Category Archives: Just Do It!

New Fiction: Giraffe in Lipstick

Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-Lips_1438789042_crop_550x299

Its the usual thing.  Getting out of my own way.

I don’t have writers block.  I never have a paucity of stories whirling in my head.  Usually I have four or five.

No, the problem I have is getting out of my own way to write them down.  Lately I have taken to opening random unfinished stories in my fanfic files and finishing them off, just for the sake of releasing some creative steam.

‘Giraffe in Lipstick’ is the product of one afternoon’s wrestling with the brick wall I had built around my muse.  I wrote the start of it last year, but then it sat there, gathering digital dust, until the other day I found it, re-read it, and the second half just popped into my head.  Its silly and thin, but I think its fun, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

You can find it here at Ao3, and here at ff.net.

Happy creating,

EF

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The Benefits of Giving Up

The Cumberbatch

Gratuitous Cumberbatch photo. Just because I felt like it!

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you about why its sometimes a really good idea to give up.

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

In my last post, I wrote about the folly of trying.  Of pushing ourselves beyond endurance, and as a result, being unable to achieve the things we want.

That post was an example of me writing my own permission slip.  That day, I took my own advice.  I gave up trying.  I spent a lot of time just lying around.  I felt terrible, so why do anything else? I simply surrendered to what my body was trying to tell me.  Which was, in essence, ‘STOP’.

So far, so good.

The next day, I woke up at 8.30am, earlier than I am normally able to do, and in addition, woke with a clear head.

I grabbed my laptop and opened it up.

And I wrote.

I wrote all day.

In between spells of writing, I stripped the bed, put clean sheets on, did three loads of washing, tidied the kitchen, ironed some fresh pillowcases, made some long overdue phonecalls, and cooked a lovely supper for Husband and myself. I got so much done!

By close of play, i.e.11pm, I had written (get this) 6470 words.  Thats 27 pages.

The most I have ever written in one day.

(Round of applause, please.)

And all because I had given myself some much-needed space.

This is why you must learn to stop.  Yes, it is important to write every day.  Little and often is imperative.  Regular practise for any art form is necessary.

And there will be days when you sit down at your desk or in your studio and think:  ‘I really don’t want to do this today.’  And when you start, the brush strokes will be ugly or the words will come out like lumps of lead.  And then you will get going and things will flow and it will be alright.  (In fact it will be better than alright.  Because all the pain and depression you may have been struggling with will fly away, and creating will heal you.)  That is the point of any practise.

I am not saying you should only write when you feel like it.

What I am saying is that you must recognise that there are some days when your body is leeched to a husk, when your brain is too full or too empty to do anything but be.  Those are the days when you need to be gentle with yourself.  To put away the expectations.  And you will know those days.  The days of crisis.  The days when Life just steps in and pulls the carpet from under you.

If, like me, you live with chronic illness, working out which those days are becomes a little harder.  After 17 years, I am getting better at it, but I’m still not great.

The important thing to remember is that when you release the pressure on yourself, the result is often magic.

Its very Zen to say: let go of perfectionism, let go of expectations, but its easier said than done.  We all carry expectations from society, our upbringing, our peers and ourselves.  Letting them go is a daily practise in itself.  I am reminded however of an old saying I once heard:

“Let go, and Let God.”

Once we stop trying, once we stop tensing up and forcing things, the creativity flows through us freely onto the page or the canvas or the keyboard.  When we are free to make crap art, we learn.  And invariably, in my experience at least, when we give ourselves permission to make crap, what comes out is pure gold.

So here I am, in the aftermath of this great day of writing, assessing what I have learnt, what I can take with me from this experience.  I don’t know if what I wrote yesterday was gold or dross.  Chances are it will be about 50/50.  I don’t really care.  To be frank, it was fun.  It was an enormous relief just to spread my wings and fly without judging myself at all.

And I’m looking forward to doing it again just as soon as I can.

Happy creating,

EF

 

The Folly of Trying

My counsellor told me a story:

A man was asked at a conference to come up onto the stage, where the speaker had set a single chair in the centre.

‘Try to pick up the chair ,’ the speaker said.

The man picked up the chair.

‘No, you’re not getting it,’ the speaker said.  ‘Try to pick up the chair.’

The man picked up the chair again.

‘No, you’re still not getting it.  TRY to pick up the chair.’

The man put his hands on the chair and then, in a flash of inspiration, he understood.

Because TRYING to pick up the chair is not the same as picking up the chair.

If you TRY, you never actually achieve the action.  You just TRY.

Or, as the venerable Yoda said, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’:

Try not.  Do.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

(I had that on my door at college.  I don’t think I understood it then.  Now I do, I really, really do.)

This wisdom has really been banging on my door today, as I struggle with a cold, coming on the back of a bad spell of IBS and ME/CFS.  I am busy TRYING.  Trying to get better.  Trying to feel well. Trying to cope with the housework. Trying to write.

Sometimes you have to recognise the wisdom of ‘Do or Do Not.’

