Category Archives: Moodling

A Bit of a Staycation

We had this plan to go on a proper summer holiday this year.  You know, beach parasols, bikinis, sun tan lotion etc.

And then Life Happened.  Primarily in the form of unexpected expense: me needing new spectacles (£650) and Husband needing a new crown on a tooth (£220).  Ouch!

So having assessed just how depleted our holiday fund became, we figured a staycation might be an idea. The nice thing about a staycation is that you don’t have to worry about luggage allowances.   So this is what I am taking on my staycation this year:

My staycation goodies

My staycation goodies

I’ve given myself permission to read EXACTLY what I want, not what I think I OUGHT to read, or anything along the lines of my usual reading list.  So I went to my favourite second-hand bookshop and picked out a book that just sounded really, really interesting.

‘Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil’ by Ron Rosenbaum.  Its not so much about Hitler, in the biographical sense, as about the way we talk about Hitler, about what we talk about when we talk about him.  It is about our ideas about the nature of evil, something I have been interested in for a long time, and spans everything from first hand witness accounts of his life, through philosophy and history, to theology and cultural studies.  It will be a demanding read, bit I can’t wait to get stuck into it!

‘What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the blink of an eye’ by Will Gompertz, was lent to me by a friend who knows I love modern art.  I read Norbert Lynton’s seminal book on the subject when I was doing my art ‘A’ level exams as a teenager, and recently I’ve been looking for a book as accessible that would explain and update my knowledge.  My pal suggested this one, and though I don’t particularly like Will Gompertz as a BBC correspondent, I think its mainly because I can’t bear to look at him.  Well, he can’t help looking weird and smug.  I guess he was born like that, so I shouldn’t hold it against him.  And my friend says his book is the business, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one while lounging in the garden with a chilled elderflower pressé too.

A couple of DVDs.  I don’t know why, but around this time of year, my system starts preparing me for autumn, and I get the urge to watch ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.  We had both of these films on video for years, but when we got rid of all our videos some months back, my copies went to the charity shop along with the rest.  The other day, I decided I would treat myself to new copies, and I’m looking forward to spending some of my break snuggled up on the sofa watching these much beloved, familiar movies.

My journal.  I just listened to Susannah Conway talking about journaling on this podcast, and its brilliant.  I’ve been contemplating my journaling practice for a while, and this seems like a good time to expand my skills.

A few nice girlie things too:  Divine Oil by Caudalie, which smells as good as it sounds, and makes my skin feel wonderful, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure nail varnish in ‘So Much Fawn’, which is just neutral enough, and just pink enough too.  I usually wear the loudest red on my toenails that I can find, so this is a bit of a departure into the realms of subtle for me, but I like it.

So I’m off on my staycation to chill out, read, write, paint my toenails and hatch a few plans for the coming months.  If you are off on holidays too, I hope you have a wonderful time, where ever you choose to go, or not go!

Happy Creating,

EF

Permission

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.

You know what they say about what you should do if you fall into quicksand:

Don’t struggle.

I wrote the other day about my fear of writers block, and it definitely struck a chord.  It seems so many of us are struggling to keep going, as if we are still trying to run even though we have one foot nailed to the floor.  Trying, trying, trying.  We give ourselves such a hard time.  We beat ourselves up because we aren’t good enough.

My dear friend Michelle, who can always see what I need better than I can, said to me:  ‘I know you are frustrated because you aren’t getting better as fast as you want to, or expected to.  But maybe you aren’t better because you haven’t waited long enough.

In other words, give yourself a break!

The thing that keeps coming up for me when I think about this issue is:

COMPASSION

We need to have compassion for ourselves.  We need to give ourselves time.  One thing I know:  if you stop struggling, you stop sinking.  If you stop trying so hard, things come so much more easily.

Michelle gave me permission to stop trying to be well.  She sent me home to bed.  I slept better that afternoon than I had in months.  Just because I wasn’t trying to feel better.  I was simply letting my body have what it needed. No striving.  No struggling.

I think we get writers block because  we are so busy striving.  We don’t give ourselves compassion.  Or permission.

