MY 6 WRITING DISTRACTIONS LYING IN WAIT

I’m currently lucky enough to be connected to a major theatre in Liverpool that is showing faith in me as a writer, and investing time and money to develop any potential I may have.

And I’m about to start work on completing the first draft and on subsequent re-writes of a full-length play, based on the notes I’m about to receive from the production team at the theatre.

It’s critical over the next three months I’m completely focused on these rewrites, the last thing I want is to look back in regret at an opportunity lost through a lack of commitment, or giving in to distraction.

Taking distraction to extreme. (Image by Matthew Lejune through Unsplash)

So, before I get my all- important notes in the next week or two and start the real work, I’ve decided to look ahead to my usual batch of diversions so they don’t catch me off guard.

I’ve narrowed it down to six, in no particular level of importance (okay, maybe the last one), but you may have more.  

THE WASHING HAS TO BE DONE – NOW. OR PEOPLE MIGHT DIE

 Okay, so there are no recorded deaths due to not putting a wash on, but that’s the level of gravitas we can place on it. And the reasons we give? Well, if we put the washing in the machine now, then we don’t have to do it later. But later is the time we should do it, because that’s the time we have stopped after a productive, uninterrupted days writing.

Yet, ignoring the logic of this, we leap up from our keyboards, sort out or smalls and our not so smalls, and throw them in the machine. And when the cycle finishes, we leap up from our keyboards again and hang the damp washing out. If we don’t, it will all be creased up; which neatly segments into my next excuse.

THAT IRONING WILL NOT IRON ITSELF

This is an indisputable fact. No pile of clothes will ever un-crease itself, sort out it’s collars and cuffs, and place itself neatly on a hanger. No skirt or top will look better just being left to just hang; though I have heard that this is possible in some cases. But until I start wearing skirts and women’s tops (a whole other blog in itself), I’ll just have to keep on ironing my shirts and jeans. Preferably however, not when I’m supposed to be writing that difficult second act. And under no circumstances should I use it as an excuse to iron socks. Ever.

I’LL JUST POP TO THE SHOP NOW, WHILE IT’S QUIET

For what, an emergency pepper? An essential artichoke? Is it not possible that pint of milk can wait a couple of hours? And the shops are only quiet first thing in the morning or late at night, where you might find the odd writer feeling damn smug their writing shift is done and are now out and about in his or her neatly ironed outfit.

IF I DON’T GO TO THE GYM NOW, I’LL GET OUT OF THE ROUTINE

Now this is a tricky one. Regular exercise is essential when we spend so much time sitting at a desk.  I find it is best a couple of nights a week after a couple of hours of writing has been done, and usually at this time it’s also least populated. It can also aid good sleep patterns.

Add those couple of visits a session at the weekend and you have a three-times a week gym routine. But then, for too many of us an excuse not to go to the gym usually ranks higher than a reason to interrupt our writing.

But as it says on a large plinth at my local gym, you can make progress, or you can make excuses. There’s nothing worse than a judgmental plinth, don’t you think?

POP-UPS

Pop-ups; the internet equivalent of someone jumping into the middle of a private conversation.  The big danger if clicked onto it can lead to five or ten-minutes reading about our football team’s injury update or gossip regarding a celebrity you’ve have never heard of. So, as soon as you can, dismantle that pop-up!

SOCIAL MEDIA

This is the biggie. It’s evil. It’s accessible. It’s always there, tempting you for ‘just a quick look’, ruining your flow, and your attention. It only takes few seconds and you’re in, hooked into someone’s opinion on Twitter on something you may normally not be interested in, clicking on someone famous who’s trending just make sure they’ve not died, or a pointless photo on Facebook of someone’s pub meal. Why should we care?

But we do it. Then we go back to what we are writing and we need to readjust out thought process again. Some writers disconnect from the internet, this could be my next move.

How about you? Are you a slave to social media or do you have it neatly in its place? If so, what’s your secret?

So anyway, there’s my top six. And I didn’t even list writing or reading a blog. Nah, I don’t see a blog as a distraction…surely?

A BLOGGING BREAK FOR ALL THE WRITE REASONS

Whilst admittedly not being the most prolific of bloggers, I will be for the next few months somewhat less productive on the blogging front, albeit for a positive reason.

