Thursday 4 April 2019

Too much news - Ciaran Murtagh

I've been finding it hard to concentrate lately. It's new for me. Usually, I know what I'm writing that day and I settle into writing it. But lately, it's been hard to shake the real world off my shoes before diving into the much more comforting world of make believe.

We live in turbulent times and it's hard not to get distracted by that. Speaking to writer friends it seems I'm not alone. Our working situation is a perfect storm for this kind of thing:

1) We work alone. We rarely have anyone staring over our shoulders to check we're actually doing the work we're supposed to be doing. It's very easy to be distracted without consequence. We also don't have the opportunity to break out for a coffee with work mates to blow off steam or chat about the issues of the day. There's no safety valve.

2) We define what our work is, therefore it's very hard for anyone else to judge whether we've done it properly.  Only we know if we're cheating, and these days it's easy to cheat.

3) We spend a lot of time in our own heads. This is a particular problem. If I'm trying to consider whether character A says something to character B and then I hear the news, or someone texts me the news, or I just remember something about the news that annoyed me this morning then it's hard not to get absorbed by that instead.

4) Our computer keeps wanting to drag us into the real world with pop ups, news alerts and the temptation of Facebook, Twitter etc. In fact sometimes part of our job is to actually visit social media sites, and once you're there I give you five seconds before you get annoyed by something!

Partly I'm making excuses for myself, but partly it's a genuine problem. Turning off my phone, turning off apps, all my usual solutions aren't working for me, because the problems we face as a country are now absorbing a significant part of my brain and my brain is the most important tool I have to do my job.

Making up stories can seem trite and a waste of time when you genuinely don't know if your passport is going to let you back into the country at the end of the month. Who cares what the funniest line you can write might be when there's precious little to laugh about right now.

Also, and this might just be me, it's hard to motivate yourself to do a good job when everybody else seems to be doing theirs so badly. If the Prime Minister can be so monumentally terrible at her job - seemingly the point of view of every side in the debate - who cares if my nouns aren't quite as zingy as normal. Does it really matter in the great scheme of things? Not really.

I guess we keep keeping on, but when all you have is yourself and your brain and it's already full of negativity, how do you carve out the nice little comfy space we, as children's writers, need?

I'd love to hear your tips.

Incidentally, I shall be speaking at Bafta in a few weeks on head writing the new series of Mr Bean. If you want to learn more about writing for animation, or you're just a fan of Bean, come along, tickets are available here:


Sue Purkiss said...

I sympathise, Ciaran. After listening to Parliament for hours earlier this week, am trying to - literally - switch off. But it's still all happening out there - it can't be ignored.

My ways out? Watching youtube videos of really beautiful music (my idea of that would be different from that of others, so I won't say what) and going for a walk. But I'm fortunate enough to live in lovely countryside - that solution won't work for everyone.

Penny Dolan said...

Ciaran, I recognise exactly what you say and am sure many others wil too.

I feel my heartrate and anxiety rising whenever I come across any form of news - R4, tv, papers, social media - and yet I can't help catching the latest information (and/or news stunts) several times a day in some kind of "What fresh hell is this arriving?" expectation and an odd hope.

But the bad news onslaught does make it hard to believe that the fantasy you're building in your writing has any relevance or importance at all for your intended audience.

I find the mood eased by art and paintings, gentle walking, cupboard tidying and gardening on warm days. Onwards.

Andrew Preston said...

If the worst turns to the worst, at least the passports will be blue, and
the bananas bendy.

Actually, an acquaintance asked me the other day, as we piled the chairs after a showing at the local film society.... "What do you think of this ....... thing. I voted ........? ". I was so surprised to be directly asked this in a locality where views seem to mostly differ from mine, that all I could muster was.... "Well, I'm glad to see the can being kicked down the road...".

My real views are considerably more forthright.

I too find it difficult to detach from the goings on. However, rather than watching alternative screen fare. I switch 'em off. Lots of countryside where I live.

Anne Booth said...

I know what you mean too. I have felt very anxious and despairing and frightened these past days, weeks, months. I find that reading books by other people I admire (so people who ARE doing and have done a good job) really helps - they comfort/absorb/inspire me, and then I think that children need books and it is such a wonderful thing to try to add some goodness and fun to the world when all around seems a bit rubbish. That helps me think stories do make a difference - they always have and always will.

Rowena House said...

Sharing people's feelings of impotence & anger in the face of epic incompetence, nonsensical certainties and evasive nonsense about Europe, but even more so about global inaction over the collapse of ecosystems and climate change. I can't find any escape yet. (Reading fiction and writing it seems irrelevant to me, too, atm. Very sad.) Hoping energy & commitment returns soon. Best to all.