Category Archives: ideas

Easter 2014: The Pictures

The Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009), South Harting Church, Hampshire.

The Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009), South Harting Church, Hampshire.

WARNING: PICTURE-HEAVY POST!

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I have been absent for a week.  Caring for Elderly relatives again, I’m afraid.  It was a tough week, and I expected to come home utterly emptied out, but weirdly, because we managed to get out and about, and had a couple of days with friends in Sussex in the middle of it all, I somehow to managed to recharge my creative batteries.  I’ve come home feeling more ready to write and make and decorate than I have in months.  This is a HUGE relief.

I am here to tell you that despite everything, it is possible to feel and get creative.

So here are some pics and a little video of some of some highlights of a week spent between Hampshire, Sussex and Oxford.

Beautiful blossoms in the service station car park where we stoppped for lunch on our first journey.

Beautiful blossoms in the service station car park where we stoppped for lunch on our first journey.

Sunshine on the Hamble River.

Sunshine on the Hamble River.

Uppark House, National Trust, always a favourite visit for my mum, and such a beautiful building.  Its hard to believe it was gutted in a fire a few years ago and has been fully restored.

Uppark House, National Trust, always a favourite visit for my mum, and such a beautiful building. Its hard to believe it was gutted in a fire a few years ago and has been fully restored.

A sofa carved from a whole tree trunk, found in an Arundel shop.  looks comfy, doesn't it?

A sofa carved from a whole tree trunk, found in an Arundel shop. looks comfy, doesn’t it?

Gorgeous Italian nougat at the Piazza Italia event in Horsham

Gorgeous Italian nougat at the Piazza Italia event in Horsham

Stunning sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009) suspended before the North transept window of The Church of St Mary and St Gabriel, South Harting.

Stunning sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009) suspended before the North transept window of The Church of St Mary and St Gabriel, South Harting.  Shades of Dr Who?

A quick peek at the kitchen garden of Hinton Ampner, also National Trust, where we stopped for a quick lunch on the way to Oxford.

A quick peek at the kitchen garden of Hinton Ampner, also National Trust, where we stopped for a quick lunch on the way to Oxford.

I was going to upload some footage of the Parade of 100 Ferraris at Horsham’s Piazza Italia event, but the format is apparently unacceptable, so I’ll just have to tell you that the best part was the revving of those meaty engines!

Anyway, the point is that you have to get out to feed your muse.  So this week, in the aftermath of a busy Easter, why not take half an hour to get out and walk around with your camera, and just look at what is around you.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Monday: Mad Thoughts!

Do you ever have one of those moments when you wonder WTF is going on inside your head?

I try to keep mindful of the thoughts that go through my head, partly as a defense mechanism against depression and overdoing things, but also to a degree out of sheer amusement because some of the stuff I think can be deeply bizarre.  For instance, here is yesterday’s offering:

“I don’t want her to think we’re the kind of people who don’t clean our bathroom mirrors.”

?????????????????

This raises so many questions about my sanity that I daren’t even go there.

BUT

What about using this as a creative writing prompt?

Who is the ‘her’ the speaker is so paranoid about?  A demanding mother-in-law, for example, the boss who might have a promotion available, or a rich friend, perhaps.  What sort of people don’t clean their bathroom mirrors anyway?  What kind of people are the ‘we’ mentioned?  Detach this sentence from me and my interiors paranoia for a minute, and think of all the possible short stories you could write using this moment of madness as a starting point.

There are so many little moments in life that could be writing prompts.  That is why you keep your writing notebook with you, so that you can write down the moment your mother-in-law steps over your threshold and into your new home for the first time, and the first thing she does is look at the floor and say ‘I see you haven’t hoovered today’ (you moved in two days ago.)  Just imagine all the thoughts that would come into your head then!  Or when the hostess of a dinner party you attend dispells a painfully embarassing moment by announcing, without any preamble:  ‘I like cheese.’  (What was going in inside her head?)  Or when you catch yourself wondering what it would be like to eat daffodils (answer: don’t – they are poisonous.  I looked it up.)  Or even wondering what alpacas think about.  What do alpacas think about anyway?

Your mind is a garden of unbridled surreality and whimsy.  Don’t ever think you are short of prompts.  Its all inside your head.  All you have to do is watch what is going on.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Creativity is Catching

Top.BMPToday we had the pleasure of attending the opening of an art exhibition by a friend, Martin Battye FRSA.

