helpful advice (although I’ll try to include helpful tips where I can), quite simply because this is an area of on-going learning and development for me.

The different spheres in which we move, and live:

Some of you out there may have particularly unique or fascinating jobs that don’t quite fit a predictable ‘pattern’ of set hours or locations. Maybe your work involves traveling across the world, through different time zones and maybe some of you could get called to work at any time of the day or the night. However, I imagine that most of us who are working adults tend to have a set number of hours for which we are paid to work each week, and in set locations. Even if you work from home and / or run your own business/s, you tend to wake up on a Monday morning (if Monday is a working day for you) knowing where you are meant to be and what you are supposed to do              (although, first thing on a Monday morning thoughts about the latter might be a little foggy! : – ) ).

It’s important to have that delineation between work and leisure time, and this may be a particular challenge for people who work for themselves and / or work from home for the most part because the physical and psychological space between home and work will tend to be less defined.

Why is it important to have this distinction? Obviously our lives involve elements of ‘cross-over’ in many respects, however, we need a basic degree of separation in order to protect our own mental and emotional well-being, in order to know when to stop, when to rest, and when to work.

‘After work’ time:

Once we have ‘downed tools’ for the day, we move from one sphere of living into another. For me this involves completing work tasks, ‘powering down’, physically leaving one building to make a short commute to get home. That is quite a clear demarcation for me, as it will be for many of you, with the travel time in between allowing us to mentally process the sphere from one part of our day and life into the next.

Making the most of my time is an on-going lesson for me, and perhaps for many of you. I have quite clear ideas of what my life priorities are, and how I would like to spend my time. I set goals not only at the start of the year, but also try to do this for each new month throughout the year, and on the whole I manage to spend valuable time on each of the areas of life that are most important to me, and that are within my grasp to be able to do so.

However, isn’t it often the case that we can feel ‘rushed’ in our lives and unable to fully give as much time and attention to what we want to do? Do you ‘wait for the weekend’, for your next holiday, or even for retirement? I personally don’t think that’s a way that I want to be living my life, when each day is packed full of opportunity. It’s just that sometimes we aren’t able to make the most of each of our days. Why?

What considerations to we need to take into account that might be hindrances to fully living the life we want to lead?

At work, I’m getting more opportunities to use my project management skills, and to work with others as part of a team to be involved in the implementation and progress of new initiatives. I do like a good plan, and when it comes to successful planning and project implementation at work this can be particularly satisfying. Often projects can fall by the wayside because of poor planning and a lack of comprehensive discussion and brainstorming between the right people. At the moment it seems that I am involved with a good team on a particular project, who have introduced a new project planning tool which is particularly good for assessing progress and making people aware of tasks and relevant deadlines.

When it comes to work, and my work has been quite varied over the years, I am always either ahead of time or on schedule with work tasks and projects.

However, when it comes to all the things I want to do, enjoy and achieve before or after work, I tend to be far more lenient on myself. Does this also ring true for you?

For starters, we are but human, and our bodies and minds need rest and refreshing. We also need to eat and sleep, and preparing a meal takes time, and the window of time between getting home, doing what is needed to sustain us, and then going to bed is relatively small.

Learning through different approaches:

I used to have an idea in mind of the different things I would want to do after work. I realised that I couldn’t possibly do them all, so at one point I would try to set aside specific days for different things such as exercise, playing my violin, going to my prayer and study group, writing, art and creative pursuits, photography, reading, devotional time and so on.

I then tried the approach of ‘going with the flow’, since I already have a very clear idea of the different things I want to spend my time on, and ideas of new things I want to learn and do and people to spend time with.

Yet, the reality of things meant that ‘going with the flow’ of how I felt often resulted in me whiling away an evening eating dinner and watching TV or getting distracted by the online world of YouTube, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending time doing this to wind down, it’s just that I would feel a little disappointed when I knew that I wanted to be more productive and spend at least a little time doing other things.

I also tried the idea of doing things for a small amount of time and then doing something else. This tends to work quite well for me especially at the weekends, but not always so much on a week night.

Sometimes I think that I’ll do certain things in a week without having any set time or day, and at times this works out for me.

