Tag Archives: Creative Process

Focus Shift

Desk May 2017

Something struck me today.  Normally on a Sunday evening (the time when I’m writing this) I have a little cascade of messages from AO3 and fanfiction.net telling me who has been liking and bookmarking my work, who has been commenting, and so on.  They come most days, but you always get a lot more at the weekend because more people have time to read at weekends.  It is like having a little round of applause at the end of the week, to spur you on into Monday, and as every fanfic writer knows, those responses to your work can become your addiction!

As I opened up the latest collation of ‘kudos’ from my works on AO3, I realised that these missives have become a lot more incidental to my world than they used to be.  I used to hang on every single one, checking my email obsessively to see what had arrived.  Fanfiction has definitely changed in its importance for me.  Now, I’m obviously delighted that people like my work, but my self-esteem no longer rests so strongly on it.  It’s a really nice little pat on the back, but its importance to me has lessened, and for one really crucial reason.

My focus has changed.

My main writing focus is now on my novel, on my original work.  Yes, I am still writing fanfics, still composing them in my head at night when I go to bed, but my main efforts at my desk are to do with developing original fiction.  My novel.  Or whatever this thing is going to be that I am working on.

This swap is a huge change for me, and realising it is so exciting.  It means that all the effort I have been putting in to developing a writing habit is actually working.  This is the payback.  I’m now on the yellow brick road that I want to be on.  I’m not saying the other yellow-brick road with all the gorgeous men having rampant sex isn’t nice.  It’s just it wasn’t the one I was planning to follow, that’s all.

Writing fanfic has become something of a ‘warm-up’ exercise for me, the way ballet dancers practice at the barre before they get down to the nitty-gritty of doing the Dying Swan!  I love writing it.  It exercises the muscles, gets the lumps out of the prose, provides a field for juicy little metaphors to pop up that I can use later in something original.

Now the original work is where I am headed, I feel excited, free.  It is slowly evolving, this thing that I am writing.  I work on it most days, and it gives me clues, spits out little gems, turns its head and gives me a flirtatious wink or a little giggle every now and again.  It is starting to come into better focus.

I’m so excited.  And relieved.

I feel like I’ve got my voice back.

I shall never stop being grateful to fanfiction for all it has taught me.  I shall always love it, and read it, and no doubt continue to write it in some form or another.  But I’ve managed to step off the Sherlock and Lewis version of the M25, going endlessly around in circles and getting stuck in traffic queues.  Now I’m on the Great North Road, heading to Novel Land, and I can’t wait to see what I find there!

Happy Creating,

EF

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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

When to Share

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about timing.  Specifically, the timing involved in releasing our artistic work into the world.  This may arise from the fact that after nearly two years I am still wrestling with the second part of ‘Three Weddings and an Explosion’, one of my johnlock stories.

My natural writing process is to write a story and then let it sit for a while.  There’s no set time limit in my head.  I just like to let it ‘cook’ for a bit.  Then I can go back to it, and edit with a fresh eye.  By then, I feel so much less attached.  I can pick out most of the typos, and identify the things that really don’t work about the original piece.  Letting your work sit allows space for objectivity.  It’s easier to ‘kill your darlings’ as they say – to cut or change the scenes you are really proud of, but that simply don’t work in their current context.

(That is why my recent series of ‘Friday Quick Fics’ has been such a challenge – they are invariably stories I have knocked off the day before and not allowed to rest, but published immediately instead.  That is a real challenge to my writing confidence, and let me tell you, it takes guts!)

I’m also a huge believer in the idea that our writing helps us explore our own psychodramas.  My story, ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ allowed me to revisit a time when I was starting to deal with a traumatic experience, and much of the reactions of Sherlock in that story are actually my own.  Writing that story allowed me not only to come to terms with the original experience, but also with memories of the distressing period during which I processed it.  It helped profoundly with my own healing.

My stories continue to represent what is going on in my subconscious as well as my conscious mind.  I wrote a very long MPREG story while a close friend was pregnant two years ago, work that enabled me to begin to come to come to terms with my own childlessness.  And only the other day, when I came home from visiting my mother for a few days, I sat down and, in a single sitting, wrote a 2600 word story about Sherlock’s relationship with Mrs Hudson.  After I had finished, I looked it over and thought: ‘Oh, yeah, Mother issues.’

So now perhaps you are sitting there thinking ‘I’d really like to read that MPREG story, why haven’t I seen it?’

The answer is that I am not ready to share it yet.

