Learning to say goodbye

I have been dreading the end of The Artist’s Way programme, so how do I learn to say goodbye?

#Creativity #Last90days

This is the blog I have been putting off writing, you may have noticed I have been writing my guides to doing the steps on The Artist’s Way Programme. This is partly because I think the Morning Pages and taking Artist’s Dates have been helpful, I also think I have been avoiding the inevitable, coming to the end.

As the final week ends, I am reflecting on the resistance that I feel to ending the whole process. This mirrors my continual revising of the ending of the book I am writing, which of course changes the start I come up with and continues the process of drafting for evermore. This may just be the way I write, though I would like to think that there may be a time where I am confident in the writing a story I have plotted, I have a feeling my tangents are part of my process. So why are ending so hard?

Change is the only constant, for one.

I had the opportunity to test out how difficult endings can be, I learnt that someone from my son’s school whole family had moved away over the Summer. As is typical, we had not seen them in the holidays, but I am sure my son would have been happy to see their little boy in his class again, as they have been in school together for the last three years. When I learnt the news, and that they had had to go with no notice, I was shocked. It threw me completely and I think I was far more upset than my son at the change.

Sometimes people move away. Liscensed under Creative Commons

I have a history of finding goodbyes challenging and have left schools suddenly myself, so I am sure like a lot of things, this linked back to childhood fears. Saying goodbye is something is you learn to do over and over. So I called the family and also helped out a little here. It felt good to get closure on this phase of my son’s life as well as my own. And I got some satisfaction that I was a good friend on his behalf. I think stopping to acknowledge parts of your life that are changing is very important. That this happened as I finished the programme is something the author Julia Cameron would call synchronicity and I am inclined to agree.

I know as I step off the cliff from the comfort of the programme, I have to carry on writing my pages and using Artist’s Dates. But I also have to get the work done. That is not to say that I will not revisit the programme or dip into the exercises but in a sense, I have done this programme all the way through for the first time. That should be celebrated. Early on in the book, Cameron says a lot of people drop out or resist the programme which in the main part I haven’t. Although I did avoid the digital and reading detox in week eight. I am in fact coming back to it now and will report back soon.

So, it must be acknowledged, I did it! I have found ways to adopt pages into morning although sometimes it means I snap at those around me to leave me alone. I notice if I have a bad day, I will find I haven’t done my pages in the morning. It’s become an essential lifeline. I can also say that I am writing though still not as regularly as I like. The next steps are making the goals into tangible steps and using the #last90days of the decade to really finish what I started. With this in mind, I have a new writing planner on excel including blogging schedules: mundane but necessary to try and use the time I do have to work efficiently.

But the goal of the final week of the programme is to “Recover a Sense of Faith.”And that means being surer that your life will lead you to where you need to be if you continue to work towards what you want. I am still uncertain, of course, but I think I approach doing my work with more confidence than before. And I think having insight into my resistance was a great way to uncover things for me. As I don’t like endings, as is clear, I will leave the post I didn’t want to write on a quote from this chapter:

“Life is meant to be an artist date. That’s why we were created.“

Julia Cameron

I would love to know if anyone else has completed The Artist’s Way programme, do you still use it, has it changed your life?

20 Cheap and EasyArtist Dates

Although a divine experience for an Artist might be a night at the ballet or spending a weekend away, just you and your journal, for most of us this isn’t an option. Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way that we spend two hours a week nurturing our Artist. Here are some great Artist Dates you could try that are free (or pretty cheap) and you can even bring your little one along for the ride.

1. JOURNAL ART Talking of journalling, I took the chance to learn some lettering. I’ll never own a beautiful bullet journal but even I can play with titles and doodles

2. DOODLE Speaking of art, Cameron also encourages you to draw. I have little talent in this area but I have challenged myself to sit to my ideas and doodle about them. The pictures were poor, but the expression still engaged my mind and made me laugh.