I’ve been working on writing a novel for 12 years, and I’ve been making good progress, however, even with writing being so important to me and a real passion of mine, I sometimes get a bit ‘lazy’ about it, feeling that I need to have longer stretches of ‘set aside’ time to really get going. If you are interested in this aspect of my life, take a look through my posts from last year and the year before when I had my own personal writing retreats, taking time off to just work on my novel and my writing, which was hugely satisfying but also took me out of the ‘real world’ for a time.

One year I marked in my diary set aside writing time every evening – even if it was just a few minutes a day. Suffice to say, this didn’t work for me, and perhaps I didn’t like the self imposed constraints. It is nice to do things spontaneously, but at the same time, we don’t approach work goals that way, so similarly personal goals and dreams need to be worked towards, and time and effort needs to be put in. I don’t want to reach the end of a day, a month or a year, or my lifetime and feel that I ‘frittered’ away my time being distracted by what’s on the TV or the internet, when I have so many dreams to fulfil.

Yet in order to do all these wonderful things, to live the lives we want to, we also need to factor in those practicalities I mentioned earlier of eating well, getting the right amount of sleep, exercising to stay healthy and having time to wind down, relax and do nothing, or just enjoy a good TV programme!

Being present:

Lately I’ve been aware of the beauty in life of being present in the moment, and enjoying the process of my life, of ‘being’. Enjoying the colours, and aromas of cooking, enjoying staring into space and daydreaming, of not getting stressed if everything I want to do isn’t done, and trying to do some of the important things to me each week.

It can be hard for all of us to keep on top of things at times. We need to do all the practical things from day to day, to maintain our homes, and possibly for many to look after other people as well. I’m all too aware of not letting myself get ‘burnt out’ precisely because I have been in the past, which might be partly why I realise the importance of also spending time doing things that are important to me and life enriching rather than only doing things for other people, while also knowing that helping others thrive is an important part of life too.

A learning curve….and I’m still learning….

As I said at the start, I’m still learning. Being mindful of what is important to me, however, and giving myself the opportunity to take time for these things (even if it is just five minutes at a time) has helped me to make far better use of my time than if I hadn’t spent time reflecting and thinking about things.

I find blogging very satisfying, and life enhancing, and I am glad that I have managed to sustain a regular writing ‘habit’ if you could call it that (although I personally don’t see it at all as a habit, so much so as simply pursuing something that I enjoy doing and hopefully encourages other people). If I didn’t put in the time to do this, maybe I’d just have whiled away my time mindlessly on things that don’t really come up in my priorities in life, such as watching TV, although that’s ok as long as it isn’t the only thing we do with our non-working time.

I’ve found that it has also benefited other people who have told me that my words have brought encouragement to me, which means so much to me. Do you realise that your own gifts and talents have an impact not only in your own life but the lives of others too. You are making a difference in the world.

When we know what is important to us that is perhaps the first step towards making the most of our time. We will find a way and we will keep learning along the way.

Over to you:

Can you relate to any of the thoughts I’ve expressed in terms of your own life and learning? Do you have any ‘pearls of wisdom’ to share with me, and other readers? What are you blessed to be able to spend your time doing, and how would you like to make better use of your time? Do you have any ideas of how you can do things better?

Thank you so much for taking your time to read this and hopefully it has also been time well spent for you. Be blessed. x

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Use Your Voice…

Today I’m particularly thankful for Word Press as a blogging platform, where we can use our writing voice to connect with numerous people from across the world to share, inspire, encourage and motivate.

Why today in particular? Because following the onset of a sore throat, I have in fact ‘lost’ my voice. I’m hopeful I’ll get it back again, but it has prompted me to think of the ways in which we take for granted the things we can usually do. I have so many thoughts running through my head that I’d love to communicate with others in my life, or even to greet the people I meet in passing, and I didn’t even realise that I was ‘voiceless’ until I tried to express these thoughts verbally – and nothing came out.

Ah, the blessing of non-verbal communication! Smiles, hugs, gestures, facial expressions…and of course for all of us here on the ‘blogosphere’ – the written word!

I’ve always felt more able to express myself more persuasively through the written – rather than the spoken – word. I wonder if you can relate? Perhaps you’ve had experience of shyness, social anxiety, ‘brain fog’ when in company and conversation, or have had to overcome a stutter. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to find our voices elsewhere if we are limited in some other aspect of our lives in being able to communicate.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for people for whom all or most forms of communication are impaired or limited. Therefore, today I reflect upon my blessings of being able to communicate and share this gift of being able to connect with others and they with me.