Perhaps the emotional odyssey of my not being a mother is not over.  Perhaps the issue for me is still too raw.  Or perhaps I am just not artistically satisfied with what I have done.  Either way, I am not yet comfortable with releasing that story into the wild.

The other day I was reading something written by Leonie Dawson about being spiritually ready to share one’s art.  About how she made the decision to put her paintings up for sale only when she felt that they had done their work in her own life.  She made a conscious choice to follow her own instinct about when she was ready to sell.

This is something that is really hard to do.  It takes confidence in your own artistic decisions and your spiritual connection to yourself.  But if you can do it, if you can hold out despite all those voices of readers, hungry for more (which means you are doing your job right, by the way), or buyers wanting your paintings for their own walls, you will open an artistic integrity in your work.  You will know when a piece is ready to leave home.  And you will be happy to let it go, knowing it will go on to do its healing in someone else’s life.

And art is healing, believe me.

When I unleashed ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ on the world, I had a number of emails from readers, saying how it had helped them with their own healing.  The story helped me, and now it continues to do the same for others.  Which, to me, is what art of any kind is for.

Part of the skill of being an artist of any kind, in any medium, is knowing when the time is right to release your work to others.  To know when you are ready to let go.  It is not just about being satisfied that something is finished, or about perfectionism.  (That is a whole ‘nother story!)  It is about being emotionally and spiritually ready too.

Letting go too soon, whether it is because the work is not yet finished to your own standards, or because it is still to raw and personal for you, can be a nightmare, as I discovered this summer when I published a story I loved but was not happy with.  It caused me untold grief.  I learnt my lesson.  The work wasn’t cooked.  It was not ready to leave me.  And I was not ready to leave it.

Try to trust where you are in your artistic life.  Take time to ask yourself whether this is the right time for your work to leave home and begin its new life in the hearts and minds of others.  Maybe you will never be ready to do that – there are plenty of artists if all kinds whose work is never seen in their lifetime.

That’s okay.

Learn to trust the reasons why you release your work in the way you do – or choose not to.  Maybe you choose your timing for purely practical reasons – taking into account such considerations as when you are struggling with a large parallel workload, or major life upheavals such as moving house.  At such times, it may simply not be feasible to expect to present work to the public.  Or maybe the work is too close to raw emotions.  Maybe you just aren’t ready.  Maybe it just isn’t cooked yet.  Trust that.  Sit with it.  When the time is right, you will know.

Happy Creating,

EF

Why you need to Moodle

Today, I have been moodling.

Mooching.  Pottering.  Puttering.  Loafing.  Fiddling.  Wandering.  Pootling.

It looks like I am doing nothing very important from the outside, or at least nothing creatively productive.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Brenda Ueland, in her superb book ‘If you want to write’ (hardly bettered since it was published in 1938), calls creative revelations ‘little bombs’.

“You may find that the little bombs quietly burst in you when you are doing other things – sewing, or carpentering, or whittling, or playing golf, or dreamily washing dishes.” (p45)

“…So you see, the imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  Therse people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas…but they have no slow, big ideas.  And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.” (p32)

Ueland knew that we need to time to contemplate, to think and reflect, to be alone with ourselves, but also time to just let things percolate, soak in and mingle.  We may not look like we are working on our novel when we are washing up.  We may not even be thinking about it consciously.  But there it is, fizzing away behind our eyes, collecting connections, accumulating mass like a growing snowball tumbling down a mountain.

We are incubating miracles.

We need to moodle to charge our brains, to collect impressions, to drink from the well.  However, there is another reason to moodle.  What happens when the well is dry?

This comes back to self care, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  There are always going to be times of creative drought in our lives.  There will be times when life gets in the way, or when we are so busy dealing with our personal stuff that there is no energy left over to flow out into creation.

It is crucial to know that that is alright.  It happens.  It will pass.

And when these droughts occur, and to prevent them if you can, you need to moodle.  Have a nap.  Potter about.  Paint your toenails.  Fix that squeaky gate.  Go window shopping.  Give yourself a break, literally and metaphorically.  Resting will fill the well up again.

This is why I don’t really believe in writers block.  I think that either you are exhausted, or you are stopping yourself from creating out of fear.  If the latter is the case, you need to explore those fears, and work on them in your journal.  If the former, you need to let go of guilt, accept the creative season you are in, and lie around wiggling your toes until your brain is sufficiently rested, and finally ready to come up with a new ‘Aha!’ moment.

