Category Archives: Self Reflection

The Friday Review No. 1

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Dear Reader,

As promised in my last post, my intention is to update you on my progress in resuscitating my creativity on a weekly basis, and Friday seems as good a time as any.  So here we go.

Friday Review No 1:

Well, the week got off to an excellent start with the aforementioned post and recovery plan, followed by a day of frenzied ideas for blog posts.  I’ve sketched out 12 in total so far, so you’ve got lots of exciting content to look forward to.

And then the wheels fell off the waggon.

I received news of a not-unexpected but nevertheless devastating medical diagnosis for someone close to me.  It was hard to cope with all the emotions that came up as a result.

Instead of forcing myself to take action, I simply sat with those emotions, and felt them.  And slowly, slowly, the pain began to lift.  I know this is only the beginning of a diffcult and life-changing process, but I also know that my creative practice is not only going to help me get through this new phase, it is also going to feed into my future work.

I was worried my plan for creative recovery would be completely derailed before it had even properly started, but thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  I have kept my appointments with myself this week to do my writing practice, thoroughly enjoyed then, and even (imho) done some good work.  I have discovered some new blogs about writing, which I hope to share with you in future posts.  I have continued with my reading adventure, though Umberto Eco’s habit of dropping into Latin in ‘The Name of the Rose’ has proved something of a labour to me, since I don’t understand Latin.  But I am keeping on keeping on.  And thats the point.

This is what I learned:

How to journal when you need to get stuff out, but you just can’t face explaining.

Let me introduce you to your friend in extremis, the list.

Yes, dear reader, the facts are too horrible to cope with, but you know getting them on paper will a) get some of the poison outside your body, and b) begin the process of helping you to see not only some context, but also how to navigate your way through the battlefield with your sanity (or at least most of it) intact. This is the moment when you each for your pen and make a list.

Write down a list of what happened:

This happened.

and then this.

(I used bullet points.)  And what you remember:

I remember the paper on the desk when he told me.

The phone showed the duration of the call so far.

The consultant will do x,y,z.

I said.

He said.

She said.

Then I did this.  And this.

Then this person rang.

Just getting the facts down on the paper relieves you from having to remember them, or to explain them in future to your diary.  You don’t need to give any detail.  Just bald facts. You don’t need to write them out at length.  Just make notes.  And then let them go.

Now is not the time to analyse.  Just be with the feelings.  You can go back to your usual journal practice of writing at length when you are ready.  But only when you are ready.

The important thing is not to neglect your journal during the crisis.  If you do, you will begin to feel that the mass of painful information you have to record is building up into a barrier that will stop you from using your writing to coach yourself through in the future.  Even if you just sketch down a couple of bullet points every day until you are ready to write more, you are keeping that mountain cut down to size.

This is what I have done this week, a completely new approach to life crises for me – before, when things have happened, I have written nothing, and then felt unequal to the task of resuming when so much has changed.  I’m so glad my creative muse rescued me this time with the idea of the list.  It eased the pain immeasurably, made me feel so much less overwhelmed by events.  I offer this technique to you, in the hope that it may help you in any challenges you may meet.

With love,

EF.

 

 

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Witness my Journey

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A New Adventure

This is my plan to begin again.

Two years of creative drought are over, and though there are still challenges in my personal life which could prove equally difficult, I have decided I can’t allow myself to be so completely crushed next time around.

So I’m on a journey.

One step at a time, baby steps. Reminding myself.  Beginning again.

Its actually quite hard when you have been effectively out of the creative loop for so long, and there is no expecting to pick up exactly where you left off.  My typing fingers are rusty, my imagnation has stalled, my physical strength is unreliable, and I am far too likely to lapse into ranting at the mirror in the bathroom in the mornings, and then being in such a bad mood that I fail to find any corner for creativity the rest of the day.

Its time to inch into new habits, little actions that mount up, tiny movements that ease me into a new frame of mind.

I’m on a journey, and I’d like to invite you along with me.

I don’t know how its going to turn out, and if I’m going to get anywhere, or if I’ll end up back at square one, but I hope that you and I can both learn from the experience.  So I’d like to set out for you the little steps I am taking to ease myself back into writing again.

Firstly, I’ve made a vow to read more.  Yeah, I know, this from the woman who can’t walk past a bookskshop or a library.  This from a woman who has permanent damage to her shoulder from lugging around a handbag full of books, just in case she finds herself in a queue without some way to entertain herself.