Martin is a pal of my husband’s from the cricket club, but he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, and his paintings are vibrant, vigorous and exciting.  It is always a delight to get to see his work, and today’s opening was no exception.  Martin is using oil colours on paper at the moment, and his pure pigments, textures and abstract designs are fascinating.  Scattered around the gallery were also a selection of his recent sketchbooks, and for all the wonder of the major pieces, I found these the most inspiring.  They show an artist’s process, the act of creativity itself, caught as if in aspic.  They contain the genus of the bigger paintings, as well as scribbled thoughts, poignant quotes and articles cut from newspapers and magazines.

I came away aching.

I want to do that, my heart said.

It’s been so long since I used my paints, since I dared to draw.

Lately, I have been remembering the two years of my art ‘A’ level course, when I started discovering other artists, the revelation of abstract art, the earthquake of Modernist artists, architects and designers like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Matisse and Rothko.  I felt so excited, so fascinated by their ideas and the pared-down beauty they created.  I was never able to liberate myself from the tyranny of the figurative, though, as they had, nor from my own self-abusive perfectionism.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, make a mess, try things out, paint outside the lines.

But what would happen if I DARED?

What would happen if I could BE MY OWN HERO?

The truth is that I want to create abstract art.  I want to make paintings that please me as much as Martin’s do.  I want to have his exuberance, his extravagant variety and colour, his sense of fun.

I keep thinking of Jamie Ridler’s exhortation to not judge the art you are called upon to make.  To just do it.

So I have decided to try and find out if I can recover that sense of adventure I had went I was 18 and reading about Modern Art for the first time.  I want to know if I can finally overcome the Nigel voice in my head that says I can’t get messy or paint outside the lines.  I want to find out, one tiny baby step at a time, if I can be the artist who lives inside me, safe in the knowledge that that artist will feed the writer, and vice versa.

Inspired by Martin’s creative process, EXPLORATION is my word for March.  I’m going to explore my creativity and have some fun.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you are in Norwich, do visit Mandell’s Gallery in Elm Hill to enjoy Martin Battye’s wonderful work, open Mon – Sat, 10am to 5pm.)

Happy Creating,

EF

Choosing the Right Words to Convey an Action

Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox in the TV series 'Lewis'

(l to r) Laurence Fox as DS Hathaway and Kevin Whately as DI Lewis in the TV series ‘Lewis’

The reason I started thinking about being mindful when choosing words is this:  the other night about 4am I was lying in bed wrestling with a paragraph for a story.  Yes, I do this.  A lot.

In one of the Universe’s most amusing ironies, disturbed sleep and insomnia are symptoms of my ME/CFS, so I can sleep for Britain during daylight hours, but can’t go for more than about 3 hours at a stretch at night.  Then I lie awake, waiting for the next bout of sleep to come, and its helpful to have something to entertain my brain in the meantime.  This is when I write.  Not at my desk, but lying down in bed.  In case you are wondering how I remember things, I tell myself the same scenes over and over again, perfecting them, until I know them pretty much by heart.  I write them down during the day, once I’m happy I’ve got them right.  Yes, its weird, but its my process, and it seems to work.

So anyway, there I am, lying in the dark, wrestling with a scene in which Detective Sergeant Hathaway has phoned Detective Inspector Lewis from his hospital bed for a reassuring chat.  The two have just admitted their feelings for one another, but none of the talking and working things out has been done.  Things are still delicate, tender and vulnerable between them.  Having had a quiet, romantic chat, Hathaway ends the call, and Lewis, from whose point of view the scene is told, lies in his own bed, staring at the ceiling and contemplating how he feels for his colleague.

So how to convey that moment of transition from phone call to meditation in a single sentence?  Here are the possibilities I came up with:

“He hung up.”

I don’t know, it just sounds too abrupt, as if Hathaway has rung off in a rage.  I reject this option.

“The line went dead.”

Even worse.  This suggests not only anger, but perhaps even peril – maybe an assailant has disconnected the phone or snatched it from beloved Hathaway’s hand, or there was an accident or an explosion that terminated the call prematurely.  I reject this option too.

“He terminated the call.”

People don’t actually think like this.  Its as bad as saying:

“He exited the building.”

