Category Archives: Just Do It!

Trying New Things

Finished cupcakes

Finished cupcakes

One of the best ways to kickstart your creativity is to try new things.  Especially if those new things are far from your normal comfort zone, and especially if they involve play.

Yes, play.

Play is an essential part of creativity, and of our lives as human beings, but its something that is trained out of us as adults.

I am especially bad about this.  I freely admit I have forgotten how to play.  I never do anything that doesn’t in some way equal productivity.  I’m not able to bring myself to undertake any activity that won’t result in some positive learning outcome or tangible deliverable object.  Its so bloody worthy!

So when a friend suggested I join her at a cupcake decorating class, I jumped at the chance.

Okay, there were concrete deliverables involved – yummy pretty cupcakes were the result.  But the point is that I have never done any kind of sugarcraft before, and I haven’t used an icing piping bag in what feels like centuries, so it seemed like a fun thing to try.

We made sugar paste flowers and polkadot wellies and glittery butterflies and plump little heart shapes out of icing.  We learnt how to roll and knead and colour our sugar paste.  And then we went mad with the piping bags and learnt to make icing grass, piped roses, ‘Mr Whippy’ toppings (which you probably won’t understand unless you are British and have eaten a ‘Mr Whippy’ ice cream!) and piped hydrangea flowers with edible pearls on them.  So pretty!

In other words, we played.  For over two hours.  And it was brilliant.  Even putting the cupcakes in a presentation box at the end was pretty and fun.

cupcakes3

Cupcakes in their presentation boxes

I spent an entire evening, not using my left brain at all, and believe me, it was just the pick-up I needed.  Since I tried this fun new activity, I haven’t made or decorated any cakes, and I’m not too bothered if I never do.  But I’ve written lots and I’m excited about writing in a way I haven’t been for months.  Total release.

So if you are stuck in a rut with your chosen creative path, whatever it is, why not try something new.  Muck about.  Have fun with friends.  Do something with absolutely no emotional investment in it, and just enjoy it.  The worst that will happen is that you go home with a tray of delicious cupcakes.  And frankly, thats not really a bad outcome now, is it?

(NOTE:  All the cupcakes and icing were gluten free.  Recipes for the cupcakes and the butter icing came from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and the sugar paste was Sainsbury’s Fondant Icing.)

Happy Creating,

EF

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Journal Friday: Every Moment

cropped rosesEvery moment is a new opportunity.

Don’t think about all the books you haven’t written yet.  All canvases you haven’t filled, the dances you haven’t danced, yet.

With every new breath, you have an opportunity to DO DIFFERENT.

Didn’t write your diary yesterday?  Do it now.

Didn’t do your writing exercise or sketch.  Do it now.

There will always be an excuse.  Why listen to it?

Every moment is an opportunity to change what you do.  Its a choice.  Every waking moment.  You can choose to keep on keeping on, doing the same old same old, thinking the same old thoughts, being a victim, blaming other people because you never made the time to learn the piano or whatever.

Or you can choose to live the life you want to live RIGHT NOW.

If the life you want to live involves living in a villa on a Greek island painting huge abstract canvases, (confession: this is my dream retirement) and maybe you can’t run away to the sun just now, well, just get some paper out of the photocopier and some coloured pencils or pens and make some colours on the page.  Be the change you want to see.

You can be the person you always wanted to be RIGHT NOW.

You have a choice RIGHT NOW.

Be your own hero.

Choose now. 

Make your choice and be it.

Happy Creating,

EF

Its Never Too Late…

Whenever I see an article in the paper about some young person who has won an important first novel award, or got a massive advance on their first book, I have a mini meltdown.  Its not that I would take their achievement away from them.  Its just that I am now 46, and still struggling to finish a book that I am happy enough with to publish.

But how old is too old?

I could probably quote a dozen examples of authors who didn’t publish their first book until they were in their 60s or 70s.  There are always the exceptions.  I keep telling myself that its never too late to fulfil the dream of that first novel I wrote at the age of 16.  But you have to really understand the fact in your heart, as well as in  head.

Let me tell you a little story about fulfilling your dreams at any age.

The other day I went to my first Masked Ball.  I’m not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination, but we had been invited to go by friends who are.  It was an event run by the dancing school our friends attend, and as part of the entertainment, several of the school’s students danced exhibition dances.  To uproarious applause, there were paso dobles and waltzes and tangos.  (And there were lots of sparkles too, and I just love sparkles!)

Marvellous.

