Category Archives: The Habit of Art

Do One Thing at a Time

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Focus.

In a world of multi-tasking, it something most of us have forgotten.

Stand in any street and you will see a mother pushing a pushchair, laden with shopping as well as her baby, perhaps another child or two trailing behind, with a mobile phone clamped to her ear.  This woman is doing at least three tasks at once, and is probably not able to concentrate on any of them properly.  The same is true of the man driving along the motorway, his mind on his business meeting to come, a bag of crisps in his lap to keep hunger at bay, talking to a colleague on his hands-free (I hope) phone.  I’m not saying mobile technology is the evil of our times.  What I am saying is that its so easy to get distracted that we rarely do one thing, and one thing alone.

You only have to look at my bedside table to see that I am the worst victim of this curse.  A glance at the picture above will show you that I have 32 books currently on the go!  (That’s not counting the magazines under the second pile in – there are actually four piles there.  Its also not counting the ones on my desk in the study.)  Another one arrived in the post this morning.  And the heap includes 6 library books, which of course can go back to be exchanged for more goodies.

I know, I know.

I have a serious problem…

On a side note, it is interesting to me that, as someone who claims to be a fiction writer, there are very, very few novels on this heap.  But more of that anon.

I really, really need to focus.  Finally becoming overwhelmed by my book pile yesterday, I made the decision.  This has to stop.  I am going to focus on ONE BOOK and read it till it is finished.  And then move on to the next.  And read that till it is finished.  And so on.

And I’m not allowed to buy any more books until this pile is finished.

Or go the library.  (Which may actually be more difficult, because hey, free books!)

You may remember that I made the decision earlier in the year, as part of my commitment to my writing, to start reading a lot more, and I’m really doing well at that.  The problem is that at the moment, most of what I am reading is non-fiction for research, fun and self-development, which isn’t going to feed my prose practice in the same way that quality novels would.  I’ve got shelves of novels that I want to read, but never get around to.  Research always seems more tempting.  I wonder what this says about what I really need to be writing?

Anyway, I decided that today I will make a list of all the novels I have outstanding on the shelves all over the house. And then I will work my way through the list one at a time.

I’ve even been toying with the idea of having a total-immersion week, where I commit to doing nothing else but reading (other than my diary), in the hope that this will establish in me a voracious desire for fiction that only regular reading will sate.

The weird thing is that I never have this problem with fanfiction.  I think its because its short.  I spent nearly five years writing solely in the Sherlock fandom, and that was where I did pretty much all my fiction reading.  It was a continuous obsession, which fuelled what I think is some of my best work.  I need to get that focus back, so I can write original fiction to the same pitch.

I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on!

Happy Creating,

EF

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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

Be Open. Don’t Try So Hard.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

Lately, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Be present.  Turn Up.  Be still and open.  Don’t try so hard.

I was watching Jamie Ridler’s morning vlog, in which she talked about how people strive so hard to find their Life Purpose.  We make such a BIG DEAL out of it.

What if we just let it happen?

I’m not saying you can just expect your art to pop up out of nowhere.  You have to be present, make yourself ready.

You do your core practises.  Your morning pages.  Your writing exercises. Your artist dates.  Your scales or your practise sketches.  Your barre exercises.  You make sure that you are ready when the inspiration comes.

When I used to read about writers who sat down at their desks in the morning and stayed there for an alotted number of hours, regardless of whether the work came or not, I used to think they were mad.  It seems like working too hard. It seems like self-punishment.

Maybe you don’t just have to sit at your desk.

Maybe you can cultivate a mindset of being open.  Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Maybe we are all trying too hard.

Forcing it just doesn’t work.  Every writer who has ever been blocked knows that.  But if you keep up the practises, the ideas come.  They come because your mind is constantly in a place where it is curious and open, and like a lamp in the darkness, it attracts the fluttering moths of inspiration.

So keep her steady as she goes.  Turn up for your daily creative habits.  Relax into them, and don’t panic.

The work will come.

Happy Creating,

EF

Help will come

Life Org kit I was working on my Life Organiser last night for the first time in a couple weeks (it’s been a hell of a couple of weeks), and the quote at the top of the page for Week 43 in Jennifer Louden’s book just jumped right out at me:

A thunderbolt illuminates your heart: it isn’t your job alone to fulfil your dreams and give birth to your yearnings. You can relax and ask for help, and help will come.

It was that last sentence that jumped off the page at me.

Help will come.

Help will come.

All you have to do is ask.

Lately, I haven’t been asking. Actually, let’s be honest here, I have the greatest difficulty in asking for anything, ever. It’s one of the hardest lessons I have had to face with chronic illness. Sometimes, you just can’t be perfect and do it all. Or maybe, do any of it. You have to ask for help.

Whether I need to ask for help cleaning the house because I’m too exhausted to push the vacuum cleaner, or I need help from my Muse because frankly, ain’t nothin’ goin’ on in my storyworld, it is really, really hard to admit I need help.

