Category Archives: core practices

Do One Thing at a Time

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Focus.

In a world of multi-tasking, it something most of us have forgotten.

Stand in any street and you will see a mother pushing a pushchair, laden with shopping as well as her baby, perhaps another child or two trailing behind, with a mobile phone clamped to her ear.  This woman is doing at least three tasks at once, and is probably not able to concentrate on any of them properly.  The same is true of the man driving along the motorway, his mind on his business meeting to come, a bag of crisps in his lap to keep hunger at bay, talking to a colleague on his hands-free (I hope) phone.  I’m not saying mobile technology is the evil of our times.  What I am saying is that its so easy to get distracted that we rarely do one thing, and one thing alone.

You only have to look at my bedside table to see that I am the worst victim of this curse.  A glance at the picture above will show you that I have 32 books currently on the go!  (That’s not counting the magazines under the second pile in – there are actually four piles there.  Its also not counting the ones on my desk in the study.)  Another one arrived in the post this morning.  And the heap includes 6 library books, which of course can go back to be exchanged for more goodies.

I know, I know.

I have a serious problem…

On a side note, it is interesting to me that, as someone who claims to be a fiction writer, there are very, very few novels on this heap.  But more of that anon.

I really, really need to focus.  Finally becoming overwhelmed by my book pile yesterday, I made the decision.  This has to stop.  I am going to focus on ONE BOOK and read it till it is finished.  And then move on to the next.  And read that till it is finished.  And so on.

And I’m not allowed to buy any more books until this pile is finished.

Or go the library.  (Which may actually be more difficult, because hey, free books!)

You may remember that I made the decision earlier in the year, as part of my commitment to my writing, to start reading a lot more, and I’m really doing well at that.  The problem is that at the moment, most of what I am reading is non-fiction for research, fun and self-development, which isn’t going to feed my prose practice in the same way that quality novels would.  I’ve got shelves of novels that I want to read, but never get around to.  Research always seems more tempting.  I wonder what this says about what I really need to be writing?

Anyway, I decided that today I will make a list of all the novels I have outstanding on the shelves all over the house. And then I will work my way through the list one at a time.

I’ve even been toying with the idea of having a total-immersion week, where I commit to doing nothing else but reading (other than my diary), in the hope that this will establish in me a voracious desire for fiction that only regular reading will sate.

The weird thing is that I never have this problem with fanfiction.  I think its because its short.  I spent nearly five years writing solely in the Sherlock fandom, and that was where I did pretty much all my fiction reading.  It was a continuous obsession, which fuelled what I think is some of my best work.  I need to get that focus back, so I can write original fiction to the same pitch.

I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on!

Happy Creating,

EF

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Getting my Ducks in a Row – One Day at a Time

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Well, this is all fun, isn’t it?

If you don’t live in the UK, you may not know what I’m talking about, but for the those of us who do: WTF just happened please?

You did not get your usual Friday Review last week, and I will be utterly honest about why:  I couldn’t take my eyes off the telly.  One minute we were all voting in a General Election, and the next minute, the news just got a little more bizarre every time I blinked.  To summarise, our Prime Minister called an election to increase her mandate, sat back and smugly expected to walk it with hardly any campaigning at all, and then found she lost her majority and now must make a pact with the devil to get any legislation through parliament.  And this only a week before Brexit negotiations with the EU start.  Of course, by the time I’ve pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, there could have been a whole new paradigm shift, and we’ll be having another general election in another 6 weeks etc etc.

Take nothing as read, people.  We are through the Looking Glass.

In the face of all this, I’ve decided (to purloin a suspicious Tory slogan)  ‘to go back to basics’.  Take one day at a time.  One job at a time.

I’ve found lately that making even a week’s worth of plans in this maelstrom can be self-defeating. Not when my body and my brain are caught up in the uncertainty swirling around at the moment (politically, and in my own life).  So my plan is this:

(Nothing fancy.)

  1. Take one day at a time.
  2. Write every day.
  3.  Do the things that need doing.

Sure foundations, as every little pig knows, are what keep us going in the uncertain times.  So every day, I look at what needs doing – the washing, the cleaning, the doctors appointment – and do those things.  Get them out of the way.  See to Life.  Get the ducks in a row.