And then a tiny little old lady in a lacy top and a bow in her hair got up, and danced the foxtrot with her lady teacher.  And it was lovely.  She got the biggest round of applause of the night.

Then the evening’s compere told us about her.  How she had fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition recently by dancing in the British Ballroom Championships at the legendary Tower Ballroom in Blackpool.

Turns out, this lady, who reminded me a great deal of Mrs Pepperpot (if you remember her), was 86.

Eighty-six years old and still ballroom dancing.  Competitively.  Eighty-six years old and still pursuing her creativity.  Eight-six years old and still fulfilling her dreams.

How old is too old?

Ask me when I get to 87.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Planning the Perfect Home Office – Progress Report

So, as I mentioned before, Husband, in his wisdom, decided that the best idea he had ever had would be for us to swap studies.  He gets the box room at the back of the house, north facing, looking over the boiler house roof and into the woods beyond.  And I get the room at the front of the house, south-facing and a little more than twice the size, with accompanying futon and a big space to lay out my yoga mat, should I be so inclined.  Yes, I will have to share this space when friends come to stay, but frankly that doesn’t happen very often because we live so bloody far from everyone else we know on the planet!  On the other hand, my new desk overlooks the front garden, with a view down the lane and across the fields to the poplar plantation, about half a mile away.  Not only is it a great view, but I can see people coming!

So far so good.

What I was not bargaining for is the sheer accretion of junk that has built up over five years of occupancy.  There are mountains of magazines to sort through, clippings to find a home for, bills to file, and then there are the hundreds of other bits I never knew had.  A bellpull made of six gaudily decorated velour camels, given by a distant-travelling cousin.  A mug from an old work project with a cartoon on it of my own design.  Sufficient packs of playing cards to run a sizeable poker tournament – we never play cards.  Tiny audio tapes from an old Dictaphone machine, now long lost.  A bag of marbles – blamed on Husband.  A slightly used Barbie doll with complete wedding trousseau.  Empty A4 clip files and notebooks galore.  And how many packets of staples does one person really need?

(I’m not even going to mention the host of dead biros, fluff and ancient receipts for distantly deceased electronic equipment.)

It turns out that Number One on the list of activities when planning your home office is:

CONDUCT THE MOTHER OF ALL DECLUTTERINGS!

Having spent long hours toiling over heaps of useless junk, diligently throwing out anything I hadn’t looked at in six months, I then went through the following process.

Start by being proactive:  Being me, I went out and got a book from the Library on how to plan your home study.  It has lots of pretty pictures.  What it does not have is a list of things you will need.  It says you must work it out yourself.

Thanks.

Question 1 in the book:  How much storage will you require?

Answer:  How the fuck do I know?  I’m a writer!  By definition, I generate vast quantities of paper! And I draw too, so double that!

Cunning Strategy:  Make sure the Husband takes on responsibility for household filing so at least I don’t have to think about that.  I hate it anyway.  He can have it in his office so I never have to think about it again.  Plus, its one less filing cabinet to fit in.

Concern:  I have all these writing notebooks that I may need to refer to as a part of my work, so they will need to be handy.  But what do I do with all the Morning Pages notebooks and diaries?  I need to keep them because they record my life, but I doubt I shall need to drag them off the shelf on a regular basis.

Hesitant solution:  Bung them in big plastic crates with mouse-proof lids and store them in the boilerhouse?  Discard on the basis that its too risky because mice are fiendishly devious little bastards.

Sneaking suspicion:  I would rather go out and spend a fortune on funky stationery than plan any of this stuff.

Probable outcome:  I will be cheap and impulsive, go out to The Range and buy a bunch of ugly stuff I don’t like instead of working out how much I need and saving for the really nice stuff I do like, and none of it will do what I want/need it to, and then I shall not want to use my new office as a result, i.e. back to square one.

Sudden flash of determination:  I am not going to ‘cheap out’ again.  I’m going to do it right this time.  Because I deserve a nice place to create.

(Sneaking suspicion and Probable outcome persist in the back of my mind.)

Intermediate action:  Go on fact-finding mission.  In other words, hang out in posh shops looking at all the kit I can’t afford but would dearly love.  Come home feeling resentful, poor and even less determined to plan sensibly than I was before.

Current state of affairs: sulking.

Yes, I would love to be able to say I went out and bought a label maker and some washi tape and now my life is complete, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I have a desk and a chair, and three bookshelves double stacked with books, and a slightly denuded pile of Sherlock clippings, but my magnificent new working space has yet to materialise.

I’ll keep you posted.

