Category Archives: The Habit of Art

The Wild Donkeys: A Strategy for Choosing a Creative Project


‘So, how’s the writing going?’

This from a man who is one of the Blessed Few.  A writer whose work was picked up by an agent straight from the much garlanded MA in Creative Writing at the Unversity of East Anglia.  Alumni include Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain, Hanif Kureshi, Tracey Chevalier and, well, you get the picture.  He is in glittering company.

He is also a really lovely man and a dear friend who takes a genuine interest in my work, so I rein in the envy monster and give him the polite and honest answer.

‘Fine.  Well, actually, I’m a bit stuck.’

‘Creative block?’

‘No, too many ideas.  I don’t know where to start.’

‘You should be writing a novel, you know.  I read some of your Sherlock stuff the other day.  It’s really good.’

‘Thank you.  I’ve written seven novels so far.  Writing a novel isn’t the hard part.  Its choosing which one to write that’s difficult.’

‘Well, just pick one and start.’

I love men.  Everything seems so easy to them.  And they are so good at handing out really practical advice.  (You’ll also notice that I don’t ask him how his novel is going.  That’s because I know.  I recognise that pained look.  I’ve seen it in the mirror too many times.)

OK, I know its good advice.  The right advice.

As Leonie Dawson puts it, I need to choose a wild donkey and ride the shit out of it till its done.

Every writer has a place where they habitually get stuck.  A psychological Marianas Trench on the road to getting their work into the readers’ hands, one that they tumble into every time.  For some it is grinding the words out, which for them is like sweating blood.  For others, it is coming up with the idea in the first place.  Some worry when they get to the middle because that’s always where they get bogged down, and some will spend ten years writing the first page.  We all have our Achilles’ heel.

For me, its choosing which idea to stick with.

So I have decided to take September off.  Not from writing; quite the opposite, in fact.  No, I’m taking the month off from worrying which novel to concentrate on.  I’m in a physically stuck place right now, and I need to concentrate on my health, on getting my body moving again after a summer of boom and bust energy.  I’m looking to create a smooth, even flow in my life, in my health, and my art.  I have faith that if I can manage to attain a relative level of consistency in my body, the answer will come to me.  Yes, maybe that sounds mad, but its just how my creative process works.

And in the meantime, I’m refreshing my theory knowledge, reading, working on my notebooking, and bashing out some major fanfiction.  I’m easily distracted, and having short stories and novellas on the go is a great way to handle that.  But sooner or later, I want to create something major.  Something big.  Something that shows both me and you, dear Reader, what I can really do.

Happy creating,


On Cabbages and Trombones – Making Language Strange

The expression ‘cabbages and trombones’ was one used by the poet Ian Macmillan at a recording of a poetry radio show which I went to see with a friend a while back, and the phrase stuck with me.  He was talking about how poets seek to make language strange and startling, how they seek to use it to weave a rich tapestry of image and idea.  That, after all, is the purpose of poetry, to enrich our experience of life with pattern and syllable.

The concept chimed with me again when my husband was wrestling with a writing problem of his own.  Besides being an academic, he runs an online whisky company, and occasionally works as a whisky writer.  He had been asked to contribute reviews of a variety of whiskies for this book.  Little bottles duly began to arrive in the post every morning, and off he went at a rate of three or so per evening.  Everything was fine for the first thirty tests or so.  But then he began to run out of descriptors.  Just how many new adjectives can you come up with when you’ve got 60 whiskies to review?  They can’t all taste of TCP or green jelly babies.  Can each review really be different from the last?

And today, as I busy myself with planning my new writing schedule, and working on new stories, it has come back again.

