Category Archives: The Creative Process

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

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“… 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

Gimme Dat Ole Circadian Rhythm…

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Sunset over Cambridge

Mornings.

I’m not a Morning Person.

Trust me, me and Mornings put together are BAD news.  A Bit Not Good, as they say in the Sherlock fandom.  This seems to be an ineradicable facet of my character.  I’ve tried, Gods know, I’ve tried.  But the other day, something I read got me thinking about this ‘trying’ to get up business a little more critically:

Terry Pratchett, in his essay on his friend, Neil Gaiman, in ‘A Slip of the Keyboard‘, states:

“He takes the view that mornings happen to other people.  I think I once saw him at breakfast, though possibly it was just someone who looked a bit like him who was lying with their head in a plate of baked beans.”

You see, Society has this idea about ‘larks’ and ‘owls’.  A dichotomy, if you like.  You know, like ‘black/white’ and ‘male/female’ and ‘good/bad’.  (Spoiler:  Its usually pretty safe to assume there’ll be trouble when there are only two alternatives.)

There is this idea what there are people who can get up in the morning, who are at their best in the morning, who get their best work done while the rest of the world is still in bed.  They make the most of the day, packing more into every hour than most other human beings.  They are virtuous people, the kind of people who set their alarms for 4am so they can get an hour of meditation in on top of their hour at the gym.  These are successful people.  Healthy, industrious, productive, wholesome, and probably outdoorsy people.  They hike at weekends, and get up to enjoy the sunrise.  They are the kind of people who have time planners on their smart phones.  And use them.

I have a friend who shouts ‘Good Afternoon!’ at me when I come down to breakfast at 10am.  This person is very proud of the fact that he is a Morning Person, and thinks that he is wonderful because of it, and it is the only way to be.  You know.  Self righteous.

Morning People are ‘good’ people.

Then there are the ‘owls’, the Night People.

Night People are at best pale, unhealthy, and very probably lazy because they won’t get out of bed at a respectable hour.  They wear black, which is always a sign of being a bad lot, and suggestive of not being, well, quite clean, if you know what I mean.  They are un-productive good-for-nothings who waste the best of the day, the kind of people who leech off others more productive than themselves.  They are more likely to fall into drink and drugs, or even prostitution, because lets face it, those are the kinds of things that go on in the dark, aren’t they.  They are likely to be unreliable, promiscuous, even downright criminal.

(Can you hear the Calvinist shouting in the cultural background to this post?)

By now you will have realised what fascist, socially-controlling bollocks this all is. Neil Gaiman, for instance, is clearly not a Morning Person, yet has produced a vast body of work, including journalism, award-winning novels, screenplays and childrens books.  He has single-handedly revolutionised the comic/graphic novel artform with his Sandman books.

And he wrote ‘Good Omens‘ with Pratchett, which for my money is one of the best works of literature the human race has ever produced.  And I’m not kidding.  If you haven’t read it, do. Otherwise we can never be friends.

What he is not is a lazy, good-for-nothing parasite in a black leather jacket because he doesn’t get up before lunch.

I don’t do mornings either.  But I’ve written 7 novels and 107 published short stories and novellas.  And I don’t wear much black.

Almost every book about writing that I’ve ever read says you have to get up in the morning and write before you do anything else.  This is supposedly because you can access your immediately post-dream consciousness, which is where your imagination supposedly lives.  Supposedly.

I think its just because the Puritans said you had to get up early and work hard so you could go to Heaven when you die.

As I said, I can’t do Mornings, though I admit this is partly to do with my ME/CFS symptoms which are at their worst first thing.  It takes a couple of hours for the pain to wear out so I can crawl out of bed and get washed and dressed for the day.  It certainly is not the time when I am most connected to my imagination.

Since I was a kid, I’ve lain in bed at night, in the dark, and told myself stories.  To begin with it was about fear of the dark.  And I had nightmares, which didn’t help.  My mother got me a radio to play softly by my bed at night.  My stories acquired a soundtrack based on BBC Radio Two’s evening schedule: country music, folk, big band and musicals. By the age of five I had quite an education in jazz.  I also had the capacity to lie in the dark and tell myself ornate bedtime stories.

This is where the heart of my writing now lives.

I lie in the dark and listen to my husband fall asleep beside me.  And then I begin.  Great landscapes unroll before me.  Lewis is seduced by Hathaway.  Sherlock and John fight and make up.  Vikings battle for control of freezing fjords.  Medieval kings entice foreign princesses into loveless marriages made for political ends.  A policeman encounters a vampire on his nightly beat.  An angel pursues a demon in a car chase.  A woman stands on a cliff, looking out to sea, watching a flight of Wellington bombers fly overhead, on their way to bomb the Nazis into submission.

If I hit a good scene, I tell it to myself over and over again, sometimes night after night, until I am word perfect.  And then I write it down.

