Category Archives: My Study

The Friday Review No. 6: Listen. Wait. Have faith.

Desk May 2017.jpg

“… just as a pregnancy must not be over-stressed and artificially hurried for fear of damaging or aborting the child, so, too, a piece of work asks that we not try to force it into unnatural directions.”

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write p164

 

I’ve been running around being Busy.  Hence the lack of Friday reviews lately.  And you know what happens when someone with ME/CFS gets a dose of the Busies.  Eventually, there is a price to pay.  So today I am lying on my bed, nursing a nasty bout of IBS, with every major muscle in my body in a state of semi-collapse.

However.

And yes, there is good news:  Despite the Busies, progress has been made.

Yesterday, I wrote 1058 words I wasn’t planning to write, and as a result, finished a Lewis story that I’ve been working on, off and on, since last July.  Which felt like a double result.

I’ve migrated my Sherlock story, ‘Under The Downs’ onto AO3, with positive results.  Now I’ve got to do the same with its sequel, ‘The Bee House’, but I haven’t quite got there yet.

I’ve had my monthly coaching session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, and it was, as usual, hugely stimulating and supportive.

I’ve been reading and writing every day.  Morning pages and journaling.  Writing practice.  Jotting down notes and research questions.  Recording those funny moments, observations of life that provide the richness to a piece of writing.

Asking myself questions:

What do I want to say?

What Truth do I need to speak?

What interests me?

What don’t I like to read?

Who am I?

What makes a character?  What is the difference between character and identity?

And so on.

And I’ve been listening.

This major work that is coming, that I am birthing.  I know a little bit about it, but I don’t want to push its birth.  I don’t want to warp it by forcing it to come too fast.  So I just put my pen onto the paper and listen to it.  Allow it to tell me where it wants to go.  It takes time.  But I’m lucky that I am one of those writers who loves the process of writing, not just having written, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.

Sitting at my desk makes me happy.  I am surrounded by my books, with my vision board for the novel in front of me.  It is my safe place.  My sacred place.  This is where my idea will blossom and grow into something more extraordinary than I have ever achieved before.

I have faith.  Faith enough to wait.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: The Fun of Childhood or My Quilting Adventure

lotties stockingLately I’ve been rediscovering sewing. In a fit of madness, I offered to make a Christmas stocking for my dear guide daughter, Lottie. I bought some of that lovely fabric, where the stocking is printed on the surface, and all you have to do is cut it out and sew it together. So far, so simple. But then I had the bright idea that it would look lovely quilted. I had some batting and calico at home, so that could be had free. Why not?

I haven’t quilted properly in years. To be really honest, I haven’t done proper quilting since the winter after my dad died in 1982, when my mother and I made a quilt for my bed. We sat through the winter evenings with the quilt over our laps, sewing together. It was one of the most profound and loving ways we found to survive our grief.

pink quilt

Pink Quilt made by my mother and I, Winter 1982-3.

I still have that quilt. We have voyaged through life together, through college, university, adversity and marriage, my quilt and me. Now it sits, pride of place on the futon in my study, ready to wrap around me when I’m reading on a chilly afternoon. It is a bit threadbare now, the cheap cotton we used almost see-through. But it still gets used on our bed on cold nights, and I’ll occasionally patch it up if it develops a hole.

For me, quilting is an emotionally important skill.

Pride of place on the futon in my study, ready for snuggling duty.

Pride of place on the futon in my study, ready for snuggling duty.

It is not really hard, just running stitch. You just have to make sure you get your needle through all three layers on each upstroke and downstroke. Of course, you can make it more complicated than that, but I don’t.

I’m really enjoying my simple running stitch work on this stocking. I’ve finally finished the first side, the one with Father Christmas’s sleigh. There were lots of fiddly bits on that one, and I began to realise the wisdom of a lady I once saw demonstrating Durham quilting at a quilt exhibition. (For more about exquisite Durham quilting, try here.)  She was using a frame to hold the fabric layers taut while she worked. You have to with Durham quilting because it is incredibly detailed. I always fancied doing it, but it was one of those crafts that I got all the books from the library about, but never had the guts to have a go.

When I was a kid, not having the guts would never have occurred to me. If I didn’t have a book or a pencil in my hand, I had a needle. I made all kinds of things, but mainly dolls clothes. As I got older, a branched out into making historical costumes. Tudor and Elizabethan ones particularly. I spent hours researching the historically accurate way of dressing, the different layers required. I dressed my Sindy dolls in bead-encrusted gowns, each bead sewn on with my own hand. I even made ruffs!

