At the end of each December, I’ve fallen into the habit of writing a reflective post on the year that’s about to leave us. The format has varied slightly during my time in the blogosphere, but sharing the highs and lows of another twelve months has become a ritual I enjoy. It also eases me back into the practice of writing, something I deliberately neglect during the Christmas holidays in order to focus on family and germinate new ideas. For me, this time of year is about taking stock of the months previous, and allowing space for new thoughts, ideas and creative practices to seep into my brain. Finding that sort of space has often proved difficult this year, and between news cycles, other people’s opinions on news cycles, family – and the administrative nuts and bolts of launching my second novel in the latter months of the year – I entered into the Christmas holidays feeling exhausted and mentally overloaded. And so before Christmas, I deleted my social media and news apps in favour of a week of distraction-free family time and a few days of reading, walking, film-watching, and other emotionally restorative things. The effect, as I’ve found with previous tech-breaks, has been transformative. I’ve felt an emptying of all the mental clutter I’ve been carrying around and the chance for new ideas to take root. After feeling like I might never find a new story to write, I’m beginning to sense the planting of seeds, the arrival of new ideas – the kind that only come when you are not consumed with every single thing weaving its way into your attention. I have written about creating this kind of space before, and I sense it’s something I need to focus on more in 2022. As a sensitive (and I like to think, empathetic) person, I tend to absorb much from the world around me, often to the detriment of my own wellbeing, health and creativity. Small steps back help me re-focus my energies, my sense of self and my levels of contentment. One of the biggest lessons for me in recent years has been the need to almost constantly remind myself that my attention belongs to me.
And much of that attention this year, of course, has focused on sending my second novel, Pieces of Sky and Stone, out into the world. This led me to feel highly creative until around July, when I finished the first draft of the novel, and a little less creative for the rest of the year while I focused on the mechanics of the editing process and the administration/promotion associated with turning a manuscript into an actual real-life book. Like many authors, I find the promotion associated with book marketing a little uncomfortable, and the reliance on externally-driven validation such as book sales and reviews can be difficult for those of us who are sensitive (a trait that probably applies to most writers). A few delays and supply chain issues meant that by the time the book was released as an eBook in early December (and in paperback a week before Christmas) I had been riding a long wave of anxious uncertainty, and had slipped into one of my low spells – something I’m sure other sensitive people with anxiety will understand. The buoyancy I had felt about releasing my first book was strangely dimmed, and I found myself writing promotional posts with a feeling of exposure and vulnerability. Thankfully, the last week of rejuvenation has stirred me, and I’ve now returned to that moment in July, when I finished the book and felt proud of myself, of the words I had written, of the story I had made. After what felt like a clipped start to the book’s release, I’m looking forward to returning to talk about the book in January, the start of Scotland’s themed Year of Stories. As for lessons learned, it’s back to that sense of the internal – my thoughts, my sense of worth, the stories I tell myself. If I have learned one thing in my forty-something years on the planet, it’s that the only kind of validation worth pursuing is the kind that comes from the inside.
I needed the mental resilience I’d accrued after finishing Pieces of Sky and Stone back in August, when I launched into writing about something else that had dominated my experience of the summer – the impact of the North Coast 500 on local communities in the Highlands. The post ended up being the most read, shared and commented-on article on my blog ever (with average share statistics leaping from the tens and low hundreds to 10,000 shares on Facebook alone within a week). It seemed the post tapped into something very much of the moment, with many people (both locals and visitors) resonating with concerns over inconsiderate behaviour, ‘wild camping’ and the loss of a sense of place through overtourism. For others, the post was viewed through the lens of their own perspective, leading to my authenticity, motivations and character being called into question – it was interesting that much of the criticism was less about the actual content, and rather, about me. It was the first time I had experienced what might be described as a ‘backlash’ to one of my articles and the personal nature of some of the comments and messages I received were disconcerting. Thankfully, I drew back to the internal, where I feel comfortable with my authenticity, motivations and character – and the knowledge that none of those things are altered by anyone else’s view. I will continue to write about place, home, the experience of things that matter to me. One of the lessons 2021 taught me is that I feel strongest writing about place when my words are entwined with a sense of emotional perspective and connection. I already have the beginnings of a project that blends memoir with some of those perspectives on place, people and home, and it’s something I hope I can expand on in 2022.
And so to the future, and to another year of writing, stories and the highs and lows that can sometimes exist alongside each other. While I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions, I am looking forward to sitting down with my notebook in early January, plotting out ideas and making plans. Over the next year, I hope to delve into some new writing projects and to build on the work I’ve already done (mainly through improving the distribution network for my novels). A couple of projects I’ve been involved in over the last year should also come to fruition in 2022, and then there is Scotland’s Year of Stories, which I hope I can contribute to with new work, as well as the story-focused nature of my books.
Right now, I’m entering 2022 surrounded by family, love and a continuing drive for self-awareness, compassion and empathy.
I’ll take this chance to wish you a new year filled with the things that matter to you.
And a reminder: the ‘happy’ in ‘happy new year’ comes from the inside.