And that is where my ideas come from.  This is my writing rhythm. And I can’t deny it any longer.  I don’t fit into the cultural dichotomy of owls/larks.  For a long time I have fought to be something other than I am.  What I thought I SHOULD be.

These days I don’t care what Stephen King says about writing in the mornings.  It obviously works for him.  It just makes me ill.

Our creative life is embedded in our physical wellbeing.  Find out how your body works best, and go with that.  Slide writing into place within that routine.  And yes, if getting up at 6am to write before the kids wake, as Toni Morrison had to in order to write ‘Beloved’, works for you, then fine.  If you are a Morning Person, then fine.  Go with that.  Rejoice in it.  Write your fifteen chapters per day to the sound of the morning chorus.

Meanwhile, there are those of us whose Muse comes out to play at twilight.  Whose imagination only really kicks in when the darkness veils reality and allows us to overlay it with a new tapestry of being. Whose creativity slides into dreams, not out of them.  And thats okay.

I am proud to be one such.  Finally.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

The Friday Review No. 5: Practicing My Writing Practice

I’m writing this week’s review a day early, as we are about to take off on the annual canter around the country to visit relatives, which we seem to do every Easter and Christmas.  I’m usually feeling like screaming ‘Stop the world!  I want to get off!’ at this point, but perhaps I’ve finally accepted that RESISTANCE IS FUTILE, and its got to be done.

In response to the impending rupture in proceedings, I decided I was going to make the most of my last remaining free days for a while to get a bit more out of my writing practice.  I agreed with my writing coach, Heidi, that I would do it twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, because they were the days that I had most time and energy – because of my ME/CFS, I have to plan my activities to preserve my energy, and energy intensive activities like going to weekly health appointments have to take precedence over everything.  So I’ve been doing, or trying to do, two a week.

The thing is that when I do it, I find it so productive and enjoyable.  So I thought, why not take it seriously?  Why not try and do it every day?  Or rather, why not have yet more fun? (It’s a no-brainer when you put it like that, isn’t it?)

I’ve managed four consecutive days so far.  This is, I think, because I’m not putting pressure on myself.  I’m doing it to see what comes out.  And I’m discovering a lot.  For instance, the vicar in my novel has a sentimental attachment to a mangy old stuffed parrot which is kept on the table by the door in the Rectory.  The vicar’s wife, who I thought would be adversarial at most, and certainly peripheral, has turned into my heroine’s useful ally, and definitely cherishes a grief of her own.  And I’ve realised that I am deliberately avoiding getting into the mind of the heroine’s employer…. Now why would that be?

It’s all an intriguing puzzle, and I want to know more.  Like reading a detective story, and wanting to know the ending, I feel like this novel is hidden under my skin, entire, and all I have to do is uncover it.  And then the exciting denouement will be clear.

In another effort to entice my Muse out to play, I dragged out the writing notebook I’d started months ago.  It’s a nice notebook, lovely paper, but the cover is boring as hell, so it doesn’t seduce me into using it.  So I recovered it with some wrapping paper I had.  I think the transformation works quite well, don’t you?

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Before…

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…and after

So now I’m heading off into the wilds of No-easily-available-wifi-land, with my trusty notebook in hand, and a few half hours sketched into my schedule to do a bit of writing practice. Knowing Oxford, where I’m going, I shall snap a few pictures of sublime architecture and blossom-heavy trees along the way, so check out my Instagram account if such things amuse you.

Enjoy your Easter weekend, dear Reader, and may all your creating be fun,

EF

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

Sometimes I forget

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You may think things are quiet here at Evenlode’s Friend.

Well, I suppose they are, on the website at least.  Not inside my head, however.  Not inside my life.

I haven’t been writing much here lately because, well, I’m going through another growing phase.  By which I mean, the shit really hit the fan again.

Sometimes you need to take time off for your life.  Sometimes you need to remember to take care of yourself.  And thats what I’m doing at the moment.  Intensively taking care of myself, and Husband, who was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, almost a year since he was told he had diabetes.  This, along with coping with dementia caring, and my own health issues, has rather forced my hand.

Sometimes you need to take the time to devote everything you have to healing.

And the really odd thing is that this morning, I was reading an article about creative blocks (which sadly now, I just can’t find) and I thought:

I’ve forgotten how to do this.

I’ve been so focussed on healing my life that I’ve forgotten my creativity.  I’ve been so immersed in studying nutrition and recipe books, delving into spirituality and psychology, chanting mantras and ploughing through academic papers on brain degeneration in Alzheimers patients, that somewhere along the line, I’ve forgotten how to write.

Forgotten how to create.

Something new.  Something unique.  Something mine.

A creation that is truly of my soul.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten.  I still tell myself stories at night as I fall asleep.  The stories of love and redemption that comfort me in the midst of the storm, enough to enable me to believe that there is something good at the other end of all this.  Because I’m an old romantic at heart.  Because I believe that there has to be hope.  Because I believe that a hug makes everything better.  Even if its only a hug in a story.