In January I was one of sixteen writers from the north-west region of England to be selected for a 9-month Writing Development Programme at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.

I began the writing programme in mid-February but was hoping to keep up my blogs. However, with my latest post being as far back as February 22nd; just over a week after the programme began, this has obviously been less realistic than I imagined.

The writing workload since starting the course has been heavy, and productive, but stimulating. Each of us are currently working on the first half of our individual plays, the first draft of which needs to be in by April 13th. Following submission, we will receive notes on our draft for future re-writes, and we will be asked to read and submit brief comments on eight of the drafts from other writers on the programme.

In addition, we will be required to read thirteen plays between now and November. At present we are on Tennessee Williams’s classic play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Our final drafts of our individual self-penned plays will need to be in sometime in September.

Each class meets on a fortnightly basis (photo of our first meeting above), and we have so far also attended a showcase of the writers from last years course, and a dress rehearsal of a full play.

It’s a testing but exciting schedule and I welcome the discipline required of it. With little experience of writing for the theatre, I recall just how much I wanted to be selected when I walked out my interview in January.

The Royal Court, which is both running and funding the course, is the only one of the four main theatres in Liverpool actively looking for new writers and is regularly approached by the BBC on the look out for new writing talent. And with Liverpool having such a rich history of writers, both for theatre and TV, any association with one of its writing institutions is thrilling.

For my part, I am just wishing to come out of the programme a better writer than when I started it. Which, if I put the effort in, has to be a given.

Inevitably, this will slow down my blogging output, but I will attempt to comment on the blogs that I follow. It’s always interesting to read blogs from those blogging friends from different parts of the world with different stories to tell and viewpoints to consider.

So, although the blogging world is unlikely to notice that my blog average of one blog a month has fallen even further, for now at least I have a good excuse!

THE GYM VERSUS THE SOFA – MAN’S ETERNAL STRUGGLE

It’s a wet, cold Monday night in February. I had planned to go to the gym as part of my three-day training routine.

But the house is warm and the sofa is…responsive. It’s old, it knows how I like things, it encourages me to slouch like the evil soft furnishings monster it is. I start to calculate how if I don’t go tonight, I can go tomorrow night and two days after that and I’m back in my routine again. Easy.

After all, one night missed. It’s not going to hurt. Right?

Sofa apathy. What’s not to love? (Images by Unsplash)

But then I waver. What if it’s raining tomorrow night? I’d definitely have to go because I missed tonight and I’d look back at my 24-hour younger self with a resentment bordering on hate.

COLD CARS AND WARM NEIGHBOURS

So I pull myself off the sofa, partly because I’d be fearful of tomorrow night’s hatred, but mainly because I’ve made a commitment to my regular training habit. And that’s the key, commitment always trumps motivation because motivation can come and go. But if you’ve made a commitment to yourself, you do it whether you want to or not.

There is also the learned knowledge from years of backing out of a routine that it is a slippery slope to self-loathing. Slippery slopes and self loathing, it’s my thirties all over again!

So just go to the damn gym!

I get dressed in to my training clothes (so far no sponsorship deal) and try to block out any thought process that will convince me to stay. I turn out the light and head out of the front door. It’s drizzly, and cold, and everybody else is settled in their warm, comfortable houses. Putting on weight, I remind myself.

By now I’m in the car and that’s even colder so I get the engine turning, knowing full well it will be frustratingly warmed up just by the time I get to the gym.

LET THE SMUGNESS BEGIN..

As I pull out of my driveway I know the battle isn’t yet over, but I’ve landed a potentially fatal blow to apathy. I afford myself a self-satisfied smile. Before I know it, I’m pulling into the gym car park. I park as near to the door as possible, knowing full well one of the hardest and most difficult parts of all of this is still to come – the walk in the rain and the cold from my now heated car, to the gym entrance.

Once out of the car I stride swiftly to the gym doors, sidestepping the two people trying to come out at the same time I’m trying to get in. I can’t take any prisoners now, I have to get in at all costs.

And then I’m there! I’ve made it!

