Category Archives: Creative Vision

Writing is from the Soul

 

p-d-james

The novelist, PD James

‘Part of our duty as writers is to do the work of honestly determining what matters to us and to try and write about that.’

Julia Cameron, ‘The Right to Write’.

I’ve always thought that writing comes from a place deep within, but this last few weeks has confirmed that view in a very deep way.  I’ve been working with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, as I sort through ideas for my new fiction project.  I’m still not sure if it’s a novel or quite what it is.  I have characters and a setting, but I don’t really know what it is about.

And I’ve been going through something of a soul upheaval at the same time.

Like a huge game of Tetris, bits of me are moving about, realigning, making new connections.  I am understanding myself in a new way.  I am beginning to accept parts of myself I could never even acknowledge I had, so shameful to me they seemed.

All this is coming out onto the page.

Let me tell you a story:

Years ago, I went with my mother-in-law to an event held at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.  Surrounded by trays of dead beetles, dinosaur bones and stuffed animals with scary glass eyes, we sat in an audience and listened to PD James and Colin Dexter talk about writing.  I think it may have been one of the most important experiences of my writing life.

Now, let me set this in context.  I had fallen in love with Oxford primarily because I had discovered Inspector Morse.  (Actually, I had fallen in love with John Thaw, but that’s another story!)  The romance of the city and its surrounding countryside connected with something inside me.  It sang to my soul.  I’d read all the Morse books published up until that point, some of them several times.

In contrast, I hadn’t read PD James at all.

And then the strangest thing happened.

I listened to Baroness James, this tiny little Marple of a woman, sit there and talk about her passion for stories, about how everyone has a story and how she loved listening to them, from her hairdresser to the train guard on the tube.  When she talked about writing, she blossomed, expanded.  A light shone from inside her, a light to which we were all drawn.

Then I listened to Colin Dexter talk about how he wrote the first Morse novel, ‘The Dead or Jericho’ as something of an intellectual exercise.  After all, he said, a detective novel is very much like a crossword, and I designed crosswords, so I wondered if I could do the same with a detective novel.

The contrasting lack of passion was chilling.

And I knew which kind of writer I wanted to be.

I shall always remember Dexter’s cold, dead, fish-eyes as he talked about plotting fiction in the same way as any problem must be solved.  I confess I conceived an intense dislike of the man at that moment.  It seemed to me he was subverting an art form, reducing it to something cold and empty and mundane.  Of course, there must have been more to him than that, because I’d read the novels, and I had seen the skill he had in painting character, but to me there seemed something lacking, a vacancy in his art, not least because he clearly didn’t regard it as art.

And beside him, PD James prickled quietly.  She was a woman with a passion, with a deep soul, a woman who wanted to explore the darkest depths of the psyche, a woman with a profound love for her fellow human beings.  It was obvious to me from her body language that she didn’t like Dexter’s clinical approach, that it irritated her.  I don’t blame her.  It irritated me too!

I have always written whatever my soul directed me to, taken the stories that popped into my head and followed them, followed my passions.  My themes have been the themes I have been struggling with in my own life.   I just never bothered to name them, to deliberately set out to find or understand them before.  Lately I have been doing just that.

I’m not the clinical type.  I need to write what I need to read.  I need to explore my own psychodrama on the page, use it as fuel for my work.  At this stage in my life, I need to know myself deeply, to uncover my own hidden depths, and to write about them.  To write them out of my body and mind, and away.

That is why this new work is taking so long to form.  And why I am deliberately allowing it time to form.

Usually, I start with the idea of a plot and gallop along, with characters being tugged behind.  If they get developed, so much the better, but often they end up at the denouement as thin as paper.

This time I am starting with the characters, with their souls, with their issues, their worries, their suffering, their joys.  I trust that they will tell me what their story will be.

This is not a crossword.  Neither is it a hundred metre dash.  It is a slow, steady, indefatigable hack through dense jungle.

Sometimes, you have to take it one day at a time.

Happy Creating,

EF

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The Friday Review No. 6: Listen. Wait. Have faith.

Desk May 2017.jpg

“… just as a pregnancy must not be over-stressed and artificially hurried for fear of damaging or aborting the child, so, too, a piece of work asks that we not try to force it into unnatural directions.”

