A year ago I wrote I had nowhere to write but my productivity has improved this year so where do I write?
In my bedroom mainly, in my messy house. This is not where I want to be working. I have many dreams of aesthetically pleasing book nooks, or a book-lined library and an antique writing desk. Or maybe also an attic. I mean I got actual palpatations watching Jo March spread out her work page-by-by in the old Alcott attic in Greta Gerwig’s brilliant Little Women. My soul soared to see such a loving reproduction, or an attic, for space and for all night to write.
But I do not have this. I have forty minutes of childcare and a comfy mattress and a laptop that is getting warmer on my lap as I type. I have silence in the house for now but in my eye line is the busy-ness of a cluttered surface and I won’t be able to stay like this for long without making some adjustments.
I do not share this to garner even a shred sympathy, (even if that were available) because I am so lucky. My home is warm, I have many things and I have many benefits of modern life. But I also have a problem with this comfort. I mean I am glad I don’t have to write for candle light, but I also wonder whether the discomfort helped. Fuelling creativity through pain? A romantic cliché. Although I wouldn’t mind my own writing room, even if it was chilly.
I have been secretly eyeing up the shed since we have all been inside. Never mind that it’s got a drawer of zoflora, some spare soup my husband thought we might need and several spiders. Certainly on a softer day, I’ve sat in our grey backyard and tried to write though the shady spot is not quite warm enough.
I suppose I am thinking about all this to say to myself, you can write anywhere. Yes, even here: busy, cluttered house. Yes, even now: busy, distracted mind.
Despite the creative block, sometimes it is small hacks in life that make me get back to the page. If you have been struggling to sit down to work, what are the small things you do to get your creativity flowing again?
What made a difference this week?
Cold extremities. The office is cold, the house is cold; storm Ciara has left us mercifully unscathed, where I live, but still Winter’s last blast is here.
The Spring flowers I photographed just last week are a distant memory as the sharp wind beats my cheeks in the playground. But despite the chill that permeates the house, it has made me nostalgic for the times I hunkered down to write. If I don’t want to go anywhere else, I may as well absorb myself by creating something. Whether I like it or not, the time I spent as a student was both my least efficient and my most productive . It must be a sense-memory, but as my hand flies furiously across the page, I associate a desperate need to complete work with this peculiar sense that the air is cold around my nostrils. And like the muscle memory of athletes, my inner student is making me work harder, and suddenly I have more new words than I have had in a while.
Cosy socks. I find slobbing out in comfy clothes not just necessary in this weather, but an inspiration to enjoy the hygge sensations of blankets and pillows by dressing in the warmest fabrics. And in this cosiness, I imagine myself other places. Like my characters, inside looking out on bleak surroundings. Or imagine trying to take off the socks and insist on being barefoot in the woods. The sensory appeal of soft clothing, firing up these thoughts about how my characters are feeling.
A Good Book. I have started a thriller and was so absorbed on my way to work, I almost forget to get off at my stop. A page-turner can be inspiring whether or not it is in the genre you are writing. Whether it inspires you to try your own hand at writing, or it just sparks ideas for a work-in-progress, I have been glad of time to read on my commute this week.
Old Photos. I found an old photo of myself as a child. Looking a little extra, trying on my Grandmother’s pearls, I was inspired not just by the girl I once was – much more spirited than I am now. I was also inspired to delve deeper back into the past of my characters. Though the work I have written may not make the final cut, the depth to which I know my characters now is clear as it flows easily.
Also I think a lot about my childhood ambitions, as I have said before, I do believe in dreams. They have changed a little, but one of the exercises I have been using writing letters to my encouragers in my journal, I wrote to my Grandparents this week, inspired by the photo and by the joy my visits there always brought me.
A Blank Page. The final thing that has really helped me this week has been a blank page. Rather than fill in gaps in my work-in-progress, I have allowed myself time with a notebook or a blank Word Doc. This is an indulgence as I know that having been making progress by fleshing out the first part of my novel. But if it get me working again, it will be worth the type-up time.
I’d love to know what you have done to get back to writing this week?
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 Greatlyby 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?
I can feel it, Autumn crisping the air, so I dragged the covers out for our bed and, just like that…
This is my favourite time of year, “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” roll in and the Autumn announces itself. Best of all its time for comfort and covers to come into the house. The Hygge craze may be less popular but I think there is nothing better than feeling a bit cosy. Its time for making rituals of comfort, like more soft furnishings and lighting my driftwood candle. Best of all, it will soon be time for scarf weather.
It may be the back-to-school sense in the air, but the beginning of September seems really inspiring to me. I know Gretchen Rubin writes in her books about habits, that September can feel like a new year. Perhaps particularly for parents, a chance to tackle goals with new vigour.
So, if your writing has slumped a little over Summer or if you have had to contend with a young’un or two in tow, how can Autumn inspire you?
Setting up your space to write is not always very easy. We
are cramped for space in my home. But there is something about setting a scene
that can help. This time of year, looking out of the window at a tree behind
our house, to see it begin to change, causes me joy. Being mindful of my
surroundings can really help me be creative. Even if it looks like I am staring
out of the window, it helps to feel some sense of calm.
This may seem obvious by now, but I like to be comfortable. This Summer I have been changing in out of clothes, wearing shorts then cooling down and pulling back on cropped jeans, then a skirt to go to work. I mean, it’s just hard work. Out comes the Autumn uniform, sweaters and jeans, jeans and sweaters (with occasional dress for work). I think I am realising that anything can distract me, like being too hot. And irritable me does not do my best work.
Talking of new school year, it is a totally legitimate excuse to get new stationary. If you write in notebooks like me, this may mean a new selection. There may already be an owlish one waiting for use. I have a perfect excuse because as I continue my journey through The Artist’s Way Programme, Julia Cameron suggests having a creativity notebook to plot your creative goals.
The seasonal change between Summer and Autumn has become important to me in my writing. My protagonist is trying to hold on to a happy Summer, a happy family, but Autumn is coming quickly to disturb her and her family. It only occurred to me when someone else read my writing that throughout I characterise the woodland as a place for childhood. We are familiar with the idea of Autumn days representing our later life so I suppose these are the moments, the end of August and beginning of September, which inform my work-in-progress. Quite a philosophical time, really.
And while I write about my main character’s obsession with
nature around her, I think it is the perfect time to add a bit of nature into
your life. Collecting leaves and conkers, cooking apples and of course as many
walks in the woods as you can manage. These are not just things for Instagram
shots (though, friends, prepare for the spam) – they are also the most wonderful
way of connecting to your inner creativity.
I am about to post more about “Artist’s Dates”, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way but spending a few hours in nature, definitely counts as working on your writing. In fact, as Autumn eases on, I would call time in nature essential creative work.