What did I do in 2019?

A Review of My Writing Year

During the process of The Artist’s Way Programme, Julia Cameron encourages you to review your Morning Pages. Although she suggests you do not read them back at first, you may get too caught up in your inner critics who chat away at you. After all, the purpose of writing morning pages however inexpertly, is to leave those nasty guys on the page. Near the end of the programme, she asks that you make an overall review. Get your markers ready, it’s time to analyse your insights and highlight your ideas!

Taking stock of my pile of notebooks was a great antidote this week. I was feeling a little glum, I have been stuck in a plotting cul-de-sac for some months. Though I have had burst of inspiration in the last few weeks, the end of the decade dawns and I still haven’t completed that resolution from a few years ago to “Finish the damn draft.” Some people could have given up and I haven’t, slow and persistent plodding through my ideas. But at heart, it’s hard not to feel, like some relations, that this is all a nice hobby.

These critical thoughts and many others are marked in orange, it’s a pastel marker so it still looks pretty but it is a warning sign. Thoughts I have about myself and my abilities, hidden in my journal but still holding me back. Whether those thought originated somewhere else or they are barriers that seem to be in my way, they are hampering the inner Artist. Julia Cameron has a myriad of ways to tackle these thoughts. If you have got actual critics, she suggests ways to put up boundaries and protect your early drafts from those eyes. If your inner Artist is upset or restricted, then she suggests Artist’s Dates and an Artist altar for her.

My ideas, marked out now in a warning colour, spark a thought that in the last six months I have identified over and over the same thoughts that block me. Without giving too much away, a disappointment about wasted time and interruptions feature prominently. Like many things in my life, this can be helped by some productivity ideas so that I use what little time I have effectively.

But in amongst all those things I can criticise myself for are also other insights that she encourages you to write, mantras of self-belief. In amongst two pieces of advice stand out

You have a right to be a beginner, whatever your age”

Because, I often feel I have a lot to learn. Not least, how I can get the balance between planning my work out and let my creativity take the reins. This is at the heart of the strides I have made this year. And let’s be honest, it really isn’t a first draft anymore with so many revisions and moves around so in a way, I achieved something.

The other mantra – now highlighted in lilac – that stands out relates to the tenacity I have shown in carrying on with this and other projects. You have to tell yourself:

I am a prolific writer

Now, there is something in the vision work that someone like Rachel Hollis writes about – to write in the present tense as though it is your present reality. This seems to chime well with the vision boards that Cameron asks you to make. She believes you can give over these dreams to a God who believes in you as a creative. Whether I believe in this, I am not sure, but I can see that my production of work in the last six months has grown.

Thousands of words spent on this blog and in my notebooks. In amongst those books, marked now in bright yellow, new ideas I want to try, poems that have burst out and the start of new work I want to do. These books prove to me that whatever I have or haven’t achieved in my writing, I have been working, ideas have been flowing. Despite everything 2019 has been a great year.

Happy New Year 2020!

Don’t lose your sense of wonder

One benefit of using Artist’s Dates is to spend time each week with your sense of wonder…

Pushing through the crush at the Tutankhamun exhibition was a little overwhelming. There was a chaos of people being carrelled through the exhibit from the first video about the Ancient Egyptian Mythology there was no more structure other than the divide between the treasures and the dig. On the day I visited, everyone was hustled into the next room without much ceremony. There was little to direct you to say what exhibit was first. Perhaps that’s because they wanted you to buy audio guides?

When I said I was going someone asked me if I had taking my son. Well, I can tell you the dark room and crush of people was enough for me to cope with, I would not know where to start making it accessible for someone with sensory needs. But my sensitivity to dark and busy places has been heightened by having a child whose anxiety and overwhelm can lead to painful meltdowns so I went instead as an Artist Date. I enjoyed it greatly even if having a child with these particular needs does make me hypersensitive to crowds.

It is not just an awareness for challenging environments that my son has taught me, it is also something much more marvellous: a sense of wonder at small detail. As a small child he noticed a stonework lizard climbing at the National History Museum. I had looked past it. On a recent transport adventure, he danced for joy to see a tile with the tube map on. They are hidden outside Vauxhall Station and even the bored looking young man sat on the wall at the time was quite impressed with our find. I think that some of his inbuilt visual skills make it easier for my son to spot these details. It’s a blessing that I am happy to share.

Really what all children can teach us though is to LOOK! Whether your child has natural joint attention and points things out to you or not, they are often fascinated by things that are low down and hidden.

I was amazed by the treasures I saw on that day. Startled by the depth of the colour. The blue. The passion behind preserving these wonders for over 3500 years is awe-inspiring in itself. Both the religious practices that lead to the immense artistry thousands of years ago, the preservation since Carter plundered the grave and the new project that is being developed in Egypt to finally house the treasures all in one place.

Other than the “exit through the gift shop” mentality (the shops were listed as a galleries) this is a must-see exhibition!

It particularly worked as an Artist Date for me because I was so inspired by the truth that runs through the story: in Egyptian Mythology you must say the name as an act of memory. Despite large scale erasure one might say of Tutankhamun: there’s not a child in our world who does not know his name. That is a fascinating reflection on the power of art and history.

If you want to know more about Artist’s Dates, I have written up my own cheap and easy ideas and you can learn more about them in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.