Nobody uses this tone inside their own head.  Verbs like terminated and exited are too distant and clinical.  They contribute to what is known in the business as the ‘Authorial Voice’.  In other words, the reader is aware that an omniscient storyteller-author is telling them what is happening, and what to think, rather than opening a door through which they can view the experiences of the characters themselves.  If you want to read authorial voice done well, read Dickens or Thackeray, who are always commenting on their characters in this way.  Its old-fashioned, and uncomfortable for most modern readers.  Don’t do it.  It just looks like you don’t know what you are doing.  Always tell your stories from inside your character’s heads, regardless of what tense you are using.

And incidentally, words like terminated and exited are too formal.  They should be kept for technical manuals and academic papers.  If you are in doubt about whether a word is too formal, think about how you use language inside your own head.  Would you think ‘I terminated that call’?  No, I didn’t think so.

“He rang off.”

A little gentler than “He hung up”, but still a bit too brusque, as if there has been a tiff.  I reject this one too.

I try to think of another verb for concluding a call, concluding again being too formal, but can’t think of one, so I decide to go for my next option, which is to skip the obvious:

“After Hathaway rang off, Lewis lay on his back and stared at the ceiling.”

You see what I’ve done here?  I don’t really need to tell the reader that the conversation ends, because all readers know that telephone conversations end eventually, so I nod to the fact, and then concentrate on Lewis’s reaction.

If an act isn’t noteworthy in terms of action or emotion, if it doesn’t move the story along, then you can safely leave it out and allow the reader to make their own assumptions about the obvious. 

After all, I don’t need to tell my readers everything Lewis did when he woke up that morning to get to the phone call, from the first yawn, through using the loo and scratching his bum, to noticing that the instant coffee in the jar has gone lumpy and that he’s almost out of bread for toast.  What is important is not which toothpaste he uses, but the phone call from his future lover, and its aftermath.  That is what moves the story forwards, and that is what the reader is interested in.

“Lewis dropped the phone handset onto the covers and lay back, Hathaway’s richly textured voice still echoing in his head.”

This tells us a bit more about Lewis’s reaction to Hathaway, and the effect of their conversation, but dropping the phone sounds a bit too abrupt as well.  He would be too dreamy and relaxed by this point to drop anything!

“Afterwards, he lay back, allowing the memory of Hathaway’s richly textured voice to flow through him.”

This doesn’t mention ending the phonecall at all.  It entirely concentrates on Lewis’s response, emphasising the sensual effect it has on him.

By iteration, I have completely removed the need for solving the original problem, which was finding a way to communicate the end of the call, and I have added to the emotional impact of the moment as well.  So this is the version I will go with, at least for now.  After all, first drafts always get changed.

I hope that by walking you through the process of wording the paragraph, I have been able to show you how much choosing your words mindfully can enhance your writing, and how you communicate emotion and action to your reader.  It might take a bit of time, but thinking through the effect you want to achieve will make a huge difference for your reader.

If you want to read the previous post on this subject, click here.

To read the next post in this series, click here.

And if you haven’t come across the delicious TV series Lewis (called Inspector Lewis in the US, I believe), I highly recommend it.  You can read a fanfic I wrote for it here.

Happy writing!

EF

Choosing the Right Words – An Introduction

I want to talk a little bit this week about the idea of choosing the right words when you write.  About thinking carefully about the words you use to express a particular mood, character or action.

This probably seems a ridiculously obvious concept, but to neglect it means abandoning a whole myriad of ways in which you can make your stories deeper, enriching them for your reader.

Think about a man walking.  You could say:

  • He ambled
  • He limped
  • He sashayed
  • He scampered
  • He strode
  • He marched
  • He hobbled
  • He stomped
  • He inched
  • He shuffled
  • He scurried
  • He strolled
  • He paced
  • He sauntered

And these are only a few of the synonyms you could use for the verb ‘to walk’.  Yet, they each tell us something different about the man doing the walking, and raise questions in the reader’s mind about why he is moving in that particular way.

For instance, the man who is limping – Was he born with the limp, or has he acquired it, and if he has, was it recently or a long time ago?  Does he have some physical disability that limits his movement, or has he just this minute been in an accident?

He might, for example be limping because he is very old.