Experts say those with a college education generally have about 12,000-17,000 words in their vocabulary, but as writers we need to have far more and we need to use them in unusual and riveting ways.  I realise that I have dropped into the habit of reading very little but fanfiction, and if you are a fanfiction reader yourself, you will know that there are a lot of linguistic ruts involved.  Favourite words include laving, ravishing, carding (of luxuriant hair), trembling and so on.  No fanfic is complete without somebody emitting ‘ragged breath’.  If you have read enough of these, you begin to spot the clichés.  If you read too many, they scream out of the screen at you.  (I hold my hands up and say I am as guilty as any of falling into this trap!)

The trouble is that if you don’t read more widely than just what other people write on the internet, your vocabulary stays static.  This is what mine has been doing.  Now I am writing again on a daily basis, I have realised how stagnant my linguistic skills have become.  Of course, its not just words, but metaphors and similes.  I need to polish up my style, make it strange and new.  I need to expand my consumption, and open my mind.

 WARNING:  Incoming Master Plan for Expanding Lingustic Skills:

I’m taking a two-pronged attack:

  1. Widen my reading
  2. Use my notebook at all times

I’ve been reading just fanfics and nonfiction all summer, and its been a long time since I actually finished a proper novel.  You can’t be a writer if you don’t read.  Mostly I just read at bed time, a few paragraphs to help me drift off.  But I need to take Stephen King’s sage advice:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Stephen King, “On Writing”,

Hodder and Stoughton (2000) p164

 Of course, I’ve got a whole pile of books lying around, waiting to be ploughed through.  Top of the pile are ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern, and ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan.  I don’t especially like McEwan, but I am determined not to let this bloody book defeat me.  It’s the third time I’ve tried to read it, after all, and I refuse to be beaten!

I have also decided to follow Ian Macmillan’s advice.  Poetry is the way to go.  I’m not a reader of poetry – I’ve barely read any since my degree – but if you want to know about making language strange, go to the experts.  I went to the library yesterday and got out two collections, one of Ted Hughes, and one of Simon Armitage, because I had heard of them.  I’ll let you know if it works.

The second prong (I love that word, don’t you?) is more nebulous.  Out comes my little red Moleskine.  I need to think about how I am going to get the ball rolling on this particular aspect, but just jotting down a few ideas on what the weather feels like, smells like, tastes like, or overheard conversations, or the colours of shadows, might be a good start.  Again, I’ll let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, here’s to cabbages and trombones.  And whisky that tastes of TCP and green jelly babies.  Both of which have taught me a lot about writing.

(Incidentally, you may like to know that I am currently publishing a new fanfic called ‘A Shadow of His Former Self’.  You can find it here at A03, and here at  I hope it takes your fancy.)

Happy creating,


The Need for Habit

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I need it, in any case.

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

I need my routine back.

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

It’s not long now, though.

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

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

Happy creating and holidaying, whichever you are doing,


Outflow: My Creativity Right Now

Picasso ceramicsWe are having a heatwave here in the UK, and I’m not very good in hot weather.  The result is that my brain has gone on strike, as has much of my body.  Which makes me think about ‘creative seasons’ and the Habit of Art.

My ongoing health problems taught me long ago to have peace with the days when I can’t do anything beyond lie on the sofa and practise my groaning. ( I’m getting quite good at groaning, I have to say.)  Chronic Illness is, however, a bit of an extreme way of forcing oneself to recognise one’s creative cycles, and not one I would recommend.

There are lots of creativity gurus who are adamant that turning up at the page, or the canvas, and making yourself do the work is the only way forward, and for the most part, I would agree.  But what do you do on the days, like today, when it just ain’t gonna happen?

Take note, that’s what.

I find my creativity goes in bursts, as I have mentioned before, and in recent years I have noticed that my writing seagues slowly into art in the summer months.  Writing is a great thing to be doing when the weather is cold and wet, and all you want to do is curl up in the warm.  In the summer, though, the urge to get out there into the landscape and experience the world is almost irresistible, as anyone who has ever worked through the summer in an office will agree.  Right now I am experiencing the difficult-to-ignore urge to paint rather than write.

And I am OK with that.