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write p164

 

I’ve been running around being Busy.  Hence the lack of Friday reviews lately.  And you know what happens when someone with ME/CFS gets a dose of the Busies.  Eventually, there is a price to pay.  So today I am lying on my bed, nursing a nasty bout of IBS, with every major muscle in my body in a state of semi-collapse.

However.

And yes, there is good news:  Despite the Busies, progress has been made.

Yesterday, I wrote 1058 words I wasn’t planning to write, and as a result, finished a Lewis story that I’ve been working on, off and on, since last July.  Which felt like a double result.

I’ve migrated my Sherlock story, ‘Under The Downs’ onto AO3, with positive results.  Now I’ve got to do the same with its sequel, ‘The Bee House’, but I haven’t quite got there yet.

I’ve had my monthly coaching session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, and it was, as usual, hugely stimulating and supportive.

I’ve been reading and writing every day.  Morning pages and journaling.  Writing practice.  Jotting down notes and research questions.  Recording those funny moments, observations of life that provide the richness to a piece of writing.

Asking myself questions:

What do I want to say?

What Truth do I need to speak?

What interests me?

What don’t I like to read?

Who am I?

What makes a character?  What is the difference between character and identity?

And so on.

And I’ve been listening.

This major work that is coming, that I am birthing.  I know a little bit about it, but I don’t want to push its birth.  I don’t want to warp it by forcing it to come too fast.  So I just put my pen onto the paper and listen to it.  Allow it to tell me where it wants to go.  It takes time.  But I’m lucky that I am one of those writers who loves the process of writing, not just having written, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.

Sitting at my desk makes me happy.  I am surrounded by my books, with my vision board for the novel in front of me.  It is my safe place.  My sacred place.  This is where my idea will blossom and grow into something more extraordinary than I have ever achieved before.

I have faith.  Faith enough to wait.

Happy Creating,

EF

Be Open. Don’t Try So Hard.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

Lately, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Be present.  Turn Up.  Be still and open.  Don’t try so hard.

I was watching Jamie Ridler’s morning vlog, in which she talked about how people strive so hard to find their Life Purpose.  We make such a BIG DEAL out of it.

What if we just let it happen?

I’m not saying you can just expect your art to pop up out of nowhere.  You have to be present, make yourself ready.

You do your core practises.  Your morning pages.  Your writing exercises. Your artist dates.  Your scales or your practise sketches.  Your barre exercises.  You make sure that you are ready when the inspiration comes.

When I used to read about writers who sat down at their desks in the morning and stayed there for an alotted number of hours, regardless of whether the work came or not, I used to think they were mad.  It seems like working too hard. It seems like self-punishment.

Maybe you don’t just have to sit at your desk.

Maybe you can cultivate a mindset of being open.  Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Maybe we are all trying too hard.

Forcing it just doesn’t work.  Every writer who has ever been blocked knows that.  But if you keep up the practises, the ideas come.  They come because your mind is constantly in a place where it is curious and open, and like a lamp in the darkness, it attracts the fluttering moths of inspiration.

So keep her steady as she goes.  Turn up for your daily creative habits.  Relax into them, and don’t panic.

The work will come.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Returning to the Journal

VW desktop

This time of year (autumn) is always a time of new starts for me. Husband is a University lecturer, which establishes a certain kind of seasonality in our house – we live according to the academic year, just as we have since we were kids. And on top of the usual stationery-buying frenzy I get at this time of year, I find myself stopping to reassess where I am too.

In truth, its always good to stop off on the seasonal journey to think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go. Life coaches encourage us to do this on a quarterly basis, and to be quite frank, I think it’s a good wheeze. It is hard enough to find time in a busy life to stop and think, but like the prayer bell in the monastery that reminds the inmates to focus on God at regular intervals, the seasons are an automatic prompt to stop and take stock.

This year has been a time of huge shifts for me, changes in my role as wife, care-taker, aunt, friend and woman. I have felt new currents in my creative life starting up, the drive to take my photography more seriously, the sense of a new mission, a new message in my work. It is a time of change, of departures.

