Category Archives: ideas

Deep Breath

The view from my bedroom window.

The view from my bedroom window.

Samhain is past, and we are well into the Mourning Moon, a time of releasing the old, and accepting our own power. Here in rural South Norfolk, we’ve had soggy and unseasonably mild weather, which has lately meant long days of grey skies and continual downpours. The last of the trees to shed their leaves, the oaks, have begun their brown weeping. The landscape is smudged khaki and brown and yellow, the edges blurred by autumn mists.
A fortnight has passed since my last post, a space during which I have been trying to recover a little of my strength, and some of my thinking capacity. The first week was one of complete surrender. After it, I felt more rested than I had in a whole year, I think.
The second was more tense, punctuated by a day-long dash to Oxford and back, to take the elders to the doctors for important assessment and treatment. Seven hours in a car, split in half by four hours of pushing a wheelchair and repeating myself every ten minutes, was enough to exhaust almost all the good will my body and I had built up between us. Since then I have been lost in a hormonal, anxiety-ridden mist, feeling OUGHTS and SHOULDS mounting up like an impending avalanche over my head. Add to that the impending doom of the Christmas season, and life-changing news from several friends, and I’m not sure I’ve come out of this much recharged.
Let’s just say, this has been a time of reassessment and reflection.
While I have come a long way in my year of ‘DARE’, I’m not sure that I can face another action word year. After ‘REVOLUTIONARY’ (2013) and ‘DARE’ (2014), I’ve attracted way too much change into my life for comfort, and I think I need a rest, thank you, Mrs Universe. I’ve decided that next year, I need a gentler world to ease my way. ‘BALANCE’ or ‘NURTURE’, perhaps. Or even just ‘EASE’. A reminder to be kinder with myself, something that, like most women, I find difficult to allow myself to do.
Tectonic shifts are happening in my creative life too. The relief I felt at giving myself a rest from blogging caused a delicious upsurge in other creative outlets. I immediately went off and made the back door curtain I’d been meaning to sew for the last six years. I’ve been hand-quilting a Christmas stocking for my guide-daughter too, which is enormously satisfying. I hope I manage to get it finished in time. Being able to sew again feels fantastic, although I had a few scary moments trying to remember how to thread my sewing machine!
I’ve decided I need to be using my journaling practise in a much more systematic way, too. I want to try a lot more guided journaling, by which I mean journaling from prompts rather than the simple stream-of-consciousness method I have always used. I’m feeling the need for more deep self-exploration, and I want to use my creativity as an integral part of the work I do with my Gestalt counsellor on a weekly basis to effect this.
I haven’t stopped writing, in the meantime, even though I haven’t been blogging. I’ve got two big fanfics on the go at the moment, great sprawling things that seem to be growing every time I look at them. My head is full of scenes stored up to be written out. That’s not a brilliant way of writing, especially when my head is so blurry. The other day, I sat down to write a scene, only to realise that of the two emotional points I wanted the characters to thrash out, I could only remember one.
A bit not good.
The result was some serious re-evaluation of my notebooking habits, which I still haven’t resolved, but hope to share with you soon.
As well as putting some conscious intention into my reading habits, I’ve been contemplating a new original writing project too. In the wake of the In/Famous Engagement, and the storm that followed it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to get away from fanfiction. And yes, I know I’ve been saying this for ages, but sometimes it takes a big event to push us to make real changes. So much is shifting in my life right now, and I want to move on to something fresh. I don’t think I’m going to be able to give up writing fanfics, nor do I honestly want to, but there is an idea knocking at my door, scratching at the wood like the ghost of Cathy in ‘Wuthering Heights’, and it won’t go away. As I used to say to my school friends:

‘I think I’ve got a story coming on’.