The sofa beaters rock it

As I saunter triumphantly to the cross trainer, I glance around to everyone else in there; the smooth latex brigade; the tattooed muscle men with their huge biceps and even bigger beer bellies; the casual poseurs on the treadmill tuned to the steady beat of the playlist plugged into their ears; to the late middle-aged men trying to address years of neglect by an attempted and ungainly burpee.

And back home, my sofa settles for defeat, safe in the knowledge that in three days-time, another battle will commence.

WHEN A PICTURE TELLS A STORY STILL TO BE WRITTEN

What is the favourite photo you have ever taken? What is about it that makes the image so special?

When I was asked this recently, I considered a photo taken of my father a couple of years before he passed away, back when he was still relatively healthy, delighted to be with two of his long-term friends at a blues music festival in 2016 he didn’t think he’d get to.

I also thought of a photo I took of myself at the Grand Canyon in 1987, the culmination of a decade planning the trip across the USA to reach this most majestic of wonders in Arizona.

But the photo I decided on was taken of my niece Laura at Allonby Beach in West Cumbria, UK. At the time Laura was approximately 7 years old and it was taken during a family afternoon walk in early autumn.

Several photos were taken on the day but this particular image just captures a moment when she crouched down as the sun was positioned at a point to create a silhouette and reflecting shadow in the sand.

Laura’s position in the shot also frames the picture nicely to take in the beautiful ocean vista beside her. Surrounded by footprints in the sand, I’ve always thought of the image as Laura considering her own footsteps she will create as she moves forward in her life.

Truth is, she was probably watching the family dog in the distance or wondering how likely it is she is to get an ice-cream. But hey, I’m aiming for something poetic here!

Now approaching her 29th birthday, with a first-class honour’s degree in Psychology and currently halfway through a Master’s degree to be a Physician Associate, it is nonetheless true Laura is creating her own footprints as she goes along.

On this particular day however, these were still to be made, and this is what helps to make it so special for me.   

FIVE THINGS I AM GRATEFUL FOR TODAY

What are the main things that we should be grateful for but are most likely to take for granted? Do we ever even think about them until they are under threat?

When prompted recently to think of five things I am most grateful for it was good to stop and consider those things upon which a rich and worthwhile life is built around.

We’ll all have different answers, and these can change slightly on any given day, but I imagine they would come down to similar basics which we all would suffer from if one were missing from our everyday lives.

So here are my five things I’m grateful for today, right now.

Image from Unsplash

FAMILY

I only have a small family and all except me live around 140 miles away in beautiful Cumbria. It’s true to say we have taken a bit of a battering over the last decade with the loss of parents and a marital breakdown. There have been rough times and challenges remain. The geographical distance between myself in Merseyside isn’t helpful except sometimes when it can sometimes give a bit of perspective.

My family are the first people I think of telling when a song of mine does well or my writing advances, and the first people who will pick me up when I hit a setback or frequent drop in belief.

So family is the first thing I am grateful for, and I would imagine for many of you it will be the same. Or maybe you would substitute friends above family; for you it may be difficult to differentiate between the two.  

HEALTH

I live about half a mile from a major hospital and most days I drive past it. When I need to stop at the traffic lights opposite, I can see a little into some of the wards that serves as a reminder that no matter what stresses I have in my normal day it’s still better than being in one of those ward beds.

Good health gives me the strength to earn my upkeep, to see friends and family, to keep fit and in turn feed my mental health, to go to the cinema, see gigs, to write, to go to sporting events. In short, do all of the things that I naturally love to do.

When our health dips life becomes harder, sometimes scarier, and smaller. When health is good, we probably need to be more grateful.

FREEDOM

For us in the Western world, our freedom is arguably the one thing we probably appreciate the least because we’ve not known anything different. The freedom to vote for the principles we believe in, our freedoms to state our beliefs even if they are at odds or even reprehensible to others, to travel, to advance our learning and our earning potential.

I sometimes look to the highly restricted and often brutal regimes of North Korea, Afghanistan, Russia, China, Nigeria and too many other places and can’t help but think we have no real appreciation of how lucky we are.

Where we are born is in many ways a lottery and I try to remind myself often that I am one of the highly fortunate winners. 