And then I write.

Every day.

Sometimes its just a bit.  Sometimes its a lot.  Sometimes its something new.  Sometimes its finishing something old thats been hanging about, annoying me for ages.  Sometimes it is writing practice.  Sometimes it is a personal essay.  Sometimes its just all the pages in my journal that I need to cover to get the s**t out my head so I’m not a complete basket case.

Every day.  Just a little bit. And only for that day.

One day.

I can do this, if I just do today.

If I didn’t write yesterday, there’s nothing I can do about that now.  And tomorrow will take care of itself.  So I’m just getting my ducks lined up for today, thank you.

(And maybe if I can line enough ducks up, for enough days, I’ll have a novel at the end of it.  But I’m not thinking about that now.)

If you are in the same boat, you might find this podcast on prioritising your writing from Sarah Werner useful.

Happy Creating,

EF

The Friday Review No. 5: Practicing My Writing Practice

I’m writing this week’s review a day early, as we are about to take off on the annual canter around the country to visit relatives, which we seem to do every Easter and Christmas.  I’m usually feeling like screaming ‘Stop the world!  I want to get off!’ at this point, but perhaps I’ve finally accepted that RESISTANCE IS FUTILE, and its got to be done.

In response to the impending rupture in proceedings, I decided I was going to make the most of my last remaining free days for a while to get a bit more out of my writing practice.  I agreed with my writing coach, Heidi, that I would do it twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, because they were the days that I had most time and energy – because of my ME/CFS, I have to plan my activities to preserve my energy, and energy intensive activities like going to weekly health appointments have to take precedence over everything.  So I’ve been doing, or trying to do, two a week.

The thing is that when I do it, I find it so productive and enjoyable.  So I thought, why not take it seriously?  Why not try and do it every day?  Or rather, why not have yet more fun? (It’s a no-brainer when you put it like that, isn’t it?)

I’ve managed four consecutive days so far.  This is, I think, because I’m not putting pressure on myself.  I’m doing it to see what comes out.  And I’m discovering a lot.  For instance, the vicar in my novel has a sentimental attachment to a mangy old stuffed parrot which is kept on the table by the door in the Rectory.  The vicar’s wife, who I thought would be adversarial at most, and certainly peripheral, has turned into my heroine’s useful ally, and definitely cherishes a grief of her own.  And I’ve realised that I am deliberately avoiding getting into the mind of the heroine’s employer…. Now why would that be?

It’s all an intriguing puzzle, and I want to know more.  Like reading a detective story, and wanting to know the ending, I feel like this novel is hidden under my skin, entire, and all I have to do is uncover it.  And then the exciting denouement will be clear.

In another effort to entice my Muse out to play, I dragged out the writing notebook I’d started months ago.  It’s a nice notebook, lovely paper, but the cover is boring as hell, so it doesn’t seduce me into using it.  So I recovered it with some wrapping paper I had.  I think the transformation works quite well, don’t you?

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Before…

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…and after

So now I’m heading off into the wilds of No-easily-available-wifi-land, with my trusty notebook in hand, and a few half hours sketched into my schedule to do a bit of writing practice. Knowing Oxford, where I’m going, I shall snap a few pictures of sublime architecture and blossom-heavy trees along the way, so check out my Instagram account if such things amuse you.

Enjoy your Easter weekend, dear Reader, and may all your creating be fun,

EF

The Friday Review No. 3: Processing

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It’s the last day of March, and I’m home after a fortnight of running around like a headless chicken, attending to family duties.  Its been one long, continuous To Do list.

Honestly, I’m knackered.  Even if I didn’t have ME/CFS, I’d be wrecked.

The problem is that there has been so much mental processing, so many emotions, that my mind feels full of fog.  I can’t think straight.  In fact, I can’t think at all.  I feel like I need to be still, wrapped in silence, on my own for at least a week, to get my head around what just happened.