And finally, I’ve got some ideas for non-fiction that I want to have a go at. I think the phrase is ‘watch this space’.
Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me through this break, and throughout this bumpy year. While I know it is only going to get bumpier for a while, I’m grateful that you are with me, listening to my ramblings. It is good to know I’m not shouting into the unresponsive darkness.
Happy creating,
EF

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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

Help will come

Life Org kit I was working on my Life Organiser last night for the first time in a couple weeks (it’s been a hell of a couple of weeks), and the quote at the top of the page for Week 43 in Jennifer Louden’s book just jumped right out at me:

A thunderbolt illuminates your heart: it isn’t your job alone to fulfil your dreams and give birth to your yearnings. You can relax and ask for help, and help will come.

It was that last sentence that jumped off the page at me.

Help will come.

Help will come.

All you have to do is ask.

Lately, I haven’t been asking. Actually, let’s be honest here, I have the greatest difficulty in asking for anything, ever. It’s one of the hardest lessons I have had to face with chronic illness. Sometimes, you just can’t be perfect and do it all. Or maybe, do any of it. You have to ask for help.

Whether I need to ask for help cleaning the house because I’m too exhausted to push the vacuum cleaner, or I need help from my Muse because frankly, ain’t nothin’ goin’ on in my storyworld, it is really, really hard to admit I need help.

Usually, I do the passive-aggressive woman thing of wearing myself out, reducing myself to a stressy heap of tears and vitriol, and then Husband put his hands on his hips and says in a despairing tone: ‘well, you only had to ask.’

I’ve been feeling really stressed for the last few days, and not very well at all, and if I was one of those organised bloggers who writes their posts weeks in advance, I would have had a bunch of spare posts backed up to cover me for the times where my brain goes blank. But I‘m not. I’m a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ kinda gal, and I really like being able to write what I need to write when I need to write it. I need my posts to feel current for me, otherwise they come out creaky and preachy. Or at least, I think so.

So I didn’t write on Monday. I just couldn’t.

Instead, I had a bit of a meltdown.

On Tuesday, I decided to trust to the Muse. You could say that I asked for help. I trusted that some inspiration would come along. I listened. And while I was listening, I got down to a few other things, including my Life Organiser.

Bingo!

The action became the lesson. Trust. Ask. (Keep busy while you are waiting.) Help will come.

And it did.

If you are struggling with your creativity right now, ask for help.

Maybe you just need Grandma to come and look after your baby for an hour so you can write or read a book by yourself. Maybe you need someone to hoover the carpet, which will give you enough time to do something for yourself, something creative.

Or maybe you need to ask the Universe for help, to look up to the sky and say ‘Please could you send me some inspiration, because right now, I’m a bit blank.’

Then listen.

(The listening part is the important bit.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, silence helps.

If you can’t find silence, do something that will allow your Muse to speak. Morning pages; perhaps, a walk around your neighbourhood with your camera; a few writing exercises. Do your Life organiser, or read a book. Allow yourself to be open. Make peace with your temporary stuckness, but act in a way that will allow whatever message your Muse has for you to come through.

Help will come.

Your job is to be gently open to it.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration: Sucking up History

20140927_135032As a special treat last weekend, Husband took me to visit a local National Trust property, Oxburgh Hall.

Built about 1482, Oxburgh was the home of a well-connected family who hung onto their Catholic faith throughout a period in English history when it was dangerous to dissent from the religious line the Crown laid down.  Oxburgh’s inhabitants  suffered as a result, passed over for lucrative posts at Court, closely watched for sedition and treason, and restricted from certain occupations as well as from celebrating their religion openly.

The result of this (relative) penury is that the building escaped the zealous passion for updating property that characterised the aristocracy, and many of its original features remain intact, including the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room, authentic Tudor bedchambers in the tower house that spent many years used only as storage spaces!

Oxburgh Hall:  The Moat

Oxburgh Hall: The Moat

Oxburgh appears to float on its moat, which cannot be drained as the 500-year-old elm wood posts which support the foundations would crumble were they to dry out.  It still has the barleysugar chimneys and characteristic towered gatehouse that recalls the Wars of the Roses.  Inside the sombre portraits of nuns, the needlework sewn by Mary, Queen of Scots in her years of captivity, and the Priest Hole, where illegal Catholic priests had to hide from government troops, speak of a dark history of dissent and risk, of members of the family living in fear for their lives, simply because of their religious beliefs.  Oxburgh was a particular target during both the Reformation and the Civil War.  And yet, despite this, the little rowing boat that floats beside the steps on the moat is  named ‘Le Boat sur le Moat’, so the family still kept their sense of humour!