Permission to write crappy first drafts.

Or crappy sentences.

Or nothing at all.

Everything has to be perfect first time.  And it isn’t.  Because we are human.

Of course, what I said in my last post still stands.  Write anything, if its only a shopping list.  It will help.  But also, give yourself a break.  Be gentle and tender with your inner creative.  Release the stress, let go of the striving.  Remember you are doing this because you enjoy it.  And if you aren’t enjoying it, why are you doing it?

As if by magic, two blog posts I saw this morning chimed with what I have been thinking about this.

Jamie Ridler talks about bringing the tenderness and vulnerability of where you are to your creative work, and also about ways to help yourself fit creative activities in to your busy life.

Jennifer Louden, who is such a wise soul when it comes to compassion for oneself, talks to my soul and yours about letting go of perfection.

I hope that if you are struggling with a creative block of any kind, that you will be able to show yourself compassion.  Be kind.  You are doing the best you can.  And if you stop trying to write the greatest novel of the 21st century, and start writing a paragraph about your dog’s snoring, maybe it will come more easily.

Remember, baby steps.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Journal Friday: Solitude

Shadow Selfie

Shadow Selfie

I’ve been making huge leaps this week, but one of the results has been a deep gloom opening up inside me.  The exact opposite of the feeling of exhilaration I SHOULD been feeling when I make massive learning gains with my creativity.

(Did you notice the Bingo! word there – give yourself a pat on the back if you picked out the poisonous SHOULD in that sentence!)

Instead of bouncing around like Tigger on a coke spree, I feel like a sodden blanket.

Why?

Because writing is a solitary art.  And human beings are social animals.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that I need to be on my own a lot.  I like my own company.  But there are also limits.  If I get left on my own for long periods, I get mournful, bad-tempered, sick of myself, sick of everybody else.  I start feeling like I want to stab myself in the forearms with a compass point.  This is obviously not a good place to be.

Husband has been out pretty much every night this week, playing sports and meeting up with business colleagues.  He has commitments that sometimes pan out like this, and I’m fine with that.  But occasionally it means I get a week like this one.   I’ve been on my own from eight in the morning till eleven at night for four days on the trot.  Thats enough time on my own for me to go slightly round the twist, to over-react to everything, and end up in a grumpy hole.  From whence no writing, or anything positive, emerges.

I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to get out of my grumpy hole.  “I ought to be able to get over this, I SHOULD have worked out strategies by now to combat this,”  I told myself.  (There are two Bingo! words in that sentence, can you spot them?.

But then I thought maybe the thing to do was to allow myself to feel the feeling of misery, and then perhaps it would leave.  In other words, not to fight against it, but to be with it, and see where it took me.  Because lets face it, after 44 years of living with depression, I can safely say that a) the odd blue day is a doddle compared with the major depressions I’ve experienced, and b)  I know I get this when I’ve been on my own too much, so maybe I can work out what its trying to tell me.

It turns out that its trying to tell me that I need to get out more.

I get exhausted.  That is part of my ongoing health problems, and I need to take account of that, but I also need to accept that one of the basic needs I have is for a change of scene, and seeing people.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be conscious socialising.  It can be just getting out into town, seeing other human beings in the street in their infinite variety.  Maybe two days a week would be good maintenance treatment for me.  To get out, to see the world, interract with it.  And rest at home the remainer of the time.

(I should probably point out that I live in the middle of nowhere, literally, and I can go days without seeing anybody, which can be very isolating.  We are two miles from the nearest village, not a distance I can walk, so it is not like I can just pop out to the corner shop for a natter and some social contact.  Given that we can only afford one car, and that Husband’s access to work has to take priority, getting about has to be carefully planned.)

I need to take this awareness of my own needs forward.  I’m enjoying my writing so much, but I need to take care of myself too.  And that means going in to work maybe a day or two a week with Husband, settling down at the library or the cafe, and writing there instead of at home.  So that I see people.  So that I have the stimualtion I need.