Pagan theology tells us that autumn is the time to reap the harvest of what we have sown during the productive seasons of the year – not only of Spring and Summer, the active months, but also of the deep, dark percolation of the Winter that preceded them, before we go down into the dark once more, into that time of thinking, rest and meditation. We need to think about what we have achieved, assess the fruits of our labours, celebrate them, and prepare to settle into a time of productive hibernation during which we can incubate our hopes and dreams for the future.

Well, hooray for the journal, then!

I have been taking time to settle back into my journal-keeping, and to use it in a more constructed way. I have never really used the technique of guided journaling before, by which I mean writing from prompts designed to explore the psyche.   I’ve always been more of a ‘stream of consciousness problem solver’ kind of diarist. In the midst of upheaval, especially during the summer months, I find it hard, therefore, to keep up such a regular journal commitment, because it often takes time to write and write until you’ve found the answer.

Recently, though, I have decided to be more conscious about what I am doing with my diary. I have set out to explore myself and different aspects of my life in a structured way, in the hope that it will guide me to new paths, and help anchor me through the current storms. I’m using visual means too. Nothing fancy. (I’m still pretty blocked about my drawing.) I’ve been collaging instead. Gala Darling’s ‘Radical Self-Love Bible’ Programme has been invaluable with this, a plethora of prompts and eye-candy to help you explore yourself on paper, through collage and writing. I’m not much good at discipline, of course, and though I am half way through the programme now, my ‘bible’ is pretty lightweight. I tend to fall back on my familiar old notebook on a day to day basis, but Gala’s approach is challenging me just enough to make me think about where I am going with my diary, and that’s enough right now.

Journal Exercise:

This weekend, I am planning to retreat to my journaling practise and do some conscious assessment. I’m going to take time to recognise the enormous changes I have gone through, and the achievements I have made so far this year. I am going to consider my intentions for the coming dark months, and work on an emotional strategy for handling Christmas, which is always a difficult time for me. I mean to use my journal to ground myself in who I am, and who I want to be. And to think about where I am going.

If it proves a productive, positive exercise, I ‘m going to repeat it on a seasonal basis.

Would you like to join me?

Why not take this weekend, or some time during it, to sit down in a quiet place with your journal, and think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go.

  • What have you achieved in the last nine months?
  • What ‘babies’ have you birthed, literal, creative, emotional or otherwise?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • How are you feeling right now, physically and emotionally?
  • How would you like to feel?
  • What small, achievable steps can you take to move towards these intentions?
  • What flashpoints can you identify in the coming three or four months? Can you explore why they affect you? What could you do to ease your path through them?
  • How can you celebrate yourself at this point in your life?
  • What creative voices are calling you right now?

If you find the idea of a more conscious journaling practise interesting, you might like to explore Tristine Rainer’s seminal book, The New Diary.

If you want more guidance about deciding where you want to go in life, take a look at Danielle LaPorte’s The Firestarter Sessions, and The Desire Map.

Kate Courageous’s wonderful website is full of rich wisdom and worth exploring.

Happy Journaling,

EF

 

Word of the Year 2014

So, we have thought about intentions, and we have begun to consider the words that identify how we want to feel.  Those (five) words are the place from whence our intentions arise.  Because every day we can choose to do things that make us feel that way.

Clever, eh?

But there’s more:

You may have bumped into the idea of having a Word of the Year.  You can find out more about this habit here.

A Word of the Year is a kind of overall intention.  It gives you a direction, a way of formulating how you want to be in the world. It also has an uncanny habit of bringing into your life exactly what it says.

My word for 2013 was

Revolutionary

And oh boy, was it?!

This year has fundamentally changed how I feel about myself.  I have undergone a revolution in my core beliefs and my way of approaching the world.  I have turned my attitudes about my place in the world and, most particularly, in the world of work, on their heads.  In some ways, I have also revolved (the other meaning of revolutionary), coming back full circle to revisit issues that I thought I had dealt with before.

I have revolutionised the way I write and the way I feel about my writing.  I have set up this website and begun to dream new dreams about the kind of things I want to create.  It is exhilarating.

Let me tell you, revolution doesn’t have to be a violent upheaval that ends with tyranny and blood.

