Tag Archives: Study

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

Desk May 2017.jpg

“… 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

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Clear the Decks

If you listen to the elderly, you always find wisdom.  One of the things I learnt this weekend was from my husband’s aunt, who was in her day a deeply respected midwife.  (She delivered Roald Dahl’s children, as well as tennis player Tim Henman.)  She is a very tidy person, and when I asked her about this, she told me that part of her nursing training emphasised the importance of starting with a clear surface at all times, whatever you were doing.  So she tidies up after herself obsessively, even now, when she is so disabled that she can barely move.

I took this idea away with me.  It occurred to me that one of the things I love most about going on a writers’ retreat is arriving in a room with an empty desk, uncluttered, a space to work.  It inspires me hugely.  Obviously, Auntie’s edict on clearing the decks is an excellent one.  It’s not rocket science, either, to make space for your creativity.

But.

And this is a big but.

I went into my study this morning and this is what I saw.

The shelves as you come into the room.  Total dump.

The shelves as you come into the room. Total dump.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

A bit not good, as Sherlock and John would say.

What does this space say about how I prioritise myself and my creativity?  I think it shows how little I value myself and what I do.  How can I do my best work in this mess?

I long for a clear space in which to work, but this is what I’ve got.  No one but me is responsible for this chaos.  Okay, yes, Husband tends to keep his study clear by dumping stuff in mine, but I let him do that.  I allow these heaps of junk to build up, blocking the energy, my energy.  And after all, who would want to work in this mess?

So I think it is time for another push on making my study work.  I’ve done this before, as you know.  But really, how much have I invested in that process?  I always find an excuse.  I’m always too tired to make it a priority, or too busy.  I can always work downstairs on the sofa, and I usually do.  But then I have to go running up and down to get what I need.  Meanwhile, Husband has a lovely study that is a dedicated space for his business, which is tidy and organised, and which he loves.

If he can have it, so can I.

Its time to clear the decks.

Happy Creating,

EF

Planning the Perfect Home Office – Progress Report

So, as I mentioned before, Husband, in his wisdom, decided that the best idea he had ever had would be for us to swap studies.  He gets the box room at the back of the house, north facing, looking over the boiler house roof and into the woods beyond.  And I get the room at the front of the house, south-facing and a little more than twice the size, with accompanying futon and a big space to lay out my yoga mat, should I be so inclined.  Yes, I will have to share this space when friends come to stay, but frankly that doesn’t happen very often because we live so bloody far from everyone else we know on the planet!  On the other hand, my new desk overlooks the front garden, with a view down the lane and across the fields to the poplar plantation, about half a mile away.  Not only is it a great view, but I can see people coming!

So far so good.

What I was not bargaining for is the sheer accretion of junk that has built up over five years of occupancy.  There are mountains of magazines to sort through, clippings to find a home for, bills to file, and then there are the hundreds of other bits I never knew had.  A bellpull made of six gaudily decorated velour camels, given by a distant-travelling cousin.  A mug from an old work project with a cartoon on it of my own design.  Sufficient packs of playing cards to run a sizeable poker tournament – we never play cards.  Tiny audio tapes from an old Dictaphone machine, now long lost.  A bag of marbles – blamed on Husband.  A slightly used Barbie doll with complete wedding trousseau.  Empty A4 clip files and notebooks galore.  And how many packets of staples does one person really need?

(I’m not even going to mention the host of dead biros, fluff and ancient receipts for distantly deceased electronic equipment.)

It turns out that Number One on the list of activities when planning your home office is:

CONDUCT THE MOTHER OF ALL DECLUTTERINGS!

Having spent long hours toiling over heaps of useless junk, diligently throwing out anything I hadn’t looked at in six months, I then went through the following process.

Start by being proactive:  Being me, I went out and got a book from the Library on how to plan your home study.  It has lots of pretty pictures.  What it does not have is a list of things you will need.  It says you must work it out yourself.

Thanks.

Question 1 in the book:  How much storage will you require?

Answer:  How the fuck do I know?  I’m a writer!  By definition, I generate vast quantities of paper! And I draw too, so double that!

