Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Zesty Writing

File:Lemon.jpg 
What is it that gives you a zest for writing?

Do you get a buzz from creating characters and plotting what happens to them in a story or novel?

Do you want to share your experiences with others whether you've been on a round the world trip or you have a personal message to share?

Do you want to educate or guide others through your writing?

Take a moment now to think about the sorts of things you really enjoy writing. What piece of writing recently gave you the most pleasure? What was it about that writing that inspired you or was so enjoyable?

The reason I think it's important to consider these aspects are because usually when we write with zest, it's likely to be far more enjoyable for the reader too. I liken it to some wise words that I received from an elderly neighbour of mine who bakes a lot of cakes (and yes, I'm very happy to live next door to her as there are often spare slices of Victoria Sandwich or scones available which she hands to me over the wall). She once told me that she called some cakes she made 'attitude cakes'. When I pushed her for further explanation she said that if you don't have the right attitude when you start to bake a cake, it usually shows. She said that the best cakes were always the ones made with love, care and attention, the ones that she really wanted to make. Attitude cakes often came up lopsided, would sink in the middle or the fruit would all drop to the bottom. These were the ones she made when she really didn't want to do it that day or she was tired.

I've always liked her take on cake baking and I think it can very easily be applied to our writing process too. If we write with zest and the right attitude - one of love, care and attention, I'm sure it will make the writing experience more enjoyable for us and for our readers too.




Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Yes Man Yes

http://youtu.be/MEzQiWb9FZk

If you've seen the Jim Carey film you'll know that he agrees to say yes to everything in his life. Sounds crazy hey - why would we want to do that? It could lead us into all sorts of bizarre and strange situations, and more importantly take us out of our comfort zones and we certainly wouldn't want to do that would we? And yes, that includes me!

Yet saying yes opens us up to all sorts of opportunities. In my writing world I've said yes to the following:

Yes I want to join a writing group and so in association with my local library I set one up and two years later it's still running

Yes I want to join the Nanowrimo website and write 50,000 words in a month and so I did and it reconnected me with the joys of creative writing

Yes I want to attend some writing courses and so I did and this has meant that I've been on the Granta Writing Course in New York as well as attending local courses close to home.

Yes I want to connect with some authors and see how they do it and so I attend author speaking events and have made friends with some of these people

Yes I want to have a story published and so I have submitted several to magazines - most of which have been rejected and got nowhere, but one which is due to be published in a magazine in May.

Yes I want to undertake the 500 words writing challenge and in doing so I have met some wonderful people online one of whom I met in person today even though she usually lives in the US.

Yes I want to be part of the A to Z Blogging challenge and here we are almost at the very end with only one more post to write. It's been a discipline and has helped me commit to writing every day and once again I've met some fabulous people.

Yes I want to keep on writing, keep on developing in my writing and keep on learning and keep on sharing and that's what I intend to do.

Yes I want see my novel in the window of my favourite bookstore - oh, oops better get on and finish writing it!

I can't tell you that I say yes to everything but I have tried to be as open as possible when it comes to writing. Perhaps I should take the Jim Carey approach and see what happens when I apply it to other aspects of my life!

Perhaps there's something that you'd like to say yes to in relation to your writing. Why not make it happen now.









Monday, 28 April 2014

X-Ray Vision


Think about the sort of superpowers you might like to have. What would be on your list?

  • x-ray vision
  • mindreading
  • predicting the future
Well I'm here to notify you that all your dreams have come true because as a writer you get to have all of these superpowers and you don't even have to wear the x-ray vision glasses either.


When I'm writing a new character I've get given the gift of x-ray vision and you do too. I can see all the way through my character. I know about her physically, what she looks like, what she smells like and how she likes to colour her hair even though she thinks everyone else thinks it's natural - yeah right!  I can even tell you her blood group if I want and about her childhood illnesses. I know her traits, her characteristics, all the things she loves and hates. I know her weaknesses, her fears and her vulunerabilities. I know what she does when nobody else is around and I know her favourite music and her favourite books and her favourite friends. I also know the thoughts she holds and the things she says to others and the things that she holds back. I can even see and create her future - I can make it rosy and bright or completely screw it up. I can predict whether she will find love or live forever on her own. I can influence whether she will overcome what's been holding her back or whether she'll remain in that horrid stuck place making the same mistakes over and over. I alone have the power to create her ending.

Isn't is amazing that something like writing should open us to this whole avenue of superpowers. One word of warning though - don't let the power go to your head. Use it wisely!




Saturday, 26 April 2014

What Writing is not


Writing is not reading books about writing.

Writing is not joining online forums and discussing writing.

Writing is not talking about writing.

I've done all of the above and they're great fun and really interesting but they are not writing.

Writing is sitting down, putting pen to paper or hands on the keyboard and producing written work. That's writing.


THE END




Friday, 25 April 2014

How values impact our writing

Today on the A to Z blogging challenge we have reached the letter V. This letter has vexed me. Should I write about visibility, versatility, variation or voice or none of the above. I'm stumped and have been sat staring at my screen unsure of which way to turn. But the word that keeps coming back to me is value.



For me value is an unusual word because it can be used in different ways. For example, do you value your creative work, i.e. how important is it to you, do you make time and space for it or is it something that's at the bottom of your list and that you fit in if you can.  I used to be like this - I saw writing more as a hobby tagging it in here and there along the way.  Now I take it more seriously. If a day passes when I've not written, it feels quite odd, a bit weird and I feel like I've missed an opportunity. There are still those days of course and I don't beat myself up if I haven't written, but I prefer it if I have. It helps me feel more balanced, more in equilibrium and I can consider myself a writer - that was a big step for me. Before, I used to say that I did a bit of writing here and there and because I didn't take it seriously nor did anyone else.



