My New Writing Routine: Take Two

A month ago I wrote a post detailing my creative goals.

My mom stayed with us for a month and helped to look after Little M while I tackled a few creative projects that were gathering dust in the corner. I had the liberty write and draw freely and exuberantly.

I finished the dummy for a new book for Penguin Random House South Africa. And I made headway on two personal projects that I had been bursting to start. One has completely changed shape after a transformative weekend retreat at Gladstone's Library; the other is plodding along at a slow pace, but I'm very happy with its progress. 

So... success all around.  

But it's interesting to notice how success "feels" versus how you "thought" success would look when you were imagining it.  

This is how success looked... 

I didn't write 500 words per day. Not even close. But if you consider that a picture might be worth a 1000 words, then I didn't do so badly. 

I managed to close the door and turn off the internet.  But I ended up sleeping most of that time. I'm convincing myself that sleep can be as restorative and inspiring as drawing and writing.

I wanted to page through the dictionary.  I did look up a few words words (asperity, restive, adumbration...) but otherwise the tome gathered dust on the floor beside my bedside table.  Perhaps I'll open it more now? One can only live in hope. 

I hoped to read with reckless joy.  And I did.  This isn't a difficult resolution to make because it's what I always do anyway.

And finally. I wanted to feel proud of anything I could accomplish, even if it was less than I had hoped for, because being a stay-at-home/working mom is tough. Yes it is.  No question.  And I'm so proud of the small steps I've taken this month. 

Going Forward

This month of rest and creativity has given me a lot of courage. 

To all you readers who might be stay-at-home/working moms... it can be done.

It takes 3 minutes to sterilize Little M's bottles in the microwave.  I often pop them in, and then quickly do a few chores in the kitchen.  I wash a few dishes. I wipe the counters. I fold laundry.

It's amazing what one can accomplish in 3 minutes.  I can do anything for 3 minutes, even the things I think are impossible, like sitting down to write or draw.  (Someone, someday, will be able to run a 3 minute mile, even that's not impossible.)

Sometimes, when Little M is fractious and I'm exhausted, I divide my day into innumerable 3 minute parcels. That way things don't feel overwhelming.

I write for three minutes; I draw for three minutes.

I thread those little moments together like beads on a string, and suddenly I've accomplish more than I thought I could.

I'm not sure how I'll manage now that my mom has returned to Canada, but I saw a scintilla of light glimmering in the fog of confusion and exhaustion. 

It must be possible.... It is possible. 

The key is to realize that there's no way of knowing how to do it until you're in the middle of it, muddling your way through. 

I'm just going to start and hope for the best. And hopefully I'll find inspiration, energy and a bit of luck along the way. 

*  *  * 
And finally... Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to pin the photo, heart the post on bloglovin, tweet it, or share it on Facebook. And, make sure you subscribe or follow along to get even more weekly inspiration and follow along in my creative journey. 

See you next week!


Adventures.... at Gladstone's Library in North Wales

I spent two days working in the grand theology room at Gladstone’s Library.  I desperately needed some peace, quiet and rest after 10 strenuous months of motherhood. My mom and M looked after baby while I burrowed into hibernation in North Wales.

I set up my computer, my notebooks, and all my other resources (pens, paper) and hoped that both motivation and inspiration would be close at hand.  The library reminded me, nostalgically, of my studying days; sitting in the Warburg with piles of books, trying to sift through citations and notes to discover some clear ideas about art history.

Like panning for gold.

It felt similar being at Gladstone's Library. I wasn't actually there for the books, but for the "bookish" atmosphere.  I wanted to sit quietly in a place inspired by, and completely passionate about, books.

So there I was; with all my supplies; ready to work; but with no idea what I should be doing.

I revelled in the quiet, dusty smell of old books, with their tooled bindings and leather covers. I heard the hushed whispers of other studious folk. Their fingers tapped their computer keys (were they more inspired that I was?). They shuffled papers. Every so often quiet sighs of contentment or frustration echoed in the vaulted hall.

I sat in solitude and silence for 2 days, and this is what I learned...