(And if you have any tips, let me know.  Please?)

EF

Nuts ‘N’ Bolts: Writing Exercises

writing notebook Firstly, an apology.  Observant readers will note that today is Thursday.  Yes, I am a day late in posting.  Sorry.  Life got in the way, in the shape of a migraine, and it’s not funny trying to write with tunnel vision and the pain equivalent of a knitting needle stuck through your eyeball.  I figured I might sound somewhat distracted (as indeed I was), so in the spirit of demonstrating how important self care is, I bugged off and went to bed.  Today’s post is something of a restart.

For a while I have been feeling the itch to get back to writing original fiction.  I’ve been working on fanfiction almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and while it has been hugely instructive in terms of both technique and confidence, I feel like it is time to start making some personal headway again.  Hence the restart.

Getting back to basics is one way to do this if, like me, you are feeling a little at sea when it comes to what to write about.  And one of the best basics to get back to is the marvellous tool that is the writing exercise.

Writing exercises are based on the idea of stream-of-consciousness and free association.  You sit down with your notebook and write for a set amount of time, without judgement or criticism.  You are free to make mistakes, try stuff out, experiment with new words, phrases, images, metaphors.  This is a free-form space where there are no mistakes, only ideas tried on for fit and comfort.

What you need:

  • An allowance of time (10 minutes, 15, half an hour if you have it, or the luxury of more.)
  • A notebook (maybe your writing notebook, or one you keep specially for exercises).
  • A good pen that you can write easily with.
  • A timer.
  • A quiet space to work.
  • A prompt.

What to do:

Maybe you sit down to write at your desk, and your brain goes blank, or worse, is crowded with too many ideas that are too big to fit into 10 minutes or whoever long you have got, and you freeze.

Say hello to your little friend, the prompt.

A prompt is a word, sentence or idea that you use to start you off.  Write it in your notebook.  You may like to start a fresh page, thus allowing yourself a psychological fresh start.  Set your timer to your allotted amount of time, and off you go.

You start writing whatever comes into your head.  You might be writing about yourself, the way you would in your journal, or you might be writing about a character, or from a character’s point of view.  You might describe a scene or an experience.  Keep writing.  Whatever appears on the movie screen of your brain, write it down. And the next thing.  And the next thing.  Keep going until the bell rings and your time is up.

This is a great way of generating material, especially if you are the kind of writer who finds building up words a process of torture.  It is also good for exploring the backstory of your characters, finding out what makes them tick.  And of course, you will occasionally find yourself coming back to reality in the middle of a short story that you didn’t even know you had in you, as I often do.

I like to do two or three 15 minute exercises at one sitting, which allows me to really get into the groove.  You may not have time for that, and that’s okay.  The important thing is that you do the exercises.  And do one daily.  Limber up.  Get into the Habit of Art.

If you find it hard to get yourself into the mood, or to make time, writing exercises are a great tool to use with others.  Arrange to meet up with a writing pal at the local café, and do a few prompts together.  You don’t have to share what you have written if you don’t want to, but if you make an appointment with someone else, you are more likely to show up at the page and do the work.

Where to find prompts:

Ah! I hear you cry.  But where am I supposed to find these fabled prompts?

Well, there are plenty of books around that offer just these kinds of starting grounds.  I am very fond of the following:

‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves

‘The Writer’s Block’ by Jason Rekulak

‘The Writer’s Idea Book’ by Jack Heffron.

Search the internet for ‘writers prompts’, or check out http://creativewritingprompts.com/, which is a delight.

In the meantime, here are a few to get you started:

  • What does your character carry in their pockets and why?
  • I woke with a start…
  • Heat
  • My first pet
  • A favourite meal

Happy Writing!

EF

Outflow: New FanFiction!

ginger catYou can now read daily portions of my new fanfic, ‘The Melted Man’, here at A03, or here at FF.net.

‘The Melted Man’ is my version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, ‘The Crooked Man’, updated to take account of the Iraq war.  Its a bit of a new departure for me, effectively adapting a story, and its more of a mystery than a romance, which is what I am used to writing.

And yes, I am copping out of writing today’s Journal Friday post, partly because I have a cold, and partly because I think presenting new writing is just as important, if not more so.  I’ve got half a dozen story ideas rattling around my brain at the moment, plus a new novel idea forming, which is a bit scary. since I’ve already got two in process at the moment.  I am being drawn towards writing something about grief, but I probably need to get something finished and under my belt first.  A bird in the hand and all that.  I’ll let you know how I am getting on.