Sometimes, life takes over, and then drops you like a stone, and it takes a while to get back into the groove of who you are and where you want to go.  I have come home to my life of writing and blogging and drawing and being me, and I feel like I have lost the connection with that life.  I feel like an alien to myself.  But all I need is time.

Often in the creative life, we try to force things.  Something monumental happens, the illness or death of a loved one, a new baby, our own ill health, moving house or job, anything that makes for a big upheaval.  And we try to pretend it hasn’t happened, that we can just carry on.

Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes keeping writing or drawing or making music is the thing that anchors us through the storm.

There are also times when we need to sit down and just be.  Times when it is important to assimilate what has just happened.  Times to lay down the pen or the plectrum and give ourselves time.  Time to let this new reality sink in.  And caring for your creativity, and yourself, depends on the skill of knowing which to do.  Today, my gut is telling me to rest and process.  And I am listening.

So I’m giving myself time, and not forcing it.

I had my session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, yesterday, and it was great.  So much to think about.  I’ve kept up my writing practice sessions, twice a week, just as I promised myself, and Heidi, and you, dear reader, throughout my travels, which I’m very proud of.  And that felt good.  And I’ve been reading – I finished ‘The Name of the Rose’ while I was away, and thought a bit about that.  So progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I know I need to wait till my brain comes back to normal service before I launch into more writing.

I have learnt one important thing this fortnight, though.  It is one I always have to keep re-learning.  (Duh.)  And it is this:

I need to write in my journal.  Every day.  Otherwise I don’t know who I am.

I sat down with my journal last night for the first time in two weeks, and wrote, and somewhere amongst the pages and the scribbled blue shapes of the letters, I found myself again.  Over and over, I neglect to write through difficult times, and then when I come back to it, I realise how much it would have helped me to cope, if only I’d made a priority of it, if only I’d made time.  That can be hard to do when you are at the beck and call of another, especially if its a family member who is sick and needs you, and as a result does not recognise any boundaries and expects you to be on call 24 hours a day.  Its very hard, especially if you are a woman, to set aside half an hour come what may, to be alone with your diary every day.  But if that is the only way to keep your sanity, then it must be done.

And that has been this week’s important lesson for me, I think.  That journaling is the key to my creative practice.  And my sanity.  And probably my identity too.  And it must be sacrosanct.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, must get in the way of my journaling time.  And that includes me!

With that, dear readers, I will leave you, and go and have a soak in the bath with my paralysed, fog-filled brain, and hope it comes back to life soon.

In the meantime, happy creating,

EF

 

 

The Friday Review No. 1

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Dear Reader,

As promised in my last post, my intention is to update you on my progress in resuscitating my creativity on a weekly basis, and Friday seems as good a time as any.  So here we go.

Friday Review No 1:

Well, the week got off to an excellent start with the aforementioned post and recovery plan, followed by a day of frenzied ideas for blog posts.  I’ve sketched out 12 in total so far, so you’ve got lots of exciting content to look forward to.

And then the wheels fell off the waggon.

I received news of a not-unexpected but nevertheless devastating medical diagnosis for someone close to me.  It was hard to cope with all the emotions that came up as a result.

Instead of forcing myself to take action, I simply sat with those emotions, and felt them.  And slowly, slowly, the pain began to lift.  I know this is only the beginning of a diffcult and life-changing process, but I also know that my creative practice is not only going to help me get through this new phase, it is also going to feed into my future work.

I was worried my plan for creative recovery would be completely derailed before it had even properly started, but thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  I have kept my appointments with myself this week to do my writing practice, thoroughly enjoyed then, and even (imho) done some good work.  I have discovered some new blogs about writing, which I hope to share with you in future posts.  I have continued with my reading adventure, though Umberto Eco’s habit of dropping into Latin in ‘The Name of the Rose’ has proved something of a labour to me, since I don’t understand Latin.  But I am keeping on keeping on.  And thats the point.

This is what I learned:

How to journal when you need to get stuff out, but you just can’t face explaining.

Let me introduce you to your friend in extremis, the list.

