Smartphone: writer’s friend or foe?

My phone, my constant companion, offers me some great tools, but is it really good for me?

I have been tracking my phone use with the Yourhour app for months now. Recently I switched off it’s tracking of certain apps like phone use, WordPress and Kindle app. The plan is I to hone in on where I “waste” time. The hours of use recorded are not quite as high.

I have a good excuse to ignore these stats. I read on my way to work which I think is a good use of two bus journeys. I talk to my mum for an hour every week or so, that one is essential. And I also turn off monitoring of my blog activity: this is my outlet, my glimpse into the world of new books and other creative people.

Only willing to share my morning stats!

But still, I worry when I see the figure so high. Hours of my day off last week glued to my phone. I know why, I needed a day to recover and chose to slouch in front of the tv, browsing the internet. I was tired after two nights out and knew I was up late to go to a friends leaving do. And did I mention I have been experiencing insomnia again.

Of course I have read much about sleep and screen time with regards to my little man. We are trying to reduce screens for a few hours before his bedtime but I do not give myself the same courtesy. I use a blue light filter and screen shade on my phone which should mitigate the effects of the screen before bed. But when my sleep is poor, I have regular headaches and my mood is effected by it all, can I really say this phone is my friend?

Well, maybe. Here are six great ways your phone is your writerly friend

1. Social Media Blogging, tweeting and on #BookBlogger Instagram is a fun place to be. Although social media does seem to suck up hours of your time, it will also give you the most amazing, tailored to-be-read pile. It helps you keep up with the industry, publishing trends, genres you love and meet great people who may even read your book one day.

The downside: not only do I get hooked on finding more people to follow, I get lost online. If you’re not careful, you never really interact with anyone at a deep level and have used up time you could be writing. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself Twitter is just procrastination.

2. Browse your manuscript. Twiddling with your manuscript if you pay for the Word app or at least keep notes on it is a good use of time I am sat in a traffic queue on the bus. It’s amazing the typos you spot when you revisit a scene for just a few minutes.

The downside: You can always change a verb in one sentence but I find I still haven’t got to the end. Work does need to be polished but do you need to work endlessly on one sentence, if you haven’t yet got a full draft?

3. Editing tools Grammarly is an essential add-on and I also had a version of the Hemingway App on my old phone. Both allow you to paste text in and check it. It’s always interesting what it can pick up that you may miss. Hemingway certainly tells me off for my adverbs and passive voice (haha). Like anything, you can take as much advice as you like but I think they are useful.

The downside: copying and pasting across work, creating an endless list of new drafts you’re working on because it contains the correction. It can get very confusing. Also, is Hemingway really my writing goal, I’m not sure I enjoy his work that much.

4. Voice memos a great way to write dialogue is to say it out loud, even better if you record a conversation. If you enjoy the acting part of writing, this is a great way to think about how intonation comes across in your writing. Can you give clues to their mood? The sisters in my novel argue a lot so this has been great way for me to develop their voices.

The downside: there may be things that just never get written up. Because of this I duplicate work. Also using memos when I am out and about means I have recordings ruined by ambulance sirens or I have stopped mid-sentence when I realise someone is coming the other way and they might think I am talking to myself.

5. Read more As I have mentioned, I consider the Kindle app an essential but what about all of those other interests I can pursue at random? Yes, we rely on Google and Wikipedia to learn about something quickly. I am really interested in Folklore so I flit through articles on this topic, littered too with interests of my son and my guilty pleasure: gossip from Bravo. Googles front page on my phone is certainly a strange mix. Some of this time reading may be considered more worthy than others but it’s also sparking ideas, I don’t know how I would cope without instantaneous information.

The downside: We all know the internet is full of unedited, unsourced ideas. It’s so wonderful having everything at our fingertips but it also requires a savvy approach to take in what you are reading and constantly filter the information. I love researching this way at the start of an idea, but honestly I see it as a jumping off point. Research into something I am writing about in more depth, I still think I need a library day.

6. Pinterest This is a good research tool too despite my above proviso, I love Pinterest for keeping my interests in one place. I am just setting up my business site but I have enjoyed the personal site for years. It is a great way to remember where you have put something on the internet. I also love to collect and post inspiring quotes.

The downside: again you can get lost at procrastination station. Like many places on the internet, it gives you false ideas of what you can achieve. Whether it’s beautiful bullet journals or cake decoration ideas that “nailed it” meme is just too accurate. If comparison is the thief of joy, then Pinterest may be the thief of your artistic self-esteem.

Given the pros and cons of using your phone to support your writing, I have been questioning how I can reduce my use and still enjoy the tools.