  1. It’s so much easier to “want” to write a story than to actually write it. I could feel the emotions of the story running in an undercurrent, through me, like an invisible river. But I was having difficulty becoming quiet enough to plumb the depths. 
  2. You will be compulsively driven to work or read at Gladstone's Library... because there isn't much else to do. If you wanted to procrastinate: you could walk up the hill to Hawarden Castle and back; you could have a coffee at the Gallery Cafe or a glass of wine at one of the two local pubs; you could stare at photos of houses for sale in the windows at the two estate agents on the high street (so much more affordable than London!); or you could read the names of all the departed souls on the gravestones at St. Deiniol's chapel. That pretty much exhausted my (very creative) efforts at procrastination. And then I gratefully returned to the library, my stack of notebooks, and my thoughts. 
  3. Time stretches. And stretches. And stretches. Solitude and silence made each hour feel three times longer than at home. (There's a lesson in this about and nature of time and chronos vs kairos, but I'll think about that later...)
  4. I work best amidst a little commotion. The washing machine spin cycle; builders erecting scaffolding across the road; groceries being delivered; they all create a feeling of time being very precious. If I tell myself I have an hour before Little M wakes up from her morning nap and I need to finish "x," I often accomplish far more than I could have expected. This made me confident about returning home with a renewed sense of purpose and an enthusiasm to work in the midst of our busy household. 
  5. Gladstone's library is a bibliophile's dream. It is the only "residential" library in the UK; which means it is a simple hotel housed within an amazing library. It has a bar, a cafe serving very good food, a chapel, and books, books, books. The bedrooms are basic, but have everything you might need, except a TV (...which is in one of the lounges. The assumption is that you didn't come to the library in order to lie in bed and watch telly). And it is amazingly affordable! I would return in a heartbeat. It's the perfect place to both "get away from it all" and gain a bit of inspiration.  

My stay at Gladstone's library was everything I wanted it to be. I had solitude and rest in spades. I read. I wrote. I fleshed out the idea for a new story. I planned. I imagined. I daydreamed. 

In the end, I left refreshed and rejuvenated, and eager to return home and bury my head in Little M's curls.

Fancy your own quiet weekend amongst the books at Gladstone's Library? Check out their website here

*  *  * 
And finally... Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to pin the photos, heart the post on bloglovin, tweet it, or share it on Facebook. And, make sure you subscribe or follow along to get even more weekly inspiration and follow along in my creative journey. 

See you next week!

{Heaven in the Library}

{The Bar}

{The Gorgeousness!}

{Time to Read}

{The view from the graveyard}

{The Library Garden}

{Classical music on the radio in my bedroom}


How I write: my new writing routine

My mom arrives this week; I’m excited and nervous.

I’m excited because I haven’t seen her for half a year, and I can’t wait to sit at the kitchen table chatting about not-much-in-particular, with Little M crawling underfoot and clinging to our knees.

I’m nervous because it means I have to start working.

I have two rather important projects that need time, energy and creative spirit. So far I haven’t been able to concentrate on them, and having my mom around means I’ll have live-in nanny for a month. So… no more excuses.

What I’ve realized is that, in order to succeed as a stay-at-home/working mom, I need to completely re-imagine my writing life.

My old writing life

I used to stumble out of bed just before M left for work. I kissed him goodbye, made a cup of decaf (always and only decaf), opened the curtains just enough to let a shaft of light in (but not to much to pierce the morning dream-state), crawled back under the covers, pulled my laptop onto my knees and started writing. Or, if I had pressing illustration work to finish, I would hunch over my paintings at the kitchen table, still in my pyjamas and with my decaf in hand, to complete the day’s quota of illustrations. In the afternoon I would switch, either writing or illustrating depending on which I had done in the morning.

The new routine

This is no longer possible; my mornings are unrecognizable.

Now, I jump out of bed at 7 am sharp while M is still in the shower. I fetch Little M, who is often already awake and playing with her stuffies in her cot. I change her diaper (usually poopy), make breakfast, pour her bottle. I try to coax spoonsful of porridge or fruit into her mouth. Meanwhile, I jump up to brew my cup of decaf in between her complaints at not being able to wield the spoon herself, and wiping mush off the floor.

I roll out the yoga mat and attempt a few serene sun salutations and other stretches while Little M climbs under, over and through. She touches my face while I’m in downward dog, she fiddles with my pony tail or climbs over my legs while I’m practising the splits, and she sits underneath me while I’m in the bridge, making getting down very challenging.

Then, I re-roll the yoga mat and open my computer and dayplanner to focus at the tasks at hand.