Yes, dear reader, the facts are too horrible to cope with, but you know getting them on paper will a) get some of the poison outside your body, and b) begin the process of helping you to see not only some context, but also how to navigate your way through the battlefield with your sanity (or at least most of it) intact. This is the moment when you each for your pen and make a list.

Write down a list of what happened:

This happened.

and then this.

(I used bullet points.)  And what you remember:

I remember the paper on the desk when he told me.

The phone showed the duration of the call so far.

The consultant will do x,y,z.

I said.

He said.

She said.

Then I did this.  And this.

Then this person rang.

Just getting the facts down on the paper relieves you from having to remember them, or to explain them in future to your diary.  You don’t need to give any detail.  Just bald facts. You don’t need to write them out at length.  Just make notes.  And then let them go.

Now is not the time to analyse.  Just be with the feelings.  You can go back to your usual journal practice of writing at length when you are ready.  But only when you are ready.

The important thing is not to neglect your journal during the crisis.  If you do, you will begin to feel that the mass of painful information you have to record is building up into a barrier that will stop you from using your writing to coach yourself through in the future.  Even if you just sketch down a couple of bullet points every day until you are ready to write more, you are keeping that mountain cut down to size.

This is what I have done this week, a completely new approach to life crises for me – before, when things have happened, I have written nothing, and then felt unequal to the task of resuming when so much has changed.  I’m so glad my creative muse rescued me this time with the idea of the list.  It eased the pain immeasurably, made me feel so much less overwhelmed by events.  I offer this technique to you, in the hope that it may help you in any challenges you may meet.

With love,

EF.

 

 

The Clunky Stage

writing notebookThe clunky stage.

If you write, you’ll know what I mean.

If you write on a daily basis, its those first ten minutes during which your brain feels like no one has oiled the cogs for ten years, and your pen feels like the nib is dragging through molasses.

If you haven’t written for a while, it feels like performing an appendectomy on yourself.

Hemingway was not kidding when he said:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Yesterday I sat down to write a new story.

I haven’t written in a while.  I don’t really get on with doing writing exercises much, although I know I SHOULD.  And at the moment I am experimenting with a new journalling practice called Deep Soul Writing, (of which more later) which is proving to be an interesting, but demanding, experience.  So my creative writing has been rather rare.

Nevertheless, I still have stories rattling around in my brain.  I always do.  So last night I thought I would start writing one down.  Free up some brain space.  Like you do.

Cue: wading through concrete.

How did this get so hard?

I’ve written seven novels, and dozens of fanfics.  How did I get this rusty this quick?

Nothing brings home the importance of daily practice, whether you are a pianist doing your scales, an artist doing your warm up sketches, or a writer doing – dare I say it – writing exercises, like coming back to your artform after a break and finding:

OH MY GODS THIS IS SO HARD!!!

My husband complains of feeling stiff and awkward if he misses even one of his twice-weekly body pump gym classes.  And now I know how he feels, because man! am I stiff!

But, as the old adage says, the only way out is through.

So I will suspend judgement on what I am scrawling because I know that while it may be as fluid as a fence post, at least I am on my way.  Sooner or later, things will loosen up, get more limber.  The adjectives will start replacing the cliches.  The dialogue will start to sound like it is coming out of real people’s mouths instead of cardboard cut-outs.  The metaphors will start to gang up on me.  The language will take on the richness of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s gowns.

Then, and only then, will I really get down to business.

But I have to write my way through the shit first.

So, like every marathon runner, I will set out in hope.  I will do my stretches, and thud through the first few miles until the muscles have warmed up and the movement starts to flow again.

Because even when its like bleeding into the keyboard, my soul is dancing, and I know, really know, that this is what I was meant for.

Happy Creating,

EF

Post Number 200!

Flow at Ardnave, Islay.I can’t quite believe I have written two hundred blog posts for this site since I started it on 18th April 2013!  Thats quite a lot of information to write down, and I’m fairly proud of myself for managing it.  And I am grateful to everyone who has read, supported, commented and subscribed.  Thank you so much!

That said, you will have noticed that posts have been a bit scarce lately.  Please don’t think I have forgotten you. Nor have I run out of enthusiasm for blogging.  I am determined this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that just stops, mid-conversation, and hangs there, never to be continued.  I don’t want that.  Besides, the work of creativity never ends, and neither does learning about it.