I started wondering what it would be like to live through that?  Never to be able to trust your neighbours, your servants, even your family?  To live constantly in the shadow of the block?  To live in fear of the next knock on the door?  To question your beliefs every day because they challenge your personal safety and that of those you love?  To always be regarded as ‘Other’?

Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh Hall

The history around us gives us an opportunity to look at our own lives through a different lens.  What happened in England in the 15- and 1600s is not really much different to what is happening in parts of the world now.  Being inside a building where these things happened, seeing and touching the belongings of people who lives through such terrifying times, brings the realities home in a much more deeply felt way.  If we do not live under such stresses ourselves, we can never truly understand what they mean, but we can imagine.

I live in a house that was built in the 1880s.  Its just a little country cottage, the middle one of a row, the kind that are common in the UK.  It was originally built as two houses, one up-one down dwellings with an outside wash house, coal hole and privy each.  The men who lived here worked for the local Lord as farm workers or gamekeepers, and got the house as part of the deal.  Their women kept the house, cooked the meals, raised the children, and spread their washing out on the pasture behind the houses to dry on wash day every week.  The children would have walked across the fields to school each weekday, and worked alongside their parents when they got home.  They would have worshipped at the medieval parish church whose tower can be seen from our livingroom.  How different the lives of those souls would have been from mine.

Inspiration:

Think about historic buildings and places near where you live.  try to visit one or two if you can.  They don’t have to be as old as Oxburgh to count.  What about a coffee shop built in the 1930s, during the Depression, or a 1950s diner?

Take some time to soak up the place.  Think about the people who have lived and worked there.  How would the community have reacted or been affected when the building was put up?  They might have had to sacrifice their own land or homes, for instance, or they might have objected on moral or economic grounds.  How would it have felt to visit this place in those days?  What kind of day to day issues would have been on the minds of those who lived here?  What stories are concealed in their lives?

Take some time to write a few pages, answering these questions.  It doesn’t have to be historically accurate, but it helps.  Use the building or place as an entrance into someone else’s life and see where it takes you.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Which Notebook?

My old writers notebook

My old writers notebook

I’ve been trying to find the best way to keep a writing notebook for the last year. And by ‘right’, I don’t mean correct, I mean the system that works best for me.

I always used to keep all my notes in an A4 ringbound PukkaPad notebook, the hardback kind. I loved it. There was plenty of room on the big pages, and PukkaPad’s paper is beautifully smooth and takes ink perfectly. Their products are especially good for Morning Pages, because you can write quickly and smoothly on them.

This was fine as far as it went, but the book was too big to carry around with me easily, which meant that I tended only used it at my desk. And that meant I wasn’t noting down all the ideas I had, just the few I had when I was thinking about it. Which meant I was always trying to remember what I had thought about. And that meant, of course, that 75% of the ideas I had went AWOL. What a waste.

(I did have a baby moleskine at one point. It just felt like clutter in my handbag and I rarely used it.)

Last September, I decided I was going to get serious about my writing practise, and that meant reflecting on my notebooking habits. This was not a flattering experience.

I restarted with a cheap hardback A5 notebook, because it had to be sturdy to withstand being knocked about in my handbag. I just bought the cheapest I could find because I figured it was an experiment, and it didn’t have to be perfect. Plus, if it was too nice, I wouldn’t use it.

(That’s a trap I’ve fallen into before. Its easy to feel intimidated by a fancy notebook to the point where you can’t bring yourself to write in it, because you feel anything you do write has to be perfect. It’s a creative disaster.)

So decorated the cover so it looked like a more expensive one I was coveting at the time, and away I went.

It was really hard at first, making sure I scribbled down the thoughts I had when I had them, not trying to save them up. I added quotes I came across, stories I heard on the bus or on the radio, and took notes in book talks I went to. And I quickly filled up my scrappy little book.