I think of how powerful the written word is. But also of the potency of words spoken. How many of us have suffered from the wounds of words inflicted upon us in childhood? Even as adults they affect us, sometimes terribly. Scripture tells us that ‘life and death are in the power of the tongue’ and that although humanity has learned to steer ships and other vessels, to bridle horses, we cannot tame our own tongue! It steers the course of our life, and can have the power to set a forest on fire.

There are many ways in which we can use our voice. Perhaps blogging is your platform to share your ‘voice’ with the world – your thoughts, your ideas, your desire to advocate for change. Perhaps we can use our ‘voice’ to ‘speak up for’ the voiceless in society – for children, animals, for those who are oppressed and have no way to share their own thoughts and feelings about what is happening to them. We can use our voice, our words, written, spoken, and in other forms of expression to heal, to encourage, to help, to build up, to inspire, to comfort, to love, to share….

It’s good to be silent from time to time, and to take a moment to reflect upon how we are using the gifts we have to communicate with others. How will you use your ‘voice’ today?

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The Final Edit … who will have the last say in your life?

When I was a little girl, and then as I grew into a teenager, I dreamed of what I would like to be when I grew up. My dreams in terms of my occupation were along the lines of wanting to be an artist, a cartoonist / animator, a writer and illustrator, a journalist, reporter, and an advocate for children’s rights, human rights, animal rights and social justice. For a long time in secondary school I saw myself as becoming a journalist, because of my love of writing, of discovering and sharing such discoveries with the world. My passion for writing never diminished, and I spent my teenage years writing short stories, and doing stints of work experience with a local newspaper, as well as volunteering for NGOs such as the British Red Cross, working on an international message and tracing scheme, race equality charities, Amnesty International and doing projects on the death penalty, Greenpeace and so forth. My mum always saw me as a future news reader, which I can’t quite understand why given that I was an incredibly shy teenager, and not really able to speak up for myself. But I could write! And I could analyse facts, and discover new angles and ways of seeing things. Creativity and analysis are two sides of the same picture that makes me who I am, but whereas I could live with a less analytical aspect to my life, I would probably shrivel up and wither away without being able to express myself creatively. At school we had ‘mock interviews’ with a guidance counsellor  / teacher. During my interview, the teacher / ‘interviewer’ asked me what I wanted to be and do in the future. Without hesitation I told her I wanted to be a writer and a journalist. She shot me down, which to be honest, is pretty awful given that she didn’t really know me. She said I could definitely be a writer, but there was no way I would be a journalist because my personality wasn’t bold or confident enough, or something to that effect. At the time it was a real desire for me to go into the field of journalism, and without a second thought the teacher brazenly dismissed my dreams for my future. I forgive her, I understand some people trying to provide youngsters with a good old fashioned dose of realism, but some people I think are in the teaching profession without really having the skills to help nurture young minds and lives. Suffice to say, I didn’t become a journalist. I guess I didn’t really want to in the end, but that was my choice. I went on to study English Literature and Politics in University, aged 17, and then proceeded to study Gender Studies, Human Rights and International Development. I’ve since dipped into online courses in psychology, children’s studies, and continue to pursue my passion for writing. I write fiction, I write blogs, I’ve written about human trafficking as part of my studies, and as part of my job, I’ve written about issues to do with violence against women, equality, racism, disability hate crime, and a variety of more ‘businessy’, corporate, legal and policy type matters, all the while, learning new things as I go. I have also had times in my job where I have had to write more ‘tedious’ and templated things, such as complaint responses and things that I have just had to do, because I was tasked to do it. I suppose in any and every career we face tasks that we like and dislike, things that make us feel more like our true selves, and other things that make us just want to pack up and go home for the day, or better still, leave the country altogether and go on holiday until we can come back to something better!

