A Place Where I May Feed…

As writers we need places that feed our creative energy, but these places can be very different for each of us.

I know people who sit in cafes, thriving off the background noise and part heard conversations of others. I have done this myself but only usually at the planning stage when I’m writing notes by hand. Some of us need to engage with friends or strangers in towns and cities. We might take a tour round a cathedral or museum or stand in a hectic shopping centre to let ideas find their way to us. Architecture old and new can embolden the pen. Tales of past lives or strange artefacts can suggest stories to us. On a visit to Canterbury museum this summer, my daughters and I came across a mummified cat which certainly brought a sense of history, and horrified grimaces to our faces. Artwork too can suggest ideas. Tracy Chevalier would certainly agree with her Girl with a Pearl Earring novel inspired by the Johannes Vermeer painting.

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Journeys can spark the writer’s muse. Some of my favourite novels of all time have involved moving the characters great distances. Lord of the Rings being the perfect example and the classic Watership Down. If you’re feeling devoid of ideas why not take a road trip out somewhere or go for a walk choosing those paths you’ve never taken before. Get lost for a while. Being in a car as driver or passenger, particularly on a long journey can allow excellent thinking time as the scenery blurs behind you. I’ve been lucky enough to fly many times and I can just stare out of the window at the clouds for hours pondering new worlds.

The places that feed you don’t need to involve big events. Sometimes you have all your ideas for a novel ready, but sitting in the park for a few hours might help you write a descriptive passage within that framework. I take a lot of photographs when I’m out walking because they can jog my memory of how vibrant colours are, or remind me of some crucial thoughts.

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Writers with busy full time day jobs might need to take a weekend away or wait for their annual holiday before they can fill their creativity well back up. I find myself drawn to write specifically of places in Britain, but being excited by a foreign holiday might draw you to write notes and gather mementoes to bring home for some future work.

Water is always an inspiration for writing emotional scenes for me. Sitting by some crashing waves can aid the writing of an argument. A meandering river can give some insight into your character’s uncertainty. Take a swim in summer or paddle in winter. I once discovered I had a hole in my welly when I was standing in a shallow river, and had to slosh back to the car with frozen toes. Little personal events like that will always spill into your writing.

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If you haven’t the time to go out then use your home as a place that feeds you. Can you try to view your possessions as if with another’s eye? Perhaps you have mobility problems or are sick in bed – maybe that will help you write a scene about feeling stuck or of the blissful haven of feeling safe. Looking out of the window can take you to different places in the mind – the weather can provoke reactions you can work with. If external stimulation isn’t working for you then why not try visualisation? Some people find it hard. It certainly takes practice at first. If you are a visual person with good imagination as writers often are, it could be useful. As with dreams, I find my visualisations are powered by a mix of real events and crazy places that give me insight into ways of developing character or describing a scene.

Personally I’m fed by nature in its many forms, but in particular I find trees inspiring. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to write about trees, although I have done. More than anything it means that walking among trunks, dragging my hand across bark and hearing the sound of the wind in leaves or bare branches gives me a sense of coming back to myself. The ancient woods I enjoy are located on the Kent Downs and are a mix of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and yew. I find walks in their midst nourishing whatever the weather – bright or drab. The resinous scent and carpet of needles or fallen leaves is a sensory pleasure. Returning home, I’m refreshed and better able to find the writing flow.

I’d love to know where your places are. What feeds the writer in you?

 

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Building the Writing Muscle

moving-clipart-pencil-5There may be days when it’s an incredible feat to write more than a few passable lines. Other days, for some inexplicable reason, the words flow out in a steady stream bringing a huge sensation of relief.

For many years I swayed between these two places: The torment and the solace. It took university study for me to break this pattern and find a new way. Which is, in fact, that writing is just a habit. You can develop the habit so well that your writing muscles begin to grow and flex, keeping you well away from the highs and lows of creativity that I once experienced.

All professional writers have developed their good habits and have excellent writing muscles.

The only way to build strong muscles is to workout daily. That doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at your laptop to write the whole of the next chapter. It might mean composing a difficult email to a friend; taking a break from your big project to write a poem; or just having fun drawing a map of your fictitious town, labelling the roads and marking the route your characters take. It means doing something each day to build your plot, your characters, your imaginary world. Or at least to have used words in some expressive way.

If you write a page that is totally deleted the next day – you haven’t wasted your time. Let me repeat that: You haven’t wasted your time. You have simply been sweating it out. If you keep up with the daily chore, in time it becomes less of a chore – because you get stronger. You realise that it’s all necessary – the pretty words, the awesome ideas, the dreadful cliches and the sentence you can’t even understand yourself when you read it back. It’s a process of getting from A to Z.

