Articles, Writing

One Track Mind: The importance – and pitfalls of – project monogamy

So far this year I’ve done a great job in implementing some of the ideas I had to re-organise my workflow and keep busy.

An important part of these plans is allowing for the flexibility to change priorities for certain projects. For instance, with my upcoming horror novella Nightmare Tenant, I’d pretty much completed the new draft in January as planned, but I had some things left to do so I’ve given myself some time in February to get that done and then, while that project is beta-read, I can work on something else.

One important thing I have not done is to work on two separate projects concurrently, which is the focus of today’s discussion.

I am openly fearful of working on more than one project at a time – whether that be for a month, week or sometimes even a particular day. I think it’s an issue I will need to keep a close eye on in future if I want to max out the time I have.

First thing to identify is why I am a stickler for strict project monogamy:

  • Splitting my time means neither project progresses fast: I feel a bitty, bit-here-bit-there approach results in precisely why I had to overhaul my writing planning late last year – doing a dab here on one thing, a dab there on something else actually results in very little getting done on either project. This results, ultimately, in wasted time I come to regret later.
  • Each project takes my whole focus: for instance, last month with the Nightmare Tenant edit, that project took all my creative energy as it was an intensive process that required me to make a lot of changes. I needed to be as invested in that project’s world as possible, especially during a crucial first edit. I’ve found that I have a certain amount of creative focus in any given period of time and projects tend to take up most of that when I’m working on them.
  • Momentum must not be squandered: when I was preparing the third draft of my post-apocalyptic adventure novel The Thaw, I got about halfway into the edit, making decent, steadfast progress and then stopped. It took me six months to restart that and I found, after leaving myself high and dry halfway in, I’d lost a lot of the circulating thoughts and immersion in the world. This made rebuilding that momentum a great deal harder. Therefore, I feel the lesson from that is that a project should only be shelved – and a new focus found – when your current work is in a position of done-ness that allows for that. I would never leave an edit half-way through again, which is why I had to be realistic last month and give Nightmare Tenant a few more days to prepare. Months are arbitrary units of time, and if a project needs the time, it should get it.
  • I feel I owe it to my projects: If I know I’m not giving a project the attention it rightly deserves to I execute it to the best of my ability, I become genuinely quite upset. This is because I’m very conscious of what I’m doing, and that it’s hurting the project I want to enjoy working on. Ultimately, it makes the project a lot less fun – as writing, to me, always should be, as this is a passion and a hobby at its most base level – and when writing isn’t fun, I don’t enjoy it. And not enjoying the writing process results in crappy products that ultimately require more work than if I’d not been two-timing them with something else.

I realise a lot of the reasoning here is a bit fuzzy. That’s okay, writing should always have that mysteriousness to it. But I also realise my monogamous nature when it comes to projects is ultimately not fully efficient. I feel being able to switch tracks – maybe not day-to-day but perhaps in a less granular format than my monthly plans (maybe have two projects on the go – and editing one and a writing one, which already feels doable) – weekly or fortnightly – and allow for some creative flex.

I feel too it would be remiss not to mention a significant downside to my monogamous nature to my projects – especially large ones – is that sticking with one project for an extended period of time results in two undesired circumstances:

  • The project becomes stale: sitting in the incomplete world of one project for a long period of time – especially when progress seems sluggish or slow – seems to dampen my excitement for the project; it becomes, for want of a better term, a bit of a slog with no sign of completion.
  • Apprehension to starting something new: if I’m 8 months into an edit or draft that feels never-ending, or that the work to get it to standard seems like an intimidating cliff-face, why would I want to start that process, which has resulted in apprehension, stress and fatigue again from scratch? There’s a definite shade of blank page syndrome there too which is most unhelpful as it leaves ideas languishing in that “I’m too scared to work on you” frame of mind, when the break and sense of wonderment and discovery might just be the ticket.

I like to end these posts with a positive reflection, and initially I wasn’t too sure in this case, but I think this situation requires careful and continual monitoring to get the balance right and get out of perhaps unhealthy writing habits, which I have discussed before.

I would be very interested to see if anyone else relates to the issues above!

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Articles, Miscellaneous, Online Wanderings

Body Dysmorphia: A Weight On My Mind

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I’ve not discussed my weight loss journey here for some considerable time. This is not by accident – I simply have no progress to report!