Journal Exercise:

You may not have the same ‘shut-in’ issues that I have, but I invite you today to examine the ordinary activities and lifestyle factors that help you to be creative in a regular way.  Do you need to drink more water, take regular walks, get a new chair because the one you have gives you back ache, and makes you reticient to sit in it to draw or write?  Does eating dairy give you sinus headaches so that you feel all fuzzy, and you can’t think straight?  Do you need a holiday, a long bath, a place to work where next door’s dog isn’t barking?  Maybe your partner could look after the baby an hour a week so you can have time on your own, or perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier so you can be peaceful with yourself before the rest of the family rises.

Spend some time exploring in your journal the basic things you need to operate at your best: good food, 8 glasses of water a day, cuddles, exercise, Whatever your core requirements are.

Now write about the little things that you could do for yourself that would help you to function above just the basic level of proficiency that you explored above.  Think about the times when you have been really crackling creatively.  What made those times special?  Are there factors you could replicate, to recapture that sense of being in the flow?  What really makes your motor run?  It could be listening to rock music while you work, hanging out at the cafe, carrot cake, more cuddles, or anything else.

A note of caution:  The whole myth about artists having to be self-destructive is exactly that –  a myth.  Try copying F Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Kerouac, and drinking to promote creativity, and I can guarantee what you will end up with is not increased creativity.  You will just end up being dead.

All the actions you take should be self-caring and self-nurturing.

I hope that you can uncover some new ways to nurture your creative flow, or maybe just work out how you sabotage yourself with having too much of one thing, and not enough of another, as I do.  Writing is a solitary act, but you don’t have to be on your own to do it, as I have been reminded this week.

Take care of yourselves, and happy creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: In Utero

(And just in case you are wondering, I am not pregnant.)

“I’ve got a story coming on.”

This is what I generally say when Husband asks me why I’m being so grumpy and uncommunicative.  Its the time when I am lost in ideas, fermenting, cogitating, incubating.

This is sometimes not an easy time for the person or people who share your life.  They may feel like you are being deliberately distant.  Its always worth explaining that you still love them and want to be with them.  If you have to go away inside your head, it is because your Muse is kidnapping your brain.  Reassure those you love that you will be back with them soon, and its nothing personal.

This is also a time to be compassionate towards yourself.  If you are absorbed in your new project, you may have new ideas flooding your skull every which way.  It can be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting.  Remember to take a breather if you can.  It will help the details to accumulate in your head in the meantime.

If you are suffering from the ideas overload that sometimes comes with a new project, when you are overwhelmed with all the brilliant concepts for other things you could be doing as well, write them down.  Write everything down.  You can always come back to them, but at least you will have a record of them when the deluge ends and the drought sets in.

You might be so excited by your new idea that you want to get started right away, like, yesterday.  Well, maybe.  But don’t jump the gun.  Give yourself some time to think things through.  Make lots of notes – this is what your writing notebook (or journal or sketchbook) is for.

Be thorough.  Take notes verbatim from  your Muse.  Don’t rest on your laurels at 3am and convince yourself that you are going to remember that brilliant flash of inspiration, because chances are, come breakfast time, the little sucker will have sneaked off into infinity, and you will spend the next week banging your head against the wall, trying to remember exactly what it was that was so bloody good that you thought you’d undoubtedly remember it.  (This is especially important as you get older, believe me, so its a good habit to start NOW.)

It can be worth exploring around your idea too, digging around in the associated issues, examining messages linked to what your story or painting will say.  But don’t get side-tracked by research at this stage.  This is a pit with spikes at the bottom, and I for one always seem to end up falling into it.  The problem with the pit of spikes (research) is that:

a) You can lose touch with the original idea and its uniqueness to you.  I was once on a writing course with a man who was fascinated by the concept of how ‘shell shock’ was dealt with in the First World War.  He had done so much research into it that there wasn’t a thing he didn’t know.  The trouble was that all the research had led him to the conclusion that the novel he had to write was pretty much a re-run of Pat Barker’s peerless ‘Restoration’, and why rewrite a novel that has already been written far better than you ever could?

b) You can get side-tracked BIG TIME.  I got so lost in researching my first novel, which was set in the Iron Age, that it took me seven years to write the first draft.  By the end, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t face editing it, so I gave up, and it now sits in a folder on the shelf, seven years of work gathering dust.