I think it became apparent recently that it was more important to me than I realised when I was asked what I would save if my house was burning down. Once my husband and cat were safely outside, I realised that it would most likely be my laptop because the majority of my writing is held on it. Wow that was quite a revelation to me.  It's not that my writing is up for the next Pulitzer Prize or anything but it is important to me. It's a way that I'm able to express my thoughts and let my voice be heard. It's a way of connecting with others and being creative and most of all I enjoy it.



Our values are also likely to come across in our writing. If one of our values is fairness or honesty for example, we may well weave this into our stories and words. Our heroine is treated unfairly - we make decisions for her to overcome this unfairness and redress the balance. In crime novels, we usually want to see the bad guys get their comeuppance. And in blog posts and personal writing, our values undoubtedly come through in our choice of topics giving the reader a glimpse into our world and what's important to us.  By writing about our values, we are able to connect with others who share those values. They are able to engage because they identify with the main character or in personal writing because they identify with you the author. By undertaking the A to Z Blogging Challenge I've certainly had a glimpse into the worlds of others, some of whom are thousands of miles away from me. It's been a fun, educational, interesting experience and I've read some posts on a wide range of subjects. It's enabled me to engage and connect with some new people and also be open to different perspectives.





Thursday, 24 April 2014

Us and our wonderful stories


Us - yes, that's you and me and all those others - us.

And we all have a story to tell or a story in us we are told. Some of us choose to write them down, some choose to tell others verbally, some like to paint a picture of theirs and let others work it out. But whatever way, we love stories. Whether we read books or not, stories and story-telling goes on around us every day and has done forever. It's done by us and to us. Even if it's the answer to "How was your day dear" - maybe we elaborate just a little or make John's boring presentation at work just a little bit more boring than it was or perhaps we make out that the guy who made casual conversation with us at the coffee shop today was flirting outrageously with us:

"Really, he said that to you."

"Yes he really did say that - I could have taken it futher but he just wasn't my type."

You know exactly what I mean. You know because you've done it yourself.

Everyone's story is theirs. John's boring presentation to one person, could be the best thing ever heard by another. We place our own interpretations, experiences, filters and expectations on to the things we choose to tell others.

And then of course there are the stories we make up, the ones that we create from scratch, the ones that come to us just as we are drifting off to sleep or in the middle of doing the ironing. I'm always fascinated at the writing group when if we all receive the same prompt - whether it be a picture or a starting sentence or an object - we all come up with a different story. Our minds take us all on different journeys with different destinations and I love that.

So today let's celebrate us and all our stories - the exceptional ones, the ones that make us weep with joy, the ones that touch our heart, the ones that make us want to do something different or be someone different, the ones that frighten us and make our hearts beat a little faster, the routine ones and the boring ones, the ones told by magnificent authors and the ones that our mums told us when we were little. Let's celebrate them all because without them life would certainly be a much duller place.

If you'd like to listen to what inspired this post today, then check out the NPR Ted Podcast. I thought it was great and hope you do too.

NPR Ted Podcast





Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My take on Timelines

post it

 As some of you might know I've been writing a novel or should I say trying to write a novel for some time now. It's been slow progress and finalising it is undoubtedly hampered by the fact that I've not touched it since the end of last year. It's all very neatly filed away in a big folder and I try not to listen to my poor characters crying out for attention and love and of course for some type of resolution.

I've learnt a lot during my novel writing experience and I can certainly see how my writing has developed since I first started. However, one thing that I've never really mastered is the timeline.

I understand the logic of it - it is after all a highly logical process (perhaps in fact that's where my failing begins - I'm not the most logical of people). It looks like it will be a really useful and beneficial process that will aid my writing and help me get to grips with plot timing and character movements and yet each time I've tried to work with it, I just don't get it. I've used computerised versions using sophisticated Excel spreadsheets, I've used Iphone sticky note applications and I've tried mind mapping it. I've also used plain old fashioned post it notes - they were everywhere and it was fun looking at all the colours but one day they all got out of order and it got complicated!

I think it's a mindset issue. I look at all that data and the timing and what's supposed to happen next and I have some sort of mental block. I guess I like to just sit down at the laptop and type. I know, however, that it would also be useful to have a guide as to where I'm going to go next. I found the most workable solution for me was to open up a word document and to write the book as a list. In my head after I'd written the first point, I asked the question -  and the next thing that happens is and the next thing that happens is?

Now all I need to do is to find that list and start writing again...

Or alternatively I'll stick to writing short stories. I don't need a timeline for those.

Do you use a timeline and if so what has worked for you? Or are you someone that can hold all the information in their head and call upon it when needed?  If you've found something that works for you, please do share. It might help me save my poor darling characters and enable their escape from the big wooden chest in which they are currently trapped.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Success in Writing


How do you define success in writing? Some people would say that once you're published you're successful. For others, they might say once is not enough, you need to continue to be published.

But in reality, all those views and opinions are really only the thoughts of others. They might influence you one way or another. They might even encourage and support you to try new things. But actually success is based on your own personal criteria. This message was reinforced by my attendance at my local writing group. When I joined, although I love and am passionate about writing, I would definitely have defined success as publication and maybe even multiple publication - after all in my mind, once could simply have been good luck or a flook - yep sadly that's the way my mind likes to work at times. I often have to tell it to shut up and go away.

