I’m currently writing my first book. It’s a Slow Travel Guide to northeast Scotland, which will be published in spring 2023. The book covers Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Cairngorms National Park, so basically a huge chunk of the country! My daily routine has become a contrasting blend of emailing accommodation providers, walking, writing copious notes and staring at maps until my head swims.
This is the biggest project I’ve undertaken so far and it’s very easy to get lost in the Big Picture. I’m learning the key is to break it down into chunks. Each field research trip is a week long and during those weeks I have a list of castles, stone circles, museums and reserves to visit.
I need to be as thorough and detailed as possible, so when the book is written it will read as though I’m giving a guided tour to someone wearing a blindfold. I’ve never written in this much meticulous depth before and it’s a rewarding challenge. During my master’s degree I was told to ‘show don’t tell’. With a Slow guide, it’s a case of including heaps of both.
Because the project is all-encompassing, other things have slipped into the background, including this blog. When I was studying for my undergraduate degree I had a delicious amount of time on my hands. My blog was abuzz with updates because it’s all I had going on outside of my assignments. What simpler days they were! Now everything I write has a destination – nothing is free just to keep the blog ticking over.
I’ve struggled with work/life balance for years. For me work has a nasty habit of becoming life. If I go for a walk I’m thinking about new places I could include in the book or looking for new photos to share to Instagram. Last year this took me close to burnout. Wildlife was everywhere I looked and for a while it lost its charm. Something I had grown so attached to had become almost a chore and I hated that I’d let that happen.
I think this is something all freelancers have to deal with. Working from home has lots of benefits but it also means your office is your home, and switching off takes real effort.
Recently I’ve taken up ice skating again. I used to love skating when I was younger but because I didn’t know anyone else who could do it, I eventually stopped going. Luckily I had yeti feet as a child and they haven’t changed in the last ten years so my old ice skates still fit me.
There’s a rink in my local town that I didn’t even know about so I had a go. Obviously I was rusty at first, and the fear of falling on my tailbone (here I speak from painful experience) held me back. But with each visit I got comfortable quicker and now it’s become a passion again.
I’m by no means an expert – I skate for the sensation, which is the closest to flying I’ll get with my feet still on the ground. I find it so therapeutic, almost meditative, and better yet it doesn’t require any screens. My dry eyes get a break and I get lost in my thoughts, gliding weightlessly in repetitive circles.
I realised it’s the first true hobby I’ve had in years – something completely unrelated to work that lets me switch off and be in the current moment for a change.
When the weather warms up I’ll return to sea swimming too. I started this last year and experienced similar benefits to skating – no screens, no social media, just my own thoughts and a sensation of floating. Maybe it’s significant that my two forms of escape are different states of water.
I’m hugely proud of this book commission and I know that the moment I hold the finished product in my hands, every minute of stress and fatigue will be worth it. However, to reach that point I need to care for myself. I haven’t been very good at that in the past, but I’m learning.