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.

Subtitles are the new reading

Struggling with time to read?, I have a novel solution!

I remember giving up on The Grand a few years back, a Spanish period drama because I was no good at looking at the subtitles and kept having to rewind. Full confession, I have watched very few foreign language films: Y tu Mamá también is the only one I can remember enjoying as I always found all the reading too distracting.

I don’t know whether it is the pace of shows I like or the sometimes naturalistic mumblecore of the dialogue but during Mr Robot, I recently switched on subtitles and it’s been a revelation. I think where you are following a complex plot they help. Particularly in this show where the subtitles designate if Mr Robot or Eliot are speaking (for those who are unfamiliar, I won’t spoil it to say there is a blurring of the lines as to who is speaking at times.) Also the depth at which you can understand and appreciate the script, particularly where there is long, complex monologues from Eliot. These make an exquisite read as well as the compelling acting by Rami Malek.

And so it has spread to watching other things with subtitles. I suspect it is only working for me where the content is in English because there is not such a need to catch up. My husband laughs at me, of course, but I think it enriches the experience.

Alongside loving The Good Place, I have also been listening to the podcast which is a brilliant companion to it. The bits I enjoy the the most are hearing about the writer’s room and how ideas are developed and played with. As well as being inspiring (and it’s a pretty inspirational show), this has made me think differently about the idea of editing and changing ideas.

I also think subtitles can only help you sharpen your dialogue. Getting that balance between info dump and character can be tricky. One tip I use for writing dialogue is to record it using voice memo. It gets nearer to real speech that way. But I think seeing how screenplay plays out is interesting, people in heightened reality of films may speak for longer than you expect but get a lot across within their words.

Often TV can feel like a passive activity. Or I dismiss it’s value, though amongst the reality rubbish I watch, I also see some really amazing shows like those I have described. What makes it feel more productive is to make it a more active practice of appreciation. By really reading the script and understanding more about it, I feel like I am learning all the time.

Am I the only one who loves a subtitle?

….I wrote more about Making Time to Read on a previous post, if you’re more of a novel person.

Craving Alone Time

I tried to demand “alone-time” this weekend, but realised life and fiction doesn’t work like that…

If I manage to write at the weekend, I am lucky. Sometimes I barricade
myself in the bedroom to get in maybe thirty minutes to myself. My computer is
a constant temptation to my son, he also is rarely satisfied to ask his Daddy
for something. So, I get left alone for very little time. Sometimes it’s
because the noises from downstairs are too distracting, sometimes it’s because he barges in to ask me for a drink or a snack because obviously he thinks I will say yes. This is my reality right now.

I think there are many benefits of being alone with my work, apart from the
practical specifics of liking to work in the quiet. Although a deadline and a spurt of inspiration can be very productive, I find clear space, and quiet is a great combination for creativity.

Even as I write this blog post, a shout comes for me to help my little one. I feel very needed. I also feel frustration at times. Look, we all get sent those poems by kind folks who remind us that this phase will soon be over. But what if I needed to be absorbed in the life of my main character? Will anyone leave me alone with her long enough to get to know what drives her?

When my writing stalls because I have been distracted, I start to think:

Why does she want to be left alone? Who won’t leave her
alone and why?

I find that by prompting myself to think about these questions, I am
building both the character and the world around her. Because central to her
motivation may be to escape but, you know what, if my life doesn’t happen like that so she can’t have that luxury in fiction!

Plotting has been hard at times because I have played around the chronology of
this story. What has become apparent though is that it is the people who insist
on interrupting her life are drawing me in more and more. It seems so clear now
she has been forced to change her ideas from the start to the beginning of the
novel by the reality she faces and the people she meets. So, the central
question becomes, can you ever really escape?

As I write this, I am amused because I am not sure this is where the story started. The impetus of the story, which was a dream I had as a child as I have shared before, speaks to me more now. As I mature, I find I am inundated with
responsibilities. “You’ve got to serve somebody”, Bob Dylan said. Well that is true
for me and for my poor main character too.

In using the prompt to make notes, I notice things that have developed in my
tediously long drafting process. It is more than a quirk of her character that
has made her want to be alone, and it is more than a plotting device that her
neighbours interfere and adopt her into their fold. Although I didn’t write a
scene this weekend, the time I spent pondering these questions over the was
productive. And it only came with a few interruptions about buses (a current
interest of my son.)

If you are stuck with your writing, you might try and think about what you
crave most and ask why your character craves the same. I found the question
about alone time but maybe yours might be around success, attention, love, sex…and well all the things we need in our life. Our characters probably need them even more.

How was your writing weekend?