Yes, I’ve been there, I’m sure we all have. But today, as I sit and write, I think that the little girl I once was would be pleased with where I am today and what I am doing. I think this day may very well be part of her dream. To sit somewhere quiet, with the sun shining in through the windows, and a view of trees, and to be editing a company newsletter, and preparing the articles for the final version. I am working with my friend and colleague who is a designer, and I am doing the ‘wordy’ part of the editing, while he deals with the pictures and images. It is a new task for me at work, because previously we worked more in the confines of our own teams, which meant I was dealing with, at least for the past while, more corporate work, which is fine, but not exactly creatively stimulating. I have a new collaborative project coming up too, which I have been preparing for, I won’t write too much about it at this point, but think audio, internal communications, entertainment….and yes, perhaps something with a journalistic streak to it! This past week at work I have been collating information, writing reports, analysing, and also editing a newsletter, planning a creative project, which will involve interviewing, possibly audio presenting and taking forward with colleagues new internal communications strategies.  So, despite it all, despite my several health challenges and struggles over the years, despite this not being quite journalism (which was after all the dream of a teenage me, and not the adult me), I find myself in a happy day, doing things that I love, despite life’s ups and downs, and despite messages to the contrary.

On days like these, especially after times of trials, we really ought to reflect on and appreciate them.

And for all of you out there whose teachers, parents, peers, colleagues, bosses, relatives, or so called ‘friends’ told you that you could ‘never be’ what you dreamed of being, or that you didn’t have what it takes, or weren’t good enough or not being realistic, or whatever negative thing they said about you….by all means hear them out, take on any helpful advice, but take it with a pinch of salt, continue to be who you are born to be, and remember that they don’t have the final edit of your life. 🙂 Be blessed. x

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Lunch bites – bite sized inspiration on your lunch break…

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If you work, whether full time, part time or freelance, life can get busy. Whether you travel the world with you work, or are in an office or a depot or work from home, you might find yourself from time to time dreaming of the things you’d like to do when you retire. If you work from home, you probably have more flexibility, but still I’m sure you also have times when you daydream of doing something when you have more ‘free time’.

My challenge to you today, for this ‘lunch bite’ is to do something during your lunchtime that you dream about doing when you retire. Obviously, you’ll need to work within the parameters of your situation here, and keep it fairly reasonable. If you dream of skydiving in your retirement, or traveling around the world, or lying on a beach, well, you’re going to probably have to just leave that for another day. But if you see yourself also doing more simple yet enjoyable things such as reading more, exercising, taking a walk, writing poetry, going to coffee shops, writing a book, making model planes, drawing, learning a language, or whatever it may be, then use your lunchtimes as an opportunity to invest in yourself and your enjoyment of life now, rather than waiting until you retire.

‘But I don’t have the time!’ I hear you say. Are you sure about that? What if you were to keep a book you’ve wanted to read for a long time, on your desk at work. Pick it up during your lunch breaks and soon you will find the rewards of giving yourself that little bit more time to enjoy reading if that’s something you like to do but feel too rushed for. Or why not keep a sketch pad to practice a bit of drawing when you have ten minutes spare, build it up over time. Or you could have a notepad with you where you can scribble down thoughts, ideas, stories, characters, insights from your day to day life, for that novel you want to write…..”someday”.

Or if you dream of relaxing days sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, I’m sure this is something you can factor in at least once a month into your working life – can you take a longer lunch break once in a while? Go out for a walk, listen to podcasts, listen to immersive language teaching and learn what you’ve always wanted to.

Or if you’re sporty, why not go for a run during your lunch break? It’s become quite a trend among my colleagues, and many people bring in their kit to work to go jogging or running during their break. Others might take a stroll down to the park. If you don’t have those options, but still want to keep fit, why not climb up and down the stairs or do some simple stretches.

There are so many things you can do now, that you dream of doing later, “when you have the time”. But the thing is, the time is now. You don’t know whether you’ll be able to do the things you enjoy later, so why not invest in yourself even for ten minutes every lunchtime, and add that little bit extra to your life today. If you keep waiting for ‘tomorrow’ or the ‘golden years’ of your retirement, you may just miss your chance. So carpe diem, friends….seize the day! 🙂

Fun and Easy Creative Writing Exercise

How would you like to try a simple and relatively easy creative writing exercise to get your writing flowing? I thought of this the other day, and had fun with it over the course of a Monday to Friday one week. It is really simple, the aim is to write a ‘Short shortstory’, yet it can really be any piece of prose. Don’t worry about the standard and quality of your writing if you think that doing so will inhibit you. You can come back to that later for editing or revision, or you can simply do the exercise in and for itself to fire up your imagination stations! 🙂

To write the ‘Short short-story’, which I have entitled “Windows”, I simply wrote a paragraph each day, Monday to Friday, and here’s what transpired. Maybe you will contemplate certain situations in your own life, or imagine something, and choose a topic or theme of your own so that you can try out this creative writing exercise. In the meantime, take a look if you like through some….

