I have alluded to the idea, on more than one occasion, that now my youngest is headed for the big world of school in September and as the decision has been made that no more little J's are going to be coming into our life, I have reached the point where I can start to think about what I might like to 'do' - now I am not going to be spending 15 hours a day trying to keep the little ones alive (this will reduce to a mere 8 or 9... except in school holidays of course).
The idea is to write. In a fanciful and childish way I claim 'When I grow up I want to be an author.' But unlike the wonderful ignorance you are allowed as a child I am now fully aware that this is no easy task. It requires ideas and creativity (plenty of it), it requires time (plenty of it), it requires confidence (plenty of it), it requires discipline (plenty of it), it requires, like most things, some degree of luck (plenty of it).
But, I am willing to give it a try, because now is the time. As my 35th birthday looms ever closer I have actually felt, for once, older. I have never really worried about birthdays before. My best friend is the opposite, as his birthday approaches he elopes off to 'Maudling Land' and the word 'Birthday' is not even to be whispered in his direction. We buy cards with 21 on them.
I suppose it has helped that I always looked younger than my years, obviously between the ages of 17 and 25 this was a factor I hated. Having to carry ID everywhere and argue at the door of clubs that yes, it was genuine ID. But after reaching my mid-20's I have enjoyed the fact that everyone thinks I am much younger than my husband (and although he baulks because in actual fact there is only two years between us I think he quite enjoys it too).
But, all of a sudden I am going to be 35. It has a much bigger feeling that turning 25 or even 30 did. I am not sure why it has started to bother me. Maybe it is because, although I have been vaguely aware of years passing more quickly as I have aged, all of a sudden I am acutely aware they are passing in a flash. That I have cousins, who to me were eternally my 'older cousins' in their 30's who are now turning 50 and it is I who is mid-30's.
My 'Well, I can't do it yet because of x, y and z.' factors are almost gone and I am left instead with, 'You need to do it now because you aren't getting any younger.' ringing in my ears. With this, somewhat disconcerting, state of affairs I have started to put in the discipline. My 'child is at nursery' allocation of hours are being prioritised for writing where possible but sometimes it is difficult to not let the house chores take over.
So, I put my business head on and decided to book myself out for writing. Like, booking a meeting you know you can't miss or think about anything else whilst there. I signed up for the Urban Writing Retreat one day course in London. This is literally a day to write. Take yourself out of your normal environment and concentrate. And concentrate we did, it was lovely to see a dozen people all their to get their head down. The idea may seem strange, why go to a venue with other people who you are literally there to ignore. But it works. With food and drink provided (including delicious home made cake), plus helpful writing prompts if you find yourself struggling for any reason to get creative, it was amazing how a change of environment and a common (unspoken) understanding of 'writing is hard work' can give you some drive.
Sometimes sitting at the computer getting words down on paper can be lonely and quite frankly others seem to make the assumption it is a little frivolous which can knock your confidence. But for those writing their first draft (or second, or third, or fourth) and beginning to understand just what it takes to get a finished product, sometimes it nice to be surrounded by others (even if just to ignore) that understand what you are going through and to know, in actual fact they are sitting there going through exactly the same thing.
I would guess a writing retreat may not work for everybody, but for me it did, I got just shy of 5000 words penned that day and the biggest sense of achievement. I left knowing I had done a massive amount of felt quite content, rather than trying to snatch an hour or two here or there and scraping perhaps a few hundred words and feeling like I wanted to achieve more. So I am glad I paid and took myself away to self indulgently think of nothing but writing. It has put me in a much better mood in general which is beneficial to the kids and husband as well. I have been able to feel I have started to gain a sense of self identity back which can be easily forgotten in the everyday hustle bustle of being a mum.
My top tips for attending a writing retreat would be :
1. Make sure you know how to turn the sound off of your lap top (as mine made every noise possible I was so glad to have older mum in a muddle next to me to click the button to silence the 'never seemed that loud before' computer).
2. Make sure all 'updates' have been performed the night before (15 minutes into writing mine decided to restart itself and update - of course).
3. Don't be on a diet - you need cake.
4. Be prepared for sore eyes and laptop arm the following day.