Undue influence

Having a reading detox is supposed to help creativity but I wonder does it help your writing too?

All the times I have felt my creativity blocked, I have turned to reading. As well as setting a reading challenge and making time to read, I keep myself up-to-date by following my favourite book bloggers (see below). Reading is comfort and if you ask me to go to my happy place it would be a beautiful chair in a quiet cottage, blanket, coffee and a book.

I find it odd if I hear others say they don’t read at all. I have no idea how you survive without books in your lives. Apart from a week off for a detox, I am always at least trying to read something. Several things in fact.
But as I return to read this week, I do think about the influence what I am reading has on my writing.

As the dark night’s draw in and after the interview on the Spirits podcast I picked up Garth Nix Old Kingdom trilogy. They are books I have seen for years and done nothing more than admire the typeface. I have also started the next book in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. I don’t know if both these books would be considered Young Adult (YA) and/or fantasy. I just love at tale with dark twists and turns. The Winternight Trilogy has the advantage of having the historical setting too, medieval Russia is cold and full of courtly rules which feeds my fascinations too.


I share what I am reading to recommend the books if you want to curl up in this cold weather but also to show how this influences me. I start to think of the spookiness of my setting and wonder if i should lean in to it more. I have been writing about a sickness in the trees and I can see how the richness of descriptions in the books I am reading at least inform my word choice as I write, if not the genre.

I also think reading can lead you to adopt a style. I know that the strength of voice of Jane Austen has informed earlier attempts of other books I am trying to write. That aloof and witty narrator is quite irresistible as one writes ones prose. It’s like you are hearing voices, and letting them tell you what to do. That’s the power of strong voice.

I find that listening to audiobooks I particularly take in a style or voice because I learn so well through aural input. Despite my negative thoughts about my ability I have found myself writing poetry in recent months. I find short lines and sharp turns a great way to throw out my anger. They are political and I don’t know yet if they will see the light of day. But I notice too that the cadence and search for internal rhyme is influenced by rap music. I do not of course claim to be rapping, I can just hear the beat in my head.

Should I read less?

So at what point do we see it as positive to avoid reading or even listening to lyricists in order to write?

I think first, there is no way to avoid influences. To stay relevant you need to know what is being published. To be a human of many experiences you need to read. But really if my work does swoop from high fantasy, to Austen via rap I probably have to question: have I found my own voice?

The search goes on.

If you enjoy great book reviews an recommendations, you can’t go far wrong with these women:

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Time to detox?

Don’t worry, I am not going to sell you charcoal or cider vinegar…although my suggestion may be worse: is it time to take a digital and reading detox?

I avoided this step when it came up on week 8 of The Artist’s Way programme but I knew I would give in eventually. I have already been monitoring my time on social media with a phone app. But giving up reading too? Hadn’t one of the reasons I reduced my screen time been to make time to read?

According to Julia Cameron the reading detox is the section her attendees moan about the most. Since the book The Artist’s Way was published, she has also updated the detox to say no digital media consumption.

The idea is instead of going online or reading, you allow your brain to go other places. Hopefully creative places. Here’s what I did during a week detox:

Puzzles, crosswords and also a jigsaw with my son. I suppose when I started the week I was optimistic that I would have quiet time but when it came to it I still found I needed busy work. Down time is so important to me that I did not find I could launch into a new project straight away. In the quiet moments I got out a puzzle book or finished a jigsaw my son had walked away from,

Craft project more to come on this, but I started learning about book binding. I used to have a lot more craft supplies in the house but since clearing the clutter I have admitted that a lot of the craft supplies hanging about the house were more ambitions that actualities so I just have basic tools. I found this frustrating that I had to go out and buy new things to make craft happen but when space is a premium, you can’t keep everything arty in case inspiration strikes once every five years.

Wrote but only a little. I was too tired to really use the time for writing which may seem like an excuse, but we are coming off some busy weekends, a birthday and a child with a cold, sleeping even less than normal. Maybe then the “detox” was not as inspirational as it could be because I could not summon the energy to do much.

Napped: this feels embarrassing to admit and gives stay-at-home parents a bad name but I rested in the afternoon twice in the week. As I mentioned my sleep has been poor and this means I have to be realistic about what I can achieve in the limited time I do have to myself.