Perhaps he limps as a result of an old war wound – like our friend Dr John Watson.  This introduces a level of poignancy, of heroism wrapped in tragedy, and invokes our sympathy for him.

A man who strides has self confidence.  He holds his head high, intent on getting where he is going.  He may be a man on a mission – and we want to know what that mission is!

A man who sashays might be a bit camp, might be a dancer, might be charming a companion, moving in this way to make her laugh and draw her in.  Is this the start of a big romance?

A man who ambles is in no particular hurry.  He is relaxed.  He has time.  We might think him lazy, perhaps, or more likely, a man on holiday from the usual stresses of his life, sure in the knowledge that everything can happen at his own pace.

Usually we think of ‘Show, Not Tell’, the old writers’ maxim, as something overt.  Don’t tell us how John Watson got his war wound, for example.  Better to show us.  Show us his recurring nightmare of the moment it happened (which also demonstrates to us how he is barely coping with the trauma, as well as showing us the actual trauma itself –two for the price of one!).

By using the right words, evocative and interesting ones, we can communicate to the reader so much  more, and in such a subtle way that they barely even notice being told – which is true writing skill!

Writing Exercise:

Think more about the verbs I have used in the list above, and what they communicate about the man doing the movement.  Choose one and use it as a prompt for a writing exercise.  Take fifteen minutes to free-write in your writers notebook about the man who marches, the man who scampers, or any of the others.  (Come up with some of your own, if you like.)

Make a character sketch.  Who is this man?  What does he look like?  What age is he?  What does he do – and how does the way he dresses and moves communicate that?  Why does he move the way he does?  Where is he going in this particular fashion, and why?  Is anybody with him, and are they affecting his way of moving?

When you have finished, look over what you have written.  Can you see any clichés?  Remember, while clichés are usually clichés because they are true, they don’t have to come across as clichés!  Always be on the lookout for clichés in your writing, so that you can remould them into strange, eye-catching virtues.

You could use this character sketch as the core of a larger piece.  Or you could take the character you have created and write about him moving in another of the ways listed, repeating the exercise to learn more about him.  Why would he change his mode of movement?  Is he responding to the requirements of others, or affecting a certain walk to give a particular impression?  If so, why?

Spend time playing with these verbs, and let them take your imagination where it will.  Most of all, have fun!

(If you want to read the next post in this series, click here.)

Happy Writing,

EF

Journal Friday: Lists

Your house and your life will be full of lists.  Most likely shopping lists, most infamously, To Do lists.  We all make them.  They are the most efficient way to remind your brain about the important, and the not-so-important things.

But did you know they can add an extra dimension to your journal practise?

We keep lists because they are an easy way to record a series of items, whether they are things we already possess, things we need to get (like shopping lists),things we need to do, or remember, or worry about, or understand.

Lists also allow us to create hierarchies within them.  You can order your list in terms of importance or urgency.  You can use each item as a heading, and include a sub-list beneath it.  Or you can just scribble items down in the order they come into your head – which is in itself a kind of order, though the meaning of that order may only be understood by you.  And yes, I do use mind maps too, but I don’t find them half so useful, because they don’t have the implied order that a list does.  You have to impose the order on them afterwards, which seems a waste of time to me – why not do it as you go along?

I like using lists in my diary to gather together thoughts that are floating about in my head which don’t really fit anywhere.  For instance, the other day, I made a list of all the items I wanted to buy which would need to be saved for:  new spectacles, a juicer, a steam floor cleaner, and other things.  Each of these items came from a separate train of thought:   ‘I can’t see to read these days, I need to get an eye test’;  ‘Maybe drinking green juice would help me feel better’;  ‘Its really muddy outside and we are trailing a lot of mud into the house, and I am fed up with mopping the floor all the time, maybe there is a quick alternative.’

None of these things really go together.  Normally, I would put them under headings like ‘Health care’, ‘Diet’ and ‘Housecleaning’.  But I don’t have a place to record any of these ideas (I confess – mea maxima culpa – I don’t keep a Home Management binder or a GTD planner, shame on me!)  They are all good ideas, but if I don’t write them down, they will get forgotten, and I will no doubt then waste valuable mental energy thinking them up again, or coming up with new solutions.  Now I have a list recorded, I can forget about it until I need it.