Allow your idea to emerge without influence, or at least without any influence that isn’t already within you.

One final tip I would add is: don’t share yet.  Not even with your Significant Other.  Give yourself time to polish the corners off and get things into some semblance of order.  Honour yourself and your project with private time, in utero, so to speak.  No one else can share the link between a mother and her baby while it is in the womb, no matter how much tummy rubbing and singing to the bump takes place.  You are feeding your project baby through an umbilical cord that runs solely between you and it.  Take as much time as you need to nourish and birth it.   You will know when is the right time to bring your baby out into the light.

Happy Creating,

EF

For Creativity, Press The ‘OFF’ Button Now

This morning, my part of the UK was hit by the worst Atlantic storm in some years.  Trees came down, houses flooded, power cables snapped, cars were crushed, trains and planes came to a standstill, and double decker buses were lifted off their wheels.  It was not nice.  Its over now, blazing across the county in under three hours, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

Which got me thinking, you will not be surprised to hear.

Husband and I spent most of yesterday glued to various forms of news media, trying to gauge the progress and destructive force of Storm St Jude, working out which hatches to batten down, what damage might ensue, and whether, in Husband’s case, it was sensible to cancel his 9am lecture this morning. (He did, and I think it was the right decision).  The upshot of all this digital frenzy was that I didn’t get anything much done.  Which was an annoying waste of a whole day.  And made me think about something I had read a few days earlier:

I came across the work of Linda Stone, and in particular, her term ‘Continuous Partial Attention’, which is when we multitask cognitive functions such as talking with a friend at coffee whilst checking our email on our android under the table, surfing the internet when we are on the phone, and all those other digital things we do these days that we never used to.  Linda Stone says:

“Continuous Partial Attention involves an artificial sense of constant crisis, of living in a 24/7, always-on world.  It contributes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, overstimulated and unfulfilled; It compromises our ability to reflect, to make decisions and to think creatively.”

Lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention quoted in Sharon Salzberg, The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Programme for Real Happiness, Hay House 2011.

It compromises our ability … to think creatively.

Just think about that for a minute.  I did.

I thought about how long I spend on Facebook every day, how many hours I lose cruising Tumblr and reading fanfics, checking my phone, watching BBC News 24.  These are what Jennifer Louden calls Time Monsters, habits you fall into that eat up the spare time you have and leave you feeling rushed and stressed out because you aren’t left with enough time to do the things you really want or need to do.  I have been known to lose whole weeks to my Time Monsters.  Yesterday, thanks to Storm St Jude, I lost an entire day.

I’m 46!  I don’t want to waste any more time!

Increasingly, I am finding that it is a luxury to switch off my phone and not look at my laptop.  I don’t want it to feel like a luxury to disconnect.  I want it to be the constructive core of my working life as a writer.  I don’t want to have to employ some kind of app to shut me out of the internet in order to finish a story, just because I can’t resist looking at yet another iteration of the same picture of Benedict Cumberbatch.

I want the sense of calm that comes with not knowing what is happening in the outside world.  The same calm I felt lying in bed this morning, listening to the wind riffling the roof tiles, blissfully ignorant of what speed it was going or when the next pulse of the storm was going to hit, courtesy of the Met Office website.

The question is, can I do this?  I caught myself the other day thinking that I couldn’t write down a snatch of dialogue I had going around my head because I didn’t have my laptop open.  As if a pen and paper weren’t good enough.

To be creative, in whatever art form you choose, from cookery and sewing singing, tango, writing or painting, you need time and space.  You need to reflect.  Being connected doesn’t give you that space.

For our own creative self-care, we need to make time to switch off.

I don’t want the stress of Continuous Partial Attention to wreck my creativity through anxiety, perceived comparison or peer pressure, or just from lack of time to create.  I want to make space.  Space to think more, reflect more, make more.