Yes, I am feeling a bit frustrated that I can’t settle to the writing projects I want to progress, but I can’t force it, or I will get resentful, and probably produce pages of complete drivel that I’ll hate later.  The urge to be creative is still with me, though.  It is just taking a different, more exterior form.  I want to draw, paint, decorate pottery, make cushion covers, garden, and bake cupcakes.  So that’s what I’m going to do – at least as soon as the weather cools down and my brain starts functioning again!

There is a tension between turning up to create and the creative seasons themselves, and the skill of a true creative is to be able to accept the difference between a) the resistance to sitting at the desk and working, which is procrastination and stopping oneself being all one can be, and b) the natural flow of creativity as it morphs from one season to the next.  There is much to be said for making yourself sit down to create every day, but using it as a stick to beat yourself with is not helpful.  We need to be aware of when our creativity transforms, and to trust it enough to go with the flow.  This doesn’t mean I am abandoning my writing for good, simply that I know that right now, that isn’t where my best work will come.

The image in my head to illustrate this is when Picasso discovered the provencale village of Vallauris and threw himself into the art of ceramics.  I have no doubt there were those who worried that his canvas days were over, but that was far from the truth.  Instead, he trusted his creative urges enough to know that ceramics was a road he had to walk at that point in his life.

So I am trying to emulate Picasso, and to be at peace with where my creative road is taking me.  It’s not easy, and Nigel has a lot to say about not having the gumption to get on with the novel, but frankly, STUFF NIGEL!  Lets get out in the sun, eat ice cream, and do creativity the way we need to right now!

Happy sun-bathing and creating,


Nuts ‘N’ Bolts: Writing Exercises

writing notebook Firstly, an apology.  Observant readers will note that today is Thursday.  Yes, I am a day late in posting.  Sorry.  Life got in the way, in the shape of a migraine, and it’s not funny trying to write with tunnel vision and the pain equivalent of a knitting needle stuck through your eyeball.  I figured I might sound somewhat distracted (as indeed I was), so in the spirit of demonstrating how important self care is, I bugged off and went to bed.  Today’s post is something of a restart.

For a while I have been feeling the itch to get back to writing original fiction.  I’ve been working on fanfiction almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and while it has been hugely instructive in terms of both technique and confidence, I feel like it is time to start making some personal headway again.  Hence the restart.

Getting back to basics is one way to do this if, like me, you are feeling a little at sea when it comes to what to write about.  And one of the best basics to get back to is the marvellous tool that is the writing exercise.

Writing exercises are based on the idea of stream-of-consciousness and free association.  You sit down with your notebook and write for a set amount of time, without judgement or criticism.  You are free to make mistakes, try stuff out, experiment with new words, phrases, images, metaphors.  This is a free-form space where there are no mistakes, only ideas tried on for fit and comfort.

What you need:

  • An allowance of time (10 minutes, 15, half an hour if you have it, or the luxury of more.)
  • A notebook (maybe your writing notebook, or one you keep specially for exercises).
  • A good pen that you can write easily with.
  • A timer.
  • A quiet space to work.
  • A prompt.

What to do:

Maybe you sit down to write at your desk, and your brain goes blank, or worse, is crowded with too many ideas that are too big to fit into 10 minutes or whoever long you have got, and you freeze.

Say hello to your little friend, the prompt.

A prompt is a word, sentence or idea that you use to start you off.  Write it in your notebook.  You may like to start a fresh page, thus allowing yourself a psychological fresh start.  Set your timer to your allotted amount of time, and off you go.

You start writing whatever comes into your head.  You might be writing about yourself, the way you would in your journal, or you might be writing about a character, or from a character’s point of view.  You might describe a scene or an experience.  Keep writing.  Whatever appears on the movie screen of your brain, write it down. And the next thing.  And the next thing.  Keep going until the bell rings and your time is up.

This is a great way of generating material, especially if you are the kind of writer who finds building up words a process of torture.  It is also good for exploring the backstory of your characters, finding out what makes them tick.  And of course, you will occasionally find yourself coming back to reality in the middle of a short story that you didn’t even know you had in you, as I often do.