“WINDOWS” (c).

Monday:

Penelope gazed out of the window at the greying clouds. ‘What had happened to the blue skies and sunshine from earlier in the day?’ she wondered. Rain pitter-pattered on the glass and Penelope in unison drummed her fingers on her desk. It was another day in the office for Penelope, however, it had been far from another “ordinary” day. No, in fact, for Penelope it had been a very, very extraordinary day indeed!

Tuesday:

Tuesday morning blue skies and a drizzle of sunshine. Marcus and Lucy turned the sign that hung on the glass panelled door of their shop to let the world outside know that they were ‘OPEN’. Finally their hopes and dreams were falling into place. Closed was the door to their corporate lives in a world that they had now left behind. It was a brave move and one they had never anticipated taking when they first started out in their careers as young, ambitious, driven professionals. However, now childless and in their early forties, and with money in the bank, it was time for a new chapter. And as the door to the old closed, a window to new opportunities opened. First came the grand disembarkation from their fast-paced corporate lives, followed by a few months of travel, then focussed time setting up their long dreamed of business. Now the way was open, and Marcus and Lucy were more than ready for their new life and new adventures to begin.

Wednesday:

Peter tapped his biro against the clipboard, and gazed absentmindedly at his notes. He brushed back his unruly dark, yet speckled and greying hair from his face. The breeze from the slightly open window of his office rustled the bottom edges of his papers. He pressed his thumbs down upon the bottom edge of the uppermost page to keep the pages from lifting in the breeze. Despite the inconvenience, the breeze was welcome as Peter sat with the sun beating in upon him. The breeze served also as a reminder to him of how fortunate he was. He had opened the window a little earlier for the sake of the young lady who had sat in the room with him. His client. Her traumatic symptoms were resurfacing during their session, and the breeze from the open window served as a gentle reminder that she was here, drawing her back into the present. Peter jotted down some final observations before drawing a line under his work for the day. It was time to finalise his work, to pack up, close the window and finish for the day. As usual, he slowly, yet deliberately, left his wonderings and concerns about his clients firmly in the office before heading home to his young family, and his own happy life.

Thursday:

Trish sipped on her hot ginger tea, feeling calmed by the aroma and the warm and soothing sensation on her throat. She noticed a gentle hint of cinnamon too, softening the spice of the sweet ginger. Lisa returned to the table with her frothy topped coffee and sat opposite her friend. Together they leafed through the photograph album from Lisa’s recent wedding. A stylish lady following her tiny dog on its lead caught Trish’s eye. She was glad that Lisa had chosen a window-side table in the coffee shop. Trish felt less anxious sitting there, able periodically to glance away and watch the world go by, rather than sitting in the centre of the coffee shop, only to feel watched by the other customers there. It also served as a temporary mental and emotional “getaway” for her, as Lisa, caught up in her own enthusiasm and excitement of where her life was right now, absentmindedly, yet carelessly, disregarded her friend’s feelings as she celebrated her own.

Friday:

On Friday, Emily wore her favourite scarf to work. A gentle yellow, silky affair, with a light and tasteful scattering of gold sequins that sparkled and glistened when they caught and reflected the sunlight. For Emily, without any particular known reason, as far as she was aware at least, yellow was a colour she associated with Mondays. She wasn’t entirely sure why, as she didn’t feel particularly bright on a Monday, and never actually intentionally wore yellow on a Monday either. However, this Friday she felt drawn to wear this yellow scarf, and so she did. She hadn’t worn it for a long time, and it drew many compliments towards her that day. She enjoyed the simplicity of the happiness that it brought her as it sparkled in the sun streaming through the office window, catching the sequins and brightening her heart.


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Retreat Reflections – Day 2 (Part 4) ~ Lunch, Rest & Flexible Planning.

