Wednesday 17 June 2020

Guest Post - Kiley Dunbar || On Writing During Lockdown

I am so excited to share with you today abit of tips and tricks of a wonderful author who has written a post specifically for my little blog on writing during lockdown. I recently featured Kileys wonderful book - One Summer's Night and adored it so i am looking forward to finding out some advice from the lovely lady herself.

Kiley Dunbar is the author of heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places for Hera Books. She is Scottish and lives in England with her partner, two kids and Amos the Bedlington Terrier. She writes around her work at a University in the North of England where she lectures in English literature and creative writing. She is proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, a graduate of their New Writers' Scheme and a nominee for the Joan Hessayon Award 2019.

You can find Kiley on Twitter @KileyDunbar
and on the 'Kiley Dunbar Author Book Page' on Facebook

And her books are sold here:

There’s nothing like a deadline to get the words flowing, and that’s where I was at the start of the UK lockdown at the end of March 2020. I was rapidly approaching a deadline with my publisher for the first draft of what will be my fourth romance novel.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to do my other job from home (I lecture part-time at a university in the North of England), so I was safely ensconced with the kids, my partner and Amos the dog at home.
Even from this safe – and I have to acknowledge it, privileged – position, the fear, panic and confusion stole away my ability to concentrate and it was difficult to write happy, sexy scenes without feeling guilty and frivolous.
Looking at Twitter didn’t help, there were folks telling me that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague year so why was I slacking? We were all being urged to get fit, learn a new language and perfect our sourdough bakes, and honestly, I mostly wanted to cry. I was – and still am – working from home for my day job, trying to write a book, and attempting some kind of daily home learning with my kids. In March and April I wasn’t doing any of these things well. These fraught feelings of failure and distraction were compounded with horror, sympathy and desperate sadness over recent weeks while witnessing the justified rebellion against police violence and systemic racism across the world.
In a time of global turmoil that touches every aspect of our lived experiences, just how are authors supposed to keep writing?
It’s early June now, and I did manage to complete that first draft (albeit, a shaky, plot hole riddled draft). Now I have the edits sitting in front of me and a good three weeks of intensive work ahead.
Here are my tips, taken from experience, for writing through difficult times. They won’t suit everyone, but maybe there are bits and pieces that might ring true for you:
1. Protect your writing time just as you used to
Before lockdown I would tell my family I was heading to my desk to write and, generally, they respected that. Since the kids have been at home every day that’s gone right out the window and I’ve had to help them with crafts, phonics, maths and all kinds of things I am NO GOOD at. The rest of the time I prioritised my uni job. I hadn’t written a word for three whole weeks when I realised I wasn’t doing what I was contracted to do (write this book), and I had a long, possibly slightly weepy and shouty, discussion with my family about letting me have time and space to write.
So far, it’s working out OK-ish (I’ve had to be strict and I even locked myself into my writing room at one point) and I find I’m pushing writing sessions into the evening when the kids are asleep as opposed to making the most of what would be productive mornings.
2. Drink the water
Looking after your body is a huge part of caring for your mental health. I let all that slide in 2019 when I was writing my third book and teaching new courses which required a lot of preparative work. It hadn’t occurred to me that drinking three strong coffees a day wasn’t a good idea, red velvet cake isn’t a lunch, and maybe more than six hours sleep a night might be a good idea. I ended up desperately ill in hospital with severe pneumonia, aged forty. I was burned out and spent three months dozing and wheezing in bed.
Nowadays I drink many litres of water every day, I’m a decaf only woman, I eat proper meals, and I make sure to rest when I need it. My lungs haven’t fully recovered from being so ill and I don’t think my brain power will ever return to pre-illness levels (that’s burn out for you), but I am treating my body with kindness, and I can write again. So, listen to your body, feed it as best you can and care for it, and hopefully your mental health and creativity will benefit too.
3. Social media and expending energy in the wrong places

              If scrolling through your timeline brings pain or anxiety that’s curtailing your creativity, there’s nothing wrong with taking a social media break. The book industry is daily beset with scandals, big signing announcements, people behaving badly, and it can all get too much. Maybe just for today, you can stop scrolling? In saying this I understand that ignoring the industry’s problems might well be a privilege many people feel unable to exercise, but if your mental health is being harmed to the point you can’t bear to absorb any more, will you really be an effective accomplice, advocate or activist in the real world? Think about how you receive your email subscriptions too. Can you switch to a digest form where you can catch up on everything once every few days or once a week? Again, practice self-kindness here and balance your responsibilities with your wellness.
4. Share your goals and achievements
Writing is a lonely business. To counteract feeling alone, I signed up for the Bestseller Experiment Podcast’s two hundred words a day challenge (designed to encourage writers to ‘bank’ their daily word counts on the BsExp website and to write a book in a year). At the end of every writing session, whether I’d managed 60 words or 600 I sent my count off into the ether and I felt encouraged. Do you have a place to record your daily word count? Can you email a friend or family member with the numbers, just so someone knows how you’re getting on? Even if it’s just a notebook, write it down and watch the totals rise. It’s good for morale.
5. Keep playing
If you can exercise the creative, playful parts of your brain by making something crafty it may stimulate the storytelling part of your brain. I bought the kids some acrylic paints and we decorated wooden blocks together recently. The kids’ results were far better than mine but the act of slowly applying colour to wood grain and watching something transformed by my brush felt wonderful and reminded me I’m a ‘maker’. You are too. What can you make this week to enhance your creativity and wellbeing?
6. Read a craft book or two
With every book I write I try to read one book on the craft of writing alongside it. I usually only get one or two pages further in with each reading session before the advice sparks ideas and I find I’m abandoning the text book to write in my work in progress. Give it a try, it might work for you.
7. Revel in your book’s aesthetic
Lastly, if you need something to keep you focused and ‘feeling’ your story, a mood board can be really helpful. I make old school boards for each book with pictures pinned to a cork panel (photos, pictures I printed from the internet, important quotes or even colour palettes, landscapes, and interiors). When I’m feeling unmotivated I’ll look at the images and remember what they evoked for me when I selected them and I’ll try to capture that feeling on the page in words. So grab your scissors and pins and get creating, it may help.
8. If you can’t face writing, that’s OK
Some days, some weeks, some months, writing just isn’t going to happen. Nobody will blame you for not feeling inspired in a time of intense worry and trauma. Go easy on yourself. The magic will come back when you’re feeling safer.
Good luck,
love, Kiley, x

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