Category Archives: Moodling

Inspiration Monday: Support your local library

the forum-norwichI am tempted to break into my own, rather wobbly version of Petula Clarke’s ‘Downtown’ here, but slight amendments the eponymous destination.

“When you’re alone

And life is making you lonely

You can always go:

To the Library!”

Okay, it doesn’t work, but you get the idea.  The Library is your friend.  It’s your soulmate.  It’s a world of excitement and adventure cocooned within four walls.  And it’s currently free (at least at the moment it is in the UK– but David Cameron, I’m watching you!)

I have always felt a strange sense of peace amongst books.  Not for me the sudden flash of panic as the realisation dawns that there are never going to be enough hours in one’s life to read everything one wants to.  Books en masse produce in me a kind of nirvana, a bliss, a calm.  It doesn’t matter how bad things are, a library is one of the two places I can go to know peace.  (The other is the beach, in case you were wondering, but that’s another story.)  This is no coincidence.

Jeanette Winterson, in her emotionally complex autobiography, credits working her way (alphabetically – how pragmatic) through her local library with saving her life from a traumatic and abusive childhood.  Books give us the power to escape, to transcend, to find knowledge and wisdom, happiness and peace.

And more than that – Terry Pratchett notes the strange distortion that occurs when books are gathered together.  He calls it L-space, a phenomenon in which the power of knowledge bends the time space continuum so that all places and times are accessible from the magnificent Library of the Unseen University (although travelling in L-space can be dangerous!). This is really just a charming metaphor for what Winterson reports.  Libraries open up unexplored and unimagined realms for us without our ever having to leave their environs.  Although, if you have ever visited Kim’s Bookshop in Arundel, Sussex, you might agree with Pratchett that L-space does indeed exist!

Libraries have changed greatly since the days when my Dad used to take me down to our village library every Friday night with my fist full of little cardboard pockets to exchange with the kindly librarian for books that enchanted and fascinated me all week long.  Now I frequent the UK’s most popular library, the Millennium Library at the Forum, Norwich, which is housed in a breath-taking vision of modern architecture, and has the highest borrowing numbers in the country.  No wonder.  Its great.

My favourite treat is to go to the library without a time limit, and just browse, as if I were in a sweet shop.  I can wander about, dipping into sections, picking out jewels here and there like a magpie.  I can have whatever I want to try, and I don’t have to worry about how much its going to cost me.  Often I find books I have been hanging my nose over on Amazon or favourite blogs, wondering whether I should buy them – with the library I can try them out, and see if they are worth the investment.

I always make sure I browse the ‘Just Returned’ trolleys too.  This is a great way to come across books that you would never have tried otherwise, because they are shelved in sections you would not normally think to visit.  These eclectic shelves are a great way to expand your reading by picking up whatever appeals to you.

Appeal is crucial.  Sometimes I go in with the challenge to choose books on the basis of their covers alone!  This is a fun thing to do with fiction particularly, because you end up not only with a bunch of stuff you would never have found otherwise, but also you get to sample the publishers’ strategies on book design, which is a useful thing to know about if you are a writer or illustrator.

If I find a book that proves especially useful for research purposes, I always make sure I record its Class Number as well as the author and title details in my writers notebook, so that I can find them easily again.

One of my most profound library revelations of recent years is the idea that if I choose a book that it turns out I don’t like, I don’t have to keep it the full three weeks.  Yes, I can take it back the very next day, if I like.  Nobody will judge me.  Its like test driving a car.  If it doesn’t prove useful, its not the end of the world.  I used to have such an investment in choosing the right books to borrow.  But there are so many books to delight in.  Why worry?  Just try a few on for size.  Its not as if you have to pay for them.

Libraries are an enormous resource.  As are librarians.  Many of them are highly trained, and they really love it when a borrower asks them a question which is something more interesting than ‘why won’t my card work in the machine?’  They love to ferret out unusual and rare tomes, and rifle through the vagaries of the inter-library loan system.  They are usually only too happy to help you with your research questions.  There is so much knowledge and expertise on offer, and most of time we don’t even know it is there.

This week, give yourself the best treat ever.  Go and gorge yourself at the library!

Happy browsing,

EF

The Need for Habit

calendarI’m crabby.  It’s been two days, and I’m not fit to know.  This should not be happening.  I’ve had a lovely holiday, nearly two weeks with the Husband at home, sunshine, dear friends and family visiting, trips to the beach and great food.  Yesterday, even the Husband noticed I was out of sorts, which is saying something!