I like to do two or three 15 minute exercises at one sitting, which allows me to really get into the groove.  You may not have time for that, and that’s okay.  The important thing is that you do the exercises.  And do one daily.  Limber up.  Get into the Habit of Art.

If you find it hard to get yourself into the mood, or to make time, writing exercises are a great tool to use with others.  Arrange to meet up with a writing pal at the local café, and do a few prompts together.  You don’t have to share what you have written if you don’t want to, but if you make an appointment with someone else, you are more likely to show up at the page and do the work.

Where to find prompts:

Ah! I hear you cry.  But where am I supposed to find these fabled prompts?

Well, there are plenty of books around that offer just these kinds of starting grounds.  I am very fond of the following:

‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves

‘The Writer’s Block’ by Jason Rekulak

‘The Writer’s Idea Book’ by Jack Heffron.

Search the internet for ‘writers prompts’, or check out, which is a delight.

In the meantime, here are a few to get you started:

  • What does your character carry in their pockets and why?
  • I woke with a start…
  • Heat
  • My first pet
  • A favourite meal

Happy Writing!


Inspiration Monday: Images


My Image Box

Writing exercises are a great way to get yourself going with new writing ideas.  Sometimes it is hard to think up something to write about, and this is where images can be really useful.  If you don’t have time to go out into the world and absorb the landscape, or you don’t feel like listening to music or doing something else that feeds your imagination, images of all kinds can be evocative prompts to get you going.

I keep an ‘Image Box’.  I buy odd postcards when I am visiting shops, art galleries, National Trust properties.  (I even drop leaflets into my image box, knowing the colours used in them can get my juices flowing, and I scour magazines and newspapers for pictures that catch my eye.)

Postcards don’t have to be of anything particular, the places and objects depicted don’t have to be of things you have seen or visited.  They just have to get you started.

When I am stuck, and need to write something fresh, something that comes clean out of the blue, I pull a random image out of my box.  Then I set the timer, and write for fifteen minutes on what the image suggests to me.

Here are a few pictures out of my box:


Postcards from my Image Box

(clockwise from top left) Sylvia Plath 1959, photographed by Rollie McKenna;   The Forest of Bowland from ‘Our forbidden land’ by Fay Godwin 1989;   ‘Silver Moonlight‘ by John Aitkinson Grimshaw (Harrogate Museums and Arts);    ‘A Norfolk Village’ by Edward Seago (Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery);    Sound II sculpture by Anthony Gormley, Permanent Installation in the Crypt at Winchester Cathedral, photograph by Roger Twigg.

These are all striking images, but what stories do they tell?  What do they suggest to you?

Writing Exercises:

1) Start collecting images for an Image Box of your own.  You might like to do it the old fashioned way, as I do, with postcards and pictures cut from newspapers, magazines and Sunday supplements.  Or you might like to use a digital version like Pinterest.  Whichever suits you.

(These days I also keep a private folder of images that I download from Tumblr on my laptop, which also feeds my imagination – I don’t use them for anything other than my own private use, so I hope I’m not infringing any copyright by doing so.)

Keep an eye out for anything really striking – a black and white, chiaroscuro portrait perhaps, or an arresting street image.  Whatever catches your eye.

2) When you have time for a writing exercise, get out your timer and your writing notebook.   Fish out a random image that appeals to you, set the timer for fifteen minutes, and write!

It doesn’t have to be a complete story, remember.  It can just be a sliver of description, a bit of character study, a list of traits or adjectives, or a bit of backstory.  What is going on in the image?  What is the place like? Are there people?  What are they doing, and why?  Is it a portrait like the one of Sylvia Plath above – forget who she is for a moment, and look at the image.  Why might this girl be wistful, a bit sad or worried?  Who could the person in your portrait be?  Why do they look the way they do? Or who is the person doing the looking, taking the picture?  What is their story?