In the meantime, here is a little excerpt from ‘The Melted Man’ to tempt your appetite:

“‘Well, difficult one, this one,’ Professor James-not-Bunsen-Honeydew said, grinding his palms together awkwardly.  ‘I’d definitely say he died because his heart stopped.  Beyond that, it gets a little problematic.’

‘Everybody dies because their heart stops,’ Sherlock snapped.  ‘Can’t you be more specific?’  He shot John his ‘what am I doing out here in this godforsaken rustic backwater – you’d better be bloody grateful is all I can say’ glare.

‘First off, there are no marks on the body, no sign of disease, puncture wounds or congenital heart defects,’ James went on.  ‘I’ve run the standard tox screens, which have all come back negative.  I’ve sent off a second panel, more specific to poison indicators, but to be frank, I don’t expect any positive hits on those either.  Colonel Cornforth was as fit as a fiddle.  Possibly fitter.  And then, well, there’s this-‘

He pulled back the sheet, revealing the late Colonel Cornforth’s head and shoulders.

John had to look away.  He had seen far too many corpses that looked like that.  Frankly, even one was too many.

Jeffries gasped, ‘Jesus!’ under his breath.”

Happy reading,

EF

Outflow: What is Your Definition of Success?

I was having a conversation yesterday with my therapist about the definition of success, and Life Purpose.  If you are a bit of an addict for self-help blogs, as I am, you will be familiar of the idea of Life Purpose.  Everybody talks about it.  Why am I here?  The self help industry wants you to define your Life Purpose, because they say it will help with setting goals and achieving success – yes, there is that word again.  The thing we all want to achieve, or are told we do.

I always believed that my Life Purpose was to write and publish books.

Unfortunately that sentence has a big fat bear trap in it.

When I meet someone new at a party, and they ask me (as people invariably do when they are making small talk with strangers) “what do you do?”, I have always replied:  “I am a writer.”  Two questions then follow:

“What sort of books do you write?”

and, “Can I get your books in Waterstones?” (Insert the name of your local bookseller chain as appropriate).

When I explain that I haven’t been published by a conventional publisher yet, I can see the light die in their eyes.  The words are practically written in neon on their faces:

“Oh, well you aren’t really a writer then, are you?  You’re just one of those hobbyists who likes to talk about themselves like they are the next JK Rowling, but what you actually do is write crap that nobody wants to read!

Society’s definition of success is publication by the conventional publishing trade.  You aren’t a writer till you are in print.

The fact is, I have written seven novels.  I have published nearly thirty short stories and novellas which get an average of 100+ readers a day on the internet, an audience size which most conventionally published writers would kill for.  I have taught writing dayschools, mentored other writers and judged short story competitions.  I have written a monthly column for a paper with a circulation of 7000, and have two academic papers to my name.  And I have kept a diary for more than thirty years.  What part of this does not constitute success?

The more I have written, the more I have realised that my definition of Life Purpose is flawed.  My purpose is not to get published, because that is only half the story, and frankly, its really not the important, interesting or exciting half.  I have realised that the part of writing I really love is the writing part, the process.  I love coming up with new stories and characters.  I love visualising scenes and dialogue.  I love the rush I get when I am in full flow, in the middle of writing a scene or chapter, when I am in the action, experiencing what my characters do, feeling their feelings, seeing through their eyes.  And I love the sense of satisfaction when I come out the other end  and look at what I’ve done.

My purpose is to write.  Simply that.

Because the thing is, you are a writer if you write.

Talking about getting your novels published, dreaming of a bestseller, imagining yourself on talk shows explaining how your stories have been adapted for film or TV – none of these things are what a writer is, although it is true that they may occasionally have to do these things.  To be a writer, you have to love the process enough to do it.

The point I think I am trying to make here is this:  what is your definition of success as a writer (or in whatever art form you choose)?  Are you measuring yourself against society’s outdated or material idea of success, or do you really see what you have achieved, regardless of what other people think?

I struggle continuously with the idea that I have failed in life or as a writer because I am still at the bottom of somebody’s slush pile.  I have to fight constantly against that prejudice within myself, as well as in others.  But the truth is, I am a writer because I write.

These days, when someone asks me what I do at a party, I say:

“I write gay erotic fiction for the Internet.”

This solves both the patronising questions at once, gives me a sense of my own achievement, and also tells me a lot about the person I am talking to, through their response.  Either they blanch and change the subject, or they look fascinated or perplexed, and want to find out more.  And then we really have a conversation worth taking part in!

Happy Creating,

EF