If anything, since I plateaued in June 2018, I have regressed, though there are some damn good reasons for that: I suffered a bereavement during that winter, it was a poor time of year to consider diet and exercise but ultimately I wasn’t in the right mental headspace.

Plateauing dented my confidence to continue to stick to the plan, and dealing with serious illness and bereavement in my immediate family over the cold, harsh winter months did mean I ended up spending very little time looking after myself as I attended to duties I felt the need to.

This gives me no pleasure to write as I feel, even with that context in mind, that I am excuse-making. It’s now been a long time and I can’t deny over 2019 my weight has not been a factor that has crossed my mind. I’ve regained the weight I managed to lose in 2018, which is a great shame.

My current diet is largely unplanned, and far from healthy; I’d say my junk food itch these days makes me happy but that’s a complicated factor I’ll approach later; but it is simple and relatively cheap to maintain.

It’s easy and trite at this time of year to make a pledge to “shape up after Christmas” – why not now? Again I have reasons – they feel like tepid excuses – a new job, and new routine – a big step for me, a lot to learn which occupies some of my mental headspace as it’s change which I find scary.

And even a simple factor such as the inclement weather of a British winter doesn’t inspire me – I feel very strongly that being in the right, positive mental game for fitness or weight loss is largely the key. Starting on a new regime and making it stick means making that initial outlay of effort to start at the right time, both mentally and seasonally.

Why seasonally? Humans are creatures of comfort and I’m no exception to this – starting a new routine, especially one that involves physicality, is hard enough to will yourself into without  having to wrap up in six layers because the biting winter wind is chopping your legs off – it doesn’t inspire sticking power. Us creatures of comfort will, instead of making that express effort to carry on with a new regime we may not be familiar with or comfortable with, make excuses to stay indoors where its comfortable.

Again this comes back to headspace and being in the right mindset – procrastination (and a lack of accountability) is borne out of that uncertainty in oneself.

But none of this is really what I’m wanting to discuss – this is just setting the scene if you will, because I want to talk about why I am unhappy with my body, all the previous things considered, and more importantly how  I’m feeling about the very near future when I want to action a plan to conquer my own… lack of faith in myself.

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last year, or certainly for the majority of 2019. I’m not happy with my body, and my weight loss journey at least gives me some important tools to understand perhaps the context why (and a possible way out) but it doesn’t change the here and now: I very likely an experiencing Body Dysmorphic Disorder – I know why and I know perhaps some pathways out but it doesn’t change the here and now that I am quite unhappy with my body.

532581This is quite difficult, I’ve found, to talk about without feeling that I, myself, am being vain or self-centred. Just saying you feel fat seems like you’re wallowing a little in self-pity, wanting attention for it. But I do feel I’ve had a number of occasions this year when it’s had an appreciable impact, both in some acute cases and a general overall detraction: I want to go into both.

For the acute case it’s easier to tell the story: I went to visit a good friend who has in his back garden a hot-tub; however I can’t deny I wasn’t anxious about having to get in it, especially when it involves undressing in a somewhat public (or at least, very much less private) setting. I was aware that I was being extremely harsh on myself – my friend wouldn’t have judged me on my appearance – but it did bring up some anxiety, just waiting for it to be mentioned. It wouldn’t have been an enjoyable experience throughout the background – yes I could’ve masked my anxiety to the whole scenario, I expect, but it would’ve been an undercurrent throughout. That’s not fun.

On researching BDD for this post, the NHS definition  of the condition states:

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.

I feel that my thoughts and feelings about my appearance qualify. In a way I do “notice” other people’s sizes and I do end up wondering how “thin” people manage to ever stay that way, which is a harmful way of comparison.

My weight is a big part of my potential for experiencing body dysmorphic disorder but the definition is wider-ranging and I find myself noticing not only other people’s “sizes” but also their hair; for I am gradually losing mine (hopefully not completely) and I’m aware of it, and a few careless comments from former co-workers haven’t helped me there – again this all boils back down to confidence and my lack of it with regard to my body as a whole.

With the hot-tub incident above, I feel this qualifies. I was extremely anxious about the perception of my appearance – yes I am back to an overweight state but that doesn’t make it “noticeable”, to counter the last part in that definition.

As a society we’re seeking to reduce the burden of so-called “fat-shaming” – a phrase I’d never before thought I’d be using, being someone who rejects a lot of the “snowflake” culture that’s loaded behind that term.

