Before I actually got stuck into my own writing I always imagined the art to be a whimsical, dreaming-in-cafes affair. How lucky are the people who are actually paid to do this! They must exist in this beautiful other universe of flat whites and floaty dresses. The reality is writing is a craft. It’s hard. It takes discipline. It takes time. It adopts a similar mentality to studying. Commitment and grit, regulation and absence of distraction. Like studying, it can also be lonely. Existing for hours in your own head. It gets to 4pm on a Tuesday and you realise you haven’t spoken out loud all day.
Writing requires a clear head and carving out time. It’s wholly mindful, beautiful and creatively fulfilling when it goes well and ultimately frustrating when you can’t spin out quite what you want to say. Trying to get into ‘the zone’ takes iron will. Sit at your desk absentmindedly and you’ll inevitably find a bit of skin to squeeze or mole to look at. Set yourself up for a day of work in a café and (without noise cancelling headphones) you are at the mercy of a crying baby or earwigging on a juicy bit of gossip on the table next to you. I’ve spent a whole nosy hour pretending to read for the sake of ‘blog work’ whilst really listening to cataclysmic break up happening on the table next to me. Forget your notebook and that tremendous idea you have whilst browsing biscuits in the supermarket will leave you as instantaneously as picking up a packet of hobnobs. ‘I’ll definitely remember this when I get home’ you say ‘Hahaha FOOL’ says your mind. Like all crafts it takes preparation, structure and 10,000 hours to become a master. If I spend 4 hours per article that’s 2500 blog posts before I have any hope of resembling David Nicholls.
The discipline of writing is why I’ve often had months of silence on my blog. I’ve had times when I’ve put heart and soul into medicine because it was the only way I could pass my degree. That other ‘craft’ I’ve signed up to requiring another 10,000 hours to ensure I don’t OD a patient with Movicol. During my exams I existed on a diet of sandwiches, repeated episodes of Friends and little other sustenance. My mind was frazzled, and energy depleted with not an ounce of creativity left in me. I read the same easy comforting books, often falling asleep halfway down the page. Anything intellectually stimulating was beyond my capability. I stopped buying newspapers because I knew they’d go unread. Narcos – forget it, I’m going to watch Ross and Rachel argue again.
I gave myself permission to go easy on myself. I had to prioritise my studies and had faith I’d come back to writing with re-fuled vigour. It’s a side hussle, not my main source of income, and I have to make both medicine and writing work in a way that does right by me. Most of all, writing has taught me that great things demand patience. I get frustrated with I don’t blog consistently, but I’d rather publish thoughtfully written pieces sporadically and graduate than publish regularly and fail my exams. In the interim I keep up my literature skills, my own version of consistency – writing drivel in personal diaries and keeping little iPhone notes to revisit and re-write. The craft of writing is re-writing. Ask any writer to publish their first drafts and they’ll probably shit themselves.
When we are mentally exhausted our desire for stimulation and creativity is the first to go. Creativity requires headspace. It needs us to be at peace with ourselves to flourish and demands time, so we can get really stuck in. It needs us to be wholly present and mindful. My previous connotations of writers being indulgent bohemianites has been demolished the more I read, write and appreciate good content. I think of how much books and articles have inspired me, shaped me, given my point of view a whole new dimension and helped me articulate and communicate. Creative content pursued on my own time has given me the greatest education, far beyond school or university.
Creativity is not some frivolous luxury, it’s a necessity to keep us functional, healthy and happy. My 4-month stint of gruelling library hours and cheese toasties might have got me a degree, but I didn’t feel particularly well after it. We live in a world where we are expected to put work and drudgery first. Creative expression is seen as self-indulgent, an afterthought. As superficial as #selfcare. Yet it is replenishment, sustenance and keeps us sane. What’s your creative outlet? Find it and make time for it, always have it in the background to pick up when you can. Who knows where your side hussle may take you.
Words by: Imogen Bicknell – LUU Mantality Society