Use your Image Box whenever you are stuck for something to write about.  I have got whole stories out of a single image, like this one, which I wrote from a fanart masterpiece by Marielikestodraw, the doyenne of gorgeous fanart.  You never know what might be sparked off.

Happy notebooking!

There’s No Time to Write! (Part 2 – in which the author comes clean about what being a writer is really like)

So today, according to my editorial calendar, you were supposed to be reading a detailed and amusing essay on why writing exercises are a great way to get yourself writing, even when there is little time.

And then life got in the way.

It does that, doesn’t it?

I am a big devotee of those home interiors and lifestyle blogs that tell you all about how to organise your cleaning equipment, how to update that hideous credenza with a quick lick of paint (here’s one I did earlier), and offer funky downloadable printouts of chore lists and records for when you last took the dog for his shots.  You know the ones?  The ones that are supposed to make you feel like your life is amazing and completely within your control, but actually make you feel like one of those weird hoarding people who live on indoor garbage heaps in documentaries.

Reading this blog, you might feel just that way too.  You may think I’ve got it all together.  That I write oodles of books and I’m so productive.  Well, I’ll let you into a dirty little secret – I’m not.

Just like the lovely ladies who write those amazing lifestyle and organising blogs, I have mess, and piles of dirty laundry, and weeds in the garden.  I get up in the morning and really don’t feel like writing.  Or there is just no time.  Like today.  I seriously did not feel like doing my Morning Pages today.  I felt ill and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I wanted to scream at anybody who came near me, and then get under the duvet and have the world just GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!

(I’m sure you are familiar with those kinds of days.)

Sometimes it happens.  It probably even happened to Dickens.  What the hell.

I didn’t beat myself up about it.  Instead, I wrote my Morning Pages.  I scribbled three pages of growls and groans about how I have no time to do the things I want to do because I’m faffing about doing a bunch of other stuff that is urgent but not important.  In the course of those three pages, I realised that the reason why I am so crabby today is that I haven’t written a story in weeks.

I’m crabby because I am not writing.


At this point, it becomes profoundly obvious that even a fifteen minute writing exercise has to be fitted in to today.  Otherwise I will be up before the beak for homicide!

This is why you have to make time to write:  because if you are a writer, you need to write in the same way as you need to eat your greens and take exercise.  Writing makes you sane.

The distance between sanity and insanity is the width of a pen nib.

(I wrote that years ago, it’s good isn’t it?!)

And you’d better believe it.

So join me in stopping the grumps.  Get out your writers notebook and try the following exercise.  I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Writing Exercise:

Get a timer and set it for fifteen minutes – ten, if you are really pushed.  Write down the following phrase and then finish it as a sentence.

I haven’t written anything lately because….

Let your mind tumble onto the page.  It doesn’t matter if it is a list of reasons, like that your husband ought to put the kids to bed a bit more often so that you can have some time to yourself, or that you’ve got the finish that damned presentation to give at work first thing tomorrow.  Maybe it’s that you have a character rumbling about in your head but you are having trouble with some aspect of him or her, in which case, write that down too, and expand on the problem.  If you keep on writing until the pinger goes, you may just have found the edge of a solution.

Write whatever comes to mind.  Complain, moan, plan, get excited, drone, create, wonder what subjects you are interested in.  Whatever you need to get down.   At the end of fifteen minutes, I guarantee you will have either worked out what is stopping you (and if you are anything like me, it may turn out to be that YOU are what is stopping you), or you may have come up with a plan of how to carve out some time to write, or you may even have come up with a new story idea or scene.

Whatever.  The important thing is that you just spent fifteen minutes writing.  Hooray!  Now do it again.  Maybe today.  Maybe tomorrow.  But do it.