You can too.

Creativity Exercises

1. How do you use your time?  What are your chief Time Monsters?  What are the digital munchers in your life?

2. Once you have identified your Time Monsters, you can decide whether you want to continue feeding them, or jettison them to make room to do the things that really make you happy, instead of just keeping boredom and despair at bay.  Its nice to keep a few on standby, for days when you really are frazzled and just need to stare at the telly and not think, but that shouldn’t have to be every night.  If it is, maybe you need a major rethink.

3.  Consciously switch off.  Turn off the telly, your phone, your lappy.  Sit in an armchair and read a book, bake a cake, go for a walk, paint or garden or see friends.  Do something that involves experiencing the world directly, not digitally.   Use your time to think and create.

4.  Do one thing at a time.  Don’t surf on your phone when you are out with your pals, that’s rude.  Don’t have the telly on when you are painting (a bit of inspiring music might help, but nothing you have to think about.)  When you have a conversation with your mum on the phone, concentrate on her, don’t keep one eye on the news.  If something is worth doing, its worth giving your whole attention to.

I’m not advocating digital purdah, believe me.  The digital world has its place, but it is down to us to keep it in it.  I’m just saying we need to use our time more mindfully.  Which is what, from now on, I am going to try and do.

Happy Creating,

EF

Preparing for a Writing Retreat

I’m so excited.  I’m going on a writing retreat!

This weekend, my writers group is convening at a nearby conference centre for a weekend of writing and eating and talking about writing and eating some more, and maybe a little bit of dozing or walking, and then some more writing.

We normally do this once a year, but this year, we enjoyed ourselves so much we thought we’d do it again at the end of the year.  So here I am, thinking about a weekend spent solely with my friends and the Work.

Over years of doing this, I’ve found I need to do a few things to prepare myself so that I get the most out of the time:

Plan:

I usually like to sit down with my writers notebook or my journal, and think about two things:

  • where I am, and
  • where I want to be.

This year I am thinking about the goals or intentions I have set myself for this website, for my publications, and for moving my writing on to the next level.  Its one of the few truly extended, uninterrupted periods I get to just write, so I like to choose a project that I can get my teeth into, but also one that really needs to be tackled.   Something pressing.

This year, I am toying with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo, because I want to crank out a novel as fast as possible.  So I have decided to lay the groundwork on this new idea, and throw myself into it, immerse myself in it as much as I can.  In previous years, I have redrafted novels or short stories, polished specific sections of a novel, worked specifically on character, or redrawn a dodgey plot.

My goal this year is especially fuelled with the knowledge that I need to be writing something original, something other than fanfiction.  Nothing wrong with fanfiction.  Its given me marvellous confidence in my work, and I love writing it.  I just think I need push myself, to do something new.

Manage expectations: 

I’m not going to finish an entire novel in a weekend.  I may even get no further than writing 500 words.  And I am okay with that.

When I first started going on retreats, I had HUGE expectations of myself and what I could achieve.  I thought I could crank out 20,000 words in two days, a third of a novel.  I thought I could create publisher-ready prose.  The truth is that even on retreat, there is only a limited amount of time, and making really good prose takes time.  A lot of time.  I have only learnt this with experience.

There have been several retreats where I have slept badly on the first night, or felt ill, and as a result have really been unable to do anything much at all apart from eat, sleep, talk with my fellow writers, and be.  Sometimes that is what a retreat is for.  I have gained from those experiences.  These days I am ready to allow my retreat to be whatever it needs to be, and to trust that whatever happens is part of the process.

So I make plans, but I don’t get too attached to them.

Be present:

Being aware of my physical wellbeing is very important on retreat, and not simply because I suffer from chronic illness.  I need to be present in my body, so I do yoga and meditate, go for walks, stand in the shower and feel the water on my skin, and take naps.  (One friend uses the annual retreat to undulge in long, hot, scented baths because she doesn’t have a tub at home!)  This might all seem time away from writing, but it is crucial.  Self care is part of retreating.  Doing these things allows me time to think about the writing, to form scenes and sentences in my head.  But it also allows me to come to the laptop refreshed afterwards.  So it is an investment in my writing, as well as my body.