My plan is to try a digital and reading detox. Julia Cameron reccomends it in The Artist’s Way programme. Part of this will mean no Twitter, no Kindle, no Pinterest for a week. Reading only essential things like work emails. I will report back and let you know how it goes…

Have you ever tried a digital detox?

Do you need an Artist’s Altar?

Week 11 of The Artist’s Way Programme asks you to recover a sense of autonomy in how you nurture your artist.

Many of the exercises in this book circle around God and Julia Cameron’s belief that creativity comes from a divine source. Is it surprising then that one of the tasks in Week 11 on the programme, is creating an altar to your artist?

As a secular person, I have been resistant to some parts of her writing, while recognising that sense of flow she talks about when I am following my creative muse. I have written an Artist prayer, though I aim it at the Universe and see the practice of repeating it as a bit like an affirmation. I have a right to be creative, I hope that the Universe will continue to support my creative practice.

This may seem like a cop out, or maybe as I revisit The Artist’s Way in the years ahead, I will come to believe as she does. I remain curious and open-minded which I think is the best way to approach the exercises.

I think she is asking you to take an holistic approach to really nurture yourself. This includes taking regular exercise, which for me will probably mean trying to dance again and continuing swimming, which relaxes me. She is not demanding you have a fitness routine, though I am sure good health helps everyone. She quotes Buddha

To keep the body in good health is a duty…Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”


I think when your mind is preoccupied with the body’s business, your brain is able to come up with solutions. I have often been inspired walking as I posted about here. This then is part of the nurturing practice she recommends, and I will admit I know I ought to do more exercise but don’t always make the time. She also wants you to surround yourself with things that comfort and inspire your Artist’s mind.

She suggests creating and Artist’s altar. Though I was sceptical and do not have a space for a “special corner” in the house as she suggested, I have been thinking more about decorations and things that bring me joy this year as I work my way through decluttering with the help of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Outer Order, Inner Calm. I have identified before how surroundings effect my ability to be creative. And this has led to a series of attempts at decorating our space.

In Britain, I don’t think we are so keen to decorate for the season. I remember going to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving in Connecticut in 2004 and her mother packing away carefully the rich orange and brown china and pulling out the reds and greens of Christmas plates on the last day of my stay. I thought they were lovely. Then, there was nothing much available here even if we did want to replicate this but it has made me think of little touches we can make to update our home each season.

This weekend we took a family walk up Leith Hill. We collected pine cones for decoration. I also bought a couple new scented candles. I am not trying to clutter up my house but instead changing up a few things for a short while so I appreciate them more. So I would say approach the task lightly, with a sense of play. It may not be immaculate but my doodling the phrase “make time to grow” stands out to me. Decorations cheer up the place, new scents can remind you of other places. Dotting around your thoughts, putting up your artist’s prayer or some words that inspire you, these are all a simple way to set an intention for the season.

I would love to know if you have tried an Artist’s altar… if you want to see more about The Artist’s Way Programme here are a few of my previous posts:

Continue reading “Do you need an Artist’s Altar?”

What Holds You Back?

Everything in moderation, right? Some of our habits can become so important to us that they hold us back in our life and in our creativity.

Week ten of The Artist’s Way programme is about recovering your sense of self-protection. Julia Cameron uses examples in her essay of how we abuse things in our life to numb us from our experiences, that may be drugs, food or even workaholism.  It was a difficult week because she asks you to dig into what you use to stop you working.  This level of vulnerability in your pages, though just for your own eyes, can bring up some strong emotions. It asked you to analyse these deadlies -: drugs, food, sex, work, money, alcohol and family/friends – and see how they have held you back.

Even those that don’t seem relevant in your life you had to think about your resistance to that category, it is an interesting exercise of analysis. You may find you have deep-seated beliefs about why you are not safe around certain substances, for example. I think it is quite a difficult task to do and again I wonder whether the emotional toll of thinking about these difficult topics is a good thing to do alone. Issues around food, family these are really big topics and I can’t be the only one who found these exercises emotionally taxing. What is the point of facing the truth of what holds you back? To ask yourself: do your nurture your inner creativity?

If you are not nurturing your creativity, you may be stifling it. Other areas that she identifies as stifling it are the pursuit of fame and competition. The synchronicity bells were ringing again, I entered a writing competition, scrabbling around to rewrite the start of my novel to get it in for the deadline. I got nowhere with the competition. As a result, I am lurking on the edge of a writers’ forum, uncertain if I want to participate because I didn’t win. This petulance is a good marker that my ego was a little bruised by the whole process, and she sees that competition can also be harmful to our process.

“Instead of saying ‘that proves it can be done’ your fear will say ‘ He will achieve instead of me.”

Julie Cameron

If nothing else, her understanding of competition was salve for my ego. There are some benefits of course to get your fledgling writing assessed, but you also have to be careful how far you let it fly, lest it gets its wings clipped by the critique.