2.25pm

Lunchtime is a helpful divider within the day. Being creative and freely exploring our creativity is often, as contradictory as it may seem, benefited by having boundaries. Even if you don’t have an ‘itinerary’ as such for your personal retreat to begin with, you can develop flexible plans as you move through your days. 

As to lunch, food and sustenance in general during a personal retreat it helps to do a bit of preparation beforehand, or to cook something you can eat over two or three meals, have something you can easily make, or buy some sandwiches from a shop and to keep your fridge stocked with what you will need. It’s helpful to minimise the time spent having to run errands because we necessarily will be compelled to engage and interact with the world in a way that may interrupt what we hope to experience on our retreat. 

Not only that, but if you’re like me, when you get absorbed in a creative project you can ‘forget’ to eat, or if there’s nothing readily available you might just ‘power through’ and your creative work might actually suffer because you are low on energy, tired, ‘hangry’ or lack concentration. So keep things ready so that you can grab a bite and continue with your project uninterrupted. 

It is nice though, not to rush through lunch, but to use it as a time to rest, relax, maybe look at other sources for inspiration (I was listening to some music, and looking up retreat videos on YouTube – I didn’t quite find what I was looking for in terms of the retreat videos, but it was good just to move into a state of mind where I didn’t have to concentrate so much). 

Now that I’ve eaten, relaxed a bit, I find myself beginning to ponder my next steps. Yesterday I met my ‘writing goal’ of 3,500 words, and slightly exceeded it. This morning I was intentional to not set any writing goals, and focus more on slowing down and engaging more fully with myself and the process. I had some prayer time, and some quiet reflection.

Having had personal retreats before, I am aware that the final day, which in this case is tomorrow, requires a slight shift in gears. If you are on retreat somewhere away from home, then you will have to pack, tidy up and make your journey back home on the last day. If, like me, you are having your retreat in your own home by yourself, then you may find that you have a bit (or a lot!) of tidying up to do, and preparing for the day ahead if you happen to be going back to work, or ‘re-joining the world’ in some other way. 

I recommend valuing your purpose for your retreat and allowing yourself not to focus on tidying up unless you naturally keep everything neat and clean as you go along. It’s important to have a clean, neat retreat space, but if you’re like me you do have that, but you also have dishes piled up in the sink. Your focus is your time alone to reflect and work on your creative projects or self development, etc, and you will have to attend to the housework afterwards anyway, but don’t let it distract you or interrupt your creative flow, as quiet times can be hard to come by in our busy lives.

As to flexible planning, I’m aware that tomorrow I don’t want to use the whole day for tidying, so I want to set aside some time later today to do a bit of that. I also don’t want to do anything too ‘heavy’ in terms of writing, as what I am working on involves being engaged emotionally and mentally on a deep level. I like to keep the final stages of a personal retreat for something lighter, more care free, with times for prayer, thanksgiving, gratitude, reflecting on what I have learned and planning ways in which I can take forward some of these lessons into my day to day life where possible. As such, I have made a preliminary decision not to work on writing my novel tomorrow after morning time, so that I can ‘decompress’ and gently change gears.

Therefore, to avoid unfocused and unstructured time today, my plans are changing somewhat organically as day two progresses. I may not get time like this for a while, so I am reinstating my ‘goal setting’ with my novel writing this afternoon. This is what I love about a personal retreat in contrast with group activities which have their own unique positive aspects – when your time is your own you can work with the ebb and flow of your own creative processes, ongoing learning, and practical concerns, rather than having to adhere to a set timetable. 

So to make the most of the remaining time, and to have a lighter more carefree day tomorrow, I am going to work creatively within some parameters this afternoon, being flexible once again with those plans.

It’s 2.50pm now, and the sun is shining, but I have chosen to stay inside and focus, and set aside novel writing time from 3pm to 6.30pm. In that time I can take my time, linger over words and ideas, look up sources for inspiration, take short breaks, but that time is a gift that doesn’t come often. Knowing that, I will savour it, and whether I write much or little that is fine either way. 

At 7pm the coach will turn into a pumpkin! 🙂 Just kidding, by 7pm I will down tools with writing my novel for the rest of the retreat time, other than if I have anything I feel I want to do tomorrow morning, but that leaves me free the rest of the time to work on some less mentally and emotionally challenging projects and prepare for concluding the retreat time on a reflective and carefree note. 

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