Usually, I do the passive-aggressive woman thing of wearing myself out, reducing myself to a stressy heap of tears and vitriol, and then Husband put his hands on his hips and says in a despairing tone: ‘well, you only had to ask.’

I’ve been feeling really stressed for the last few days, and not very well at all, and if I was one of those organised bloggers who writes their posts weeks in advance, I would have had a bunch of spare posts backed up to cover me for the times where my brain goes blank. But I‘m not. I’m a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ kinda gal, and I really like being able to write what I need to write when I need to write it. I need my posts to feel current for me, otherwise they come out creaky and preachy. Or at least, I think so.

So I didn’t write on Monday. I just couldn’t.

Instead, I had a bit of a meltdown.

On Tuesday, I decided to trust to the Muse. You could say that I asked for help. I trusted that some inspiration would come along. I listened. And while I was listening, I got down to a few other things, including my Life Organiser.

Bingo!

The action became the lesson. Trust. Ask. (Keep busy while you are waiting.) Help will come.

And it did.

If you are struggling with your creativity right now, ask for help.

Maybe you just need Grandma to come and look after your baby for an hour so you can write or read a book by yourself. Maybe you need someone to hoover the carpet, which will give you enough time to do something for yourself, something creative.

Or maybe you need to ask the Universe for help, to look up to the sky and say ‘Please could you send me some inspiration, because right now, I’m a bit blank.’

Then listen.

(The listening part is the important bit.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, silence helps.

If you can’t find silence, do something that will allow your Muse to speak. Morning pages; perhaps, a walk around your neighbourhood with your camera; a few writing exercises. Do your Life organiser, or read a book. Allow yourself to be open. Make peace with your temporary stuckness, but act in a way that will allow whatever message your Muse has for you to come through.

Help will come.

Your job is to be gently open to it.

Happy Creating,

EF

The Benefits of Giving Up

The Cumberbatch

Gratuitous Cumberbatch photo. Just because I felt like it!

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you about why its sometimes a really good idea to give up.

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

In my last post, I wrote about the folly of trying.  Of pushing ourselves beyond endurance, and as a result, being unable to achieve the things we want.

That post was an example of me writing my own permission slip.  That day, I took my own advice.  I gave up trying.  I spent a lot of time just lying around.  I felt terrible, so why do anything else? I simply surrendered to what my body was trying to tell me.  Which was, in essence, ‘STOP’.

So far, so good.

The next day, I woke up at 8.30am, earlier than I am normally able to do, and in addition, woke with a clear head.

I grabbed my laptop and opened it up.

And I wrote.

I wrote all day.

In between spells of writing, I stripped the bed, put clean sheets on, did three loads of washing, tidied the kitchen, ironed some fresh pillowcases, made some long overdue phonecalls, and cooked a lovely supper for Husband and myself. I got so much done!

By close of play, i.e.11pm, I had written (get this) 6470 words.  Thats 27 pages.

The most I have ever written in one day.

(Round of applause, please.)

And all because I had given myself some much-needed space.

This is why you must learn to stop.  Yes, it is important to write every day.  Little and often is imperative.  Regular practise for any art form is necessary.

And there will be days when you sit down at your desk or in your studio and think:  ‘I really don’t want to do this today.’  And when you start, the brush strokes will be ugly or the words will come out like lumps of lead.  And then you will get going and things will flow and it will be alright.  (In fact it will be better than alright.  Because all the pain and depression you may have been struggling with will fly away, and creating will heal you.)  That is the point of any practise.

I am not saying you should only write when you feel like it.

What I am saying is that you must recognise that there are some days when your body is leeched to a husk, when your brain is too full or too empty to do anything but be.  Those are the days when you need to be gentle with yourself.  To put away the expectations.  And you will know those days.  The days of crisis.  The days when Life just steps in and pulls the carpet from under you.

If, like me, you live with chronic illness, working out which those days are becomes a little harder.  After 17 years, I am getting better at it, but I’m still not great.

The important thing to remember is that when you release the pressure on yourself, the result is often magic.

Its very Zen to say: let go of perfectionism, let go of expectations, but its easier said than done.  We all carry expectations from society, our upbringing, our peers and ourselves.  Letting them go is a daily practise in itself.  I am reminded however of an old saying I once heard:

“Let go, and Let God.”

Once we stop trying, once we stop tensing up and forcing things, the creativity flows through us freely onto the page or the canvas or the keyboard.  When we are free to make crap art, we learn.  And invariably, in my experience at least, when we give ourselves permission to make crap, what comes out is pure gold.

So here I am, in the aftermath of this great day of writing, assessing what I have learnt, what I can take with me from this experience.  I don’t know if what I wrote yesterday was gold or dross.  Chances are it will be about 50/50.  I don’t really care.  To be frank, it was fun.  It was an enormous relief just to spread my wings and fly without judging myself at all.

And I’m looking forward to doing it again just as soon as I can.

Happy creating,

EF

 

The Folly of Trying

My counsellor told me a story:

A man was asked at a conference to come up onto the stage, where the speaker had set a single chair in the centre.