Something else I have been doing for years is using lists to help with emotional challenges.  I frequently get myself into a state of profound anxiety by worrying about half a dozen things at once.  Or sometimes more!  Usually, when I get like this, I find myself struck down with a migraine, so its something I prefer to avoid, if I can.  Out comes the diary, then, and away I go, writing down a list of all the things I am worried about, and why.  I may end up with pages of bullet points.  Then I revue them.  Usually I can see a pattern emerging, and I can work out that there are one or two core issues coming up that the sheer volume of worries are masking.  Once I have identified what is really wrong, I can make a list of things I can do about the problem – because taking action of some kind, however small, always makes me feel better.

When I am feeling completely overwhelmed by everything I feel I have to do, I take the time to make a list of everything.  Then I can identify the SHOULDS I am imposing on myself can rule them out, because they are usually neither Urgent nor Important* in the grand scheme of things.  Also, writing all the things I have to get through somehow makes the mountain less intimidating.  Life seems more manageable when you can get it down on a sheet of paper.

(*Knowing the difference between Urgent and Important is crucial when you have limited resources.  Urgent is something that has to be done NOW.  Important is something which needs to be done as a matter of priority for your future wellbeing/happiness/security etc.  For example, Urgent could be putting the laundry in the machine because you won’t have any clean knickers tomorrow if you don’t.  Important is getting your tax return in to avoid late filing fines.  Of course, tax returns could also be Urgent, if you are within a few hours of the deadline, and the laundry might be Important if tomorrow is also the day when you have an interview for a potentially life-changing new job!  But you can see the difference.  Urgent changes your immediate future, whereas Important is more long term.  Which is why a list helps you to identify which is which!)

I also really like using lists to explore an idea.  I give myself time to visualise the concept in my mind, for example, that of Bear energy, which I was talking about the other day.  Then I do a word association around that idea, writing down all the words and feelings and thoughts that pop into my head in a list which depicts what that idea means to me.  I can then use that list as a starting point for exploring deeper meanings and related areas.

I mainly use lists to dump everything out of my brain because I invariably have a cranium so full of stuff that something has to be offloaded or I will go mad.  Quick, thumbnail sketches of stories, plans, thoughts, worries, household jobs, recipes, things to tell my husband when he gets home, and food items we have just run out of, all end up on lists in my journal.  It has only been through writing this post that I have begun to realise how addicted to lists I actually am!

The other thing about lists is that they are easily accessible when you read them back.  Even a series of one word items can remind you of a whole Mind Palace of thoughts.  And once these thoughts are outside your head, you can use your brain to come up with lots of lovely new ones!  What liberation!

Tips for Keeping Lists:

  • Make sure you label your list especially if it is connected with a word association or particular project.
  • I often scribble lists on loose sheets of paper that I find hanging around the house, and stick them into my diary later – this means I feel I can be as messy as I want with the list because I am not messing up my nice, neat diary page. (When the list is stuck in, I can decorate it and make it nice if I like.)
  • If you make several lists on several sheets, stick them in your journal together so they make sense on reading back.
  • Give yourself space when you make a list.  There will always be something else you want to add!

Journal Exercise:

You could use any of the techniques with lists that I have mentioned above, but you might like to try this one, from the field of Gestalt therapy.

This technique can help you access unconscious feelings that are causing your trouble.

Do you have an ache or pain that has been grumbling away recently?  A dogged headache that resists all medication, a sprained ankle, an aching hip?

Take out your journal and sit quietly, away from noise and distractions.  (Give yourself plenty of time for this.)

Focus your mind now on the part of your body that is troubling you, and really dive deep into experiencing the pain, ache, or discomfort, or whatever feeling is going on there.  Let the feeling fill you up.  Connect with it.

Now take out your pen and, continuing to focus on the feeling.  How would you describe the feeling?  Whatever word first pops into your head, no matter how unlikely it seems, write it down.  Now focus again and look for the next word.  And the next.  Keep going until your mind empties and no more words appear.

Now read back your list.  Are there any words that particularly jump out at you?  Any themes that seem apparent?  Some unlikely or seemingly unconnected words may turn out to be linked to things that are going on in your life, in friendships, your career or family.  They may remind you of emotional issues you have not confronted, or point to something in your life that feels unfinished, unfair or unsatisfying.

Now take some time to journal about the words that seem most meaningful to you.  Allow yourself to explore what comes up and see where it takes you.  You may find yourself planning a new adventure, resolving old conflicts, or seeing situations in a new light.  It can be very enlightening.