Little M roars around on her hands and knees, trying to explore any undiscovered corner or piece of fuzz on the floor. She bangs empty water bottles against the fridge. She watches the sudsy laundry revolving around in our front loading washing machine. She pulls her books off her bookshelf and pages through them, examining each page to see if any new characters arrived over night. (This means I need to read her a story, of course).

I take a deep breath and make another cup of decaf. Sometimes I clean something. Little M watches with fascination, thinking my scrubbing and spraying is some sort of game.

By 9 am Little M is ready for her morning nap. I snuggle her into her blankets and deposit her gently into her cot. I close the curtains and sneak out the door.

Finally. An hour and a half to write/draw/think/read/try to be creative.

And all I want to do is make another cup of decaf and stare at the victorian rooftops and swaying plane trees out our window. The hurly-burly morning has exhausted me.

Novelist Roxana Robinson wrote a poetic article about her morning writing routine in the New Yorker in 2013. She talks about how, if she answered emails or looked at the news, the delicate membrane of her early morning imagination would be pierced. She wants to keep the mysterious and limitless post-sleep dreamlike state alive as long as possible.

I can’t do that any more. I have to try to recapture that penumbral state hours later.

The new writing guidelines

So, for the next month, while I have a little extra help at home, I’m planning to adopt a few writing principles to help me through this transition…

1. Write and draw daily. Even if it’s one line or one tiny gesture with the pencil. The ultimate goal is 500 words of either fiction or journalling every day and 2-3 spreads, sketched (even roughly).
2. Close the door. Turn off the internet. I need to give myself permission to seek solitude. Little M will be fine with my mom. The internet won’t collapse without my attention.
3. Page through the dictionary. Words are our resources, we need to know how to use them wisely.
4. Read everything else with reckless joy. (Fiction, poetry, self-help; it all inspires)
5. Feel proud of what I am able to accomplish, even if it is less than my (probably) impossible expectations. Being a stay-at-home/working mom is challenging… and amazing.

*  *  *
For this post I was deeply indebted the post my good friend Ayla wrote on her blog. Check it out here.

And finally... Did you like this post? Feel free to pin it, heart it on bloglovin, tweet about it, or share it on Facebook. And, make sure you subscribe or follow along to get even more weekly inspiration and follow along in my creative journey.

Please feel free to share your writing routines in the comments below!

See you next week!


When is a bookshelf not just a bookshelf? {Life in a London Flat}

{So tall it doesn't fit in the picture}

When is a bookshelf not just a bookshelf? 

When it is a rainbow. 

When it is a home for all the books previously stores in dusty boxes in the attic. 

When it is an invocation. 

I have been dreaming about this bookshelf for several months now. I visualized it in all it's rainbow glory. I knew exactly how I was going to arrange the books. I knew how it would look when I was lying on the couch, admiring it. 

With all things, though, the actual reality of getting it was more complicated and more hilarious than I could have ever imagined.  

Our good friend Anne van Mansvelt, a master woodworker, designed and installed the shelves.  To make sure they were perfect, he built the whole unit in his workshop beforehand. When he arrived and placed it on our front step I was blown away. 

It was beautiful.  

It was so beautiful and sooooo tall. 

There was no way it was going to fit up the steep, narrow, Victorian staircase leading to our flat door. We tried and got catastrophically stuck trying to manoeuvre around the first landing. 

Being Dutch, Anne's first thought was to haul it up through the windows. In Amsterdam all the tall narrow houses have winches hanging in the eaves, perfect for moving heavy furniture in and out of the windows. 

Our flat is very high up on the third floor (second floor to Brits), and we don't have any winches.  There was no way the bookshelf could come up via the front. However, after a complete inspection, we realized that our bedroom window in the back overlooks the flat roof of our ground floor neighbour's bedroom. 

That was the solution! 

It's not every day you find yourself pulling a bookshelf through your downstairs neighbour's flat, into their garden, up onto their roof, and then through your own bedroom window. After that the installation went as planned. But what an adventure! 


Now that the bookshelf is there it feels like an invocation. An act of calling upon the creative spirit for strength and inspiration. 

We have brought all the books down from the attic and organized them beautifully on the shelves. We are finally treating all of our books with the respect they deserve. They have an honoured place in our home. 

This, then, is a turning point. I am ready to continue this journey in writing and illustrating. 