Inspiration Monday: Landscapes

Lighthouse at Dusk

From the Yorkshire Moors in ‘Wuthering Heights‘ to the foggy twilight of Sherlock Holmes’ Edwardian London, landscapes conjure up all kinds of stories for us.  In fiction, they can be so much more than just backdrop.  Tolkein used them to illustrate the journey to the centre of Hell, contrasting the lush green of the Shire with the volcanic wastes of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.  The closer the hobbits get to the heart of evil, the more the landscape breaks down.  Landscapes can even act as a separate character altogether.

At school, my English teacher taught us to describe landscapes in terms of what they looked like, but it is just as important to your readers to describe what they feel like too.

Paps of Jura

Mountains to me feel full of angry, untamed energy.

Adur Valley 1The South Downs, however, are softer, gentler hills, rolling and swelling banks of green pasture.  They conjure an altogether different energy.


A rustic country lane in summer has a very different feeling to a city street in winter, and the stories that take place there are bound to be different.

Contrast can make your stories all the more interesting – think of that rustic country lane as  an invading tank rumbles by.  Think of the moment the Black Riders from Mordor cross the borders of the Shire, bringing war and evil with them.

The landscape in which you set your stories can enhance your theme, either with a sympathetic atmosphere, or by offering a shocking opposition to the action.

Writing Exercise:

Today is a Bank Holiday in the UK, which means many people are off enjoying the fine weather and the beautiful countryside.  If you have been out and about today, get out your writers notebook and describe the place you have visited.  Seaside or countryside, what shape was it, what colours?  What did it taste like, smell like?  What weather was happening? What plants grew there, what trees, what animals inhabited it?  Were there crowds of people, or just a lonely figure in the distance, perhaps walking a dog?  Did you see a falcon wheeling in the sky, or a rat scrabbling about in the dustbins behind a convenience store?  And what did this place make you feel?  Was it pleasant, foreboding, exciting, relaxing or scary?

Salt this description, however rudimentary it may be, away, and think on it.  What kinds of stories could happen in this environment?  Who might live here?  What problems might they face?

Next time you travel, even if it is only to the end of your road, consider the landscape you are in, and if you can get the chance, write about it.  Let the stories the land around you brings bubble up.  See where they take you.

Journal Friday: Morning Pages

The Artists Way 2

If you read creative blogs of any kind, you are bound to come across Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ eventually.  It’s cover bills it as ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self’, and yes, it does exactly what it says on the tin.  I first completed the whole 12 week course in 2004, and now I am about to embark on a refresher.  I’ve pulled my much loved, somewhat dog-eared copy off the shelf and on Monday 6th May 2013 I shall launch into the unknown once more.

Cameron proposes two tools for this course, Morning Pages and Artist Dates.  No doubt we will talk about Artist Dates at some point soon, but today, let us think about morning pages, because they are enormously beneficial, whether you are a creative or not.

“What are morning pages?  Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness…”

Julia Cameron, ‘The Artist’s Way‘ Pan Boo 1995  pp9-10

Basically, what we are talking about here is three pages of brain dump.  You write them by hand because it enables your subconscious to express itself.  You don’t judge them, you don’t ty to be neat, you don’t reread them.  Cameron suggests doing them on loose sheets of A4/letter size paper, but I prefer to keep them in a notebook, the same kind I use for my writing notebook.

You can whine, complain, rave, drool, scream, laugh, giggle, rant, enthuse, or just repeat ‘I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write’ over and over again until something presents itself to be set down. Three pages.  Inane babble or heartfelt planning.  As scribbly as you like. (I realised after I had taken the photo above that this particular example of my pages is considerably neater than my usual.  Believe me, most of it is a real mess!)

Whatever comes out.  Three pages every day, no matter what.  Three pages to ground yourself in the very core of your psyche, to drain out the poison and find the shimmering gold doubloons resting on the sea bed beneath.

I have kept morning pages on and off for 9 years.  I have never reread any of them.  But when I do them, I find myself making sense of the world and my feelings, finding a way to my dreams and interests, naming new ideas and enthusiasms, letting out the bile that is getting in the way of health and healing.

