So retirement. In the words of the old Sandy Denny song – ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ I don’t know where it goes but I know how it goes – quickly. I wrote this recently but, given this is my four hundredth blog after three and, approximately, a half years retired, I’m moved to write it again and with feeling. I keep checking the calendar, shurely shome mishtake (courtesy Private Eye), but no it continues to add up to three and half plus years. That long, and only recently do I feel that I’ve completely left work behind. At least nearly completely. Boy it’s taken a long time.
And now I’ve written 400 blogs about being retired. It hasn’t really been a struggle and I’ve had a little help along the way from Mrs Summerhouse. I do wonder if I can keep going to the 500 mark, I’ll probably stop then, I can’t keep going for ever. But I do keep looking for inspiration here and there, sometimes without much success (see below). I do enjoy the writing obviously or I wouldn’t have got to 400 but this writing business has not been without its difficulties and it certainly hasn’t worked out as I planned before I retired. At this stage I was very fixed on what my new retirement identity would be and I was clear that I wanted to be able to describe myself as a ‘writer’, But it doesn’t feel like that three plus years later. It feels more like this:
Every Saturday the Guardian review section has a feature in which well-known writers (although I confess I hadn’t heard of this chap) are invited to describe their typical working (i.e. writing) day. John Burnside wrote, My writing day: say it like that and it’s a highly inviting proposition. Immediately I picture the comfortable, mildly ritualistic routine of the self-sufficient author, immersed in the stylistic minutiae of some new, and still untarnished magnum opus, composing then patiently reworking until the elegance of the prose is almost dizzying. Hour after hour of glorious solitude. Birdsong in the trees, light rain, perhaps the occasional, very distant sound of traffic as the city flows on around the garden studio or high attic room (or in my case the summerhouse) where all this alchemy unfolds.
I think I once believed in this idyll without reservation. Nowadays, however, I take anything I can get, an hour here, an afternoon there…. You get the idea and so much better written than anything I could come up with. That’s how I write this blog, all 400 (well, those that are mine) of them, squeezed in between my ‘real’ life events – the vineyard, the gardening business, the DIY house renovation, the dogs, the driving between properties and all the other stuff that makes up our retirement lives. It feels a long way from being a writer and I don’t even use the summerhouse that gave me the title for this blog. Shame on you, you say, and I can’t disagree.
It’s not as if I haven’t tried to take it up a notch or two. I’ve approached a couple of publishers / agents about producing the blog or parts of it, like the vineyard for example, as a book. They have been generous enough to completely ignore my advances and no mention of advances either. This ambition of mine led to one bizarre response, at least I can only describe it as bizarre in the absence of any more fitting description. I think I mentioned in a previous blog a magazine called The Dalesman, a pleasant little monthly periodical about Yorkshire, the Dales and beyond. I noticed they published books about Yorkshire. So I thought, they might just be interested in turning my nearly 40 blogs about our setting up probably the most northerly vineyard in England, into a book.
I got the predicted response – none, except several weeks after I sent an email to the editor with my suggestion, he sent me an email back which said – bizarrely I think – sorry, no book but would you be interested in ‘writing a series’ (his words) for the magazine. To say I was surprised would be an under-statement. I emailed him back and said, I would be very interested, tell me more. Well that was about three weeks ago and despite a follow-up email, you’ve guessed it – no response. Did I dream it? Am I on drugs? Well I am but only for diabetes, does that count? So after a mini revival of my dream to become a writer I am once again plunged into the depths of despair. If not despair, certainly a bit pissed off.
So back to worrying about the blog or specifically about continuing to have ideas for the blog. I looked for advice about keeping fresh ideas-wise and came across an article on my WordPress site that was about avoiding burnout as a podcaster. Now I realise that I don’t do podcasting although I did try it at one point. But I thought maybe there was some useful advice for a blogging person in this article, after all they’re not that different. The words in italics below are taken directly from the article.
First piece of advice to avoid burn-out – Take a break. Oh brilliant, why didn’t I think of that? Second, Try something new. I like this better but with art work, yoga blogs, cartoons, I think I’m trying to do this. Go All In. If you’re having a hard time keeping up with everything well enough to regularly put out quality content, it would be better to focus on one podcast at a time or publish weekly instead of several times a week. Well, I’m only publishing two blogs a week and given the usual advice about posting frequently and consistently I don’t feel this leaves me much room for reducing my blogs.
Change Things Up You don’t want to completely change your show overnight, but slowly adding in new elements or tackling topics you might not usually address will give your audience the sense that your podcast is vibrant and exciting. Sounds to me a bit like ‘Try something new’ but repeated. Maybe ‘topics you might not usually address’ might work. I suppose I could put in recipes or gardening tips but then that wouldn’t really be me in retirement.
Get Help If you’re consistently burned out, it might just be that you’re doing too much. At some point, it might be time to focus on what you do well and enjoy, and hire people to help you with the rest. No budget? Consider a barter! I have to say that over these last three years I have tried to get people to write blogs for me and with one or two exceptions, had no luck. Hiring people I don’t think so, so I guess it’s just little old me. Doing too much, yep, that’s sounds about right.
So frankly not much help here in terms of getting to 500. I’ll just have to keep living a busy, busy retirement life so I’ve got lots to write about. So, with any luck then, on to blog 401. And beyond. Hoping that my enthusiasm for writing about my retirement doesn’t burn out.