Sometimes shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though perhaps a less biting term should be used: I am not using my shame to try to will myself into doing better once again, I am using my regret at letting myself down because I’m aware of the long-term health effects if I do nothing – my confidence and my anxiety are important, yes; but I have to consider the risk I am putting myself at serious illness later down the line borne out of my weight.

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Cancer Research UK’s 2019 publicity campaign which attracted national attention (I thought it effective)

There’s too much scientific proof to say that being overweight leads to legitimate health concerns that can be mitigated by, yes, addressing weight problems. It’s a fact of life. While I think that “fat-shaming” is regretful – I don’t necessarily see being personal and rude as being effective motivators to get people to address their self-confidence through their weight, but I am using my displeasure or lack of confidence to try to find that will to make the first, hard steps.

Sometimes a shock is all one needs to make effective and lasting lifestyle changes – I wouldn’t say nagging helps me, but I would say that being accountable does.

Like most people, I shower at least once a day, sometimes multiple times because it’s nice and, on a writing-related tangent, it’s oddly a place from where I get inspired. On a private level, all I need to do is glance in my bathroom mirror before and be dismayed by what I see. That dismay does cut deep, but in a way it does steel me a little, with my previous experience that I must do better.

But my body dysmorphia does manifest itself throughout my normal life: it changes how I choose to dress and perceive myself; for work (my old job) I used to have to wear fairly unflattering nylon polo shirts that would be completely unflattering to one’s spare tyre around the stomach; I wear festive jumpers not because I’m particularly festive but because they can be quite baggy and conceal what I know is there – a symbol of my inner shame.

D5Q3W-WXkAEARJuI’m extremely wary of photographs now, though that is just an extension of a general feeling of being unphotogenic. But currently I do have to be careful; if you observe this photo from April, I feel my noticeable overweight frame slightly mars a great experience of the day, and a lovely photo with a good friend (it was nice to meet Sam for the first time in real life!).

Again, going back to the definition of BDD, it may simply be just me that picks up that flaw or imperfection, but being aware of it, it makes me wary and careful with photos, which can degrade some of the spontaneity.

What does this lead to? Unhappiness, and entry into a vicious cycle of “eating my feelings” – I feel good because I eat, say, a big old carvery dinner but then I feel the guilt not just because of what I’ve done but, being totally frank, the bloat and feeling of fullness that, once the satisfaction of a good, tasty meal subsides, just leaves me feeling thoroughly crap.

It might seem dramatic to define my body as something I am ashamed of but to not do so even to a slight degree would be deluding myself a bit. The feeling I get when I look at where I am – especially compared to where I was in 2018 – the photo I’ve used from a summer photoshoot is one I’m extremely proud of. I’ve never looked that good (it was a fun day out) and, in a way, I don’t want to think I won’t “look that good” again; I just have a latent desire to put that effort in again.

But a surprise to me in the research and conversations that led to me writing this post is that body dysmorphia is not simply the domain of the overweight or obese; indeed careful reading of the NHS’s definition does not mention it being solely linked to being overweight, though that is by and far the “default” assumption. I was most surprised to hear that my friend Chris Kenny has suffered a similar crisis of sorts, but from the opposite end of the spectrum to me. I’ve followed his Instagram for a while and he should be really proud of his fitness progress but I was surprised to hear that he seemed to have a similar lack of self-confidence in what his body looked like.

We strive for perfection, always spotting flaws that need to be adjusted. Some rounder delts, thicker traps etc. To your question, in the past I was aware of my skinny frame and indeed made aware of it by work colleagues (“work place banter”) and it hurt.

Read Chris’ responses in full on this page.

Of course I approach my understanding of Body Dysmorphia from the conventional “overweight” perspective but it’s an important distinction to make that this isn’t solely a condition based on one’s weight; though a big part of it, BDD is more about one’s lack of confidence in their appearance and the harmful cycle that this leads to.

The NHS page on the condition lists Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a potential treatment for Body Dysmorphia and I’d wholeheartedly agree – my own experience with CBT in relation to depression – these conditions can and do overlap, body dysmorphia can be a powerful feed into depression – would back up that it gives great tools to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions. It’s worth checking out.

However I approach my own conclusions slightly differently, and it goes back to my earlier statements about stalling on my weight loss journey. I know that my lack of body confidence stems from my weight, and it’s something that will clearly be a long-term issue for me to deal with, especially as I age and my metabolism slows. I need to accept and be at ease with that fact – and my previous weight loss success means that, like with cognitive behavioural therapy, I am now equipped with the tools to better understand what goes on under the hood.