This morning I was fed up to the back teeth with myself.  I really hate feeling like this.  Stale.  I sat down with my journal and worked it out.  What is it that is making me so grumpy?

Turns out, it’s the very thing that should be making me happy.  My holiday.

The critical mass of creativity has now built up to such an extent that I need to get back to work.  Holidays are great, and important times for reflection and rest.  Don’t get me wrong.  But I’m ready to get back to it now.

What I’ve been saying all along is true.  You need the Habit of Art.

Well, I need it, in any case.

I need to get back into my routine.  I need the Husband to go back to work so I can have the house to myself.  I need my thinking time, my moodling time, and I can’t have that with someone else in the house, no matter how much I love them (and I do), because my first reflex is always to consider them first, and put myself and my art second.  Even inside my head.  I find myself resenting the people I love, and my family and friendship commitments, if I don’t have this mental and creative space.  My well has been filled, my Muse is ready to let rip, and I am bubbling with ideas.  What I need is the time and space to get to it.

I need my routine back.

I can’t do this yet.  I’ve a bunch of things to get through first.  Lots of socialising with dear friends.  There will be more trips to the beach, and strawberries to eat in the garden in the sun.  My Muse can get as grumpy as she likes, but I can’t let her out just yet.

It’s not long now, though.

And it’s great to know, thanks to my journal, that it’s not the fact that I have run out of ideas that is making me a bad-tempered cow.  My creative juices haven’t run stale.  It’s just that there is no space right now to get the words or paint on the page.  I must be patient.  The time will come.  I have had my rest, refilled the well, and now I am revving at the start of this new race!

And then, come the green light, and Hooray for the Habit of Art!

Happy creating and holidaying, whichever you are doing,

EF

The Writing Life: Go On Retreat

DSCI2692It’s getting to that time of year.  The sun is out, schools are breaking up, and the beach is calling.  You may have already enjoyed a holiday, or you are preparing to join friends, your significant other and/or family for a week or fortnight chilling out.

I love annual holidays, believe me.  These days, though, my system won’t handle hot weather anymore, and money is thin on the ground, so we don’t do the foreign holidays like we used to.  A week in the Inner Hebrides, surrounded by fantastic scenery (and enough whisky to entertain the husband) is the most we occasionally manage.

Holidays are great, especially if they include sun (we don’t have unreasonable expectations when we go to Scotland, put it that way!).  You can spend a week by the pool reading and relaxing, visit a few local sites, enjoy slow evening meals in a tavern while you watch the sun sunk into the azure sea.  Bliss.

But have you ever thought of taking a holiday with your creative passion?

And no, I am not talking about one of those great holidays where you go painting with a tutor in the South of France, or take tutorials with a famous poet at Arvon, although I have no doubt they are fantastic!.

I’m talking about just you and your muse.  One on one.  Taking time out for what may be the most important romance of your life.  Your relationship with yourself.

Once a year, our writers group gathers at a local conference centre in the South Norfolk countryside.  We arrive on Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday afternoon.  Three hot, delicious meals a day are provided, together with morning coffee and afternoon tea.  We each have an en suite study bedroom with bed and desk, and views across the fields.  The welcome is friendly, and you can practically hear the collective sigh of relief as we all turn inward, away from our busy lives, to concentrate on our writing.

Imagine that.  An entire weekend, just you, and your stories.

No having to food shop, cook meals, prize your angry children from each other’s throats or soothe your spouse’s ego when their team lost at whatever sport they are obsessed with.  A whole weekend where you can sleep, soak in the bath, so some yoga, walk through the countryside, listen to the birds, and pick up your pen when the muse strikes you.  There are familiar friends from the writers group to discuss your work with, to talk about writing and reading and the ideas that fill your head.  But there are no everyday worries to distract you from your work.

It doesn’t have to be expensive.  Our retreat costs around £140, which I think is pretty impressive for full board for two and a half days.  We don’t have luxury, but we don’t need it.  The luxury is being able to spend time with our stories.