However, when I looked around me and got chatting to the other people in the group, I realised that it was different for the various people attending the group. Yes, there are the people interested in and striving for publication and yet there are others who have no interest in this whatsoever. There is the gentleman who likes to write jaunty humorous poetry and read it out at the group but who insists it is simply a pleasurable activity and no more than that and the lady who writes stories for her family to read. She wants to leave something behind as a legacy, something that her family will remember and read when she is gone. There is another lady who knows that she feels better when she writes and could not be without in her life. Ultimately aren't we writing for ourselves first and because we enjoy doing it. We might have days when nothing seems to go right and we wonder why we choose to do this, but overall we continue to do it because we love it. If publication comes as a result of doing something we love - even better.

Are these people any less successful than the ones who push for publication? I guess it depends on your criteria for writing success. Perhaps success is simply a state of mind. I'm glad to be around a variety of people - people with different motivations for writing, people who want to share their love of writing and the pleasure it brings them, people who write for therapeutic reasons and find it helpful and people who are already published and know what that involves and are prepared to share it. All of them add to my own writing journey and hopefully I am able to share my own knowledge and experiences with others too.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Retreating

One of the definitions of retreat in the Oxford Dictionary is to withdraw to a quiet or secluded place. In order to write, I believe that we need to retreat on a regular basis, to find that stillness within where we can access our thoughts and express ourselves. I also think that being in this stillness also enables us to refresh and renew and face the noise and constant activity of the everyday world. This might not be true for everyone of course, but it is for me. I very much enjoy my own company and search out opportunities to retreat and listen.

Accessing this space can be difficult, especially if family and work claims your time and it can feel highly selfish to make demands for this type of space in the hecticness of life. If you believe that to retreat fully you have to be completely alone and in complete silence it is going to be virtually impossible unless you book yourself into a silent monastery for a week or two, but there are ways and means of finding this solitude without taking such drastic measures. The humble set of headphones linked to a phone in a coffee shop or park will give others the message that you are not available. It's up to you whether you're actually listening to anything! Perhaps, it's a favourite piece of music that washes over you as you write or perhaps the headphones are a foil to give you the solitude you seek. Or what about a walk in your local area? Is there somewhere you can walk close to nature and in peace? I am close to a canal and find that walking there first thing in the morning can be a tranquil experience apart from sharing a few good mornings with local dog walkers. There are also some benches along the pathway on which you can sit and jot down a few thoughts as they come and with technology advancing all the time, you can also dictate into your smart phone and then replay your thoughts when you're back in front of the laptop should you choose to do so. I think it's about looking around you and searching out opportunities to retreat, even when they don't necessarily seem readily available.

I've also read about writing retreats that sound idyllic to me. They always seem to be in a beautiful peaceful location, with some tutoring, feedback and the opportunity to be with other writers, but also with plenty of time to be away from others to focus on your work. I'd better start saving my pennies so that one day I can attend one of these. What bliss!

If you can't afford the writing retreat and are finding it hard to find a space in which to retreat, here's one simple website that might help - Meditation Oasis.  The meditations on here are lovely and Mary Maddox's voice is very soothing, so if you want a tiny bit of space in an otherwise demanding day, check it out.

Have you found a way to retreat from the everyday challenges? Do you have a certain space that encourages you to be creative? Where do you retreat to? Please share. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Quilts and Qwerty

I believe that one of the great pleasures in life is having a quilt day or as it's affectionately referred to "a duvet day". OK, I know you can see what I've done there and snuck this under Q in the A to Z Blogging challenge. But hey, I'm sure you'll forgive me, especially as it's my birthday today.

So as much as I'd enjoy a quilt day, there is other loveliness in store for me. My day holds joy and anticipation and friendship. I know that there are gifts from loved ones to open, cards galore and a glorious day out with my very gorgeous husband and then an evening of delicious food and drink with some girl friends. It really sounds pretty darn good.

So today here's my gift for you and to say thank you for visiting my space in the giant world of the Internet. I saw this online and thought it would appeal. It's not quite the usual qwerty keyboard, but very appealing nonetheless.





Friday, 18 April 2014

Presenting your work

Having entered several of my stories into competitions and also having asked for a critique on the first two chapters of my novel, I've come to realise the importance of how you present your work when submitting it to others. In the UK, there seems to be a fairly standard style of presentation that is expected although always check the presentation and style guidelines when making a submission to be sure that you don't get turned down purely because you haven't followed the rules.

I was no expert on this matter and usually wrote my stories using a favourite font in normal spacing. It wasn't a detail I worried about and yet each time I've come to submit work I've had to transform it into the preferred style.

If you'd like to know more, here's a link to Sue Moorcroft's site. Sue has many published novels, writes regularly for a writing magazine and runs writing workshops both in the UK and in Europe.  When seeking help on presenting my work, she is my go-to-guru.  Sue Moorcroft's Presentation Guidelines

Hope you find this helpful and wishing you all the very best on your own writing journey.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Opening Lines

'It all began the day my grandmother exploded'
Iain Banks


Tell me who wouldn't want to read more following this opening line of Iain Banks' Crow Road? The opening line is where the reader begins their journey and in my experience we want it to be good. We want to be intrigued, we want to know more, we want something that draws us in and makes us continue. An opening line is often my way of selecting a new book. Standing in the bookstore, if I'm not sure what I want, I'll take a look at some new authors and read the opening line of their novels. The line that jumps out at me most - is generally the one I buy and take home with me.