Cunning Strategy:  Make sure the Husband takes on responsibility for household filing so at least I don’t have to think about that.  I hate it anyway.  He can have it in his office so I never have to think about it again.  Plus, its one less filing cabinet to fit in.

Concern:  I have all these writing notebooks that I may need to refer to as a part of my work, so they will need to be handy.  But what do I do with all the Morning Pages notebooks and diaries?  I need to keep them because they record my life, but I doubt I shall need to drag them off the shelf on a regular basis.

Hesitant solution:  Bung them in big plastic crates with mouse-proof lids and store them in the boilerhouse?  Discard on the basis that its too risky because mice are fiendishly devious little bastards.

Sneaking suspicion:  I would rather go out and spend a fortune on funky stationery than plan any of this stuff.

Probable outcome:  I will be cheap and impulsive, go out to The Range and buy a bunch of ugly stuff I don’t like instead of working out how much I need and saving for the really nice stuff I do like, and none of it will do what I want/need it to, and then I shall not want to use my new office as a result, i.e. back to square one.

Sudden flash of determination:  I am not going to ‘cheap out’ again.  I’m going to do it right this time.  Because I deserve a nice place to create.

(Sneaking suspicion and Probable outcome persist in the back of my mind.)

Intermediate action:  Go on fact-finding mission.  In other words, hang out in posh shops looking at all the kit I can’t afford but would dearly love.  Come home feeling resentful, poor and even less determined to plan sensibly than I was before.

Current state of affairs: sulking.

Yes, I would love to be able to say I went out and bought a label maker and some washi tape and now my life is complete, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I have a desk and a chair, and three bookshelves double stacked with books, and a slightly denuded pile of Sherlock clippings, but my magnificent new working space has yet to materialise.

I’ll keep you posted.

(And if you have any tips, let me know.  Please?)

EF

Outflow: What the **** am I doing?

new study deskYou may have noticed that yesterday was Wednesday and that it was eerily quiet here at Evenlode’s Friend.  Oops.

Its not that I wasn’t thinking of you, believe me.  Its just that, well, I won’t go into too much sordid detail here, but there are some stomach complaints that leave little room for writing blog posts.  Yes, I was ill. I still am.  I’ve been hit by a particularly nasty bout of IBS, and its going to take some time to settle things down again.

But of course, because I never do anything by halves, my darling husband is having a couple of days off right now and decided, for a whole bunch of really complicated reasons, that it would be a great idea for us to switch offices.  Yes, while I am ill.  No, he did not expect me to help move the furniture.  So now he has the north-facing back room, and I have the sunny, and much larger, front room with the sofabed-futon thingey to lounge on.  I suspect I may have got the best end of the deal, don’t you?

This brilliant wheeze unfortunately has its down side.  Evenlode OPs Centre now looks like a cross between a bad jumble sale and the aftermath of Chernobyl.  Major purge, rethink and planning are urgently required.  (Shame my brain is on illness-induced sabbatical, but there we are.)

new study messThis is not entirely a bad thing, however.  I need to be systematic about everything right now, and the study change is just the external materialisation of the internal mess I am in.  Because it turns out that this blogging thing is much harder than it looks, and I am going to have to be a lot more organised than I thought.  I can’t just fire off a post for this blog in half and hour from a standing start, as I do with my personal blog, because its not that kind of site.  I want my readers to be informed, and that means my research has to be spot on and my posts thorough and thoughtful.  I need to write ahead, and I haven’t worked out how I can do that and juggle my health issues and life at the same time.  I think its good, on the whole, to reassess what you are doing periodically, but I’ve never been one for planning systematically how to do something, as the state of my desk drawers unvariably show.

Yes, its cosmic learning time!

So, today’s Outflow is about two things, redesigning my work area, and planning my work method.  I must be mindful about what I’m going to need and the issues I am going to have to plan for, like not being well enough to write on a posting day.  I’m going to need a workspace that supports me, with all the tools for writing, painting, planning and running this little endeavour within easy reach.  And its got to be easy to keep tidy and organised because I am crap at being neat and perversely, as a Libran, I don’t like working in a messy, ugly space.  In this way, writing a blog isn’t any different from my other creative work, my writing and painting.  It just has to be more systematic and focussed.