I did a bit of analysis after Christmas, and realised that the majority of books I read last year were non-fiction.  That, or Terry Pratchett books I’d read before that I knew would comfort and distract me through admitedly difficult times.  I remembered the days when I was taking my Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, days when I consumed really good writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Helen Dunmore and others.  I realised I couldn’t remember when I’d last read a new work of fiction.

So my new New Year’s intention was to read.  Widely.  Novels, yes.  A bit of History and, obviously, non-fiction.  To remind myself what good writing is.  And so far I am doing quite well, helped by the fact that we’ve been clearing out my late mother-in-law’s sustantial book stash, from which I have benefitted greatly.  I had quite a haul of books for Christmas too, which I’m looking forward to devouring.  The important thing to note is that I am excited about the idea of reading fiction again, which I haven’t been for a long time.  Which is a good sign.

Secondly, I’m pursuing a writing practice.

I read Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’ at the end of last year and I was blown away by it.  I started doing timed writing practices in the manner she suggests.  Pen to paper. Write whatever comes.  Its heaven.

Thirdly, coaching.  Yes, you heard me right.  My dear friend, the poet, Heidi Williamson, is also a writing coach, and kindly agreed to take me on as a client.  Our first session was mind-expanding.  I’ll write more about this experience in future, but let me tell you, I’m sold.

I’d been wrestling with getting out of my own way to do writing practice, and Heidi suggested I make a deal with myself to do two sessions a week, on the days best suited to my schedule, which for me is Monday and Thursday.  So far, I have yet to default.  Which is unheard-of for me. I do it on other days too, which feels like earning huge brownie points.  Its only a little thing, twenty minutes at most, but it feels like a monumental change.  And I’m keeping a promise to myself, which is adding to my confidence.

Fourthly, not pushing.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but Goldberg suggests that you need to do writing practice for at least a year before you have even begun to accumulate enough material to track what it is you would like to write about in a sustained way, such as a novel.  So I don’t really have a particular project.  I’m just writing.  I’m being gentle with myself, because goals tend to freak me out and stop me writing.  There is plenty of time for them later on, when I’m ready anyway.

The whole point of not pushing is to enjoy myself.  I’m not going to write if it isn’t fun.  So why make it hard.  I want to enjoy it.

No doubt I will add to this routine in future, but this is my core plan to gentle myself back into creating.  I read somewhere recently that ‘Creativity is the expression of the Soul.’  My soul has taken quite a battering in the last two years, so I need to nurse it gently back to health with love and sploshy paints, and definitely no strict rules.

Finally, I mean to document my journey here on this blog, which has been sadly neglected of late. I want to tell you how I get on.  A bit of accountability, yes, but also a project to get me blogging again.

So I hope you will join me on my trip to Creativity,

with love,

EF

Writing is not a Performance Art

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Sometimes, we write what we most need to hear.  And this is one of those moments.  So pull up a chair and a cup of coffee, because I have something I want to tell you that I need to hear:

A friend was publishing a new story in a new fandom. The fact that she was not getting the readership and the number of comments she wanted was causing her great distress. Her predicament got me thinking.

So often as artists, we base our self-esteem, our value of our own work, on what other people think. The family who surround me, for example, do not view me as a ‘proper’ writer because my work does not come neatly packaged between two cardboard rectangles with the name of a reputable publisher stamped on the back. I do not make money from my work. Therefore I do not ‘work’, and I am not a ‘proper’ writer. I am not a stranger to the humiliation of being told at a family dinner to move over because: ‘There’s a writer at the table’, when another relative, a talented journalist (whose work I greatly admire and whose success I happily delight in, I should point out) arrives to sit down.

At our recent writing retreat, my fellow writers and I had a long and animated discussion about the ever-present problem of how other people react when we tell them what we do. One friend told the horrible anecdote of an acquaintance’s response to the news that she was a writer – ‘Never mind, I’m sure you can get a job at Tesco!’

(I know, right?)

I suspect that writers are second only to actors in the low opinion the public has of our earning power. Either you’re Benedict Cumberbatch or you’re unemployed. This completely ignores the thousands of jobbing actors who make a reasonable, if somewhat precarious, living doing low profile but necessary jobs in voice-overs, radio, small TV parts and rep. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch has spent a substantial proportion of his career doing exactly that. (If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll see and hear him pop up all over the place!)

The point I am trying to make is that creative people don’t do it for the money. And if you think that, you have missed the whole point.

Modern society, where success in any endeavour is measured in filthy lucre and TV appearances, clearly has failed to read the memo.