A being the excited buzz of ‘What if I wrote…’

Z being the manuscript ready to send to a publisher.

Everything in between comes from the habit you create by building those muscles.

I personally thrive on being super organised. First I get my main character studies down on paper. I outline a rough plot with plenty of room for change. I make the necessary maps, create files of useful images and do some basic research about the genre I’ve chosen and the period I’m writing in. Finally I turn to the laptop and start the story. As I work I create a chapter list. When I feel stuck, I go to some of my favourite writers and read something inspirational to get me moving again. If I’m really stuck I get out my roll of wallpaper liner and get down on the floor with big marker pens and start scrawling doodles and new solutions. Somehow that kinesthetic method enables me to climb out of a funk. Some people write letters to or from their characters. Whatever your way of writing (and sometimes you’ll have to graft for a while before you find what works for you) it’s good to have methods that help you out on tough days.

Eventually you’ll get so strong that even a few days off won’t hamper progress. You’ll just slot right into your habit and keep moving closer to the prize.

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I’d love to hear how other writers have built their writing strength. Or those still struggling to find the habit. Leave a comment and lets start some discussions…

 

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Dreamscape

70312845-dream-catcher-wallpapersI have always dreamt prolifically and have good recall. As a young girl I had three reoccurring nightmares that involved me waking at the point of gruesome death – salt water filling my lungs, flames engulfing my body or impact with a high-speed train. Although they became less frequent, they went on for many years. As a teen I enjoyed looking up the meanings of my crazy night-time trips in popular dream dictionaries – I had a glossy hard-backed one from Woolworths. As an adult I’ve worked on a deeper level, writing up my experiences and actually setting intention to purposefully journey in dreamscape (this gets easier with practice).

If you wake in the night from a dream, especially if it’s disturbing, then you can direct yourself back into sleep – use your imagination to point the last images into a new direction which is often taken up by your subconscious. The crucial advice I would give for morning recall is to not move the body in any way when you wake and to gently tease the memory as if pulling slowly on a fine thread. If you try too hard they seem to vanish. Once you’ve got it clearly you can write down the bones of it. I rarely write an entire dream unless it plays like a film which they sometimes do. Then it might be something that can be molded into a good story. Generally I make note of any specifics and the overall feeling. However you chose to record, what you are doing is writing and thinking creatively as soon as you wake up. That habit can often spill into the day flooding it with productivity. These ways of dream work take practice. I do this for periods when I want to gain insight or find writing ideas, but not all the time as the active process can sometimes disturb relaxing sleep.

I started writing my own dream dictionary which has the benefit of being personal to me and therefore accurate. Symbols can have very altered meanings for different people. I use a thick notebook with an A to Z and write down every creature, object, or incident that I dream, then unpack what it means to me both personally, with any accompanying emotions, and any generic meaning. Over the years this book has developed into an excellent tool on many levels. It enables me to understand my subconscious world more and it helps with creative writing by expanding possibilities for plot lines and character studies. I find if I write what my characters are dreaming about then they gain complexity. It’s a useful way of foreshadowing events to come. Having access to the wilds of dreaming can benefit a fantasy or dystopian genre by allowing you to stretch your imagination further.

At one time I used to make dream catchers – willow hoops woven into webs with metallic thread, studded with beads or quartz chips, decorated with found feathers from my hens or from buzzards up on the Iron Age fort near me. Perhaps it stemmed from my own night horrors –  I was drawn to the idea of dark spirits and black dreams being trapped, leaving the dreamer safe.

“Dreams, if they’re any good, are always a little bit crazy. ” Ray Charles

“Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Virginia Woolf

“Life, what is it but a dream? ” Lewis Carroll

 

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Packing Projects, Unpacking Joyful Effort

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I’m once more in the throes of packing up a house – feels like I’ve done nothing but move or think about moving for the last five years. However, it’s good for decluttering and certainly makes you think more deeply about the ridiculous attachment we can have to possessions.

In the process I’ve had to gather all my writing things together. I have a big old Indian cupboard were I found printed tips for good essay writing and poetry terms; a few forgotten notebooks and a pile of writing magazines. In my Grandad’s old letter writing desk there were piles of my work printed out and interleaved with comments from lecturers and peers and my own scrawled notes on scraps of paper that make no sense to me now.

This mass of material has now been collated into piles. Turns out I have no less than seven projects each of which have taken some considerable time and effort. There’s an adult contemporary and an adult historical novel. A YA dystopia and a YA fantasy. Short stories for adults and also for children aged 6-9, and finally my nature memoir. If I suggest starting anything new to anyone who knows me please feel free to say “Nooooo”.

