“Somewhere between the continuing COVID dramas […] my writing hasn’t really happened.”
I wrote this on my Facebook page in January 2021. Depressingly, I could have written exactly the same thing in January 2022. Between lockdowns, school closures and self-isolations, plus all of the other dramas and illnesses involved in normal family life (which included chickenpox for us in 2021), the last twelve months haven’t been fantastic for creativity levels.
But how about if we think less about the bad bits, and focus on what we have manage to achieve?
Perhaps the nicest email which I received in 2021 read: “Thank you for making me into a published writer.” This came from someone who I have known for several years, and who trusted me to read and provide feedback on her writing. It was lovely that she would take the time to get in touch and send me such a kind message.
Editing work for other writers made up a significant part of my working hours last year – obviously this is a task which is ideally suited to working from home. One of my favourite projects was to provide feedback on several chapters of a debut adventure/fantasy novel from a budding writer. The writer gave me each chapter one at a time, which definitely built the suspense from my side – and I am now waiting patiently for the next installment!
In 2021, I also continued in my role as Events Manager for Lockerbie Writers. To celebrate National Writing Day in June, I was thrilled to be able to organise my first in-person writing workshop for over a year, on the theme of “Reconnection”. I organised a week of spring-themed new writing on the blog and, most recently, have been coordinating a donation to the Lockerbie schools. Sadly, this will be my last task for Lockerbie Writers as I have decided to leave my voluntary role due to time constraints, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the work which I have carried out for the group since 2015, and I look forward to concluding the school donations in the new year.
One of my highlights of 2021 has been working on my first children’s book, currently titled ‘Maisie and Murray Go For a Picnic’. Thanks to funding from DG Unlimited and Dumfries & Galloway Council, I was able to complete the first draft and work with an illustrator to produce several sample pages. The beta reader process was absolutely terrifying – I couldn’t believe that I had agreed to send out my draft book to real people in return for feedback! Argh!
It was worth all the nerves though, as I got numerous excellent suggestions to help improve the next draft, along with fantastic feedback including, “Great book! (Double thumbs up!)” and “A lovely wee book”. Who could ask for better?! An enormous thank you must go to each of my beta readers who took the time to provide such thoughtful feedback, and to Laura Henderson at Paper Heart Stationery for her hard work on the sample artwork.
Amazingly, I managed to run several workshops in 2021, for organisations including the Devil’s Porridge Museum, Nest Nurturing Futures CIC, and the Dumfries Carer’s Centre. After so much isolation and so many cancellations, it was exciting to be able to get back to in-person workshops, meet some new budding writers, and feel the flow of creative conversation. A huge thank you to all of the organisations who got in touch and invited me in to provide a workshop or two – and an even bigger thank you to all of the brave individuals who came along and took part!
Writers benefit from learning new skills and trying different things. Every experience gives us more material for our next piece of writing! I developed my own skills this year by running my first online workshop during Book Week Scotland (terrifying and invigorating in equal measures!) and I also joined online workshops as a participant – namely, an art course advertised by Dumfries and Galloway Council’s lifelong learning department, and a writing course offered through the University of Edinburgh. There has been so much variety on offer this year for online learners – one of the few positives to come out of the pandemic.
I am proud to say that I was able to make several charitable donations in 2021. In April, I donated a children’s book bundle to a raffle; in total, I believe the raffle raised around £700 for Dumfries and Galloway Neonatal Unit. In November I ran writing activities at a Fundraising Fun Day, and in December I produced and donated a number of children’s writing and activity worksheets for inclusion in Christmas Eve boxes; the Fun Day and the Christmas Eve boxes were both organised by Type 1 Best Friends Together, raising money for Dumfries and Galloway Paediatic Diabetes Services. I was thrilled to hear recently that the fundraisers have now raised over £700 of their £1,000 target, and that they donated some of the Christmas Eve boxes to the DGRI Children’s Ward. What a fantastic achievement, and I hope the boxes brought smiles to a few faces this Christmas.
And now the big question – what will 2022 bring?
As we enter 2022, I remain hopeful that the uncertainty of the last two years will begin to ease and allow us to rediscover some of the joys which have been temporarily lost. Personally (as much as I have enjoyed the time with my family – and I really have!), I am hoping for less school/pre-school closures. And less illness in general! It is incredibly hard to feel creative and relaxed when plans continue to change at the last minute, or when our hard-fought-for writing time suddenly disappears.
I have a couple of writing workshops pencilled in for the new year, and I will keep my fingers crossed that these can go ahead as planned, along with my final tasks for Lockerbie Writers. More details to follow nearer the time.
I am incredibly grateful to DG Unlimited and Dumfries & Galloway Council for funding to work on a second children’s book featuring characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder – I can’t wait to get properly started this January! My first book is near completion thanks to all of those fantastic beta readers, and I am looking forward to approaching publishers/agents with this in 2022.
Meanwhile, my novel – yes, that thing in the background which I never feel like I have any time for – has grown slowly to almost 88,000 words. This means I have written around 21,000 words this year, averaging 404 words per week, not including the number of words and edits I have done on the children’s books, and the poems and short stories which I continue to dabble away with in the background. Not too bad for someone who feels as if she hasn’t had a moment to write.
I want to end this blog with a mention for one of my biggest writing highlight of the year – the return to in-person meetings of my writing group, A Novel Approach. When myself and my wonderful friend Steph Newham started up the group in 2018, we had no idea that four years down the line we would have spent half of the group’s life plodding through constantly-changing government restrictions. Video call meetings, although helpful to keep in touch, will never be a true substitute for seeing our friends and support groups in person. In autumn/winter 2021, we were finally able to hold a few meetings in person – and honestly, my face ached from smiling so much. Although the meetings will unfortunately need to move back online for beginning of 2022 due to the recent rise in COVID Omicron cases, I hope that it won’t take as long this time around before we can go back to in-person meetings.
I certainly didn’t feel as if 2021 was my most creative year on record, but looking back, I am proud of how many things I’ve been able to achieve in difficult circumstances.
I hope that you are able to take a moment and reflect on the past year – thinking less about the bad bits, and focusing on what you, too, have been able to achieve.
Happy new year – and happy writing! Thank you again to everyone who has supported my writing this year. I hope the new year brings creativity, good health, and enough quiet time to finally get some of our inspiration down on paper.