3. MIND MAPS I was taught to use these at school to revise. I am still not sure if they helped me connect the dots about science and history: my grades at the time I suppose were fine, but can I remember it now. But using a mind map whether to track your hopes for the future or plan out bold new ideas can be helpful and creative

4. COOK SOMETHING Particularly something new. I have been reflecting on food memories recently and dug deep to think about things I loved as a child. But if nothing else you can basically put any ingredients you have into Pinterest and come up with a recipe. It doesn’t have to be fancy, I recently made microwave mac ‘n’ cheese. This may not suit your tastes but I was delighted with the ease of it.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

5. BUY FRUIT I recently taught my picky eater about pomegranate. This is a relatively inexpensive buy at our local market. Given he despises pips in fruit this was a minor triumph. Talking about it, even looking up how to cut it was interesting and new. And that’s got to to be a kick start for creativity.

6. SHOP FOR FOOD AT A MARKET So the overpriced sourdough rosemary loaf was not free and fives times the price of normal bread, but it was divine. Wandering around any foodie market counts too because smells can transport you to other worlds. Like a Chai stall taking me back to my trip to India.

7. BAKE BREAD Alright so my banana and pumpkin seed bread turned more into a stodgy cake but this is one I will definitely try again. To make a traditional loaf is my next challenge. It feels bold and I doubt I have the proper patience but anything that takes such concentration and effort while also yielding results quickly has got to be good for my inner artist.

8. LISTEN TO MUSIC Online is a great place to find anything and if you happen to want do a deep dive on Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring you can spend hours listening with your eyes closed to the Philharmonic of your choice. This was another easy one I could do one evening so didn’t need childcare but was very inspiring

9. STAY SILENT I tried this one while I cleaned. No podcast, no cleaning video and no music on in the background. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one but I did notice that I really concentrated on the cleaning, finally removing a stain on the stairs carpet so there was that.

10. TREE-BATHING A practice from Japan, that has become popular – shinrin-yoku – spending time with trees can be very relaxing. As I understand it this can be as simple as walking in the trees in your neighbourhood. This one is an easy one for me as we have a large Royal  park on our doorstep and I could take my son along too. Trees are always inspiring and the air is good for your health.

13. PINTEREST Make something, not just pin something you have seen. I choose a project about the lunar cycles to do with my son. This is more practical for me as I can’t always be alone. It engaged him well but best of all we were proud of ourselves and pinned it on the fridge.

14. USE THE INTERNET This could be a disaster and a distraction but it might be worth the risk. I am not sure it’s what Cameron had in mind, but after many joyful hours finding Broadway tunes online and reading about shows I hadn’t seen, I included this one on my easy-to-do list

15.BROWSE BOOKSHELVES This may be an obvious one but I have been taking more mindful trips to the library. Browsing books in different genre and reading a few pages about Japanese flower arranging before I realised I was too impatient to take up the practise. It’s the browsing that fires up your creativity.

16. CHARITY SHOP BOOKS There are so many great reads at charity shops. As I wrote here, it’s one of my favourite places to find a book bargain.

17. SPOTTING COLOURS This is a favourite that I can do in charity shop too. Looking everywhere for pale mint and aqua that are my “signature colours” I spotted them then in other places, like the chemist signs and a pretty shopping bag. This can just be a game and again one you might do with a young one in tow.

18. COLOURING IN My son doesn’t really like that I have my own set of Sharpies in pastel colours that he is not allowed to touch, but there you go a few years back I gave in to the craze for colouring in. I recently got an Autumnal book in a bargain bin at the Works as I think they are less popular as a past-time than a while back. I like it as an activity to occupy my hands instead of my smartphone which I am trying to use less often.

19. PLAYDOH is another one to get out when you have a little one around, he doesn’t seem to mind that I cut out flowers and cute animals while he makes letters or planets (much more his thing)

20. LEAF-COLLECTING This is my favourite Autumn activity and a little different from tree-bathing where you are just silently contemplating them. There are games to be played with the perfect leaf, spotting different shades of colour. I don’t feel the need to have a child along for me for this one, I think secretly everyone understands the impulse to pocket the perfect horse chestnut.

I think the main thing is to approach any Artist’s Date with a sense of play. Part way through the programme, Cameron advises you get used to taking mini-breaks. I think I have had to be quite creative and often take my son too so it is important to acknowledge these simple things can help inspire you too. While it is great to line up trips away, perhaps trying a new class or visiting a new museum, there are easy and cheap things you can do at home too.

You can catch up on my weeks on The Artist’s Way programme here:

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.”

Buddha

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?”