The Simplest Things

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?

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?

A season of new writing

Why Autumn is the best time for writing

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.

Where will Autumn take you?
Licensed under Creative Commons

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.

The Imperfect Guide to Morning Pages

I have been blogging for a few months about my experience of The Artist’s Way programme by Julia Cameron. I may not have finished drafting my novel yet, but I am finding it a great creative outlet to use Morning Pages. Put simply, you try and write three handwritten pages each morning. She gives you prompts for each chapter and I would recommend her book to go into the process in depth. But here is my realistic guide to writing Morning Pages even though life gets in the way.

Step One: Wake and Write

Mum life means I do not get to rise on my own steam and reach straight for a pen. I am usually woken by the juggernaut that is my son. You know what they say “I’m up from son rise to son down.”

This mean I do not complete my morning pages at first light with a cup of herbal tea, the birds singing. Instead I have no option but to get him entertain himself first. This is a lot of effort and involves being asked several times where the blue pen is or being sat upon. Cute, but annoying if you are supposed to be staying in a steam of consciousness flow. If he lets me sit to them, it is already thirty minutes after I have woken and I have started to notice the jobs I have to do around the house. It’s hardly surprising that I often end up writing them with Peppa Pig on in the background.

Step Two: Write Everything Down

Although Cameron prompts you, she also advises that you should write down all the thoughts you have as you write “This is annoying,” or “I haven’t got time” or “This is so dirty.” Not dirty thoughts, of course, but just wondering why the arm of the sofa looks almost blackened and how to get that off. It is not surprising that these thoughts preoccupy me because I have shoe-horned in my morning pages when I am already trying to complete my daily to do list in the hour before I have to get ready to take him to school or going to work. And as I wrote here, this means I have a lot of thoughts about home interrupting my visions of creative life that she wants me to reflect upon.

Step Three: Don’t Re-Read

There are points where you are asked to review your thoughts and reflect on your “creative recovery” but otherwise the stream of consciousness is to get all your fears down. I suppose by putting them down, they free you when you do come to the page to write (or paint, or do anything creative you want to do.) This has only sort have worked for me.

It must be how my mind works that in the past I have always used a journal to make lists, set goals or write reminders. Perhaps you are supposed to be so inspired that you remember your intention but for me, I need to refer back all the time to what I wrote in the morning.

This might be as simple as write blog post about wedding rings (coming soon!) or also quotes that I have like that have inspired me. Although I did designate one notebook for the pages, I feel the need to have a secondary journal and this blog as well of course to gather my reflections and write down the inspiration I find.

Step Four: Keep it Secret

Well I haven’t shared everything, but I have definitely been sharing my thoughts on this blog and I have been telling everyone I can in the #WritingCommunity about Morning Pages. I find that your ideas start to spill out into real life anyway. That you start to share the joy you find on your creative journey and on completing Artist’s Dates (more ideas on this soon). This means though you do not pass on your Morning Pages for anyone to read, I can hardly say that I keep it a secret. The risk of course is that you may meet criticism, derision maybe but so far that has been the case.

Step Five: Do it Imperfectly

My final piece of advice is not care less what they look like or whether you actually wrote them on the bus because you ran out of time. Don’t worry that you miss days or write afternoon pages instead. You are doing it for you and although I seen some beautiful bullet journals and journalling online, it is not that. It is as scribbled as you like. It is as rushed as it has to be. It is being as honest with yourself as you dare.

If you dare to be imperfect you will overcome the fears you have. Yes of course I have a pretty notebook because I am a stationary hoarder but it doesn’t have to look like those ones you seen online. It’s just three pages every day. It’s a simple process and you can do it as imperfectly as me.

Read about my last few weeks here:

Envision the life you want

By now the Artist’s Way programme has asked me to do many things but it’s years since I collaged with magazines. Glue sticks and scissors out!

Week seven is all about rediscovering connection. Though it’s not the only task this week, Julia Cameron says everyone’s favourite is making a collage of images ripped from magazines. It may be that she is more of a visual artist, she is a filmaker, I believe. But I found this task a challenge.

One thing, I do not have magazines lying around anymore. In choosing to read more I have had to be judicious with my time. I can get a lot of the celebrity gossip rubbish from Instagram. And Pinterest gives me the ability to flick around topics from fashion to folklore.

I subscribe to Mslexia and Writer’s Forum which are great for keeping me abreast of the publishing industry but a little too wordy for this visual challenge. In the end I bought some new, some from charity shops and ripped out the images.

My results are heavy on calmness, books and going to the spa

My finished results were not too surprising, lots of images of books and calming outdoor scenes. There wasn’t much room for my family. I was focussing on a lot of nature, quiet time and candles. I think I have identified a few times in my creative journey the need for space to work and an ambition to attend a retreat.

I would say the exercise is fun to try although I am tempted to use a vision board app in future. It felt wasteful to cut up these magazines though ones I didn’t keep, I passed them on to my family with a few gaps. I would also say my results were a little predictable, one could even say basic! That is because the market forces are huge behind the wellness industry. I do want to spend time at a spa and drink lots of flat whites but magazines also spend a lot of time advertising these things to me. Telling me to take “me time” has a lot of money behind it.

I may be a little sceptical about the value of this activity but one interesting moment of synchronicity, as Julia Cameron calls it, was the latest issue of Project Calm is all about sisters. My novel circles around the relationship between two sisters. There seems to be a small selection of magazines now with projects to develop creativity. Much more me than the glossies these days and I can’t wait to take this on holiday.