Packing: 

As a result, packing right is really important.  I always make sure I take warm, snuggly clothes, my yoga mat and yoga clothes, a hot water bottle, walking boots and, on occasion, even a teddy bear for cuddling purposes.  And because I have weird dietary issues, I make sure I take an extra supply of good, healthy foods and my favourite herbal teas too.  The centre staff are really great in catering for my diet, but there are those in-between-meals moments, when what you really need to fuel the Muse is your own favourite brand of chocolate!

Be absent: 

I get very anxious when I am away from home.  I need to be grounded in my safe environment in order for my imagination to work properly.  It helps that we have been going on retreat to the same place for years, and also that it really isn’t very far from my own home, so I feel like I am on home turf.  Other people find their imagination is stimulated by unfamiliar territory.  Mine just shuts down so that my emotional system can cope with the panic attacks.

To counter this, I take music and listen to it doggedly in order to transport me to safe psychic territory.  I put on my headphones, close my eyes and fly away.  And then I can write.

It is a major diffence to how I normally write, which is in silence.  So part of my preparation ritual is to gather music around me.  I make playlists for different characters, delve into iTunes and my CD collection,  choose music that evokes particular memories or landscapes for me, or none at all.

Allow it: 

Going on retreat is supposed to be calming, an activity to feed your soul.  Its supposed to be downtime from your usual life.  As a result it is easy to get really wound up about how good it is going to be, and then find yourself disappointed.  To feel like you just aren’t calm enough, or getting enough done, or maybe even that you are wasting time that should be spent looking after the kids, doing the washing or writing that sales report.  This harks back to managing expectations.  But it also has a deeper meaning.

you are allowed to have time to yourself

You aren’t being selfish.  Leave all your SHOULDS and OUGHTS at home.  You deserve to have this time spent solely with yourself, doing something you love.  I continue to struggle with this.  I tend to make retreat a time which is about productivity rather than identity – about being myself and giving myself what I need.  When you accept retreat as a gift to yourself, managing expectations becomes easier.  And that precious dimension of writing that no one seems to talk about – moodling – becomes possible.  Have a weekend’s moodle.  Because you are worth it.

I heartily recommend going on a retreat if you can manage it.  Maybe for a day, or even overnight.  Maybe just for an afternoon.  If you are looking for ideas and guidance, I also recommend Judy Reeves’ wonderful ‘A Writers Retreat Kit:  A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression’, which I ordered recently from Amazon in preparation for this weekend.

Now I had better get back to my packing!

Happy writing (and moodling)

EF

Smorgesbord

sleep sketchI usually try to post on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but this week’s Wednesday post got missed because I was ill.  I’m still ill, but my brain is slightly clearer today and I am giving myself to thinking time.

Thinking about future posts for this blog.  Thinking about writing and notebooking.  Thinking about art.  Thinking about clearing space in my life for more creativity.  Its a luxury I have to lie in bed and consider which direction I am going in creatively, and I recognise that.  Few people get that option.  I may be feeling terrible, but I’m enormously grateful I can use this time to be present with my work.

I thought I’d share a few things I have been mulling over with you.

Here are the thoughts of Elmore Leonard on writing, an enormous inspiration.

Here is Stephen King, saying illuminating things about both ‘The Shining’ and about the attitude of critics, something I really needed to hear this week.

Talking about critics, Jack Vettriano has been savaged by the art establishment over the years, but now he’s having a retrospective at the Kelvingrove.  Oh, the irony!  (And lets just remind ourselves that this man is self-taught, which may be why critics hate him so much.)

If you are interested in art, check out this site.  I love its brightness and enthusiasm.

I want to do this course next.

And to end, a little light reading.  I’m pursuing a new project of short stories and vignettes which explore life inside an established relationship through fanfiction.  The series is called ‘Geography of a Shared Life’.  You can read my latest piece here at A03, and here at FF.net.

Happy creating,

EF