‘Try to pick up the chair ,’ the speaker said.

The man picked up the chair.

‘No, you’re not getting it,’ the speaker said.  ‘Try to pick up the chair.’

The man picked up the chair again.

‘No, you’re still not getting it.  TRY to pick up the chair.’

The man put his hands on the chair and then, in a flash of inspiration, he understood.

Because TRYING to pick up the chair is not the same as picking up the chair.

If you TRY, you never actually achieve the action.  You just TRY.

Or, as the venerable Yoda said, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’:

Try not.  Do.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

(I had that on my door at college.  I don’t think I understood it then.  Now I do, I really, really do.)

This wisdom has really been banging on my door today, as I struggle with a cold, coming on the back of a bad spell of IBS and ME/CFS.  I am busy TRYING.  Trying to get better.  Trying to feel well. Trying to cope with the housework. Trying to write.

Sometimes you have to recognise the wisdom of ‘Do or Do Not.’

Lately, I worry that this blog has become more about illness and less about creativity.  More about my TRYING experience.  But I think it really is an important lesson to learn for creative people.  We push ourselves and push ourselves, driven by expectations and perfectionism and Gods-know what demons we have inside us, deftly planted there, no doubt, by our loving parents. We dance the dance of the OUGHT-hogs.  The SHOULDS.  We are so busy forcing meaning into our lives as creatives, as Eric Maisel ill-advised (IMHO), that we pulverise our souls and our bodies into gibbering wrecks, terrorised by all the goals we fail to achieve and the standards we are incapable to meeting.  Books about how to write invariably advise the student that they have to write every day, no matter what.  I don’t think thats healthy or, frankly, practical.  Of course, it helps if you can.  A lot.  But seriously, who can write when their child has been up all night vomiting, or they have just received a redundancy notice?

Sometimes you have to treat yourself with loving kindness.  Sometimes you have to lower your expectations, and maybe even give in to the avalanche that Life has dumped on your head.  I have been talking to several friends who are all struggling with ill health this week, recovering from cancer treatment or at the end of a difficult pregnancy, or even in bereavement, and I truly believe that this is something all of us needed to hear.

Sometimes you are allowed to stop trying.

Sometimes its good to stop trying.

And then, when you have given yourself a break, a rest, a time of wound-licking, you can get up and go and do what it is you need to do.

MInd you, I have probably just proved myself wrong by writing this blog post, because I’ve spent the last six hours lying in bed groaning, absolutely convinced that I couldn’t write anything today.  So there you go.  Take from that what you will.  Just promise me something?

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Happy Creating,

EF

 

I Think I Just Rescued Myself

Peter Mothersole's House

A Bit of a Wobble.

I had a wobble today.

The ‘Writers Block’ wobble.

You know the one:

I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cantI can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cantI can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I cant I can’t

and so on and so forth.

That moment when you think:

I have nothing to write about, nothing to say, no way of saying  it.  I am empty, dry.  I will never write another word again.

Oh, the horror, the horror…

But that’s not true.

The real truth is that I am avoiding writing what I know I should be writing. (oh yes, oops, prizes for all those who picked out the Bingo! word there – SHOULD.  Because we don’t do SHOULDS here at Evenlode’s Friend, do we?)

I have a great list of ideas of things to tell you about.  But right now, the juice is not flowing.  I don’t want to do them. I feel like the idea of my writing about writing or creativity is preposterous.  I mean, what the hell do I know?

It is a very short step from here to writers block, the neurosis that prevents otherwise creative people from writing for months, years, sometimes forever.  It is a scary thought.  I don’t want to go there.

Maybe I am just not ready yet.  Maybe I am still getting over my family care stint.  It was, after all, pretty emotionally demanding in so many ways.  And physically too.  Frankly, I don’t feel well, either.

So, instead of beating myself up about all the things I SHOULD be writing, I decided to write what I COULD write.  I always have a little story going on my head, something to pass the time, a little tale to entertain me, a bit of dialogue, a few jokes, anything from a silly children’s fable to a torrid love scene.  Something was definitely developing while I was ironing pillowcases after lunch, so I decided I would write it down and see what happened.

Pen to paper.

Two hours later, and here I am with a 2000 word fanfic done and able to write the blog post I never thought I would be able to get to you today.

The Moral of the Story:

Write something.

Write anything.

It doesn’t matter what it is, or if its good, or whether anybody will ever see it.  It doesn’t matter what it is about, whether it is part of your novel, or a section of your non-fiction book, a bit of memoir or just a few lines of description.

Just write something.

And once you get a few words lined up on the page, you will find you can get a few more lined up.  And then a few more.  And then, O Wonder of Wonders!  You will be writing again.

Crisis averted.

Please do not allow yourself to tip over the edge into CAN’T.  Take a deep breath, get out your pen and write a shopping list.  Or a list of the things you can hear right now.  Or what that smell reminds you of.

Because you CAN.

Happy Creating,

EF