Writing and Wellbeing is a Spread the Word series featuring writers sharing how they nurture themselves and their writing, particularly in the strange and startling times of Coronavirus. JJ Bola is a writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador who speaks and performs both internationally and in the UK. In this blog post, he writes about refining our habits and implementing positive actions in our everyday lives to enhance our wellbeing.
As a writer, you learn to be obsessed with time. How little of it there is, how quickly it passes, how rarely you get the opportunity to spend it doing what you love to do: write. You lament, as you have done so many times before, about what you could do if you had the time. You fantasise about quitting your job, lightening your responsibilities just so you can spend those long sought after moments creating the masterpiece that you have been obsessing over, in your mind, for weeks, months, years. And then, the world stops. Everything is momentarily closed, and you find yourself with an abundance of time, as you have wished for all along, to do the thing you love to do. Yet, you are still unable to write. Why?
Well, over the years of my own journey into writing, I’ve learned that writing – rather being able to write – is as much about what you do on the page, as it is what you do off the page. So if you are feeling like you cannot find the words, and moreover you wouldn’t even know where to start if you had the will and energy to, here are four friendly tips to help you along the way.
Get your mind right
You can’t create or write, when you are anxious, worried or depressed. Although these states of struggle are often romanticised in writers and artists, works of art are made in spite of these conditions, not because of them. We’re currently living through a pandemic, and one of the biggest social justice movements the modern world has ever seen. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but at the same time too frightened to plug out in case you’ll miss a vital moment. Breathe. Take the time out that you need. Do the things that bring you joy and affirm your life and your necessary existence in this world. And if the burden feels unmanageable, get the help you need; therapy, mental health professionals, support groups. Getting help is a courageous and hopeful declaration. Also, remind yourself that in spite of how it may seem, the world is not ending, we are still here; you are still here.
If the thing that came to your mind at the thought of exercise was a painful home workout or a brutal 100K run in a month, and it frightens you – like it does me – then forget about it. Exercise simply means doing the thing that gets your heart beating, that allows you to feel both your heart and lungs, as the part of the necessary vital organs you need to survive. Whilst you might surprise yourself, exercise can also be done through stretches (Yoga), breathing exercises (Qi gong), or light motion exercises (such as Tai Chi). Rooting yourself in an exercise of your body, allows you to escape your mind – to free it of the burden of thought, and instead, travel along the fluidity of motion. Set aside 10-20 minutes to do a light stretch in the morning. It could transform your day.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Check your phone for half an hour? Drink a cup of coffee? Stare into the abyss of that one empty space on the wall in your room? If these habits increase your anxiety and fear, break them – immediately. Instead, do something that calms you, and allows you to be prepared for the day. Of late, I’ve started meditating. Not even in the fancy, self-aggrandising way that comes to mind when you hear the word meditation, but just in the simple way of sitting down in a comfortable position, allowing thoughts to pass through me, and then visualising the things I have to do that day/week. Having an image of me doing whatever I need to do, allows me to believe in the fact that I can do it. If you can build into your routine, the thing that makes you believe that whatever you want to do is possible then you are already halfway there.
Time: give yourself time.
We all experience time differently. Where time feels its passing fast for you, for someone else, it’s passing by slowly. The same goes for your writing, some projects will happen quickly, and others as if the hands of time were acting against its will. The novels A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne were both written in under a month respectively, and conversely, Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell and The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien both took ten years or more to write. There are countless examples either way. My own novels have varied in time taken to complete them, but it’s been allowing the process to take place in its own time, that has led me to finishing them. Give yourself time. Whatever you write will come into the world whenever it is ready, no matter what is happening in the world.
Find a community or a group that you can be a part of that can boost your writing inspiration, or for somewhere to go when you need to laugh. It’s even harder to connect these days, as we all try to navigate our post-lock down anxieties, being intentional with who you hang around, and how you choose to do so, is arguably more important now than ever before. Fortunately, there are many online initiatives or groups for people looking to connect in the same way, and if you can’t find any, create one.
Ultimately, the thing to consider the most is this: writing your masterpiece doesn’t begin with the first words on the page. Rather, it starts way before that, perhaps way before the idea has even formed in your brilliant imagination, it begins with how you take care of yourself, how well you are able to tap into the well of hope, and fill your waters. Well-being is essentially this, applying hope as medicine; healing yourself. Your writing, your art, and yes – more so, your life, depends on it.
JJ Bola is a writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador. His three poetry collections – Elevate (2012), Daughter of the Sun (2014), and WORD (2015) – were all published in one definitive collection called Refuge (2018), which was read out in the British House of Commons during Refugee week in 2018. He was one of Spread the Word’s Flight Associates 2017 and a Kit de Waal Scholar for the Birkbeck University MA in Creative Writing. His debut novel, No Place to Call Home, was first published in the UK in 2017, and in 2018 in North America. His non-fiction book Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined, was published in the UK in 2019 and sold into five more languages worldwide. He has recently signed a two-book deal with Dialogue Books for his second and third novel The Selfless Act of Breathing (2021), and OTA (2023), respectively. JJ speaks and performs both internationally and within the UK.
Published 28 July 2020