You may feel this exercise is a bit mumbo-jumbo, but I assure you, it’s a great way to access things going on in your head ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, and it can explain a lot.  You may also find it difficult to start off with, but practise and you will find it easier over time.  You might even want to have a friend help you by writing down the words that come up as you concentrate on your own body.  And if you get a recurring pain in the same place, you can go back to your list and do the exercise again, and compare the two to see if something new comes up.  You may even find, as I frequently have, that the pain you focus on is significantly reduced or even disappears as a result of its ‘being heard’.  It’s is a great way to use lists, and I encourage you to have a go.

Happy list-making,

EF

A Letter to Darla’s Daughter about Fanfiction

Dear Darla’s daughter,

I’m really sorry, but when your mom left a comment on my website, she didn’t tell me what your name was, so I’ll have to hope you don’t mind my being a bit general.

Anyway, she said that you are 12 years old and that you like writing fanfiction, like me.  She also mentioned that she is trying to get you to start creating characters of your own, something you and I also have in common, because I am trying to do that too.  She believes this is important, and so do I, and I wanted to tell you why.

First, though, I want to say Yay for you!  You’re writing, and that is fantastic!

Writing, as I am sure you have found out for yourself, is great fun, some of the best fun, in fact, that it is possible to have.  And fanfiction?  Well, doing that just makes it even better.  You take other peoples characters and send them out into the world of your imagination.  You can make them do whatever you like, get them into all sorts of trouble, and get them out, have endless adventures with them – what’s not to like?  And then there’s the other thing about it.  You get to act out all your crushes on the gorgeous actors and pop stars that you like.  Yes, don’t blush, we all do it!

I was writing fanfiction at your age, although I was writing about actors and shows you have never heard of, and probably never will, and fanfiction didn’t even have a name back then!  It was something you did by the light of a torch under the blankets at night and didn’t tell your friends about.  A fantasy life all your own.  It was something embarrassing you did in private, like picking your nose!

Now it’s a recognised genre, although there is still a lot of snobbery about it, like there still is about all kinds of genre fiction, like crime and romance.  (Usually the people who criticize it are not writers themselves, though, so feel free to completely ignore their opinions because they invariably don’t know what they are talking about!)  Today, people recognise that most of the great writers have written fanfiction at some point, and popular and literary novelists are being paid to write fanfiction novels for the legitimate market.

Fanfiction is a great thing to do, too, because it allows you to practise, to test out your writing skills and grow them.  The more you write, the better you get, and if you are enthusiastic about the characters, you will write more.  You get to experiment in ways you just can’t with other types of writing.  And if you share your work online, there is a whole world of other writers willing to help, advise and support you as you learn.  So don’t ever let anyone tell you it is wrong to write fanfiction, or that its not ‘real’ writing, because it is.

But here is the thing:  using another writer’s characters can only take you so far.  And if you really like writing, if you really want to get good at it, you have to take the next step.  You have to make up your own original characters.

Why?

Well, here is the thing:  At the heart of every truly great story are great characters.  Look at Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, for example.  Both are full of fantastic, original characters, from Severus Snape to Frodo Baggins.  There are outstanding characters in every truly great novel.  Think of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’, Willy Wonka in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ or even my favourite, the wonderful Sherlock Holmes.  In films, you might choose the shark fisherman Quint in ‘Jaws’ (which you are too young to have seen, I suppose, but that’s a treat for the future!), James Bond or Spock in ‘Star Trek’; on the stage, there is the villainous Salieri in Schaffer’s ‘Amadeus’ or the Phantom in ‘Phantom of the Opera’.  If you haven’t come across any of these yet, I encourage you to seek them out because they are tremendous.

All original.  Each loved by millions.  And each one has ensured their creator’s immortality.

So, to become a great writer, or even a good one, you need to have at the core of your work truly great characters.

But here is the really wonderful part:

There are only seven plots. Okay, yes, you can chop them up and interchange bits of them endlessly, but basically, there are a limited number of things you can do, plot-wise.

But there are as many original characters in your head as there are people on the planet.  And here is why:

No one, anywhere, even if you are a twin, has ever had the same experience of the world as you.

You are unique.