Local graffiti: sometimes synchronicity is a bit too on the nose

Worried My phone is a major distraction from the overactive part of my brain. But what is odd is that I found it a relief to be away from the News and stress-inducing social media. Unfortunately, my brain just worried about other things, so I had to combat the feelings with a lot of journaling. I think that this has highlighted to me how much I need to return to meditation and relaxation because without my usual distraction it was often quite hard to quiet my mind.

Missed Out: but only a little. There was some people’s news shared on Facebook and I didn’t see, some sad, some happy and I felt bad not to have commented. We are all so out of the habit of calling people I suppose I may not have learned this news other ways. I did take the opportunity to catch up with a couple of my closest friends on the phone.

Binged TV at some point it was inevitable that I would give in to the TV. I am not sure whether it is just synchronicity or my current questions that brought me to Mr Robot. But, that’s going to help you really re-evaluate your relationship with social media even if the conspiracy thriller also leaves you a little paranoid.

And finally I….Cheated I am not going to say I was totally offline all week. I certainly didn’t manage without TV. I also posted on my blog and ended up on Twitter to share the post. Then I went down an Instagram rabbit hole after a Real Housewives story came up on my Google homepage. Finally, someone was leaving from my old work and so I had to use Messenger to join in the chat. But still I reduced my use to just a few hours in a week.

So, would I say that a detox increased my creativity?

Not really, but I would say that it has made me stop and re-evaluate. I logged out of the apps on my phone so I have left them like that so that it takes some effort and a conscious decision to use them. I also realised that I was using my phone in particular to distract myself. Although I have written about it being a great tool, maybe I need to use it less. I came back to reading with a lot more enthusiasm and I think that this shows this is a much greater priority for me than social media.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading and digital detox? Did it help your creative brain?

REVIEW: The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

First person narrative continues to be a big hit, falling in love with the characters is one advantage of this style.

Reviewers recommend this novel for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and while I enjoyed that novel, I think Elvira Carr touched my heart even more.

First person narrative can be so effective. This novel is a story about a young woman whose life is changed when her mother becomes unwell.

“Elvira Carr is 27 years old, neuro-atypical, and has never lived alone. But her father – who she suspects was in the secret service – is dead, and her mother has a stroke and is taken into care, Elvira suddenly finds herself home alone.”

The way Elvira begins to manage her life- though she doesn’t know how, nor has ever been shown,- is very inspirational. Central to the novel is the mystery of who her father and mother really are. It has you gripped, although at times I worried that we the reader, seemed like the “normaltypical” people around her who know the truth of what’s going and don’t tell her. Elvira has not been given the tools or information to understand. At times, I needed to lay the book aside to absorb the sadness of her experience.

One of the achievements of this novel is to write so well about Autism Spectrum Conditions. Frances Maynard, I believe, works with adults on the Spectrum and with learning disabilities. For me her portrayal felt very truthful. As a parent of a child on the Spectrum, I actually felt this book would be great as an educational tool for both people in my position and in a wider community. Although the topic meant I felt sadness and worry that I might not equip my own son (which by the way is a daily fear). I would hope that those represented in the novel would feel Maynard has been thoughtful and loving in her creation of Elvira.

The rules Elvira develops to live by show how communication with others can be unclear for her (and everyone at times). It’s frustrating at times to see Sylvia seem to belittle her work, by telling her what she has done wrong she is also breaking the rules around diplomacy and kindness. As such Sylvia acts as a good foil. Her neighbours and the cast of characters who come into her life are really well-drawn and we see a group grow and develop around her which is very heart-warming.

The only thing I will say I didn’t like as much is that there are moments in this novel where Elvira is the victim of abuse and this hateful behaviour is very difficult to read. That someone can be so vulnerable to bullying and assault makes the fact she is teaching herself these rules to live by imperative. But it will also hit any reader hard, I think. The positive is that by the end, the novel gives a model for how a neurodiverse community can be built. And we are left very hopeful for her future.

The fact that this novel does

Here is a list of some other novels that feature #neurodiversity or difference:

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Book Snob Tag

So, I think I might be a tiny bit of a book snob…! Had to answer these questions I saw on EmmaLovesBooks. It’s also on Golden Books Girl but my answers were quite different to theirs, I think.


Adaptation Snob – Do you always read the book before you see the movie or tv series?

I do prefer to read before I see the film but please don’t think too badly of my book snobbery. I just think books let us imagine how the world is, whereas films or TV offer a set vision.