Another friend, who has been a visual artist as well as a writer all her working life, which I suspect helps, responds to the dreaded question about earnings thus: “I don’t do it for the money. I do it because it keeps me sane.”

And that is the point.

Writing is not a performance art.

At least, fiction is not. (Journalism obviously is, and I’m still on the fence about poetry!)

Writing is not about the number of comments or reviews you get.  Its not about the number of ‘shares’ on Tumblr.  Its not about the number of hits you get in a day.  Its not about being published by Harper and Collins, or getting an agent from a top agency, or being on an arts programme on BBC4, or giving author readings, or getting your picture in the paper,  or winning the Booker Prize, or making the bestseller lists on Amazon or the Sunday Times, or getting a three book deal, or selling your script to Warners and getting a theme park made out of your book, or making £100k a year.

Writing is not about how many people like you.  Its not about applause.

Writing is about making stories.

We do it because we have to. Because we have a compulsion to tell our stories.

I am delighted to tell you that my fanfiction friend soldiered on against the tide with writing and publishing her new fanwork. Over time she accumulated a substantial following, but more importantly has rejoiced in an explosion of creativity, producing more works and excelling in other art forms as a result.  And I’m thrilled for her.  She is going through a renaissance of creativity because she refused to give up.

“How people receive your gifts is none of your business. You were given a unique set of gifts, life experiences, and passions. Your only job is to share them.”

Rebecca Campbell, ‘Light is the New Black’

When it comes down to it, it does not matter whether family notice that I get over 100 readers a day, a tally that most conventionally published writers could only dream of. (I’m the only person who is hung up about that, after all!)  It does not matter whether they read my work. (Actually, I’m quite glad they don’t!) It does not matter whether they like it. It does not matter whether they think I am an idiot not to charge for it. It does not matter how much I earn or don’t earn, or what other people think of that sum. It really doesn’t matter what people I meet at dinner parties think when I tell them what I do.

And really, it doesn’t matter what my audience thinks either.

The point is to make the art.

And to keep making the art.

To keep on speaking my truth.

Because the people who need to hear that truth will find me. And the rest don’t matter.

Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it so beautifully:

“If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to GO MAKE THEIR OWN FUCKING ART!”

Happy creating,

EF

Alice and the Nature of Fear

Jonothan Miller's BBC Alice in Wonderland, who looks decidedly vampirish!

Jonothan Miller’s BBC Alice in Wonderland, who looks decidedly vampirish!

At our Writers group last night, my friend, the poet Heidi Williamson, read a poem she has written, inspired by the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ books by Lewis Carroll. (It’s a great poem, but then you would expect nothing less from Heidi!) We had been discussing the books themselves, and our various responses to them were fascinating to me.

My mother wouldn’t let the Alice books into the house. She had been terrified by them as a child, when her mother had attempted to read them to her, much as I had been when my sister tried to read me ‘Great Expectations’ when I was small – the phantom of Magwich in the marshes put me off Dickens for more than twenty years!

As a result, I came to Alice relatively late, in my early teens. I ploughed through a copy from the school library that combined both ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. It was a rather large tome, a bit like one of those novels adults read, so I was quite proud of having finished it. But to be frank, I didn’t really get it. It seemed horribly dated to a child who had grown up on the fantasies of Roald Dahl and the Goons. Mainly, it just didn’t make much sense to me.

Interestingly, each of the members of our group shared our memories of reading Alice as a child. One was not much bothered. One, an older lady, had loved it so much that her face lit up with the joy of childhood more than 60 years after she had first read it. It was still a delight to her to remember the feeling of identifying with Alice herself.

From Tumblr. A note written in blood?

From Tumblr. A note written in blood?

And one, like my mother, had been terrified. (Although, in truth, it was probably because the version she had contained the most sinister illustrations in a book intended for children that I have seen since my husband showed me his Victorian copy of ‘Struwwelpeter’!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently, in connection with my writing. I’m working on ideas for a new novel, trying to decide whether what I have is a ghost story, a horror story, or a work of supernatural romance – or something of each.

Our talk last night got me to thinking about the things that scare me. I have this theory that we all have one story in our childhood that scares us out of our wits, even into adulthood. For my mother and friend, it’s Alice. Even now, in her 80s, my mother shudders at the mention of it.