I have to confess that when the word first came to me, in the form of just revolution, (while I was still in the malaise of a serious bout of influenza which brought me close to being hospitalised), I was a bit scared.  I knew it was the word I needed, but it sounded frightening, as if I could be inviting an earthquake into my life.  Was I really ready for that much change?  After all, with limited energy, poor health and a susceptibility to anxiety and stress, it didn’t really sound a good idea to invite those kinds of energies into my world.  So I fiddled with it until it felt more friendly, more manageable.  And more appropriate to what I could cope with.  It became:

I AM REVOLUTIONARY

And this year, I have been.

So the question then becomes, what do I want to be next?

I don’t have to stop being revolutionary, of course, but 2014 needs a new word, something that allows new energies into my life, allowing me to blossom and grow in new ways.

I have been sitting with my five words and my journal and calendar, contemplating what I want to be and do next year.  How I want to build on the intentions and lessons that revolutionary brought with it?  I thought about kind, lovingkindness, courage, and strength.  The first two felt too soft, and the last two, too tough.  I needed something flexible, something I can grow with, something I can work with whilst still treating myself with lovingkindess.  And this is what I came up with:

DARE

Dare feels good.  It popped into my head at 2am on the way back to bed after a loo break (TMI), and I knew it was the right word.

Dare is about having a go, putting yourself out there, but not in a way that is perfectionist.  Not in a Nigel way.  Dare means trying something out and seeing if it fits.  It means trying something, and knowing that it doesn’t matter if I fail or if I don’t get it exactly right the first time, or even if it turns out to be the wrong thing after all.  At least I will have tried.  At least I will be in the arena fighting, as Roosevelt would put it.

Journal Exercise:

So, I invite you to take time to sit with your feelings words, with your creative and life intentions, and to consider what word might truly describe and inspire how and who you want to be in 2014.  What feelings and new adventures do you want to manifest in your life?  What energies do you want to invoke?

When you consider this, do it in the spirit of lovingkindness towards yourself.  Look at your life with a gentle hope, not in the spirit of forcing yourself into new contortions.  This is not some New Agey wishing, some pseudo-psychobabble soppy thing.  This is a life affirming way of moving yourself to new levels, of becoming more yourself every day, and of being deeply, affirmatively and satisfyingly creative.

Everyday life is a continual act of creativity.

When I say ‘sit with it’, I mean: allow yourself time to consider.  Allow ideas to filter, percolate and bubble in your mind.  Don’t force it.  It will come to you.  Let it happen.  You know deep inside what you want for yourself as a creative being.  Allow it to emerge.  And then rejoice in it.  Allow it to inspire every corner of your life for the whole year.

I guarantee it will take you places you can’t even begin to imagine right now.

Happy Creating,

EF

Reflecting on our Creative Achievements

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My mother-in-law’s mad Christmas tree. Apologies that the carpet is all ruckled up!

Christmas is coming.  We are all rushing around panicking about what to buy Great Auntie Flossie, trying to get trees up and mince pies made.  And once all the kerfuffle dies down, we’ll be trying to formulate New Year’s Resolutions while our heads are still spinning from the tinselly onslaught.

The blogs I follow are already jam-packed with ideas for resolutions and how to plan your goals for next year.

Aren’t we exhausted enough?

Let’s just take some time to stop and reflect.  To consider what we have achieved this year, before we start pushing ourselves about next.

I don’t think we take enough time to recognise and celebrate what we achieve. We are constantly encouraged to move on to the next thing, the next goal, always more, more, more!

Because we are never enough.

Yesterday I came across Dr Brene Brown’s book, ‘Daring Greatly’, in the library.  I have read and benefitted greatly from her earlier works, but I had avoided this one because for some reason I had got it into my head that it was about parenting, which isn’t exactly relevant to me.  I was wrong.  The first chapter, on Scarcity, had my head spinning!  I highly recommend you read it.

As writers, scarcity is a constant problem.  After all, in such a subjective realm, how can you measure enough?  I wrote recently about the problem of owning yourself as creative.  This is intimately linked to the problem of enough.  How can you know when you have done enough, produced enough, published enough?

I think one way to tackle this sense of dearth is to recognise and celebrate what we have done.

This year I have started this website, something I really didn’t think I had the guts to do.  This is my 86th post.  That’s a whole lot of words.  A big achievement?  You’d better believe it!  I have published over 40 fanfics too.  I have put myself out there.

This is not blowing my own trumpet.  This is stating the facts.