There have been films that have astonishing things Atonement comes to mind because that wide shot over Dunkirk would be hard to establish in text and its stark and horrifying. There are some adaptations that upset me. Girl on a Train will forever be a very London book to me and I just couldn’t get my head around the change they made.

Like Emma, there’s some series I have really enjoyed and didn’t even know they were books. I enjoyed Outlander and one day will get to the books which everyone loves. I am not strict but I like to see what the original artist (the author) envisioned before I see the director’s point of view.

Format Snob – You can only choose 1 format in which to read books for the rest of your life. Which one do you choose: physical books, ebooks, or audiobooks?

Although it would make me very sad I like the practicality of E-books and that as I always have my phone, I also always have my book. Can I still visit the library though, pleaaase?

Ship Snob: Would you date or marry a non-reader?

Probably not! It’s bad enough being married to a non-fiction reader. Although if I was allowed to keep my physical books (see above) I guess it would give me more space on the shelves!

I actually enjoy the activity of sitting with someone and reading so I guess that’s quite important to me.

Genre Snob: You have to ditch one genre – never to be read again for the rest of your life. Which one do you ditch?

Anything too sci-fi for me or set in deep space. I tend to find I can’t suspend my disbelief enough. I am probably missing out on some great books though, I know.

Uber Genre Snob: You can only choose to read from one genre for the rest of your life. Which genre do you choose?

Literary fiction because that can totally encompass historical and some fantasy and magical realism. I know, I am a cheat!

Authors such as Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Gunter Grass, James Joyce, JM Coetzee, Donna Taart have genuinely shaped my life. I would want other books too but on balance there’s plenty of literature I haven’t even tried yet so I would be best nourished by a diet of more literary works.

Community Snob: Which genre do you think receives the most snobbery from the bookish community?

I think the bookish community is pretty open to different genres. The rest of the world takes whole swathes of fiction written by women and tries to dismiss it with the title “Chick Lit”.

Snobbery Recipient: Have you ever been snubbed for something that you have been reading or for reading in general?

Well another mother once chided me saying she didn’t have time for reading with kids around. She made me feel like a terrible slattern as she looked at the state of my house as if we were living in the 1950s.I have written about making time to read. It’s essential for me. But its also considered a waste of time by many.

I also have kept a secret my love of children’s literature although I think that one is fairly mainstream now. Post Harry Potter, people seem more open to talk about their love and so I am more relaxed about people knowing I read (mainly re-read) children’s fiction.


I think I am definitely more snobby than I realise. I may challenge myself to listen to an audiobook of a sci-fi book to overcome it all.

Have you experienced snobbery or do you feel it yourself sometimes?

Feel free to play along!

Creativity is Spirituality, Maybe?

This week The Artist’s Way programme asked me to dig deeper into spiritual practice by putting down my book and my phone.

Week four has asked a lot of me. Firstly, Julia Cameron prescribes a reading detox. Her more recent update here suggests this is actually a full on media deprivation. Well I  failed. I have known for a while.my phone usage is off the chart. I justify some of the excessiveness because my phone is where I:

  • Read books on Kindle
  • Listen to books on Audible
  • Write and read posts on WordPress
  • Keep up with the #WritingCommunity on Twitter
  • Keep up-to-date on Goodreads

Without excusing myself completely this could all be counted as work right now. It also gives me a sense of community whilst also, of course, writing into the abyss.

My phone is also my crutch, a place where I do not just “work” as I tried to describe it above, but also where I play mindless games. Where I listen to funny podcasts. Where I watch cleaning videos of YouTube. These are less productive, but still part of my down time.

Painting of Woman reading, reclined
Actual image of me reading….Painting by Gustave Courbet, Photo on by Cliff on Flickr

As a nod to the process I did delete some game apps so that I only do a daily Sudoku on there while my husband’s TV is on. But it is a concession to what she asks of us in this week. Alongside this process I have also got a GoodReads Challenge on the go and wanted to get back to that. At least being mindful of my phone time, gave me chance to read. But this isn’t what she means.

So I suppose I admit what I find hardest was adjusting not just to a new way of life, less dependent on my phone, but also the spiritual element that this chapter was talking about. For me, it is very difficult to believe in what she believes in. What I have done more of though is incorporate meditation into my mornings again. This quiet that she believes can help creativity, it’s something I crave too.  Reading deprivation is at least a little further forward in my mind now. It’s a tool I will probably come back to but for now, I copped out of this week’s challenge, making smaller changes instead.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading deprivation or phone detox? I can’t be the only one to find it hard.