When I started to think about and research opening lines online, the articles I found pretty much quoted the same books which were mostly the Classics. Rather than sharing these with you as I'm sure you can all quite easily take a look online if you're interested, I randomly pulled some books off my own bookcase and thought I would share some opening lines from these with you instead. So in no particular order here they come:

In my old apartment, before there was any furniture, I would sit in the window and stare out at New York City. (The Hottest State - Ethan Hawke)

When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. (The Reader - Bernhard Schlink)

I've often heard that if you go through something really intense your perception of the world will change entirely. (Amrita - Banana Yoshimoto)

In one of my earliest memories, my mother and I are on the front porch of our rented Carter Avenue house watching two delivery men carry our brand-new television set up the steps. (She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb)

Vietnam, me love you long time. (The Beach - Alex Garland)

Someone had left a guillotine in front of my building. (Nice Girls Finish Last - Sparkle Hayter)

What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people's hearts. (The Book of Ruth - Jane Hamilton)

I was reading about how to survive the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby. (Our Tragic Universe - Scarlett Thomas)

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. (The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt and the Pulitizer prize for fiction winner)

And I couldn't resist: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. (Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier)

Although I have a particularly soft spot for Rebecca, I think my favourite from the selection above is Scarlett Thomas' opening line in Our Tragic Universe. That line really draws me in.

Do you have any favourite opening lines or any comments about the ones I've shared with you? Has a first line made a particular impact on you? I'd love to hear what you think.

And to end I thought I'd also include three of my own opening lines taken from short stories I've written. I hope you enjoy:

Detective Emily Harris had eaten two mouthfuls of her Spaghetti Carbonara when the call came.

I never expected marriage to be a breeze, but I'd certainly not expected this.

The flurry of whispers back and forth had stopped abruptly as I'd walked into the kitchen.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nanowrimo

 NaNoWriMo

I first came to Nanowrimo back in November 2011. If you're not heard of it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and was set up in the US as a way of encouraging people to write their novels albeit during one month.  When you sign up to the site, you are making a commitment to write 50,000 words or more of your novel during November which equates to writing 1,664 words each day. You can get involved in all the online forums for ongoing support and connect with other writers who are writing in a similar genre to yourself, actively seek out other local writers to meet up with during the month or you can simply tap or write away at home on your own and update your stats once every now and again to demonstrate your progress. You can be as involved as you choose to be.

When I initially committed to Nanowrimo, I sought out other writers and met with them regularly especially in the early stages of November. It was fun to meet with other people all aiming for the same outcome, although at the very first meeting I was a little surprised that everyone in the group seemed to want to write an apocolyptic or science-fiction novel. I guess it was the genre that was most popular at that particular time, or it was in the city of Chester in the North West of England. I was a little apprehensive to tell the group that I wanted to write a non-fiction self-help book that involved cake recipes and coaching techniques but hey they seemed to accept me anyway :-) I hadn't realised at the start that I was supposed to be writing a novel having only signed up to the process two days before it started. However, at the end of day one, I changed tack and started to do precisely that. The non-fiction work needed more research and more planning and I if I wanted to keep on target with my 1664 words a day, that simply wasn't going to cut it. I did write 50,000 words and completed the challenge although the last 11,000 words were written in the last two days. It's amazing what you can do if you really put your mind to it and I desparately wanted that bit of paper that said I was winner - I know what can I say!

When I look back now and read what I wrote in those initial stages, I realise just how much I've grown and what I've learned over the last few years. Let's just say there was a lot of Tell and not much Show. However, it was a fabulous experience to throw me into the deep end of creative writing and to get my juices flowing after a long period of stagnancy.

One of the main purposes of Nanorwimo is to encourage you to write everyday and also to forget about your editor. It's about letting go and getting the words down on paper. The view is that you can edit in December or January or whenever you want to. But in November - just write and keep on writing. It also encourages the habit of writing each day or that's what supposed to happen. You're not really supposed to write that last 11k words in the last two days - but I'm human and my wedding anniversary falls in November and once you get behind it can be tricky to catch up - those were my excuses anyway. If you think you'd like to give it a whirl, you can find all the details on their website here



For those of you who follow Jeff Goins, he set up something very similar this year. He asked people to commit to writing 500 words each day during January. He also made no stipulations about the type of writing you had to do and so people have worked on their novels, written Blog posts, stories and I'm sure there must be some others like me that have become more dedicated at writing in their journals. You can find out more by joining the Facebook page here

It seems that even if you live in the middle of nowhere, the joys of the internet can connect you with other writers who want to share your journey. Nanowrimo and Jeff Goins are two sites I know of that will support and encourage you.

So if you really want to have a crack at that novel, you've still got six months to prepare and plan until November or you can be like me and sign up two days before hand and give it all you've got. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My Muse



I'd like to introduce you to my muse. She is wearing a hooded long white cloak, touched with tiny particles of silver, like quivering fish scales. She is quiet, unobtrusive and gentle. It is the swoosh of the cloak around her graceful form and the way those silver threads catch the light that alerts me to her presence. She pushes down the hood on her cloak revealing a deep red satin lining and I get a closer look at her. Her dark hair flecked with grey is swept up softly on her head. Her face is lined. Lines of wisdom and experience. Lines caused in the main by happiness and smiles, yet pain too and knowledge of life. Her eyes sparkle. They sparkle with love, enthusiasm, encouragement and support. This is someone who loves me and wants to see me succeed.Yet she's no push over. She waits patiently, looks me in the eye and says: "ready when you are."