They’re now neatly packed in labelled boxes ready to go into storage – except the one that’s closest to finishing. That one is staying by my side until it’s complete and sent to a publisher before I go and retrieve the next one.

The most exciting thing is that I still love all these projects, both characters and plots. What has been lacking is courageous and joyful effort to get them fully complete and sent out into the world.

I have been practising joyful effort – something I picked up through my Dharma study.       So I have 3 issues with laziness:

  • Blatant – “I just can’t be bothered.”  (Creates self-loathing)
  • Procrastination – “I would write that challenging section but I have to clean the toilet.”  (Lying to myself)
  • Fear – “I’m not good enough to write anything decent.”  (Negativity breeds)

I’m very good at initial enthusiasm. What I’m learning to cultivate is sustained enthusiasm and delighting in my slow progress. Summoning some focused energy for just 20 minutes and writing with a happy smile usually turns into a few hours of productive creativity. The benefits of which are profound to the completion of stages in a novel and personal contentment.

I’d love to hear about your struggles with being ‘lazy’ over writing and how you forge good practice…

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Tall Tales – The Undying Woman

I’m very excited about a collaboration I’m involved with. One of my ‘Journey to Spirit’ short stories – Undying Woman, is being brought to life by wonderful illustrator Aaron McArdle. (Tall Tales Comic Art.) More to come on this project…

 

Undying Woman front cover

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Writing Nature

 

I’ve finished studying Creative Writing at MA level. The dissertation is handed in so just got to wait for the results…

It’s always exciting to finish a long project and start thinking about how to use newly acquired skills and writing ideas. In the past I’ve written poetry and done some screen writing but mainly focused on novels. I chose to do a module entitled Writing in the Environment, at University. This transported me into the world of nature writing and I voraciously read my way through lists of inspiring books. I discovered a new favourite author in Robert Macfarlane, particularly loving his novel: The Wild Places. Other notable titles were Amy Liptrot’s: The Outrun and Sara Maitland’s: A Book of Silence. 

I had never written non-fiction before and was enthusiastic to try; although I have to say I wasn’t inspired to write about cities. My dissertation gradually evolved into a nature memoir. I grew up in the seventies so spent many days exploring the local outdoors and had a wealth of connections to write about. I returned to places from my childhood to see how they’d changed and found myself at the end of an alley with an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. For a brief moment I was my eight-year-old self hurtling along the grass-lined path on my chopper. I walked around churchyards, past boarded up shops, over pristine stiles that replace the ones I climbed before. Certain places were impossible to re-visit due to distance or building work, so I travelled to them in my mind. After a while the memories came so thickly that I was often chasing across the countryside in dreams. As an adult my priorities are obviously different. Now I have the patience to stand for twenty minutes watching a chaffinch through my binoculars. I stop on walks to jot down the colours and scents of wildflowers, look up species of moth and take photographs of delicious views.

The other thing I’ve honed through study in the last year is less emotional attachment to the editing process. I can make brutal cuts and drastic changes to my text knowing that it’s an essential part of the process and nothing written is ever a waste of time.

I had planned a trip to Scotland to delve into ancestral landscape but sadly that has been put on hold until next year. A year of intense study has left me poor in finances but rich in ideas. I have plumbed the well and retrieved buckets of material to keep me busy writing through the winter months to come.

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Restoration

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It’s been a while since I posted. Been crazy busy getting on with my Creative Writing MA at uni. Having plenty of meltdowns about just how hard it is to manage financially and be in education. At present, I’m having a total ban on doubt and worry and am being happy and optimistic about everything. The change of attitude is such a relief, I wonder why I didn’t stop stressing earlier. Only 14,000 words to submit by 5th May and then a dissertation to write. I can do this!

I discovered a previously unseen track off my path this year. It was such a big detour that it’s become the new path – and that’s exciting – I’ve found a love for non-fiction nature writing and have decided to go with the passion and see where it takes me.

A few days ago, I was describing the beautiful silver birch outside my window to my brother in an e-mail. I appreciate it everyday as I sit at my desk to write. It looks particularly stunning this time of year with its effervescent dress of silver flashing brightly in the wind. It hides the ugly house and lamp-post behind, so its always nice when it comes into leaf. Then, whilst in the bath, I heard a lot of racket outside. I came into the study wondering why there was a man up the tree, only to see the final blow as the top was cut and fell to the ground.

I burst into tears. Dragged some clothes on and ran outside with wet hair to ask the neighbour what on earth was happening. He showed me a brick in his neatly laid parking space that had been pushed askew by the tree’s roots. I confess, I just wanted to push him into the council shredder too. All that beauty and life gone, so an old man can park his precious car. It’s hard to stay positive when people’s priorities are so peculiar to me.