I urge you to read Ueland’s peerless book, whether you are a writer or not.  It is full of incredibly sensible advice for anyone who means to create.

I also urge you to take some moodling time this week.  Book it in your diary.  Tell the family to leave you alone in the bath tonight.  Go and lie in the park in the sun.  Not every expedition has to be an Artist Date.  Sometimes, its good just to refill the well.

Happy Moodling,

EF

On Process: Your Creative Clock

Ickworth Garden Temple - take a moment to reflect

Ickworth Garden Temple – take a moment to reflect

I don’t think I have ever read a book about how to write (and I’ve read a lot of books about how to write) that didn’t stipulate that writing first thing in the morning, as soon as you get up, is the best thing to do.

Excuse my “French”, but bollocks to that.

I am not a morning person.  Not in any way, shape or form.  I never have been, and I never will be.  In addition to this apparently genetic disadvantage (my mother is terrible in the mornings too), I suffer from a chronic illness which means I need about four hours to get going for the day.  My brain doesn’t normally come online in any meaningful way until about 11am.  And if I try to get going any earlier, I am totalled for days afterwards.

Writing first thing in the morning is never going to happen for me.  Its a biological impossibility.

Ask me about 9.30pm, though.  Yep, by then I am motoring!  I have suffered from insomnia since childhood, when I lay in bed making up stories in the dark to amuse myself while everyone else slept.  I think this is when I became a writer.  I am at my most creative in the hours of darkness, when my mind flies along, pumping out ideas and exciting images like Spielberg on speed.  I even dream in glorious technicolour.

And yes, I write during the day too, but mostly not before about 4pm.  I often have a big pulse of creativity between 4pm and 6pm that is great for finishing stories, and for writing blog posts, which is exactly what I am doing now – its 5.45pm and my brain is firing on all cylinders.

Ask me to invent something at 10am, though, and you are wasting both our times.  Ask me after 10pm and you probably couldn’t stop me with a sledge hammer!

We all have an internal body clock.  Some of us are naturally larks, and some owls.  If you are honest with yourself, you know which you are, when you function best.  You might be brilliant at doing advanced maths in the morning, or you might be better checking your email or dusting the objet d’art.

This doesn’t just apply to the hours of the day, but to your annual clock too.  I find I have a bit of a manic period in March, when the sap starts to rise and I can’t sleep at all because my brain is whirring so frantically with new ideas.  I actually get breathless!  By the time April comes in, I am mentally drained, and can barely come up with an idea for something for tea until July.  July is often my time for last bursts of activity on a project that needs finishing, the final sprint.  But during the summer months, I can safely say there are better things to do than sit inside with a laptop.

Once September comes in, I start to go into my creative cave, a kind of incubation period where I sit with ideas, mull them over, do my planning.  Then during the depths of winter I engage in my deepest writing, my most productive spells, when I can turn out 2-3000 words a day at times.  I find I draw best in the first half of the year, which to me is an exterior time, a period of surging energy.  The second half of the year is for going inside, for living with the images and tales in my head.

I’ve discovered this pattern over the years, observing myself and my creativity and making notes about how I am working in my writing notebooks.  Self reflection is something that helps your creative process and there should always be space in your writing notebooks, sketchbooks and journals for considering how you work best, and what you do when.  These things are important to know, because that way you can optimise your output.   I know, for instance, that there is no need for me to beat myself up in June when I realise I’m not writing.  That’s ok.  Its not the time to do it.  June is when I am out in the world, filling my well.  I know the time will come, and that the downtime in the summer is an important resting and refuelling stop.  Knowing when not to beat yourself up for not being creative is incredibly important for your self confidence and longevity as an artist, and for your mental health.

Writing Exercise:

Take out your notebook, journal or sketchbook – whatever is your creative workbench – and spend some time reflecting on when you have produced your best work, both in terms of the time of day, and of the year.  Do particular seasons have creative resonances for you?  Are the liminal times of dawn or twilight the moments when you come up with your best ideas?  Do you write or paint great stuff in the summer months, or when you are on holiday?  Are you stupified by the cold grey winter skies, or do they encourage you to look within for brighter pictures?

Make sure you take time periodically to reflect on this subject, as it will help you build up a clearer picture of your creative clock.  I like to do it at the beginning of each month, like a review, or quarterly, at the changing of the seasons.  The more you know yourself as a creative person in this way, the more easily you will be able to use your energy for your best work, and to avoid frustration and blocks.

Happy creating!

EF