Monday, 14 April 2014

Labels


So here's a question - do we label ourselves or do others put labels on us in relation to our writing? I think probably both occur. We might find a style of writing or a writing genre that we enjoy or perhaps it's a genre we read a lot of and perhaps want to emulate. One of the guys who joined the writing group  is a poet by choice but wanted to extend his reach and so now usually writes a short story each month. However, his stories are filled with poetic sentences and his scenes or characters are usually beautifully described to a depth that I don't ever reach. He simply can't help but write this way - this is what he naturally leans towards. Even his flash ficiton is poetic in form or so it seems to a non-poet like myself.

In addition, it seems that other people can put a label on you too (not always just in relation to writing etiher but that's another story and probably one best left for my work based blog). I think this occurs particuarly at publishing stage (not that I know from experience - yet!) As your publisher starts to market you and your book they need a way of categorising you. It's about niches. It's about fitting you into an already existing slot so that readers can find you easily and buy a genre they enjoy.  It's all about the money of course! I know that if I  head over to the chic-lit section of the book store, there are likely to be lots of pastel coloured book covers, some featuring sophisticated looking young women and cupcakes (I know I'm being terribly stereo-typical here, but I'm sure you know what I mean). If I I go to the Horror section and buy a Stephen King book, I know exactly what I'm getting into.

In many ways this is helpful especially to the reader. The publisher has already done the categorising on my behalf. I can stroll into a bookstore with something in mind, browse the relevant section and hopefully get what I want. It's important if you're interested in getting published to think about your genre in advance as your publisher is going to want it to be as easy as possible to market you and your work. We may like to think that the book we are writing is genre-free, it simply can't be categorised, it doesn't fit into a slot. We're unique aren't we and so is our writing? Yet, you know if you do get published, someone, somewhere is going to have to place your book on the shelf. They're going to take a look at the cover and the title and decide where you should go. Do you want to end up amongst Vampire Romance when you clearly don't fit there.

You think it can't happen - well here's an example of how it can all very easily go wrong even in a title. In our local newsagent the fabulous Wallpaper magazine which is a design, fashion and lifestyle magazine can be found sitting among home interiors and decor simply based on it's title. So if you're about to jump on the publishing bandwagon, take a little time out to consider your genre or niche before you proceed - after all once you've got the opportunity to have an audience read your book, you certainly don't want to be misfiled!




Saturday, 12 April 2014

Keep Going


In this world of words where we choose to reside, where we can be our own worse enemies and where we beat ourselves up about our inadequacies, question our abilities and dwell in our insecurities, keep going.

In this world of words where others can take a poke at us, where they can comment anonymously without repercussion and can hurt our feelings without even knowing who we are, keep going.

In this world of words where it can get tough and we get stuck and blocked and can't always find a way forward, keep going.

In this world of words where rejection letters and "sorry it's not for us" and sometimes no response at all is part of the course, keep going.

In this world of words, keep going. The world needs storytellers and poets. It needs wordsmiths and imagineers. The world needs creativity and beauty and hope and we are here to provide it. So keep going.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Journal Addiction


So I have a confession to make. It's not a terrible scandal and I hope it won't change how you feel about me - it might even bring us closer, especially those of you who share in my addiction. Ok, let's get it out there - I'm a journal addict!

I'm not sure what it is about them - perhaps it's about potential. They all have the potential to house and keep safe a short story, a piece of poetry of even perhaps my novel. I can scribble away and make the letters form words and the words form sentences and the sentences form paragraphs and so on and so on. I can keep extensive lists to keep me organised and in control as well as writing my goals for today, this month, this year. Views on life and my feelings and thoughts can be expressed and shared and it's just between me and the journal. The journal stays loyal and faithful. It doesn't discuss or gossip with friends in the coffee shop about the things it's heard. Not that my friends would necessarily want to recount the details anyway. I'd like to say the journal harbours grand secrets and illicit tales, yet they are mostly filled with the musings and ramblings of a 48, very soon to be 49 year old woman - it's not that exciting. Some journals are kept especially for such musings with the occasional story idea jotted down in haste, others are selected just for creative writing. Another may be a work journal, filled with lists of things to do, records from meetings and visits with clients. They all have a place and a role to fill - apart from the ones that are too beautiful to write in and they remain pure and untouched in my journal box - yes I know the addiction is strong. As they say the force is strong in this one. You don't believe me - here's a picture of my journal box!



I find them adorable - some are beautifully designed, some are fun, some have expandable pockets at the back to keep other bits of paper in - what joy! Ruled or blank and now I understand we can also experience dots - although I've not ventured into that territory yet myself.


The thought of Moleskine makes me mischievous
The thought of Leuchtturm make me licentious
The thought of Paperthinks make me downright passionate.

Who's with me on this one? I'm thinking of opening a new association for journal obsessives. One where we can share our love of the common and the elaborate, the ordinary and the elegant and explain why they bring such pleasure and delight into our lives.


Want to share your favourite and tell me why and if you've got pictures that would be even better.
                       

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Ideas and Inspiration

Being part of a local writer's group has been a fascinating experience for me. It has given me additional confidence, enabled me to get involved in discussions on writing, publishing and self-publishing and I've made some new friends all who love what I love. Yay!