The struggle exists now as I feel I have regressed a lot – though perhaps regression is the incorrect choice of word for what’s happened because contextually based on my personal circumstances I have a lot of reasons why I’ve lost my way.

But I have a burning desire to regain that progress in 2020. It’s surprising because I’m using my shame and displeasure in my own body to drive myself to make positive changes – the best way of breaking the vicious cycle is to use that momentum to divert. I think I can use my knowledge of what I can achieve, given gumption and determination to do that again and smash past the barriers I saw before.

It’s also a good time of year to reflect. I want to spend the rest of the year really considering how I’m going to effect some decent change in my life, and I want to give myself some time to let those ideas percolate.

Rushing into things usually ends with just a flash in the pan – I want to effect a decent, lasting change and that starts by adapting a new way of thinking. I mentioned a lack of accountability before and one way I’ll aim to address that is to write about my progress – positive and negative – more regularly, as this is only the start, I feel, and there may be more to say as time goes on. Stay tuned, and I hope it helps!

Articles

Website Update

It’s definitely time for another update! Today I’m going to talk about a couple of projects that are resurgent on the boil once again and that I am really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into!

This also serves as a good way of checking my own progress in a way so I aim to make these Website Update posts a lot more regularly – though I’d suspect I’ve said this before!

Without any further ado let’s get into what I’m working on currently:

20180706_140550186_iOSThe Thaw – Next Edit

I’m really pleased that this past week I’ve finally bitten the bullet and started on the next edit of my post-apocalyptic thriller novel The Thaw. I last updated the blog regarding this project over a year ago and, by my own admission, it’s sat on my shelf for that time, though some very lovely friends have offered me some great feedback.

I recently, in fact, had a writer-y online call with my good friend and fellow Kingston creative writing alumni Rosie and it really helped me get into my head not only the overall changes I needed to make – she’d sent me some great answers to a feedback questionnaire I’d designed – but also, crucially in my view, how to make a start on the first few chapters. I’d honestly procrastinated because I didn’t know in a way where to even begin but I’ve made a great start on the next edit!

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I do have a variety of exciting plans – I don’t actually intend on doing another self-edit because I feel over-editing it myself is only going to expend time and result in tweaks. I need to bite the big bullet and send this work off to a professional editor, which I intend to do over the autumn for a potential submission to agents – yes, actual agents for publishers – in the new year.

I’ve been building a new writing space at home but while that’s been under construction I’ve tried sincerely to use my local library as a good writing space. It’s really helped me focus, which is very good. It’s definitely a topic I want to dive into more in-depth very soon – I also perused the non-fiction literature section and am working through a couple of books that I borrowed to see if they help me out and already some of the tips I’ve picked up are really paying dividends!

Doctor Who fan-film

IMG_27312_800pxSince 2017 I’ve been working with my friends Mark and Gary on a 25-minute Doctor Who fan-film titled Reverence of the Daleks, with myself acting as Producer and Writer. It’s been a great experience and after a couple of “soft” screenings we’re preparing the film, based on some feedback, for a general online release.

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I’m quite heavily involved at the moment in preparing what we’re calling the Producer’s Cut of the film – working on picture grade, music and tweaking some of the VFX based on the feedback we’ve had so far to form the “final”, ultimate edition of the film.

My friend Mark works as a Media Technician at Esher College in Surrey and every year he puts on a Film Evening of films he and his friends, colleagues and even students have contributed to, and Reverence is going to be the headline event of this year’s Evening, hopefully coming to a venue near you (if you live in South West London!) toward the end of September or October.

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It’s refreshing to be nearly done with this project as it’s taken up a lot of my creative energy, especially when preparing for the first showing – editing the film up until 12:30AM the night before! I’ve tons of other gestating ideas so it’ll be great in a way to have this piece as a bit of an advert for my skills film-wise moving forward.

Other projects at the stage of “worth mentioning”:

  • I’m working on at least one more post in my BookThoughts series from a while ago, so stay tuned on that!
  • I want to start working on some new short stories, including one I’d actually hoped to have done for the festive season last year! I’ve three or four skeletal ideas that I feel merit development!
  • I may be delving into the archives to update (and tidy) my Short Stories section with work from university!