I loved doing the tiny stitches. I still do, it turns out. That’s why I’m now addicted to quilting again. I’m so pleased with my little stocking. Its so satisfying to see the work develop. I had forgotten that simple running stitch could be so enjoyable. And I know that Lottie will enjoy her stocking when she gets it, and in years to come, I hope that she will regard it as an heirloom, just as I do the pink quilt I made with my mother when I was a teenager.

What crafts did you used to enjoy when you were a child? Did you love pottery, felt crafts, beading? Did you make things with matchsticks or balsa wood? Did you put together plastic models, or build go-karts?

The run up to Christmas is a great time to remember those simple activities you used to enjoy as a kid, and maybe have another go. Maybe, like me, you can rediscover a new outlet for your creativity. Because, let me tell you, when I’m finished with this stocking, I’m going to try some Durham quilting. Nothing is going to stop me this time!

Happy Creating,

EF

Finding the Right Place to Write

Roald Dahl in his writing hut.  From the CBBC website.

Roald Dahl in his writing hut. From the CBBC website.

As regular readers will know, me and my study have a kinda love-hate relationship. In recent months, I’ve been trying to do it up a bit, make it a nice place for me to work, somewhere that reflects who I am and what I want. Somewhere I want to inhabit. Because I really do think that it is important to have ‘A Room of One’s Own’.

The problem is that it doesn’t seem to work for me in practise.

I do most of my writing sitting in my comfy armchair in the living room, with my laptop in my lap (strangely enough!), or writing in notebooks resting on a brilliant drawingboard that I bought from The Art Trading Company. And seriously peeps, this drawingboard is brilliant, and I’m going to get another one for my bedroom so I can be comfortable when I write in bed, because I also write there a lot, especially in my journal.

Now, it has lately occurred to me that this habit was set in stone when I was just a little kid. When I was small, I had a tiny bedroom only just big enough for a not-quite-full-size single bed, and certainly not large enough to include something as luxurious as a table. As I got older, and siblings moved out, I moved into their (larger) bedrooms, but there was never really enough room for a table or desk.

Aha! But I had my trusty piece of board!

Yes, I said ‘board’. It was a thin bit of old chip board, about A3 size, and I used it for hours, sitting on my bed, for drawing and writing, as a working surface for sewing and painting and plasticine and homework, as a play area, and for all kinds of other activities. That board was a miracle. I could have it on my lap when I was snuggled up amidst the sheets, and it kept the ink from getting on the cotton as well as giving me a firm surface to work on. I loved it, and I was never without it until I left home. After that, I think my mother threw it away. But who knows, it might still be in her house, under the spare bed, along with my ‘A’ level art portfolio!

The other day, I was thinking about my lovely old piece of board as I sat in my armchair with my lovely new drawingboard on my lap, and I remembered seeing photographs of Roald Dahl’s writing hut, where he sat in an old armchair with a board on his lap, and wrote the great classic of my childhood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (My husband actually knew the Dahl family and played in that hut at one time, the lucky hound!)

Nicole Kidson as Virginia Woolf inthe film 'The Hours'.

Nicole Kidson as Virginia Woolf inthe film ‘The Hours’.

Then I remembered a scene from the film, ‘The Hours’, in which my heroine, Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, sits in an armchair by the window at Hogarth House, with a baize-covered board on her lap, and scratches out the first few lines of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ with her new pen nib. Woolf was actually more inclined to write at a high table, standing up, but the image is potent for me.

It is very nice to have a desk and a study, and sometimes, that is exactly what I need. But I am also fortunate in that I spend a great deal of time having the run of the house to myself, which means that I can write pretty much anywhere I have a suitable work surface, enough light, and where I can get comfortable. I’m not ungrateful to finally have the luxury of my own study, believe me, but having it as made me realise that really, it wasn’t necessary. I was always saying I couldn’t be a proper writer until I had a study of my own, but that just wasn’t true. I have written far more words in my armchair or my bed.

The lesson I have come upon, and the one I wish to communicate to you, Dear Reader, is that actually, once you find the place that suits you, you can write anywhere. You don’t need a study. And if you have one, as I am lucky enough to, you may not end up using it. Don’t beat yourself up about not doing so. Take Woolf’s exhortation to find ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as a wider license to find space of your own. The local Costa Coffee may be your perfect place to write. Or, as for my husband, the comfy chair by the roaring fire of your favourite pub may be just the place. Or you may indeed have your own study and revel in it. The important thing is to get comfortable and have a firm surface to write or type on, so that you are not distracted. It doesn’t matter if its in a caravan or a lorry cab, so long as your imagination can take flight. Because once it flies away to your story world, it doesn’t matter where you are.