What I have found interesting is that although we all share a love of writing, we write in quite different ways. The group runs at our local library and each time we are given some homework to complete before the next meeting. One gentleman says that often by the time he reaches his car outside in the car park (less than a five minute walk away), he already has the ideas sprouting in his head for his next story and his homework is almost complete other than him putting pen to paper or hands to laptop to write it down. I, on the other hand, tend to mull the exercise over and over in my mind and often the exact idea doesn't arrive until the day before or sometimes even on the day of the next meeting itself. For me, it's almost like once I sit down to write and the pressure builds the ideas arrive. Yet for him, he has hundreds of ideas all competing against one another everyday. I can't imagine what that must be like. It sounds wonderful, but perhaps it has it's own complications, like deciding which ideas to use and work on. 

I often find that once I have the first sentence in mind, then I'm fine or that some random words may appear in my head and want to lead me somewhere. I really must write those words down when they appear. They often come just before I am fully awake in the morning and drift in and out of my mind.  I think to myself that I'll remember that and write it down when I wake up properly and then of course when I do, it's often gone.  Although today, I did remember a title for a book of short stories. I don't have the stories yet, but I love the title of the book.  Better get busy with some more ideas and inspiration for those stories.

If you do find coming up with ideas challenging then there are some websites that can help you. One of my favourites is Morgen Bailey's site - yes that is Morgen with an E.  Everyday without fail, Morgen sends out an email once you're subscribed or updates her Facebook page with prompts to help you write. She gives several prompts including random words, a picture and a starting sentence. She encourages you to write for fifteen minutes on one or all of her prompts and it can be a great starting point for a short story or a piece of flash fiction. You can also post your results on her site. I posted one of mine and she contacted me about putting it up as part of her Flash Fiction site.  If you'd like to take a read of it, you can find the link here. She also covers lots of different aspects of writing and her site is a wealth of information.  You can find her site by clicking here.

If you'd like to share your own ways of generating ideas and how you get inspired, then naturally I'd love to hear them. Perhaps you like to be in a certain space or use a special pen? It seems that us writers have a lot of rituals around writing. Interesting - maybe that's another future post - Writing Rituals. Watch this space...



Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Writing from the Heart

"The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart." Maya Angelou


We all know that feeling - the one that we get when we read a great book or a beautiful piece of poetry and it affects us. For me it's about connection and the ability to generate emotion within me. Sometimes, it's an acute feeling that the writer has experienced what I have experienced and he or she has walked down a similar pathway to mine. The emotions may vary. It might  be that I find myself enjoying a great big belly laugh or that I'm gasping in shock at a turn of events or that I find tears streaming down my cheeks often unexpectedly by a turn of phrase or some wisely chosen words. However, in most of these instances, the reactions created in me are because the author has written from the heart. He or she has shared something that reaches us and touches us and it brings us closer to them if even for a moment. I think that reading is like inviting a friend over for dinner. You get to choose who you invite. If you want excellent story telling and tales of adventure, you are not likely to invite over that timid friend of yours who barely leaves her home. Reading enables you to invite an author to live with you for a while and to bring all their experiences into your life.


Writing from the heart sounds like it's pretty easy doesn't it, but from my own experiences, it isn't always that straight forward. It requires you to go deeper, to tap into your own emotions and to share these with others - not something we always readily want to do.  It also requires you to let go - to tell the editor to take a break for a while so you can scrawl and scribble and release it all on the page. Once it's down, yes invite the editor back, but don't let them take away the rawness or the edge that is going to give you that connectedness I talked about above. I'm certainly no expert in this subject and I like to think that as I write more and more, I'm growing and more willing to go deeper. Sometimes it certainly feels easier to say the words out loud to a friend rather than to write them down. Often, when I write I can't quite find an expression to sum up exactly how it feels and yet in speaking it I can say it over and over until I get my message across. Yet I love the act of writing and so I struggle along with my limited vocabulary and simply try to convey in my stories how it might feel to be that particular character right now, what thoughts might be going on in their head, what physical reactions are happening as a result of the consequences they find themselves in. I know that I can't walk in their shoes, they're made up figments of my imagination after all, but at least I can try.


Many pieces of writing have affected me emotionally over the years, dependent upon my own circumstances and experiences. This year two authors come to mind. The first is Banana Yoshimoto and her book Kitchen and the second is Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.


I'd love to hear what authors or books you feel passionate about because they connected with you in some way or how you go about writing from the heart yourself to make a connection with your reader.





Tuesday, 8 April 2014

G is for Goats

I thought I'd have a little fun after some recent heavier blog topics and so today here is a cute Internet video of Goats. Boy, I wish I could channel some of that energy and run around like that although I'd definitely try not to knock anyone else down and stand on the backs of others to find my way.

We all need a little time out each day and the Internet certainly has plenty of distractions. Cats are generally my preferred choice of Internet distraction, but cute animals in any form can usually do it. Are you ready, get set, Go...



http://youtu.be/5IuRzJRrRpQ




Monday, 7 April 2014

Feedback, Fears and Fragility


When we start as new writers, it can often be hard to ask for feedback from others. Perhaps we are nervous about what others might think and we don't think we're good enough or that they'll tell us something we don't want to hear, i.e. our writing is rubbish. Putting yourself out there and asking for feedback can be an harrowing experience and one that lots of writers put off.