If you keep a blog, I would love to know how you organise yourself ahead, and plan your posts.  And if, like me, you are lovingly embarking on making a new creative nest for yourself, I would love to hear about that too.  Please leave a reply (the tag appears at the top of each post for some reason, thats another design issue on my blog To Do list!) and maybe we can do a compendium post of all the shared ideas and wonderful ‘Rooms of Our Own’.

Happy Creating,

EF

On Process: A Room of One’s Own

In this new series of posts, On Process, we will talk a little about discovering your own creativity cycles, and how best to optimise them.  We’ll start with the most basic requirement: space.

Virginia Woolf coined the term ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in her book of the same name, in which she explored creativity and feminism.  Her thesis is that in order to be a serious artist, you have to have dedicated private space in which to work.  While I don’t think this is entirely true – many great books have been written at kitchen tables, for instance – I think it is an important consideration, and it really does help.

These days I am lucky enough to have a room of my own.

My study 1As you can see, its a mess.  Currently, it has a very nasty case of piles. (Piles of paper and junk, that is.)  The fact that it has become such a dumping ground, to the extent that I am now doing most of my writing sitting downstairs on the sofa, and I’m not doing any painting at all, is an important barometer for how much value I am attaching to my own art and writing practise.  In other words, not much.

One of my goals is to revamp my study.  This is because I need a Room of My Own.  Psychologically, I need to recognise my right to my own creative independence, and that is what my study signifies to me.  I need to make a gift to my creative self of a loving and beautiful space in which to make my dreams happen.  Its hard to claim that right, but I’m working on it.

You may not have the luxury of your own space, in which case, I sympathise because I spent many years in the same position, sharing a desk in the corner of our dining room with my husband.  (Even though he had his own office at work – not that I’m bitter, you understand!)  Still, there are ways to mark out some territory that you can call your own, a space where you feel totally free to create as you want.  That may be a corner of a shared room, the luxury of an actual studio, garden shed or study, or if you are not so territorial as I am, maybe a favourite table at a local cafe where you go to write, think or journal.

Where ever you choose, consider this space as not only a private area, safe from others, but also as sacred to your art – whatever form that takes.  When you go there, it should signal to your Artist Brain  that it is time to create.

Light candles, perhaps, and if you are so inclined, make a little altar to attract creative energy.  Surround yourself with pretty, evocative things.  Get some nice stationary and writing instruments.  A few pebbles can be delicious to handle and look at.  Make some inspiring signs to stick up, to remind yourself that you are entitled to this, that your voice is unique and deserves to be heard.  A painting that you like, objects that have emotional value for you, some nice furniture if you can afford it (I would love a comfy armchair to read in for my study), a noticeboard with inspiring images on it, wll all help to make even a small corner your own.

My Study 2In this picture of my study, you can see some of the things I cherish as part of my creative process.  (Sorry for the small lettering, I haven’t quite got the hang of Paint yet!)

I got the lovely chair for my birthday last year.  I’d never had a special, proper chair for my home office before. It still feels like an outrageous luxury!  There are fairy lights in the shape of roses around the window, which are nice when I am writing at night, as I usually prefer to.  There is my collection of books about writing, and books for reference, my Image Box for inspiration, and of course, my much cherished Benedict Cumberbatch calendar, which my adored niece made by hand for me last year.  On my desk, I keep a framed photograph of Virginia Woolf herself, because she is such an inspiration to me, both as a writer and as a person.

Try to carve out some personal space within your home environment to dedicate to your creativity.  Even if you are only able to keep your journals in a favourite tote bag down the side of the sofa to use when you can, it still counts.  It will help to enhance your creative process, and enable you to battle those critical voices that tell you your work isn’t good enough.

I’ll keep you updated on my efforts to reclaim my study from the mess and make it a place to snuggle down in to create.