There are some objects that acquire layers of meaning beyond their basic function. This bookshelf is one of them. 

{copies of Magic at the Museum, signed, and ready to be delivered to Somerset House}


Not so daily sketches

It's murphy's law that the minute you proclaim to the universe (or the internet, that's the same thing, right?) that you're ready to start working, you get steamrolled by the worst head cold you've had in months.  

I'm lying on the couch drinking tea and blowing my nose while Little M sorts through our recycling in the kitchen. She is judiciously taking all the bottles, boxes, papers and containers out of the Westminster City recycling bags and scattering them on the kitchen floor. 

I don't mind, as long as she's quiet and playing independently and doesn't mind that I've been rendered horizontal. 

So, rather than pushing myself forwards, I'm taking a step back and reviewing where I am and where I want to go. I'm paging through my sketchbooks, and leafing through my journals. 

I used the last page in my teeny-tiny moleskine sketchbook the other day.  Here are a few selections from the past few weeks. I'm not sketching every day, but I'm sketching regularly, which is good enough. Don't you think?

Hopefully I will get over this dreadful lurgy soon. 

What were you up to this week? Please let me know in the comments. 

*  *  * 
And finally... Did you like the drawings in this post? Feel free to pin them, heart them on bloglovin, tweet them, or share them on Facebook. And, make sure you subscribe or follow along to get even more weekly inspiration and follow along in my creative journey. 

See you next week! 

{This was the last page.}


Cheers! A little celebration and Inspiration

{Photo taken at Beluga in Cape Town}

I have decided that my maternity leave is officially over. It's difficult to make "official" proclamations when you work for yourself (who's keeping track of whether or not you clock in at your desk?), but I have to tell someone, so I'm telling you, dear readers. 

I've had a long hiatus full of soul-searching, self-doubt, moments of happy inspiration, and lots of cuddles with Little M.  

She is now 9 months old.... which also means that I have been a mother for 9 months. I think it's time to transform from a nesting, stay-at-home mom into a working mom (who also happens to work from home). 

I have no idea how I'm going to make this work. Motherhood and my passion for making books sometimes feel like two diametrically opposing forces pushing me in different directions.  One tells me to savour each moment and not work too hard, and the other tells me to sharpen my pencils and get creating because the seconds are rushing by faster than we can count them. 

But, this week I signed a contract to illustrate two children's picture books.  

Now I have no choice but to stick my head into my sketchbooks. I can't wait to get back to drawing, because a part of me will never feel whole unless I'm creating a book and telling a story, in some way. 

So, cheers! Let's celebrate! Raise a glass ... to new books! ... to 9 month birthdays.  And to venturing bravely into uncharted territories. 

Here's a little inspiration from the books I've been reading this week: 

On babies: 
"A baby is a wishing well.  We walk by every day and throw our pennies in. Most are bright and shiny, full of smiles and possibility. Some are tarnished with bad memories, unlucky genes. Others have been hiding under the couch cushions all these years, just waiting for someone to dig them out. A baby is a wishing well. Everyone puts their hopes, their fears, their pasts, their two cents in." Elizabeth Bard from Picnic in Provence.

On divine intervention: 
"I learned that to simply ask a blessing on one's circumstances, whatever they are, is somehow to improve them, and to tap some mysterious source of energy and joy. I came upon one of the most ancient and universal truths -- that to affirm and claim God's help even before it is given, is to receive it." Marjorie Holmes. 


Window Boxes: Life in a London Flat

There’s something about lavender that lifts the mood. It’s not just its clean, fresh, fragrance (reminiscent of sea spray, loamy earth and clean sheets), but also the way the purple flowers bob and sway, conducting silent symphonies in the breeze.

In Cape Town we had a lavender garden in our front courtyard. There was a thick, high stone garden wall facing the road (as you must, in South Africa), with a heavy wooden door set in its centre. From the street it didn’t look like much, but once you entered, you were beguiled by a tiny courtyard garden planted mounds of lavender.

I miss that garden. I miss sitting on the stoop and watching the bees dance from flower to flower as the unseen traffic raced down the hill on the other side of the wall.