For me it was ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ which I saw as a TV cartoon in the early 1970s. The terror of the Headless Horseman has stayed with me ever since. Like every child I was scared of Dr Who, and I had nightmares about Dracula and Frankenstein (thankfully seeing Mel Brooks’ ‘Young Frankenstein’ sorted that out!), but it was Ichabod Crane’s encounter with darkness that filled me with wordless dread.

I had to read Washington Irving for my degree, and I made myself read the original text of ‘Sleepy Hollow’. I was scared. I could only read it in daylight. But I finished it, and that helped.

Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman in 'Sleepy Hollow' (Burton, 1999).

Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman in ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (Burton, 1999).

Years later, and certainly years after it was released in cinemas, I finally watched ‘Sleepy Hollow’, Tim Burton’s version. It was the exposition in that film that healed. The atmosphere Burton so superbly conjured up added to my terror, but in the end, finding out the ‘why’ of the Horseman’s predicament somehow took the sting out of the tale.

Because it is the not knowing that creates the fear.

When Lockwood hears the tapping of ghostly fingers on his window pane in the opening scenes of ‘Wuthering Heights’, it is not knowing what is making the noise, or who the ghost is, and why she is knocking, that is terrifying.

In the film, ‘The Haunting’ (the old version of course), it is the evil we can’t see, the unseen entity that makes the booming noises, that holds a girl’s hand in the darkness, that is so terrifying.

And the Master of them all, M.R. James, knew that what you don’t see is far scarier than what you do. His greatest ghosts and demons are faceless entities, the shifting surface of a bedsheet, the shadow on the staircase.

We fear the myriad possibilities of our imaginations. There is nothing in the real world, even created by Hollywood, which can match up to the nameless dread of our own minds’ creativity, of Not Knowing which monstrous solution is behind the curtain.

Looking back, I can see that my fear of the Headless Horseman was about Not Knowing. As was my conviction that Dracula might emerge from behind the cupboard door of my bedroom. It was that place of unknown dark potential that scared me. And in the end all good ghost stories and horror stories are actually detective stories, in which the hero or heroine sets out to discover what is behind the supernatural phenomenon he or she encounters – ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’  by Hammer anybody? (Now that one really scared me!)

So my challenge with my new work is to explore that potential of the Unknown – and perhaps the Unknowable, and see where it will take me. I need to get inside my hero’s mind, and look at all the potential horrors he can create in his head, and see which would terrify him the most. It’s a tall order, but I reckon I can probably refer back to the shudders induced by Alice and Ichabod to guide me.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen…

Happy Creating,

EF

New Friday Fic

IMG_20150715_183452A second addition to the ‘Departures’ series.

I was humming and hahing about publishing this one, but then my lovely fangirl niece Amelia said I shouldn’t bottle out because I’m afraid of criticism, so, having honestly accepted that I am rubbish at the vulnerability required to receive crit, I slapped this one on AO3 and am hoping for the best.

Light blue touch paper and retire, as the firework instructions go.

A little taster:

         “For two days he carried the man in his heart, the letter in his backpack, trudging along the Way across the mountains and ravines of north eastern Spain, trying to pray, trying to concentrate on God.

            God never had a look-in when He was up against Robert Lewis.”

You can read the full story here on AO3.

Happy Creating,

luv EF

The Creative Void

sussex churchWhen she said those words, I actually felt the psychological shrug inside.

Oh yeah, I know this part, this is where we talk about the bit in between creative projects, the creative drought, the bit where I am waiting for the next idea to grab me. 

(And yes, I definitely am in that place.)

But that was not what she was talking about.

She was talking about the Creative Void.  The place where new things begin.  The space that is needed for seeds to root and grow.

She was talking about the fact that, in giving myself this year of EASE, this space to get myself well and let go of my OUGHTs and SHOULDs, I have created a void.

My job is to sit here and hold this space.

My job is to allow the Universe to fill it.

Ooo, I’m not very good at that.  I’m no good at the whole sitting thing.  The whole ‘Let go and let God’ stuff.  I don’t think, as human beings, we are.  We are scared so we need to control the world, our lives, the shapes on the page.

However, we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS, as the old cliche goes.  The clue is in the second word.

I’ve learnt over the years how to be in the space between creative projects.  I know how to do the Creative Void in the creative, work, sense.

Now I need to learn how to do it in the emotional, physical sense.

Two sorts of creativity.  Who knew?  (Or are they really?)

If you are in the Creative Void, or the Space Between, or anything that resembles it, you might find this post from Jennifer Louden comforting.  I did.

Happy creating,

EF

Post Number 200!