Lately, I worry that this blog has become more about illness and less about creativity.  More about my TRYING experience.  But I think it really is an important lesson to learn for creative people.  We push ourselves and push ourselves, driven by expectations and perfectionism and Gods-know what demons we have inside us, deftly planted there, no doubt, by our loving parents. We dance the dance of the OUGHT-hogs.  The SHOULDS.  We are so busy forcing meaning into our lives as creatives, as Eric Maisel ill-advised (IMHO), that we pulverise our souls and our bodies into gibbering wrecks, terrorised by all the goals we fail to achieve and the standards we are incapable to meeting.  Books about how to write invariably advise the student that they have to write every day, no matter what.  I don’t think thats healthy or, frankly, practical.  Of course, it helps if you can.  A lot.  But seriously, who can write when their child has been up all night vomiting, or they have just received a redundancy notice?

Sometimes you have to treat yourself with loving kindness.  Sometimes you have to lower your expectations, and maybe even give in to the avalanche that Life has dumped on your head.  I have been talking to several friends who are all struggling with ill health this week, recovering from cancer treatment or at the end of a difficult pregnancy, or even in bereavement, and I truly believe that this is something all of us needed to hear.

Sometimes you are allowed to stop trying.

Sometimes its good to stop trying.

And then, when you have given yourself a break, a rest, a time of wound-licking, you can get up and go and do what it is you need to do.

MInd you, I have probably just proved myself wrong by writing this blog post, because I’ve spent the last six hours lying in bed groaning, absolutely convinced that I couldn’t write anything today.  So there you go.  Take from that what you will.  Just promise me something?

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Happy Creating,

EF

 

I Think I Just Rescued Myself

Peter Mothersole's House

A Bit of a Wobble.

I had a wobble today.

The ‘Writers Block’ wobble.

You know the one:

I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cantI can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cantI can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t

and so on and so forth.

That moment when you think:

I have nothing to write about, nothing to say, no way of saying  it.  I am empty, dry.  I will never write another word again.

Oh, the horror, the horror…

But that’s not true.

The real truth is that I am avoiding writing what I know I should be writing. (oh yes, oops, prizes for all those who picked out the Bingo! word there – SHOULD.  Because we don’t do SHOULDS here at Evenlode’s Friend, do we?)

I have a great list of ideas of things to tell you about.  But right now, the juice is not flowing.  I don’t want to do them. I feel like the idea of my writing about writing or creativity is preposterous.  I mean, what the hell do I know?

It is a very short step from here to writers block, the neurosis that prevents otherwise creative people from writing for months, years, sometimes forever.  It is a scary thought.  I don’t want to go there.

Maybe I am just not ready yet.  Maybe I am still getting over my family care stint.  It was, after all, pretty emotionally demanding in so many ways.  And physically too.  Frankly, I don’t feel well, either.

So, instead of beating myself up about all the things I SHOULD be writing, I decided to write what I COULD write.  I always have a little story going on my head, something to pass the time, a little tale to entertain me, a bit of dialogue, a few jokes, anything from a silly children’s fable to a torrid love scene.  Something was definitely developing while I was ironing pillowcases after lunch, so I decided I would write it down and see what happened.

Pen to paper.

Two hours later, and here I am with a 2000 word fanfic done and able to write the blog post I never thought I would be able to get to you today.

The Moral of the Story:

Write something.

Write anything.

It doesn’t matter what it is, or if its good, or whether anybody will ever see it.  It doesn’t matter what it is about, whether it is part of your novel, or a section of your non-fiction book, a bit of memoir or just a few lines of description.

Just write something.

And once you get a few words lined up on the page, you will find you can get a few more lined up.  And then a few more.  And then, O Wonder of Wonders!  You will be writing again.

Crisis averted.

Please do not allow yourself to tip over the edge into CAN’T.  Take a deep breath, get out your pen and write a shopping list.  Or a list of the things you can hear right now.  Or what that smell reminds you of.

Because you CAN.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

The Power of Acceptance

Lilac Phone Box found in the garden of a pub in Dersingham, Norfolk.  Doesn't that warm your heart?

Lilac Phone Box found in the garden of a pub in Dersingham, Norfolk. Doesn’t that warm your heart?

Life is, at the moment, a constant exercise in the power of acceptance.

Right now, its hot.

I’m not very good at extremes of weather, and heat just makes me want to sleep continually.  Plus my eyes are bleary and swollen as a result of hayfever, such that my sight is affected.  Frankly, I might as well have a pair of apples glued to the front of my head – I’d probably see better!  Because of the hot nights, I’m nto sleeping either, which makes the eyes and the heat all the more difficult to handle.

So I am not.

(Handling it, I mean.)

I am hiding away from the heat in my cool Victorian brick home, which retains the cold of the night all day, thank goodness, meaning it is miserable to heat in winter, but bliss in summer.

I am accepting that I can’t cope with the heat like I used to.  No more lying on beaches in the Greek Islands, sweltering in 38 degrees for me, thank you very much.

I am accepting that my capacity for doing anything much is greatly reduced.