I profoundly believe in the healing power of these pages in draining the poison and pain from life.  I have recommended it to several friends and acquaintences who were struggling with clinical depression.  They have found them enormously beneficial, as do I.  I now recommend them to you, not because I think you need help, but because they will help you find yourself, because they will help you become more of who you really are under all the OUGHTS and SHOULDS.

Journal Exercise:

Set your alarm half an hour earlier this week.  Get yourself a decent large notebook and a pen you like to write with (I do mine with a lovely old Parker fountain pen).  Write your three pages every day.  Do not judge yourself.  Do not censor yourself.  Get the dross and the sparkles alike down on paper.

If you would like to join me on the Artists Way, you are more than welcome.  I shall be writing more about my progress on this blog, and I would love to hear from you in the comments if you are game.

There’s No Time to Write!

(or paint or draw or sew or dance or make movies or {insert chosen art or craft here}).

Every book or blog about writing (or any art) will tell you that you have to do it.  Practise.  You can’t be a writer unless you write.  You can’t call yourself a dancer unless you dance, or a musician unless you play.  But in our busy modern world, in the midst of a double-dip recession, who the hell can find time to pursue their arts?

My husband says this to me a lot.

“I need at least three hours,” he’ll say.  “I can’t just write in fifteen minutes a day.”

Toni Morrison wrote her novel, ‘Beloved’, by getting up early in the morning and writing for half and hour or so  at the kitchen table while her family were still asleep.  She made time to write.  JK Rowling wrote in an Edinburgh cafe while her baby was napping in the pushchair.

My husband doesn’t make time to write.  He is a talented screenplay writer.  He is also an enthusiastic potter and actor.  He doesn’t do these things.  He works instead (for which I am very grateful, incidentally.) He works pretty much all the hours God sends, so far as I can see.  I am sorry that the world is missing out on his talent.

You may be the same.  There may be no time spare to carve out in your life.  But let me offer you this story to illustrate my point, which is:

Just because you aren’t writing, it doesn’t mean you aren’t writing.

Two years ago, I went down to Hampshire to visit my mother.  My stepfather was very ill and in hospital, so ostensibly I went down for the weekend to help my mother with the stress, and the nearly two hour round trip to the hospital and back every day.

Whilst I was there, my stepfather died.

My siblings were not able to stop work to support her at this time, so I stayed with her for three weeks, helping her with the paperwork, assisting with organising the funeral, comforting her where I could.

As you can imagine, it was a very busy, stressful and distressing time, but I was extremely glad I was there to share it with her, and to be of help.

A family death is an all-consuming experience.  Grief seeps into your very bones.  You think of nothing else.  But even thought I loved my stepfather very deeply, and mourned him intensely,  I realised that I needed some respite from the pain and the busy-ness.  So in the tiny moments I had alone, in the loo or the shower, at night before sleep, I bathed in the world of my stories.  I wrote.  Maybe I didn’t actiually scribble notes down, but I told the stories I needed to tell myself to keep myself calm and sane.   During those three weeks, I organised, plotted, and even wrote parts of a major story in my mind, a story which became ‘A Case of Resurrection’, which deals with grief (unsurprisingly).  It is a work of which I am still proud, written at one of the most difficult, and probably busiest times in my life.

The purpose of this story is not to pluck your heart-strings, but to say that not only can you write when you are busy, but that when you are, writing can become a life raft, an antidote to stress, a way of expressing your feelings when there may be no other way available.  You might remark that I wasn’t actually writing, but I ask you, in response, to expand your definition.  Writing takes a great deal of planning and long hours of thought, as well as lots of typing.  You write it out on the keyboard eventually,  but first you have to think it.

By all means, put writing time into your busy schedule.  Mark it in your filofax or diary.  Make daily time for it.  No one would advocate that more than I. But consider it in a wider scope.  You can write under any circumstances if you really want and need to.