So, I went to my writing group, offloaded my distress (thanks lovely people) and wrote a poem:

Your precious leaves flashed like silver coins but your worth was not enough.

I fled from the site of destruction, all evidence of life shredded in a council truck.

I closed the blinds before I went. I would have dropped a flag.

I feed onto the endless human motorway, the sky pallid like sliced white.

Encased in cocoons of metal and plastic. Business meetings, places to be.

I turn into the countryside – greening lanes and fields of rape

fluorescent and sticky like gobstoppers.

Rushing past Challock woods, a sea haze beneath sweet chestnut trees

The bluebells are out.

Their scent, their colour, their song, hits me like a mighty chorus in a cathedral,

singing praises.

 

Then on the way home I walked in King’s Wood and restored my faith.

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When it Comes to Writing Journals, Why Stop at One?

Great post on Writing in the House of Dreams from Diane Woodrow.
I’ve never told anyone just how many journals I keep at one time. There’s one by my bed with 5 lines to sum up my day, I never miss this. It’s a 5 year diary so I can compare with the previous years. I have another for writing about events that happen, good or bad, or when I need to rant about something. This one has been going about 3 years so far. I have a spiritual diary where I record my progress with meditation and prayer. I’ve always had a deep interest in different religions and these pages allow me to explore further what my beliefs are. I carry a small journal in my rucksack where I write my observations of the natural world – animals and birds I see, and the environment around me. I used to have issues with buying too much stuff, so in a slim notebook I now record my successful avoidance, things I’ve sold, or intend to give to charity. And thoughts about why having ‘things’ used to be so important, but have now become a weight. Finally I also keep notebooks – and these last ones are very large, and filled with bright colours – on characters and plot outlines for novels and short stories I’m working on. For my personal journals I prefer Paperblanks books and a cartridge pen with blue ink, or a bic biro when I’m outside. I’ve just remembered I have a book for recording made up recipes, tea mixes, home made creams etc. This one has little drawings in it too. I’m obviously a serial journal keeper. I think that’s because writing is how I make sense of the world and myself. I can also find old entries far more quickly because I can narrow down the subject. Thanks for this post. At least I know I’m not the only one…

Writing in the House of Dreams: Creative Dreaming, Creative Writing

Today, for the second in my occasional series of guest posts on journaling, I’m delighted to welcome Diane Woodrow in the House of Dreams. Diane is a writer, blogger, workshop facilitator wife, mother of twenty-somethings, dog walker and renter of rooms via Airbnb and word-of-mouth, who loves encouraging and talking to people. She moved to North Wales nearly a year ago.

What I love about her story is that she has so many notepads on the go, all at the same time! I’ve only met one other person who does that, in all my years of writing.

So, over to Diane…

graduation-day-17th-july-2014-1 Diane Woodrow

I have been doing personal writings for as long as I can remember. I’m really disappointed now that I’m older that I do not have my teenager diaries and journals and other writing that I did. I am thinking I either threw them away at that stage of “growing up” when you…

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The Day Job…

Great post by Sue Healy…

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The day job…

A wise writer once said to me that it’s not so much the pram in the hall that’s the impediment to a writing career, but the bills on the door-mat. Money worries are the bane of creativity. And unless independently wealthy, the emerging writer will have to make a living while waiting for that book/film deal (and probably for a while after that fact too). Writers need to work; the question is what kind of jobs are out there?

Many will consider other (more lucrative) forms of writing to bring home the bucks. Journalism is an obvious  choice and is still, probably, the most common second career for many creative writers. Moreover, a journalistic background provides marvelous training re editing and brevity of approach. Copy-writing, particularly website copy, is also a popular income booster for writer but both copy-writing and journalism are less satisfying forms of writing for…

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10 Fantastic Christmas Presents for Writers

Great post from Jenny Alexander.
I agree that Writing Down The Bones is one of the best books for getting into the soulful place that writing requires. There are some others here that I’m going to explore too, and hope I get some notebooks for Christmas!!!

Writing in the House of Dreams: Creative Dreaming, Creative Writing

It’s that time again, and the great thing about buying things for writers is that you can give them something that will provide weeks or months of writing pleasure and inspiration without breaking the bank.

Here are some suggestions for things your writing friends might like – or if you’re a writer, why not treat yourself?

Gorgeous Notebooks.

The name says it all, and they really are gorgeous. I’ve been using them for my writing journals for several years now, as readers of my newsletter will know. Great quality paper, beautiful binding, a useful ribbon to mark your place and a handy pocket at the back for bits and pieces.

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Disposable fountain pens.

They write just like a fountain pen but the ink doesn’t smudge, and they come in every colour. If you aren’t keen on sharpies for book-signing, these are a good alternative, as well as being…

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