I am accepting that my body needs to be nurtured through this extreme weather, so I am giving it lots of water, and light but nourishing foods.  A raw vegan diet is easy to eat in this weather because I just don’t want to eat much anyway.

I am sitting in front of my electric fan with my feet up, and honestly, I am loving it.  Its so nice not to have to feel I SHOULD be productive.

And as a result, I have written two stories this week.

Yes, two.

Taking the SHOULDS out of the equation is a recipe for creative freedom.  Moral of the story is:

Stop trying to force it.

Let it flow.

Be who you are.

What can you do to help yourself practise the art of acceptance this week?

Happy creating,

EF

Books about Writing

 

Bookshelf

My shelves of books about writing.

I’ve made a big decision.

No, not that one.

I’ve decided not to buy any more books about how to write for two months.

Now you may not think that’s such a hard task, but I am the sort of person who likes to buy a book about a subject in lieu of actually doing it. I’m a big one for research. If I’m going to take up some activity, say, crochet for instance, then I am the one who will chug down to the library and take out all known books on crochet, in order to find out everything I need to know about the subject. For two days I read avidly and become an armchair expert, without even touching a ball of wool. And then I lose interest and the books gather dust on the coffee table until they have to be taken back to the library before I get fined, no crochet having ever been done.

I’m the same with books about writing.

Once every three or four months, or so, I resolve ‘to take my work more seriously’. This usually involves going in to work with my husband, who is a University lecturer, and settling down in the campus library to tap away on laptop undisturbed. (Never mind the fact that I really struggle to visualise and write in that library, but there you are!)

To get to the library, I have to walk past a bookshop.

(If you love books, you just know where this is going to end, don’t you?)

Add to this the fact that this University runs one of the first, and still best, courses in Creative Writing in the world, whose alumni include the likes of Dame Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. You can imagine how good the bookshop’s section of writing is.

Let me tell you, it is hell to walk past.

This is the reason why the bookshelf beside my desk is so crammed with ‘How to Write’ books. I buy a book every time I decide to ‘get serious’, because of course, buying a book is a prerequisite of ‘getting serious’. I’ll read a few chapters. And then I get bored/move on/get ill/realise its shortcomings/decide I want to take up crochet instead etc. So now I have a bookshelf full of books about writing and how to write, many of which are very, very good, dozens of which come highly recommended by friends and in other books about writing, and almost none of which I have ever read cover to cover.

Just call me a butterfly.

Today is another of those ‘I’m going to get serious’ days. Today I am not going to buy a book.

This is partly because I am completely broke, and saving up for a new pair of spectacles because the ones I have got are close to useless and I’m fed up of having to take my glasses off in order to read.

But mostly because its because I need not to read about writing and how to write, but to actually DO it.

You can’t be a writer unless you actually write. And when you write, you learn far more about writing than you ever could from a book.

Books about writing are great. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a lot out of them. But there comes a time when you have to leave them alone and learn by doing.

I’ll let you know whether I stick to my guns or not, though I have to say I don’t think my groaning bookcase can survive even one more purchase!

Happy Creating,

EF

Choosing the Next Thing

go away bagI came back from Scotland with a marked desire to embark on a big project.  I suppose this isn’t something new, but is a desire I have been nurturing for a while.  It represents the need to get away from writing what are essentially someone else’s characters, and write my own.

I need something to get my teeth into, a full length novel to help me get my confidence in my ability to actually write something BIG back.  Its been a long time since I finished anything substantial in terms of original work, and I need this.

I was reading this article by justine Musk, in which she talks about some writing advice she was given by a teacher:

“Will writing this book change your life?” the teacher asked me. “If the answer is no, then that’s not your real baby.”

If we write our own psychodramas, if we write our way to self=knowledge, then I need something that reflects the place where I am in my life at the moment.  A novel that parallels my own journey.

I sat down with my notebook and wrote about the four projects I could choose from:  two Victorian novels, one Evenlode book, and one fantasy story.  Then I picked one of the Victorian novels and tried to write a little bit in the voice of the protagonist, mainly because I am struggling with making her a three-dimensional character, which is what has stymied progress so far.  And suddenly, everything made sense.

This novel is about being who you truly, authentically are.

And that is exactly where I am in life.  I am trying to own and be who I really am.

So in order to make the protagonist realistic, all I have to do is write her as me.  My voice, my problem, my reactions and interests.  Its not the way you are supposed to write a character, but it is a way into creating her in a believable way.  This way I can explore her voice and see the story from her point of view.  This pretty much buggers up everything I’ve previously written for this project, because its all third person, and varies the voices through each of the three main characters.  But that approach didn’t gel, which is why it didn’t get any further.  Now maybe I can find a way in.

And then all I have to do is to stick with it until its done.

I have no idea whether this will work.  Maybe this time next year I will have completed another Evenlode novel instead.  You never know.  What I don’t want is to still have four unfinished works in the pipeline by then.  I need to finish something.  So I’m going to ride this wild donkey side saddle, and see where it takes me.

Wish me luck,

Happy Creating,

EF.