HOME

According to recent statistics from the Homeless Link , 268,560 households were at risk of or experienced homelessness between 2020-21, a 7.4% increase from the previous year and over 16% from 2018-19.

Shelter is one of the basic requirements of life all that should be available to all. Sadly, as we see from these figures; and for a myriad of different reasons, this is not the case.

For every day of my life, I have had a warm home to return to, four walls and a roof.

It may be need of a little TLC but as I walk through my front door each day I should consider all those for whom this a significant blessing currently out of reach.

MUSIC

Some people don’t like music. They don’t really get it. Professor Steve Pinkman once described music as ‘auditory cheesecake…as far as biological cause and effect is concerned, music is useless.’

Erm, pardon me?

Music, to quote sadly passed songwriter John Miles, was my first love, and it will be my last. It gets me dancing embarrassingly around a kitchen, it lifts my mood instantly at the end of a crappy day, it helps make tedious jobs bearable, it takes me back to a time and to people no longer in my life and makes them feel within touching distance, and it has me singing with strangers.

Image from Unsplash

Dementia patients who may not recognise the names of their own offspring can suddenly pick long-ago written lyrics out of the air and recite them in melody word for word. If that isn’t a biological cause and effect, tell me what is.

Music is an indefinable, inexplicable, ever-giving fountain of joy.

So, those are the everyday blessings I should be most grateful for. What then, are yours?

9 PIECES OF ADVICE I WOULD OFFER MY TEENAGE SELF

When I was a teenager, which of course covers the years when we are fully cocooned in school, to the years when we are released to the ‘freedoms’ of getting a job and actually earning money, we make many wrong choices and waver between undeserved confidence to unnecessary insecurity.

I was more the latter, in truth. The undeserved confidence was reserved for my unquenchable imagination were I was the superhero of endless scenarios that had grown-ups and females my own age enthralled by my feats of daring-do. In reality it was more staying in my room and daring-don’t.

Image via Pixabay

It’s easy to look back and think of what changes I would have made and to what advice I would give my teenage self. However, prompted by a suggestion to do so by my blogging site WordPress for Bloganuary, here are nine things I would have said to my sensitive, insecure, self-absorbed but caring teenage self that may have helped a little…

1 -To go for what I want and not for what people tell me to do, but to realise it takes hard work and dedication; that way people can see that you are serious.

2 -To try that little bit harder in school. To tell my English teacher that I love English more than anything else and ask their advice about what I should do about that.

3 -To talk to my mother, a former proofreader and avid reader in general about what I want to do, and ask for her input and support.

4 – Football is great, but not make it the main thing in your life, it will always be there. When I got offered a photography apprenticeship at 16 I turned it down simply because it would require me to attend weddings on a Saturday and thus prevent me from watching football, a decision I have regretted to this day, despite all the great football memories.

5 -To stop unfavourably comparing myself to others.

6 – Stop worrying about being thin.

7 -If I’m interested in making music, I have to learn to play the guitar or piano, and not give up so easily.

8 – To handle my finances much, much better

9 – Don’t be afraid of living

That last one is hard because at 17 I lost my mother quite suddenly to cancer. This impacts on all of your life and can make you fearful at a young age of what may be around the corner.

But it shouldn’t make you tentative about making everyday decisions to the point of crippling indecision, something that haunted me for years.

However, how many of us as teenagers would take advice anyway? Especially when it’s from someone pertaining to be our older selves sent to give us advice? And aren’t we told not to talk to strangers?

Maybe a question may be what advice will be giving ourselves in ten or twenty years time, and how will the experience of mistakes we have made in the past impact on the choices we make during that time?

THE DOMINO EFFECT OF FALLING FRIENDSHIPS

Friendships are part of the bedrock of life.

Even the more casual friendships can bring colour and humour and help with perspective. The banter (the type that is convivial and teasing and not the Yorkshire Cricket Club racist brand), can help us to not take ourselves too seriously and lighten our moods amid the stresses and strains of everyday life.

The deeper, long-term friendships can get us through the rockier periods; grief, physical, emotional and psychological hurt, periods of self-doubt, fear and anxiety. They can also be a voice of balance when we veer too far from reason and into a potential path of harm or self-indulgence.