Each evening, we gather together after supper.  On the Friday night, we are still settling down, orienting ourselves within the space we have set aside to be with our work.  We bring bottles of wine and soft drinks, and snacks to share.  We also bring pieces of writing by other writers from books and poetry collections that we have recently enjoyed, and take turns to read to one another.  This provides a cross-fertilisation, and a chance to reconnect.  During the weekend, we meet for meals and coffee breaks, but mostly we spend time alone, working or moodling, feeding our souls, communing with our creativity.  On Saturday evenings, we gather again, to read and workshop what we have written through the day.  And we always gather for afternoon tea on Sunday, about 4pm, to finish off and say goodbye.

Sometimes, when someone is going through a difficult time in their lives, this retreat is simply time spent with themselves, refilling the creative well.  It doesn’t have to produce anything in particular apart from a chance to ground in one’s own needs and interests, to find a bit of peace.  At other times, we come with a sense of what we specifically want to achieve, meaning to address some particular aspect of a current work, or a precise task, such as preparing a synopsis for an agent.  Having a plan is good, but its better to go with your creative season.  If you just need to down tools from a busy life and immerse yourself in creativity, that’s the thing to do.  Each of us seems to find her own need for every retreat, and we look forward to each new one from the moment we leave the last!

Even if you can’t find a group to go with, you might have a friend who could join you.  This weekend, I had the pleasure of greeting two of my fanfiction writing friends who came up to Norwich for a weekend, shared a cheap hotel room, and enjoyed a break for writing, creativity and fun.  We got together, had a meal, and shared our interests.  It was so refreshing!  Making time to go somewhere different allows you to depart from your everyday cares, and concentrate on the art form that you love.  This more informal approach might be a good way of managing a retreat for you.

I heartily encourage you to find a way to take time out for a writing or creativity retreat.  It is a practise that I think every creative person should incorporate into their process and their life.  It revives and stimulates.  It also reminds me that I am part of a tribe, however hidden we are.  It stimulates new ideas and new interests, and above all, it gives peace of mind.

So if you are planning a hectic family break right now, why not take the time to dream up a way of escaping on your own, however you do it, just you and your muse, as part of a group, or alone, to feed your soul.

Happy retreating,

EF

Why you need to Moodle

Today, I have been moodling.

Mooching.  Pottering.  Puttering.  Loafing.  Fiddling.  Wandering.  Pootling.

It looks like I am doing nothing very important from the outside, or at least nothing creatively productive.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Brenda Ueland, in her superb book ‘If you want to write’ (hardly bettered since it was published in 1938), calls creative revelations ‘little bombs’.

“You may find that the little bombs quietly burst in you when you are doing other things – sewing, or carpentering, or whittling, or playing golf, or dreamily washing dishes.” (p45)

“…So you see, the imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  Therse people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas…but they have no slow, big ideas.  And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.” (p32)

Ueland knew that we need to time to contemplate, to think and reflect, to be alone with ourselves, but also time to just let things percolate, soak in and mingle.  We may not look like we are working on our novel when we are washing up.  We may not even be thinking about it consciously.  But there it is, fizzing away behind our eyes, collecting connections, accumulating mass like a growing snowball tumbling down a mountain.

We are incubating miracles.

We need to moodle to charge our brains, to collect impressions, to drink from the well.  However, there is another reason to moodle.  What happens when the well is dry?

This comes back to self care, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  There are always going to be times of creative drought in our lives.  There will be times when life gets in the way, or when we are so busy dealing with our personal stuff that there is no energy left over to flow out into creation.

It is crucial to know that that is alright.  It happens.  It will pass.

And when these droughts occur, and to prevent them if you can, you need to moodle.  Have a nap.  Potter about.  Paint your toenails.  Fix that squeaky gate.  Go window shopping.  Give yourself a break, literally and metaphorically.  Resting will fill the well up again.

This is why I don’t really believe in writers block.  I think that either you are exhausted, or you are stopping yourself from creating out of fear.  If the latter is the case, you need to explore those fears, and work on them in your journal.  If the former, you need to let go of guilt, accept the creative season you are in, and lie around wiggling your toes until your brain is sufficiently rested, and finally ready to come up with a new ‘Aha!’ moment.

I urge you to read Ueland’s peerless book, whether you are a writer or not.  It is full of incredibly sensible advice for anyone who means to create.

I also urge you to take some moodling time this week.  Book it in your diary.  Tell the family to leave you alone in the bath tonight.  Go and lie in the park in the sun.  Not every expedition has to be an Artist Date.  Sometimes, its good just to refill the well.

Happy Moodling,

EF