What is that stops us from seeking feedback? I believe that it is linked to our personal fears. What if others think our stories are terrible and they tell us so? What if they criticise our writing - surely that's the same as criticising us direct? What if I've put all this effort into something and other people hate it - I'll have wasted so much time. If I continued in this loop, I could very easily convince myself never to write again - after all who wants to put themselves out there to potentially get slapped straight back down again. We all generally like to be in a position of being able to protect and keep ourselves safe and we can easily do this by not sharing our writing. But by keeping ourselves safe, we could be missing out on some tremendous experiences too. What if people love our writing, what if they only have good things to say about it, what if it in someway it has changed a life, what if we can grow and learn from the feedback we receive - is it honestly fair to keep our writing to ourselves if we can have an impact on others and ourselves?

I once went to see a guy called Nick Williams speak during my coaching training. He has written several books but one of his most popular is called: The Work we were born to do. During his discussion he talked about us all receiving gifts and that it was our responsibility to share those gifts with others. That particular concept has stayed with me for a long time and I particularly use it when having career coaching discussions with clients. I believe that I have been given the gift of writing. It might not always be good writing and I might not always be happy with it, but I intend to keep doing it and I also intend to keep sharing it with others.

I have the same fears as other writers - I hate rejection. I yearn to be accepted. I don't want to write from the heart, bleed onto the page and then find that my work is rejected, but that is a fact of life. Not everyone can like or have empathy with the words I write, in the same way that not everyone will like me. I can't be all things to all people. I'm simply not going to be everyone's bag but then again there are people I don't like and author's books that I've not enjoyed or returned to the library unread or even worse partially unread. We all have degrees of fragility in respect of our writing, me no less than anyone else, but if you don't put it out there you may never discover just how fabulous you are!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Energy

The other day on this Blog I talked about being bold and yet I've not once ever confessed my own situation on line in public for all the world to know about. So if I'm going to write posts about being bold, I think I should live up to my own words - so here goes:


I've always been a big doer in life. I was never a naturally talented student and so I always had to work hard to get anywhere in life. I was brought up in a single family home by my mother who told me that one should always work hard and never let your employer down, so I embraced this philosophy and did as she said. I worked long hours, worked hard to meet my employer's needs which of course kept growing as I tried to continue to meet them and I ignored any signs of illness. My head very much ruled and I didn't listen to anything my body tried to tell me.


Five years ago my mum became seriously ill and we discovered too late that it was cancer and she died three and a half weeks later. After her death, I kept working hard plus I had her estate to sort and her house to sell. As you can imagine it was a very busy time and I shoved my grief to the side and got on with things and stayed strong as I had always done.  However, I have found in life that there are things that you cannot avoid - grief was one of them. Almost a year after my mother's death, I simply found I couldn't function anymore. All I wanted to do was sleep. I didn't want to meet with friends, read books, be involved in anything too noisy and large crowded areas made me feel positively anxious. But if I could lay my head down and rest a while, I was convinced all would be better. And so this continued and then it continued some more and then it continued some more and I found I was losing large chunks of days yet still I was able to sleep all through the night. Sleep was my only distraction from a world that seemed unfair and harsh and that I was angry with. I visited my doctor at quite regular intervals and had a variety of tests and nothing was found. In fact he told me that from a physical perspective, everything was fine. I was healthy. So why did I feel like shit all the time.


Eventually after several more months of this continued fatigue, my doctor told me that I was on the edge of chronic fatigue syndrome. (I'm not going to even capitalise that - it only makes it seem important and I'm not going to heighten it's status in this post.) So I read up about it and found that people were suffering terribly from this condition. Some folk couldn't even walk down their own yards without having to return to bed for the rest of the day. I was so grateful that I wasn't in that situation. Over time, things got progressively a little better for me and now in the main I live a mostly normal life for a woman of 48. I usually have to pace myself and I do listen to my body now - although from time to time my mind tries to win over. If it does, I usually pay for it by having to take a few days out to recharge my batteries. From time to time the fatigue wins and I surrender to it as I have found trying to fight and resist was futile. There's a Star Trek joke in there somewhere :-)


So why am I telling you this and what's it got to do with writing you might be asking? Well, it was during the initial lapses of fatigue that I came to writing. I started journalling my thoughts and writing down how I felt and from there came a greater interest in writing. Later once I felt better I was writing stories, taking part in Nanowrimo, trying to write a novel, joining a creative writing group and am soon to have a short story published in a magazine.


Writing is always there for me. It is an undemanding and gentle partner. We are in a loving relationship and it is willing to work with me accepting the days I don't feel so hot. It doesn't require me to be ready to go at 9 am and work until 5 pm. It's not too strenuous and it says if you want to take a break, then take a break, I'll still be here for you once you're refreshed and ready. It wants me to create but at my own pace and in my own time. It's a good listener and it is kind and it makes me feel calm, reassured and relaxed.


And so I come to the end of this post and I'm glad I've put it out there and in some ways, I have to be thankful for the fatigue as it brought me to this place when I create, where I write, where I can be me.


Friday, 4 April 2014

D is for Dark Side

Some of you reading this might know that I'm currently undertaking the A-Z Blogging Challenge and today Day 4 is the letter D. As it is almost 9 pm and I've had a day of it, including interviewing staff, management meetings and friends dropping by this evening, D almost became Desperately trying to write this Darn post! However instead I've decided to take a visit to the dark side. Would you like to join me?


It seems that we have a fascination for the darker side of life. Book shops are filled with fictional tales of murder and mayhem and stories of  people who've had their hearts broken in one way or another. Often in such books, we want to see good overcome evil. We want to see the killer get their just desserts and we want to see the broken main character find happiness with someone new. A lot of times that happens and sometimes it doesn't.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is in my opinion a good example of this - a portrayal of two dark main characters and no Hollywood happy ending. (Sorry perhaps I should have put a spoiler alert ahead of this post). But I loved this book and the threatening nature of both characters and how their lives interweave.