A good friend is someone we build shared memories with and also share our closest confidences, and is ready to forgive when we occasionally take them for granted or step too far across the boundary. A friendship that encapsulates all of those ingredients is priceless and needs to be cherished.

What happens then when a cherished friendship suddenly gets damaged beyond repair?

Indeed, what happens when, as in my recent experience, three of my friendships implode over a relatively short period of a couple of years?

Have those friendships, all long-term and therefore seemingly strong and familiar, simply all ran their course at coincidentally a similar time?

It’s right to acknowledge straight off, that I am the common denominator in all three cases, and all three friends don’t know one another. Just me. So be free to make up your own mind on that one! But it is a serious jolt to the psyche, to think a trio of invested friendships have all stopped in their tracks.

SHOUT IT OUT OR STEW IN SILENCE?

Only one of my three friendship breakdowns have had the drama of argument, of throwing back the shackles on a to and fro of disagreement to a divide that can’t be bridged.

So is argument better, even if it leads to separation? Does it at least feel as though we were both passionate enough to shout/talk it through? Does that have more value than something that just fades away, or, as in one case, closes the door immediately after an apparent line has been drawn?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Writer Mariam Khan wrote recently in the i Newspaper that during Covid lockdown she lost a long- term friendship not due to a big, anger filled argument but because of a series of small misunderstandings that grew bigger due to not being able to see one another face-to-face in an attempt to talk things through.

And the lack of face-to-face conversations that Covid has enforced has had an increased negative impact on friendships, with the University College of London reporting more than 20% of people have had some kind of relationship breakdown during the pandemic.

THE DESTABILIZING SHIFT

Friendships are built very much on balance. Sometimes that can mean a balance that leans slightly in one direction and it can operate somewhat successfully on that level for years. However, when suddenly, or even gradually, the equilibrium is shifted back even slightly it can expose crack lines beneath the surface that may not have anything directly to do with the friendship but can have a massive impact upon it.

In my experience a movement in one direction can unintentionally cause someone to feel more acutely aware of frustrations in their own life that the friendship had previously served in some way to balance out.

But the notion that anyone’s life needs to stand still or keep quiet about changes and/or progress we make doesn’t serve anybody well. Eventually those changes will out and the relationship can be the casualty.

As I try to reconcile myself with the loss of these friendship’s I am grateful for their place in my life and I don’t regret them for a second. And I am fortunate enough to have other attachments with people that are still standing the test of time.

However I have also become more increasingly aware how quickly things can change, and how much importance should be placed on their preservation.

THE FEAR OF SELF-PROMOTION FOR THE CONSTANTLY NERVOUS

One of the downsides to having to promote my songs or blogs is the need to do exactly that – promote.

I’m not a promote type person. My moniker is not Promotion Paul. At school my fellow pupils would never have voted me as Pupil Most Likely to Promote.

SOCIAL MEDIA SUPERMAN? OR JUST A SHY BOY IN A CAPE?

However, since I somewhat accidentally started song-writing again I have needed to stand up and shout; just a little, to get my songs heard. And believe me, there are a lot of artists out there doing a lot of shouting, on a multitude of platforms, be it streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Soundcloud, or video channels like YouTube and Tik Tok. So much shouting and of course, so much singing. And so many, many songs.

DRESSING UP FOR A PARTY OF ONE

I spend a great deal of time developing a song, making it as strong as I can, and spend hours and expense in a studio getting it as close as possible to how I’ve heard it in my head. I’ll spend considerable time on a video, an essential element for any new song to attract people to it. I’ll put the video on You Tube, and the song released on all major streaming platforms.

Yet when I announce the song on my song-writing Facebook page I’m tentative, almost apologetic. I limit the number of posts about a new song, worried in case the people who have liked or followed my Facebook page get sick of hearing about it. There is actually some sense to that, even though I’m trying to reach new audiences.

But it’s also counter intuitive; if people have signed up for my Facebook page it’s because they are happy to hear about my songs, right? Nope, not in my head. In my head they are simply being polite – even though most people who now follow me don’t actually know me and therefore have made the decision to follow me for the simple reason they like my music. But try telling that to my mixed-up sense of logic.