Flow at Ardnave, Islay.I can’t quite believe I have written two hundred blog posts for this site since I started it on 18th April 2013!  Thats quite a lot of information to write down, and I’m fairly proud of myself for managing it.  And I am grateful to everyone who has read, supported, commented and subscribed.  Thank you so much!

That said, you will have noticed that posts have been a bit scarce lately.  Please don’t think I have forgotten you. Nor have I run out of enthusiasm for blogging.  I am determined this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that just stops, mid-conversation, and hangs there, never to be continued.  I don’t want that.  Besides, the work of creativity never ends, and neither does learning about it.

Nevertheless, Post Number 200 feels like a turning point.

I dont really know where I am going with this blog, any more than I know where I am going with my life.  I’m always talking about seismic shifts going on in the background, I know.  That’s the kind of life I like to live – one in which I am constantly in a process of of Becoming.  But right now, well, I feel as if I am changing right down to my very DNA.

Let me explain.

At the start of the year, I decided to take part in Sas Petherick and Meghan Genge’s Heart and Hearth Circle, and just after that, something extraordinary happened.  I decided to sit down and do a Goddess Card reading, as I often do.

The card I pulled that day was Kali.

(Cue meltdown.)

Kali is described by Juni Parkhurst in the book which accompanies the pack as follows:

“Kali is black, full-breasted and bloodthirsty, and dances on the bodies of her enemies.  She is alive with power.  She is creator and destroyer.  She is not a goddess to mess with.”

No, indeed.  Kali frankly terrifies me. Parkhurst goes on:

“Drawing this card puts you on notice that major changes are taking place.  Structures around you may crumble and fall, leaving you temporarily lost.  Remember, however, that destruction must sometimes come before creation.  The old, tired, redundant parts of your life must fall away in order to create space for the new and vibrant life that is coming…”

No shit, Sherlock!  Since Kali appeared on my desk that day, its been one darn thing after another.  My mother was taken very ill in January, and I travelled across the country to look after her and help coordinate her treatment (she’s lots better now, thank goodness!).  Shortly after that, Husband was diagnosed suddenly with diabetes, which necessitated a stay in hospital, and a major shift in lifestyle and mindset for us both.  Then I had a bout of profound anxiety and depression, followed by a heart problem (luckily that seems benign!).  And for the last three weeks I have been prostrate with some kind of virus that has affected my throat and reignited my ME symptoms, leaving me utterly exhausted, and unable to mentally process.  Throw in elders with dementia to care for, and constant travelling, and its been a very tough five months.

All this has resulted in some very profound soul-searching, and a readjustment of everything I previously deemed important. In the face of the (admittedly distant) spectre of losing my dear other half, so much that seemed crucial to existence now appears totally and laughably irrelevant.  While he continues to respond well to treatment, I am all too aware that he is a similar age to that at which my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sobering thought.

All this is a lot to process, and when one’s brain power is reduced by illness, there isn’t a lot of juice left over for anything else.  The result has been what I would describe as something of a story drought.  Not writer’s block.  I’m perfectly capable of writing.  But I’m finding that no new ideas are being delivered in the usual way.  I’m a person who is used to fresh stories popping into my head on a daily basis.  I’m never short of new ideas.  Except now I am.  So this is something of a surprise.  I am determined not to be phased by it.  After all, its understandable given what I’ve been in the midst of during the last few months.  I’m in subsistence mode.  Life is just sucking up all my neurons at the moment in order to arrange basic survival.  There’s nothing left for cave paintings at this point!

I suppose I must have invited Cosmic Intervention into my life on a grand scale by opting for the Heart and Hearth Circle, and signalling that I was ready to get ‘spiritually naked’ as it were.  I’m not sure I realised what I was signing up for, but do we ever?  Life has changed beyond belief in the last five months, and so have I.  And I don’t know what is going to come out of it.

But it will be something really, really good.

So as we move into the next 200 posts together, I hope that you will stick with me through all these upheavals, this drought, and whatever comes out of it.  My brain is currently toying with new sewing, quilting and illustrating ideas.  I am keeping afloat by journalling and pursuing a version of Natalie Goldberg‘s writing practice.  And I will keep you posted as to what emerges, though my missives may be a little less regular than they have been for a while.  I know you understand, and I shall look forward to sharing this new life adventure with you in the coming months.

(And incidentally, I really, really recommend the Heart and Hearth Circle.  I’ve learnt so much, and Sas and Meghan are wise and wonderful.  And I’ve met such lovely kindred spirits too!)

Happy Creating, EF