The way your mind works, what has happened to you, the things you think about and imagine, that you think are important, that you love and hate, are all unique.  There may be a few people quite like you, but no one, anywhere, has ever experienced the world exactly the same way as you.

And because you are unique, your imagination is unique.  No one else can create quite the same kinds of characters as you.

And once you start creating your own characters, they start getting up doing things inside your head that are completely exciting and unexpected and utterly amazing.  Believe me – I was writing a novel a few years back, and one of my main characters just upped and died right there in front of me, without any warning, and I didn’t know what to do because half of the rest of the book depended on her being there!  Help!  Okay, I fixed it in the end, but it was a scary moment.  And also utterly wonderful.

Once you start creating your own characters, your writing moves on to the next level.  That element of chaos as they take on a life of their own is only the start.

That is the moment when the wonderful thrill of story-telling hits you, and you open your wings, and take off, and soar through the air.

Fanfiction is great, believe me, but it is like being a sparrow when you could be an eagle,  And wouldn’t you rather be an eagle?

So creating your own characters isn’t just thing your mom goes on about because its what she thinks is important, even though you are having so much more fun making the pin-ups on your bedroom walls have romantic adventures through fanfiction.  She wants you to taste the real freedom of the imagination, as do I.

That is why I am going to write a lot less fanfiction this year, and concentrate more on my original characters.  I’m already having so much fun with it.  So why don’t you join me?

With Best Wishes from your fellow writer,

Evenlode’s Friend.

Outflow: Aftermath

john and sherlockSo last night, the last episode of series 3 of ‘Sherlock’ was shown on British television, and we have all survived to write fanfics another day.

Frankly, I am glad it is over.  I am fed up of it.  I am fed up of all the over-analysis and navel-gazing and second-guessing.  Its worse than teenage girls talking about their boyfriends!  I didn’t wait two years for uncontrolled squeeing and unalloyed adoration.  The whole series had massive problems as well as sublime moments, and I have reservations.

Reservations about the series and the way its going, and reservations about fanfiction.

Don’t get me wrong, fanfiction has been good to me.  It has taught me to write in ways I could never have explored otherwise.  It has given me the inspiration to write thousands of words and dozens of new works.  I have written every day, and I have loved every minute of it, even the bits when I was sweating blood over plot bunnies and getting aggressive reviews.  It has allowed me to deal with deep emotional trauma and reclaim my sexuality, something I never expected.  So, hooray for fanfiction!

But right now it feels a bit like a straightjacket.

I’ve got so used to writing with other people’s characters that I have lost the confidence to write my own.  And that is more than ‘a bit not good’.

Somewhere along the line, I have lost myself.  My own voice.  The only voices I can hear in my head these days are those of Cumberbatch and Freeman.  My own original characters have fallen silence, and I need to give them back their voices.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will never write fanfiction again.  I’m convinced that pretty much everything I have ever written has been a fanfic underneath.  And I had a surge of inspiration yesterday that finally undid the plot block I’ve been struggling over in my ‘Cuddleverse’ story, so hooray for that because it means I will be able to finish the damn thing!  And I so need to finish it!

But now my brain is finally coming back online after our Christmas Emergency, I am realising that I need to branch out in new ways.  That feels scary.  New stuff can be scary.  But if we don’t test our boundaries, how can we ever grow as artists?

Happy boundary testing,

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

Why I don’t set Goals anymore

I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

 Following on from my previous post about celebrating our creative achievements, I’d like to talk a bit about goals.

There is a lot of talk about setting goals and resolutions for the New Year around in the blogosphere at the moment.  I’m a sucker for all kinds of productivity systems, believe me.  I’ve got a cupboard full of Filofaxes, and I’ve read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ more time than I can possibly count.  (I still don’t really understand it, though.  But that’s another story.)  Anything that requires a list, a planner, a diary, a system, I love it.

Except.

The thing about goals is that they are just another tyranny of the Scarcity culture, the trend in society that persuades us that we are not enough.

Meet your goals and you will be enough, they say.

Except.

What if they are not the right goals?  What if they are someone else’s goals that you are just pursuing because you feel you have to in order to please them?  What if life gets in the way and simply prevents you from completing them?

And.

Once you have achieved your goal, there is always, always another one.  One goal is never enough.  Because you are never enough.

What if you were enough?

What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

More importantly, what would you do if it didn’t matter if you failed?