So, as a birthday surprise for my husband, I planted window boxes on the sills of our London flat. I ordered one box for each front window and filled them with lavender, petunias and ivy.  Now, when I sit on the couch and gaze out the window, I not only see the rows of Victorian terraced houses and plane trees, but also the bobbing lavender, the delicate ruffles of the petunia petals, and the occasional bee who has lucked out and found our tiny oasis.

The window boxes give a new dimension to the flat: there is now an inside and an outside. When the evening sun pours through the windows the lavender throws dancing shadows on the white walls. When we open the windows we can smell the sweet petunias in the warm summer air.

All that in a space 18 cm wide.

It's a miracle.


Be inspired

Favourite Quotes 

Judith of Pretty Words Please. The more you kiss or hug babies or young children, the happier they will be when they grow up. {That sounds like a wonderful plan to me!}

Virginia Woolf. I decided to go to London, for the sake of hearing the Strand roar, which I think one does want, after a day or two of Richmond.  {This is particularly appropriate after recent conversations of where we would move to if we left central London.}

Kate di Camillo.  Poetry. He liked the word -- its smallness, its density, the way it rose up at the end as if it had wings. Poetry.

D. H. Lawrence. We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive ... and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.

What has inspired you this month? 


Hatching New Beginnings

{The crystal egg cup}

Happiest of Easter Weekends to all my wonderful readers! 

I hope you find your golden egg under the rosebush, and contemplate lots of new beginnings. 

We will be relaxing in our lovely London flat, taking long walks in the park to admire the daffodils, and spending evenings watching movies or hosting dinner for friends. 

See you next week! 


On Being and Embracing

How are you doing with your efforts to be inspired by your word (or resolutions) for 2015?  It's the end of March, and I'm checking in to assess my efforts to embrace this year.


It's funny.

I'm sitting on the couch while Little M watches her classical music mobile in her cot, and, try as I might, I can hardly remember anything that's happened in the past 30 days.

Did we return from Austria in February, or was it March? I know I had a birthday at some point. I got an illustrating job, thus ending my maternity leave... but aside from those big events, the month is a blur of naps, bottles, and walks, all littered with pencil and eraser shavings.

The only way I can remember anything is if I write it down, which is why I'm designing a new day planner, as well as trying to keep a daily journal. (more to come on both)

As long as I'm getting enough rest (naps are essential), and eating well (meal plans and online grocery delivery are my saving graces right now), I feel like I can handle just about anything.

I'm also trying to embrace the help of random strangers. People in London are amazingly compassionate and helpful when they see moms stranded with strollers at the top or bottom of long staircases in train or tube stations. Thank-you London!

Embracing "Being"

One idea that has really struck home these past few months is that we are all unique, special and valuable just because we are, and not because of what we do. Too often I judge myself by what I have accomplished (or not), and I forget that my personal worth shouldn't be so closely tied to my successes and failures.

Little M is a miracle just because she is.  It's her being, her is-ness, that makes her amazing.  She plays; she smiles; she drinks; she poos; she sleeps (sometimes); and each day her personality becomes clearer, like a form materializing in a thick mist.  By the world's standards, none of those activities are particularly valuable, and yet, she is a miracle.

You and I were once miraculous babies. We have let the sparkle of that miracle wear off and become a distant memory, but it isn't gone.

You might be sitting there in your bathrobe, sipping a coffee, steeling yourself for your day, and all around you the latent glow of your inexplicable is-ness is shining for anyone who might take the time to notice. You are you and nobody else! That's amazing.

I am. He is. She is. We are. We can conjugate a verb and define one of the biggest mysteries of life.

So, I'm trying to embrace a new understanding of my self-worth, as well as everyone else's worth. We are all here, zooming through the vast galaxy on a tiny planet populated with miracles. Think about it for a minute. It will change your day.

{Nerd alert: this is a very simplified discussion of ontology, the study of the nature of being, becoming and existence. Ontology is one of my favourite words, both for how it sounds and what it means.}


Just this weekend we booked tickets to spend some time with M's family in Cape Town. We're both excited and a little nervous about the new adventure, as it will mean taking our first long-haul flight with Little M.

So, in the coming month you can expect some posts about planning and calendars, about journaling, and about our trip to Cape Town!

How was your month? Are you thinking about your word or your resolutions regularly? Have you experienced any milestones that you think helped you grow as a person? Please share in the comments! 

Did you like this post? Then be sure to share it with your friends to keep the conversation going! Pin, share or tweet! Yay!