Since I've been writing, I've also come to embrace this darker side. In life I'm a pretty positive and upbeat person. In fact I've even chosen to be a Coach in my professional life, a role that encourages, supports and helps others to achieve what's important to them. And yet often when I sit down to write a short story, it's the dark side that comes to the fore and shows itself. I've laughed with others in my writing group that perhaps it's life's natural way of balancing things out. I've got to let some of these darker emotions out and so they appear on paper.

Do you embrace your dark side in your writing or does it scare you to go there? I'd love to hear from you and find out your thoughts on this subject. Let me know how you feel.

And now I shall bid you goodnight and sweet dreams...




Thursday, 3 April 2014

Coffee Shops

One of my most pleasurable pastimes as a writer is the joy of the coffee shop. There's so much writing material available right in front of you. For example:

- the overheard salacious conversations between friends,
- the one-sided angry mobile phone calls,
- the teenagers hanging out after college discussing their love lives
- and the lone gent who arrives at the same time every day to do the crossword.

The coffee shop gives you a snapshot of the world around you and in particular people undertaking common activities. It provides excellent fodder for new characters. It enables you to listen and write dialogue more realistically. It acts as an observation deck from which you can view the routines of those around you and it can help you create character flaws and details that your own imagination might not have come up with.

All these people and their everyday tales can also provide an excellent starting point for a story - see that well dressed man over there - say what if that's not his wife and he's having an affair. Or what if that young girl was here today to meet her father for the very first time, Or what if the nervous looking woman who blinks too quickly has just heard some life-changing news. If you want to kick start a story, there's certainly plenty of material in the coffee shop. And of course you also get to drink coffee too. Let's not forget the added benefit of caffeine!

Once you've had your fix and picked up all the writing gems you require for the day, you can head home and get scribbling. And don't worry if you miss the coffee shop buzz, you can simply load an App to your computer and you're back in the zone. I particularly like Coffitivity. Try it out to see what you think.

Enjoy your writing and be thankful for the humble coffee shop - it's a writer's paradise!




Wednesday, 2 April 2014

BE BOLD

In the world of writing, especially when you're starting off and new to everything, it can be easy to stay in your comfort zone. You know what I mean - we like to stay safe, keep ourselves in positions where we don't rock the boat or cause too much conflict -  because we wouldn't want that would we?


Let's face it, we've all undoubtedly read books and stories where the writer has taken this approach and often it's disappointing. I'm sure you know the sort of thing - the ending was kind of mwah or left you wondering how you might get the eight hours back you spent reading the book. You may even have felt let down - after all you committed to this and thought you were in a balanced relationship, only to find that actually the author wasn't as committed as you thought.


So I say, embrace your boldness - write about those things that make your heart soar but also those that make your heart bleed. Show your readers raw emotion, take them on your journey, make them walk in your shoes. Share laughter and pain, take them to new heights and drop them to the lowest ebb. Make them want to be part of the story. Make them believe.

BE BOLD

Go on, give it a try.  You know you want to.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Acting Like a Writer

So how do you act like a Writer?

If I put that sentence into a search engine, all sorts of wonderful posts come up - How to think and act like a writer, how to dress like a writer, how to be a writer. It seems that I could spend days reading about the act of being a writer rather than actually getting on with the act of being a writer!

For me personally, acting like a writer is about the following routines and disciplines, although I could probably benefit from easing back on point 6 below - you'll realise when you get there.

1) I like to ensure that every day there is space and time for writing. This is usually first thing in the morning and if I have early meetings, I try and wake a little earlier to ensure that I can spend time with my journal. If I don't make the early morning slot, then I find time later in the day even if it's just before I go to bed. Although I have found that if I miss out on morning writing, my day feels unbalanced and my head in turmoil. The act of unloading my thoughts onto paper first thing is a powerful thing. I have come to realise how good it is to have this in my life.

2) I love the act of sitting down with a notepad, Laptop or iPad to create - whether that be creation of ideas, a first sentence or a few words that keep playing over and over in my head and demand something be done with them.

3) Acting like a writer means that I finish stories. Whether these are to be shared or they are purely for my own pleasure, I like the act of completion. I like to know that I've given my character every opportunity to be themselves. I like to make that sudden twist at the end of a story and I like to see words transform into something bigger once they are put together.

4) From a social aspect, I love to meet with other writers. I enjoy hearing their perspective on the act of writing, what catches them out, what keeps them going, how they like to create, how they generate their ideas. I'm simply interested in writing. I guess it's like any other interest - we like to meet with like-minded folk that share our dreams.

5) Ultimately acting like a writer means you have to write. You have to keep showing up on the good days and the bad days, especially the bad days and those days when the last thing you want to do is write. Those are the days to really conquer.

5) Finally - Cheese and Chocolate. I couldn't finish this post without mentioning the snacks that hold body and soul together during the tougher times. A chunk of mature cheddar and a cracker to eat while contemplating a character's next steps or a few pieces of dark chocolate with a frothy cappuccino while I reflect on the plot. Forgive me - I'm only human after all.

I'm sure that there are many more aspects about acting like a writer to explore and I'd love to hear from you about your own writing routines and disciplines, even if it's your preferred writing snacks. I'm interested in food too!