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

Clear the Decks

If you listen to the elderly, you always find wisdom.  One of the things I learnt this weekend was from my husband’s aunt, who was in her day a deeply respected midwife.  (She delivered Roald Dahl’s children, as well as tennis player Tim Henman.)  She is a very tidy person, and when I asked her about this, she told me that part of her nursing training emphasised the importance of starting with a clear surface at all times, whatever you were doing.  So she tidies up after herself obsessively, even now, when she is so disabled that she can barely move.

I took this idea away with me.  It occurred to me that one of the things I love most about going on a writers’ retreat is arriving in a room with an empty desk, uncluttered, a space to work.  It inspires me hugely.  Obviously, Auntie’s edict on clearing the decks is an excellent one.  It’s not rocket science, either, to make space for your creativity.

But.

And this is a big but.

I went into my study this morning and this is what I saw.

The shelves as you come into the room.  Total dump.

The shelves as you come into the room. Total dump.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

A bit not good, as Sherlock and John would say.

What does this space say about how I prioritise myself and my creativity?  I think it shows how little I value myself and what I do.  How can I do my best work in this mess?

I long for a clear space in which to work, but this is what I’ve got.  No one but me is responsible for this chaos.  Okay, yes, Husband tends to keep his study clear by dumping stuff in mine, but I let him do that.  I allow these heaps of junk to build up, blocking the energy, my energy.  And after all, who would want to work in this mess?

So I think it is time for another push on making my study work.  I’ve done this before, as you know.  But really, how much have I invested in that process?  I always find an excuse.  I’m always too tired to make it a priority, or too busy.  I can always work downstairs on the sofa, and I usually do.  But then I have to go running up and down to get what I need.  Meanwhile, Husband has a lovely study that is a dedicated space for his business, which is tidy and organised, and which he loves.

If he can have it, so can I.

Its time to clear the decks.

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

Outflow: What the **** am I doing?

new study deskYou may have noticed that yesterday was Wednesday and that it was eerily quiet here at Evenlode’s Friend.  Oops.

Its not that I wasn’t thinking of you, believe me.  Its just that, well, I won’t go into too much sordid detail here, but there are some stomach complaints that leave little room for writing blog posts.  Yes, I was ill. I still am.  I’ve been hit by a particularly nasty bout of IBS, and its going to take some time to settle things down again.

But of course, because I never do anything by halves, my darling husband is having a couple of days off right now and decided, for a whole bunch of really complicated reasons, that it would be a great idea for us to switch offices.  Yes, while I am ill.  No, he did not expect me to help move the furniture.  So now he has the north-facing back room, and I have the sunny, and much larger, front room with the sofabed-futon thingey to lounge on.  I suspect I may have got the best end of the deal, don’t you?

This brilliant wheeze unfortunately has its down side.  Evenlode OPs Centre now looks like a cross between a bad jumble sale and the aftermath of Chernobyl.  Major purge, rethink and planning are urgently required.  (Shame my brain is on illness-induced sabbatical, but there we are.)

new study messThis is not entirely a bad thing, however.  I need to be systematic about everything right now, and the study change is just the external materialisation of the internal mess I am in.  Because it turns out that this blogging thing is much harder than it looks, and I am going to have to be a lot more organised than I thought.  I can’t just fire off a post for this blog in half and hour from a standing start, as I do with my personal blog, because its not that kind of site.  I want my readers to be informed, and that means my research has to be spot on and my posts thorough and thoughtful.  I need to write ahead, and I haven’t worked out how I can do that and juggle my health issues and life at the same time.  I think its good, on the whole, to reassess what you are doing periodically, but I’ve never been one for planning systematically how to do something, as the state of my desk drawers unvariably show.

Yes, its cosmic learning time!

So, today’s Outflow is about two things, redesigning my work area, and planning my work method.  I must be mindful about what I’m going to need and the issues I am going to have to plan for, like not being well enough to write on a posting day.  I’m going to need a workspace that supports me, with all the tools for writing, painting, planning and running this little endeavour within easy reach.  And its got to be easy to keep tidy and organised because I am crap at being neat and perversely, as a Libran, I don’t like working in a messy, ugly space.  In this way, writing a blog isn’t any different from my other creative work, my writing and painting.  It just has to be more systematic and focussed.

If you keep a blog, I would love to know how you organise yourself ahead, and plan your posts.  And if, like me, you are lovingly embarking on making a new creative nest for yourself, I would love to hear about that too.  Please leave a reply (the tag appears at the top of each post for some reason, thats another design issue on my blog To Do list!) and maybe we can do a compendium post of all the shared ideas and wonderful ‘Rooms of Our Own’.

Happy Creating,

EF