Doubt concept.

THE WHISPERING BLOGGER

Similarly with blogging there is also the need to get your blog read among all the others saying ‘read me, read me!’ – though usually a lot more politely than that. Blogs don’t tend to shout; they suggest, which suits me better.

But still there is a need to let people know you have published a new blog and for the likes of myself there is the constant voice in my head asking; are people going to be interested in what I have to say? Indeed, what do I have to say? And who do I think I am, thinking people would spend several minutes throughout the noise of a day reading my words, considering my opinion, reading about my life?

But if I’m sure about one thing, it’s that I’m not the only one who has misgivings every time they publish a blog, post a song into the world or give out a part of themselves out for praise, criticism or indifference.

THE POWER OF THE ALTER EGO

It’s almost a prerequisite of anybody who writes to be somewhat introverted, living life from the outside looking in. And so stepping into the limelight and actually saying ‘hey, look what I’ve done, look what I have to say’ is sometimes a strain. A big strain. And if this is met by disinterest then it is even more keenly felt, it just underlines the voice of doubt.

In Susan Cains book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she refers to a college lecturer who lives an out-going, constantly conversational life but who is, by nature, introverted. His gregarious persona is actually that – a persona. He finds his required way of engaging with the world exhausting, yet to do his job successfully he knows he needs to engage, not withdraw. In fact, he does it so well most people who knew his true nature would, he says, be shocked.

Maybe there is something to be said for developing an online identity that’s more about confidence with just a hint of brashness. There is certainly enough advice out there about how to target song audiences and get more streams and You Tube views, should anyone choose to get strategic about it.

But for me, authenticity and a nice dose of doubt feel more comfortable. Certainly, in the blogging community my experience so far is of a lot of people just helping each other out and there is a virtue in developing a following organically and in smaller degrees. This can work for music as well as blogs.

It would appear then that I have talked myself into continued reservation and tortured hesitancy. Maybe I’m just addicted to it.

Or maybe I should write a blog about it, and wonder whether or not to tell anyone…

MY TRUEST FAITH IN THE CALIFORNIA DREAM THAT’S QUIETLY COME TRUE

A song of mine, Your Truest Faith, has just been selected for the playlist of internet radio station South California Singer-Songwriter Radio based in Rosemead, near Los Angeles. It’s probably not a career-changing moment but for myself, who saw the California singer-songwriter scene of the late 70’s and 80’s as the holy grail for anyone with enough ambition and musical snobbery to be a ‘real’ songwriter, it’s a significant thrill.

As the rest of the UK, went from Punk to New Wave, I, never a compass towards rock ‘n roll cool at the time (except for a growing obsession with the East Coast hard-edged grittier sound of Bruce Springsteen) absorbed myself in artists such as Jackson Browne, John David Souther and Dan Fogelberg who represented the high temple of introspective, melody driven songwriters.

Along with these came Don Henley and Glen Frey, the creative driving force of The Eagles, the band who eclipsed everybody from the area in terms of global identity and record sales.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley

My romantic notion of Los Angeles took in warm summer evenings and endless highways, the perfectly pitched harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and even my favourite British singer-songwriter at the time, Elton John, sang songs of the American west penned by the lyrics of his musical partner Bernie Taupin.

Indeed, Elton’s American breakthrough came at a run of gigs at the LA Troubadour in 1970, heavily featuring songs from his recently released Tumbleweed Connection album. It was actually at the Troubadour that Elton shed his skin as a folk singer-songwriter, kicking away his piano stool to leap into the air on the song Burn Down The Mission, thus reincarnating himself as the rock performer that would go on to fill huge stadiums to this day.

Well I’m no Elton John. Or Jackson Bowne. My little song will be played three times daily for the next week in the International Section of the show, it will no doubt then disappear into the ether filled with independent artists trying to get their songs heard amongst the powerhouse of streaming madness.

But for a few days the song will be heard in a smattering of homes and on phones and maybe the odd car stereo system in California. And for the kid from a small town in northern town in England who used to look to the far away golden horizon of the musical canyons of LA, the feeling will be sweet.