With the information you gather from assessing what is holding you back, she suggests you start to identify boundaries or “bottom lines.” So that you can carve out the space for work. This will also help you recognise when you are using something like food (or the deadly trash tv for me) to zone out rather than be there for your creativity. So, you set new rules about your work. I think not having the right boundaries can really stop you from working towards your dreams.

I do think there are some helpful activities in this week’s process. Seeing what is holding you back can help you take what you are doing creatively seriously, re-organising your priorities to push it to the front. But I also think it is really important to balance out uncovering what habits hold you back, with what nurtures you.

Think about all the things that can nurture the senses of your inner creative child and build these into your life. For me these were: grapefruit scent, gnarled tree bark, the sound of uplifting music, warm blankets and cushions. And though there are difficult things that do you hold you back, the one thing that combat all these difficult emotions is the sense of gratitude that there are so many simple things that can make us happy.

You can read more about my journey through the programme here:

Continue reading “What Holds You Back?”

Renew Your Motivation

Can you finish up the year even stronger than the start?

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron advises you to look for synchronicity. She believes, I think, that this is the Universe or a Creator is guiding us down a path of creativity. As I work through the last few weeks of the programme, I have become more attuned somehow to this sense of synchronicity. And it’s very pleasing when it happens.

I will be writing more about the final stages of my journey through her programme in the next few weeks but I did read when you finish up, she wants you to commit to 90 days more of writing Morning Pages and at least weekly Artist’s Dates. Well on the same day I read this, I spotted Rachel Hollis is promoting #last90days. A way to finish out the year even more motivated than you started it. It felt like I just had to give it a try.

The commitments she asks you to make seem to line up well with Cameron’s ideas but the main one I am going to focus on is to give myself that hour a day. I may not be able to use an hour every morning. I have shifted some of my to-do tasks as well Morning Pages to before school already. And I have written in my guide how challenging that can be. She is right that I could get up an hour early. This may well be one answer but as my son tends to be an early riser, I suspect it will be an hour divided.

There is something really invigorating about committing to a programme. Although I don’t like to cut out or restrict food, I think Hollis’ “Five to Thrive” are a reminder to take care of ourselves. I am going to using her prompts too as they send weekly emails and I think having a focus can be inspiring

From Rachel Hollis, the Five to Thrive commitments

The main reason though that I think it’s a good idea to amp up your motivation at this time of year is to get you through the slog of colder days and darker nights. Autumn may be my favourite season to write but Winter will follow quickly after and in setting ourselves up to end the year positively, I am preparing myself to feel the best that I can in the SAD season.

By writing about this commitment and sharing that I want to work on my writing an hour every day, I hope you will keep me accountable. Better yet, why not join me? I’d love to hear from anyone who is committing to a brilliant end to this year.

Fearless creativity

Do you really fail, if you try?

I have been thinking about what I fear most: failure or success? My anxious brain can come down on either side. When unused my imagination has a way of turning in on me like this. I think that it caused years of depression. It’s no longer playful but instead hardwired to see what can go wrong. Julia Cameron has written that “the net result is the same” because our fear makes us stop.

And although week nine of The Artist’s Way programme is about many things, what was coming up for me was considering creative U-turns I had made: unfinished projects, broken promises and the reasons that they hadn’t happened. At first writing in my morning pages, I was really petulant. My inner creative child was hurt by the idea that my failures were creative U-turns at all. It’s alright for her, I thought, she’s had things published…if you have never achieved anything you can’t have failed.

And then of course it struck me, not just that my inner child was telling me exactly what blocked me the most: a fear that I would fail. But it also occurred to me the many times I had tried things and they had failed. Then the floodgates opened. Who knew I was still bothered about a school play I didn’t get to be in or that I wanted desperately to put on my own production. Of course I do know because, as I wrote last week, part of my fantasy life includes revisiting drama as well as novel writing. But these hurts I can reflect on also provide a map to steps I might take, although there is a lot of fear. Maybe by sharing the dreams somewhere, I am starting to align to them.

It is not without fear that I share my journey and that is a step forward I think. I think creativity has to have this sense that you are “daring greatly” or it probably isn’t quite the right thing.

I have owned a copy of Feel the Fear and DO IT Anyway for years. Most of my life anxieties and fear of failure have plagued me but this week I dug the book out again. Along with Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. As I come towards the end of this programme, I feel the need to have some books to help me on my recovery ready and waiting. Because while this process is all about creative recovery, it also asks a lot of you opening up, personally and emotionally. I am trying to find ways to be gentle to that upset inner creative child.

What I think that these self-help programmes are all telling me about creativity is to build each day. And be vulnerable so that I step further out of my comfort zone each time. Because afterall, do you really fail, if you try?