And once it was full, I forgot about it.

So when I got the bug again, deciding to renew my commitment to my work, I made the mistake of going off to gorge myself on the goodies at Staples. Gods, I love Staples!

 

The ARC discbound notebook system from Staples.  The one on the left is a cover I made myself.

The ARC discbound notebook system from Staples. The one on the left is a cover I made myself.

And there I fell in love with the ARC discbound system. I came home with a beautiful leatherbound A5 notebook. And it is gorgeous. You have no idea. And because its discbound, I decided I would combine my notebooking with a blog planner. I printed out pages and punched then and fitted them in and moved them about. And my lovely ARC planner became so big and heavy that I couldn’t get it in my handbag. Which rather defeated the object. And the thing with the lovely leather binding is that you can’t just throw the book in the back of the drawer to await later pillaging for ideas. You feel duty-bound to keep using it. So you have to take the contents out, and then what do you do with them?

So the ARC notebook, no matter how delectable, was a notebooking disaster.

But I learnt from my failure. I now knew I needed the following:

  • An A5 notebook to fit in my handbag.
  • A pen loop would be useful.
  • Nothing too fancy, or I won’t write in it.
  • Nice paper is an incentive.
  • A sturdy binding to withstand handbag battery

So back to Staples I went.

And this time I came home with the A5 version of the Oxford notebook. It has a stiff plastic cover and is spiral bound, which means I can fold it flat over easily. Its got lovely paper. I can tuck a biro into the spiral binding and it acts as a pen loop. It is satisfyingly thick but the smallish size means I can fill it quickly, which pleases me and makes me feel like I’m making progress.

And I am using it. Every day. Filling it with thoughts and ideas and potential stories and snippets and all kinds of goodies that I know I can rummage through in future. I’m even using it to write bits of stories and dialogue for my fanfics, and bits of diary-like reflection on the writing process for my novel.

People, its working!

It goes with me everywhere, my little friend. And it is still evolving. I could probably write another post along the same lines as this one in six months’ time, and I’ll probably tell you something completely different. I think the notebooking requirements you have change with you as you go on in the craft. But for me, this is where I am now, and I think I have finally found a way to record my brain on paper in a meaningful and useful way.

I encourage you to explore using a writers notebook if you write, but to do it, too if you pursue any other kind of creative art. A sketchbook for an artist fulfils the same function. It allows you to explore your creative interior, push the boundaries of your ideas. Its useful to keep a little notebook in your pocket or bag just to scribble down random ideas and thoughts you have, regardless of what art you do.

Be gentle with yourself as you find out what works best for you. From little cardboard-bound exercise books to luxurious Paperblanks, there will be something that fits your life. Think about your lifestyle and what your requirements are. I recommend that you start cheap so you feel like you can make mistakes. There is no wrong or right. Its just what works best for you. You just have to find it.

If you want a beginners guide to keeping a writers notebook, click here.

I’ll no doubt have lots more to say on the subject in coming posts.

Happy creating, EF

How Scrivener Kicked My Butt into Enlightenment

People have been raving about Scrivener to me for ages, and I’ve been saying yeah, yeah, eventually. And then wrestling with Word for my novels, and spreadsheets for my research data. Given that I am hopeless at spreadsheets, you can just imagine how time-consuming that can be. Anyway, recently, my fanfic pal Chasingriver demonstrated to me conclusively that this was a programme I couldn’t live without.

You know, I hate it when she’s right.

It was the corkboard function that really sold me. Mainly because I’d spent the previous week working out how I could attach all the little index cards (each indicating a scene) which I had accumulated for my current project to my study wall without damaging the plaster with blu-tak. Once I’d downloaded Scrivener, it was a case of YAY! No more blu-tak! No more holes in the paintwork!

With Scrivener, you can put all your little index cards on the screen, and move them about to change the order as you like, just as you would with the real thing. The good part, though, is that while you can’t carry your entire study wall along to the library with you when you want to work there, you can with Scrivener.