Find Encouragement Fast!

Inspired by work on by inner Artist’s strength, I have been writing letters to my encouragers

There are many exercises in The Artist’s Way programme to uncover what holds you back. In week 8, the chapter on finding your strength, Cameron writes about using your jealousy as a map. As much as I found this useful to identify the desires that I hide even from myself, I also find it quite a negative mindset.

Envy is a difficult emotion, in an ideal world we could pursue every dream, but berating ourselves for feeling like this at times is very deflating. Particularly, as I am fond of thinking, if life gets in the way. It certainly feels like we can’t always act on our dreams, even if those dreams are mapped out by our feelings of envy of others.

I decided then to consider the other more positive way of looking at things from her programme and from the week on finding connection by considering those “encouragers” in my life. Early on she asked us to gather compliments we had received on our work. I drew a blank. A couple of comments from my writing class aside, until recently few people have ever read my creative work. Julia Cameron (the programme’s author) actually advises against getting your first draft review. Your inner artist, like a child, must be looked after. Discouragement at an early stage of work is very detrimental.

So, with these wise words in mind, knowing too that I am sensitive in criticism, I decided to start using my morning pages time to write to my encouragers.

The structure of each letter is to first thank them for what they did for me:
“You saw my passion and allowed me to take time on the project” or “You taught me the skills I needed to improve my work.”

I then think about what that help showed me about my work, in the examples given they were teachers from various stages of my education so I thought about what they taught me. For me, I need to take time and develop a sense of depth in my knowledge to feel like I am doing good work. Not everyone advises that spending a long time on backstory is worthwhile and I read this really interesting blog post about this issue recently. Certainly Brenda Hill advises knowing the motivation behind using details from a backstory saying, “If…it’s not very important and isn’t relevant to the story. When you’re writing tight, it should not be included. “

Dear Encourager…

But for me, whilst I agree not to spend all your time on back story, I have to weigh this idea up with how I best develop my writing. By remembering my encouragers dedication to my work, giving me time to research in depth and explore the subject around the novel I was studying, I can see what has worked well for me in the past. It reminded me how powerful research can be for me.


Finally, in my letters, I use my imagination to think how they might encourage me now. This has been harder so I use the basis of the lesson I learnt from reflecting on the help they gave me to construct the advice. The person who enjoyed the amusing details about the run down cottage that I described in a chapter she read might suggest I consider where I could add more colour to certain scenes, for example.

Write a letter to your encourager:


So, if you want to construct some advice and complements from past encouragers follow these easy steps

  1. Choose someone who has helped you with some written work, a teacher may be a good place to start
  2. Think of a few things to thank them for
  3. Review how their action has helped you
  4. Imagine what they might say about what you are working on
  5. Reflect on any advice this letter is giving you and implement it!

Gratitude is a great practice to cultivate and I hope you might find this idea encouraging too.

Update your vision

If you are feeling a little out of sorts, is it time to update your vision board?

The first time I tried to do a vision board, I was a little sceptical. As I suggested in my posted envision your life, it was hard for me to complete the task on a practical level because things have moved on since The Artist’s Way programme was written by Julia Cameron and like many people I have fewer magazines hanging about to cut up.

I think the words the images gave me: relax, rest, nurture, nature, beauty were all inspiring. They also speak to how I can improve my life. Cameron asks that you update the vision board three months later. This time I decided to use a Pinterest board. As it happens, I have started MumWriteNow.Com board on there because there are already so many great lists of quotes about writing I have saved. You can find it here if you also use Pinterest.

It was an interesting exercise, I think that I could see a change in what I wanted. I did have to make some initial searches about creativity which I think probably meant I self-selected my vision from the start. But even this is informative.

A sample of the vision board I created on Pinterest

The words that come to mind when reviewing this new board are: opening doors to new worlds, creativity, reading and finding inspiration. Maybe because I was directing the initial searches, it does feel this new board is more about the work rather than rest. That reflects both the changes that I have made by completing The Artist’s Way programme, but also what I need at the moment. In previous months I have had more time to write but craved relaxation, recently I have struggled to do anything but feel more inspired to work.

Somewhere in this visioning thing is a need to find a balance. I had to attend some productivity training at work recently. The tips were not completely new to me but they were a good reminder. The book on How to Be A Productivity Ninja that inspired the training encourages you to find your best time of day to pay full attention. When you have done so, limit distractions at that time. It was an alarming exercise in many ways because I realised there were often only a few hours in a morning when I was at my most productive. This is product of circumstances, – tiredness brought on by often alarmingly early mornings and overbusy days – give me little headspace for much productive time. But it does help me identify where I need to target working times so I can act on my desire to write more, read more and make my life more creative.

I think using vision boards can be illuminating. I think they can uncover your internal desires quite quickly and succinctly. I also think if you are going to do this Pinterest is one of the best tools out there because there is such a huge library of photos and quotes ready for you. I would say though that this activity needs to be joined up with goal-planning. Boring I know, but I use an Excel Spreadsheet to plan my work (though it often feels haphazard!). And then the intention to work also needs to be thought about in terms of when you can pay attention to it.

Now I just need to get on and open the doors to new adventure…

Being Mum

Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…

The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.

The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com : Learning Education Law now as well as Child Development, apparently.

This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.

Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?

  • Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
  • Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
  • Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
  • Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.

This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.