The Catch-22 is this:  Our success-oriented culture tells us that we must have goals in order to be successful.  (For a very narrowly defined value of success, that is.)  If you don’t achieve your goals, you are a failure.  If you do achieve your goals, then you have to have more goals.  We are on a twenty-first century hamster wheel.

Let me illustrate:

Your goal is to write a novel.  How do you measure that goal?  Is it to write 50,000 words, as NaNoWriMo would have it?  Is it to complete a first draft?  Is it to get to a drafting stage where an agent accepts your work?  Is it to get it to the drafting stage where an editor is satisfied?  Or to publication?

And when you get there, what next?  Write another novel?  Does this one only count if it wins the Man Booker Prize?  Or if it tops the Amazon bestseller lists?  Or if you make your first million from it?

You see what I am getting at?  When do you say ‘when’?  When is it ‘enough’?  When does the goal, the To Do list, end?

Yes, goals motivate us.  They help us to get things done.  They help us build businesses and careers.  They help us expand our expertise, our creativity, our skills and range.  As creative people, goals help us to plot a course of where we want to go with our talents, what we want to explore.  And that is all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Intentions

The Douglas Adams quote at the top of this post says everything I feel about goals.  For me they are stressful, and because of my health, I need to eliminate all the stress from my life that I can.  That’s why I set intentions.

Intentions are gentler.  Intentions allow room to grow and explore.  They don’t stop me from achieving things.  They allow me to achieve far more, in fact, because they allow me space to find out more about my creativity than a narrow, specific goal might.  They also take account of the times when my health does not allow me to pursue timed objectives.  Intentions are better for my kind of creativity and my own personal challenges than goals.  And they take account of who I am as a whole being.  They allow me and my creativity to grow at a slower and more mindful pace.

If you are wondering what an intention might be, how about this illustration:  This year I decided on the Intention to make our home a calmer place filled with light and peaceful colours.  Now, I could make a whole To Do list based on this intention:

  • Paint bathroom white
  • Buy new living room rug
  • Sew new curtains and cushions
  • Declutter every room

And so on.  These might be classified as goals.  They might even be timed, with one goal set for every month of the year.

Instead, this Intention can evolve over the coming months.  Each of these items may indeed be included in the things I do to fulfil my Intention, but they are part of a wider, more fluid way of living that allows for evolution and expansion.  Intentions don’t stay still.  They move and change shape.  They allow me to go at my own pace, a pace that I can afford, both in terms of personal stress, time and finance.  If I decide an action doesn’t fit with my Intention, then I am at liberty not to do it.  And I know I am not going to wake up the morning after I have put up the new curtains and realise they are completely horrendous in the light at this time of year!

Perhaps the two things I like most about Intentions are that they are:

Not static

Slow.

Perhaps you might feel that Intentions are a luxury that you cannot afford in your time-pressured, stressful existence.  If you feel that way, I invite you to consider seriously how you are living.  If you are all rush-rush-rush, how are you ever going to have time to notice and experience your life as it passes?

Journal Exercise:

In the next few posts I am going to talk about the process of setting (particularly creative) intentions.  And it is a process, something that evolves and takes time.

In the meantime, take some time out with your journal to think about what goals mean for you.  Are you one of those people who always fails with their New Year resolutions?  Do you have goals, and if you do, do you achieve what you set out to do?  Do you consistently set them so high you can’t but fail to achieve them, or so low that you don’t value them because they take no effort to achieve?  How do you use goals to beat yourself up, to tell yourself that you are not good enough?  Where do you fail, fizzle out, fall off the waggon, and do you know why?

Alternatively, how do goals motivate you?  What have they helped you to achieve?  How do you feel when you complete a goal –are you proud of what you have done, excited about the next step, satisfied that you did what you set out to do, or disappointed because you don’t feel as if the result is quite what you expected or wanted?  Was it the right goal for you in the first place? (Indeed, whose goal was it?)

While doing this exercise, be kind to yourself.  Don’t judge.  Be gentle.  Treat yourself as if you were a dear friend whom you want to support to the utmost.  Be patient.  Don’t rush.  You are not seeking to punish yourself.  The goals have done that effectively enough already.  You are on the journey to find a new way of being.  A new way of sparking your creativity and enriching your life.

Happy Journaling,

EF