I am proud of what I have made this year.  It may not tally with the list of goals I made in January, but I’m okay with that – I’ll tell you why in the next post.  I’ve been telling myself I didn’t achieve a lot this year, but actually when I sit down and reflect on what I’ve done, I’ve moved mountains!

Journal Exercise:

Before you get too lost in the melee of Christmas, set aside some time to take stock.  Sit down with your journal, and a glass of wine if you like.  Perhaps light a candle, and put on some gentle music.

Think about what you have done this year.  Don’t look at your list of goals and resolutions.  Don’t think about all the things you planned to do, and didn’t.  Think about all the things that did get done, and the unexpected achievements too, things that came out of nowhere, the gifts the Universe has given you.

Count everything, from getting to see your favourite actor in a play, to passing that exam, from painting your biggest picture yet, to being in the village Christmas Panto.  Maybe you had a poetry collection or a novel published, exhibited your art, won a competition, or maybe you read out your first poem in public, or tried painting or drawing for the first time.  No matter how big all small, list everything.  Think about all the creative things you did, the cakes you made, the dances you went to, the pumpkin you carved, the costume you made for your kid’s school play.

Be proud of yourself, of where you are now.  Do it for yourself.  Savour it.

Because you are enough.

Happy Reflecting,

EF

Writers: Know Your Limits! (or why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo again this year)

Husband and I often share a giggle over this Harry Enfield sketch when we talk about my limitations:

Yes, well, thank goodness its not so much like that anymore!

Women are especially bad at knowing their limits because we are brought up to be martyrs, to sacrifice our own well-being before that of others.  I’m no exception.  I’m useless at boundaries, and having ME has made me even worse for committing to something that I have no earthly hope of carrying through because of my  fluctuating energy and pain levels.  I continue to have expectations of myself that fall way beyond my capacities.

Anyway, a little while back I had this brainwave:  “I know,” I thought, with all the enthusiasm of a labrador puppy.  ‘I’ll do NaNoWriMo in November, and I’ll use the month to get the basis of my Viking novel done, and then I’ll have a book I can edit up and sell in the new year via Kindle.”

Great wheeze, No?

Hmm.  The thing is, November is always a really busy month for me.  Its the run-up to Christmas, which means getting the present shopping in early because I have to pace myself with all that trudging around the shops.  It usually involves an extended visit to elderly parents, taking a week out during which there is no spare time, and no internet access.  It is also the real onset of the bad weather, which always has a deleterious effect on my health. And if there is one thing I can always be sure of, its that I can never be sure when I am going to capable of getting out of bed in the morning!

I’d really like to do NaNoWriMo.    Its not that I am not capable of writing 1700 words a day.  I’m lucky in that, unlike many writers, I can crack through 3-5000 words a day when I’m well.  But writing 50,000 in under 3 weeks is probably beyond even me.

So with a sigh of realism, I have relinquished my claim on that November novel.  Another year will go by without me being a NaNoWriMo winner.

Instead, I have come up with another, more achievable goal, an ebook that I hope to bring you in the run-up to Christmas, so I hope that you’ll stay tuned to this blog to find out more about that.  I know you’ll love it!

In the meantime, here are a few ideas on how to judge whether you are over-reaching yourself on a creative project:

1. Be realistic about how much time it will take.  If you can, divide the task into measureable units, the way NaNoWriMo does with the word count.  How long does a unit take?  If you need three hours a day to write 1700 words or make a preparatory sketch, can you afford to carve out that time daily, or are you only likely to manage 3 hours once or twice a week?

2.  Schedule your units of time into your diary or planner and keep a date with yourself.  This might mean working other activities around them, bartering childcare with friends who are also mums, asking husband/partner or housemate to help out with basic chores.  But making an appointment with yourself to create, however much subtle manoevring it takes, will help you finish your project more easily in the long run.

3.  Expect the unexpected.  Be prepared for life to throw a spanner in the works (or, if you are like me, an entire socket set!).  Remember Murphy’s Law:  Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.   So have a back-up plan.  Either that, or don’t get too wedded to a deadline, or you may find yourself disappointed, which could put you off for good.

If you are tackling NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck!  If you have chosen to do something else, like me, then good luck with that too,  The point is to know how much, realistically, you can take on, and be at peace with that.

Happy Creating,

EF