(Did I mention that I’m not getting paid to say this about Scrivener, just in case you were wondering?)

Anyway, yesterday I sat down in front of the offending, doomed wall, and started to copy out those little index cards into my Project folder. Away I went. I was having a lovely time. Type type, tap tap.

You’ve already guessed there is going to a BUT here, haven’t you?

Once I’d put in all my index-card scenes, I could see the plot I’d teased out as a whole. Or should I say HOLE. Because it was full of them. Holier than Righteous, as we used to say about my brother’s vests.

Now, of course this is a good thing. It is better to find out your plot is lacier than a wedding dress before you get down to churning out 80,000 words, rather than after. Of course it is.

Cue typical writers confidence wobble.

I crashed and burned.

Help! What have I got myself into? I thought I had a novel with a mostly sorted plot, and now I find there is mountains more work to do than I thought. Oh, oh, I am hopeless, my work is superficial, crap, lacking in psychological depth, etc. etc. You know the routine, because I’ll bet you’ve done it yourself at 3am enough times.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a grip on myself now. But it was a bit scary there for a while.

What the marvels of Scrivener have done is to make me see how I can get to grips with my project in a way I never have before. I have always been a ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ sort of writer, with plots that evolved organically as I went along. I’ve written to find the plots, rather than establishing them first. Much the same goes for character. I’ve done a bit of character work before on my novels, but most of the time, I’ve just sat down and written the damn thing, and kept writing till it felt done.

Which is why I could never get a handle on my books as whole, holistic entities, and why I always have such horrible trouble editing them.

You can’t break a stream-of-consciousness-written novel down into individual component parts in order to see if it makes logical sense, or to cut and paste bits around. Its too interwoven.

Cue HUGE AHA! moment.

Back in the dim and distant past, when I was studying systems analysis and design, I was taught that the way you design a system is to break it down into its individual constituent parts, each part serving a specific function and with a specified input, actors, outcome or output. But I never thought that you could view a novel this way, even though I was taught to look at every scene in my books, and ask what function it was there for, and whether it served that purpose. If it doesn’t, you have to cut it, say the gurus, with systems design and with novel editing.   Kill your darlings, they say, but I never could because I couldn’t see the whole, and I couldn’t see the individual functions.

What I think I am trying to say is that in two days, using Scrivener has revolutionised the way I conceptualise a writing project. It is scary, but it is also enormously liberating. I get it now, I really do. After years of struggling over how to plan, I now see it.

Thank you, Scrivener. (And Chasingriver, of course.)

Of course, I can also now see that I have a vast amount of work to do. But the nice thing about that is that I can also see how to break it down into little, manageable component tasks. Eating the elephant, as they say. I’ll let you know how I am getting on.

In the meantime, take a look at Scrivener, if you haven’t already.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Whats Inspiring Me Right Now

VW desktopFor today’s post, I thought I would bring you a little window into my creative mind.  Here are some of the things that are really getting my brain going at the moment.

This post from Kate Courageous really is causing a revolution inside my skull.  Imagine – learning to accept Nigel instead of kicking him?

Not practising enough?  Susan Piver has some interesting things to say about beating yourself up that are relevant whether you are talking about your meditation or your creative practise.

Found this lovely old post by Holly Becker on Decor8 about visual journals.  I really like this one about creating a lookbook too.

The New York Times on why handwriting matters.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

The Handmade Home geniuses have their new 2015 planner out!  And yes, I am a total planner geek.  See also the fact that I have just discovered how Pinterest can feed my addiction!

I love Brainpickings.

I love iHanna’s blog, but I especially like this post – ‘Glue book where I collect happiness.’  Isn’t that a brilliant idea?  Collecting happiness between the pages of a journal.  Count me in.

This book.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this biography of Virginia Woolf, but right now, every time I pick it up, I am filled with a new rush of ideas, inspiration, and fixes for my novel.

I’m loving this book as well.

Well, that should keep us all going for a while.  Hope you have an inspired and creative week,

EF