Nevertheless, Post Number 200 feels like a turning point.

I dont really know where I am going with this blog, any more than I know where I am going with my life.  I’m always talking about seismic shifts going on in the background, I know.  That’s the kind of life I like to live – one in which I am constantly in a process of of Becoming.  But right now, well, I feel as if I am changing right down to my very DNA.

Let me explain.

At the start of the year, I decided to take part in Sas Petherick and Meghan Genge’s Heart and Hearth Circle, and just after that, something extraordinary happened.  I decided to sit down and do a Goddess Card reading, as I often do.

The card I pulled that day was Kali.

(Cue meltdown.)

Kali is described by Juni Parkhurst in the book which accompanies the pack as follows:

“Kali is black, full-breasted and bloodthirsty, and dances on the bodies of her enemies.  She is alive with power.  She is creator and destroyer.  She is not a goddess to mess with.”

No, indeed.  Kali frankly terrifies me. Parkhurst goes on:

“Drawing this card puts you on notice that major changes are taking place.  Structures around you may crumble and fall, leaving you temporarily lost.  Remember, however, that destruction must sometimes come before creation.  The old, tired, redundant parts of your life must fall away in order to create space for the new and vibrant life that is coming…”

No shit, Sherlock!  Since Kali appeared on my desk that day, its been one darn thing after another.  My mother was taken very ill in January, and I travelled across the country to look after her and help coordinate her treatment (she’s lots better now, thank goodness!).  Shortly after that, Husband was diagnosed suddenly with diabetes, which necessitated a stay in hospital, and a major shift in lifestyle and mindset for us both.  Then I had a bout of profound anxiety and depression, followed by a heart problem (luckily that seems benign!).  And for the last three weeks I have been prostrate with some kind of virus that has affected my throat and reignited my ME symptoms, leaving me utterly exhausted, and unable to mentally process.  Throw in elders with dementia to care for, and constant travelling, and its been a very tough five months.

All this has resulted in some very profound soul-searching, and a readjustment of everything I previously deemed important. In the face of the (admittedly distant) spectre of losing my dear other half, so much that seemed crucial to existence now appears totally and laughably irrelevant.  While he continues to respond well to treatment, I am all too aware that he is a similar age to that at which my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sobering thought.

All this is a lot to process, and when one’s brain power is reduced by illness, there isn’t a lot of juice left over for anything else.  The result has been what I would describe as something of a story drought.  Not writer’s block.  I’m perfectly capable of writing.  But I’m finding that no new ideas are being delivered in the usual way.  I’m a person who is used to fresh stories popping into my head on a daily basis.  I’m never short of new ideas.  Except now I am.  So this is something of a surprise.  I am determined not to be phased by it.  After all, its understandable given what I’ve been in the midst of during the last few months.  I’m in subsistence mode.  Life is just sucking up all my neurons at the moment in order to arrange basic survival.  There’s nothing left for cave paintings at this point!

I suppose I must have invited Cosmic Intervention into my life on a grand scale by opting for the Heart and Hearth Circle, and signalling that I was ready to get ‘spiritually naked’ as it were.  I’m not sure I realised what I was signing up for, but do we ever?  Life has changed beyond belief in the last five months, and so have I.  And I don’t know what is going to come out of it.

But it will be something really, really good.

So as we move into the next 200 posts together, I hope that you will stick with me through all these upheavals, this drought, and whatever comes out of it.  My brain is currently toying with new sewing, quilting and illustrating ideas.  I am keeping afloat by journalling and pursuing a version of Natalie Goldberg‘s writing practice.  And I will keep you posted as to what emerges, though my missives may be a little less regular than they have been for a while.  I know you understand, and I shall look forward to sharing this new life adventure with you in the coming months.

(And incidentally, I really, really recommend the Heart and Hearth Circle.  I’ve learnt so much, and Sas and Meghan are wise and wonderful.  And I’ve met such lovely kindred spirits too!)

Happy Creating, EF