But holding a pen?  A crayon?  Conjuring the contents of a new character’s pocket or handbag? Wondering why a character might take a tennis racket on a train trip to Switzerland in 1947?

Where did that go?

Cue that slightly dazed feeling that something is missing, like a limb, but you can’t quite work out where is has gone, or how, or even when.

I know that what I am doing right now is deeply necessary to my future wellbeing, and that of Husband.  I know I need to step up to the challenges that face me.  I need to delve deeply into my Unravelling.

But I don’t want to do what I did this morning, and sit there, staring at a photo of coloured pencils on a blog post, and feel a yearning that took my breath away.  Somewhere in all this, there has to be space to create.

Sometimes, I forget.

But from now on, I intend to remember.

Happy creating,

EF

The Clunky Stage

writing notebookThe clunky stage.

If you write, you’ll know what I mean.

If you write on a daily basis, its those first ten minutes during which your brain feels like no one has oiled the cogs for ten years, and your pen feels like the nib is dragging through molasses.

If you haven’t written for a while, it feels like performing an appendectomy on yourself.

Hemingway was not kidding when he said:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Yesterday I sat down to write a new story.

I haven’t written in a while.  I don’t really get on with doing writing exercises much, although I know I SHOULD.  And at the moment I am experimenting with a new journalling practice called Deep Soul Writing, (of which more later) which is proving to be an interesting, but demanding, experience.  So my creative writing has been rather rare.

Nevertheless, I still have stories rattling around in my brain.  I always do.  So last night I thought I would start writing one down.  Free up some brain space.  Like you do.

Cue: wading through concrete.

How did this get so hard?

I’ve written seven novels, and dozens of fanfics.  How did I get this rusty this quick?

Nothing brings home the importance of daily practice, whether you are a pianist doing your scales, an artist doing your warm up sketches, or a writer doing – dare I say it – writing exercises, like coming back to your artform after a break and finding:

OH MY GODS THIS IS SO HARD!!!

My husband complains of feeling stiff and awkward if he misses even one of his twice-weekly body pump gym classes.  And now I know how he feels, because man! am I stiff!

But, as the old adage says, the only way out is through.

So I will suspend judgement on what I am scrawling because I know that while it may be as fluid as a fence post, at least I am on my way.  Sooner or later, things will loosen up, get more limber.  The adjectives will start replacing the cliches.  The dialogue will start to sound like it is coming out of real people’s mouths instead of cardboard cut-outs.  The metaphors will start to gang up on me.  The language will take on the richness of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s gowns.

Then, and only then, will I really get down to business.

But I have to write my way through the shit first.

So, like every marathon runner, I will set out in hope.  I will do my stretches, and thud through the first few miles until the muscles have warmed up and the movement starts to flow again.

Because even when its like bleeding into the keyboard, my soul is dancing, and I know, really know, that this is what I was meant for.

Happy Creating,

EF

Creative Recuperation

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

We just got back from a demanding time in Oxford, and after the difficult fortnight we have had, I find myself feeling emotionally as well as physically exhausted.  So when I found this post from Jamie Ridler this morning, I realised I had to make a concerted effort to have some healing time.

One of the hardest things to accept about our creativity is that it often comes and goes.  There are times of bounty, when the Muse is flowing and there are so many ideas coming into your head and out of your pen that you feel like you could get hysterical just trying to keep pace.

And there are the droughts.  The times when nothing new has come for months, and you feel like you may never paint or write or dance again.

One of the things that my ME/CFS has taught me, and continues to teach me, is to go with that flow.  There are times of the year when our bodies need downtime, and times when our tails are up and we are full of energy.  Any woman knows this from her menstrual cycle.

The trouble is that we live in a 24/7 culture that requires us to be ‘on’ seven days a week, twelve months a year, and our biology just hasn’t evolved sufficiently to keep up with that. (We’ve only had the lightbulb for a hundred years or so, remember?)  We simply can’t be  in action continually.  We aren’t machines.  We have to stop and rest.

Resisting that PUSHPUSHPUSH productivity mindset is a constant practise, but if you are intent on living a truly creative life, you need to take account of not only your own biorhythms, but also your creative rhythms.

It is time to be gentle with ourselves.

Because if we don’t make time to be gentle with ourselves, our bodies will remind us that we must in no uncertain terms – often with the red traffic light of major illness.

So this week, I am resolved not to make any particular demands on myself. I will be journalling, and watching some old films, eating nurturing food, and taking lots of naps.  Maybe I’ll even paint my toenails, which always cheers me up!  I am going to take it one day at a time and listen to what my body needs.  By doing that, I know my mojo will come back eventually.   I just need to give it some space.

Happy creating – or resting, whichever you need to do right now,

EF