Coping with Creative Blocks

Life can be full of difficulties that block creativity but we have to keep going forwards.

Today we are saying goodbye to a friend who lost her life too young. Like most people nearing forty a number of friends have been lost along the way, and some dear relatives. It always take you by surprise.

Sadly, so many people have lost their lives with the pandemic too and we are all more vulnerable than we like to think. I am grateful today we can say a proper goodbye, many were not able to with the restrictions and lockdowns that made it more difficult to honour those passed over the last few years.

When death hits closer to home, it turns us inwards and outwards at the same time. We say I’m going to do the things they could not do. This vivacious woman could not go everywhere so let me go there. It also helps us reflect on where we are stuck.

I do feel stuck in my art and in trying to do so much for my family. I feel stuck inside my house because I am not well (though thankfully much better than I was). And this inward reflection shows up in frustration and criticism of any work I have done. It shows up in how I wrangle through the bureaucracy of school, how everything feels like a fight.

My morning journalling practice has been so valuable, despite writing only a few scenes in my novel, I have filled a large notebook with all my thoughts and feelings in the last few months. So perhaps, a bit like this rambling post, my mind can only cope with the fragmented thoughts and processing my feelings.

I think when you are stuck, blocked by life, there are some amazing tools out there, like The Artist’s Way but there is also something that you have to use too: faith that it will come again. If life is too big for the creative work you have to trust that the way you are living your life will help you show up soon to your art.

In the meantime, I have been taking my Artist’s Dates in exploring nearby, as well as using my flowerpress I have been elderflower picking and made tea and cordial for the first time. I am being creative in the kitchen – partly to help make the food stretch further as prices rise. And I am gradually finding ways through to my son to help him in this tricky time. I have to believe that treating life with this curiosity will gradually let my creativity unfurl.

The last of the elderflower harvest

So, as I prepare myself to go to the service for my friend, I think about what I can promise her. In the future, if not now, I will try to live my life to the full. I will do what I can each day to step towards my dreams of writing for a living. I will do everything I can to cherish the bright spirit she was.

Difficult times are not easy but death so young makes us reflect sharply – if not now, then when?

Half Year Reset

It’s that time of year when I reflect on what I can improve

There is something about the arbitrary passage of time that is on my mind recently. I am nearing forty and trying to have no regrets of time lost. But now it is June I feel the need to reset my goals.

I often use the Gretchen Rubin method of having 21 in 2021 etc which I have in my journal but this year I decided to revisit my vision board. This is a practice I learnt that I had achieved the aims of a spa trip, some sister time and have certainly tried to get out in nature. I had a recent Artist Date exploring the azaleas which gave me a lot of joy. And I have been trying to find ways to look after me eventhough my son is having a tricky time.

The inconvenient truth about life is sometimes one thing goes right then, another goes wrong. I don’t mean even just the big stuff. Detailed plans seem to me the stuff of wild dreams. I have written about my disdain for plans before not to discourage planning but to try and reassure anyone I know, life doesn’t work like that.

So this year for my reset I wanted to be more realistic. The algorithm sent me a message (like it’s the from universe but more likely just the sort of wellness content I am consuming). I am following a 50 day refresh led by Smilin Aislinn on youtube. Watching her videos just made me smile, she’s not worried if your journey looks completely different which clearly as a nearly-40 year old non-model I have in no way a similar life. But I am inspired to try and be consistent. Keep up habits that help with both my energy and creativity.

If you are inspired to anchor each day with healthy habits, she recommends setting both your goal and intention behind them. And most importantly not to be a perfectionist about it. There is no need to go back and revisit if you miss one. I missed off get up early from the list I made because that one is a given for me. These were the habits I created to support me:

Simple Habits to Help Energy and Creativity

Habit one: Morning pages. Everyday three pages as soon as you wake up. Or do them imperfectly like me. My intention is to have a space to be creative, reduce stress by journalling my worries and find me time at the beginning of everyday

Habit two: Green juice and lots of veggies on top of my normal food. My intention is to add to my energy by being healthy but not restrictive. I have tried a number of wellness fads and this one has stuck. If I am more consistent hopefully it will support healthy recovery.

Habit three: Afternoon meditation. I can’t always sleep in the afternoon but I find taking a restful moment each day for 20 minutes will give me a better chance of getting through my day even with fatigue. If you’re bad at meditation, I’ve written my guide for fidgets.

Habit four: Three gentle exercise days and three yoga days. I know that doing very short and gentle workouts makes me feel better as long as I only do it to my level. The appreciation I have now of being able to do this bit more having been living with fatigue for nearly 18 months makes it so valuable to my sense that I am recovering. Again being consistent hopefully will also see some positive improvement in my endurance as the weeks go on.

Habit five: Ten minutes reading daily. You may see I have recently posted some reviews and I am enjoying reading books again within my limits. I am still making my way through 40 books before 40 from my to be read (TBR) pile. Reading will always be my greatest inspiration and it’s a joy to build up my concentration despite the fatigue.

Habit six: Skincare. I am guilty of buying lots of skincare products and letting them sit looking me each day. Taking a bit extra time to use the jade roller and various potions is adding that bit of self-care at the beginning and end of each day. It’s my small way to remind myself to look after myself even in the toughest of times.

Overcome Dialogue Dilemmas

Some of my characters have been really chatty recently and it can be a problem…

I am back at it with my longest novel to date and really writing dialogue in sections where the prose gets a bit heavy. There are rules to writing dialogue which I find a bit tricky. Like you want to give them colloquium language but you don’t want to keep spelling out “Alright” or “I don’t know what to say” even if they are the tics of these characters. You want dialogue that actually means something to the story which is why I think writing in close third person can be tricky as you often think when a person might say. Add in that your main character is introspective and introverted, your chances of getting them to speak out loud like a character in a novel.

Have ever noticed the characters you like the most start chatting to each other? When you get to that point in the writing where you have done character development and as I suggested before,  worked out their quirks, then the characters themselves start to take the steer. Part of me likes to think that this is because I am deeply acquainted with the people so I know what they would say or do. But really it’s because these people you have created have come alive and are demanding attention. (If you want to understand this perspective, I would recommend the book Bunny by Mona Awad that I reviewed here.) So once they are so alive to you, they do something else weird: they start talking to each other.

Recently I have written two arguments that happen as she befriends the enemy of the piece. One reason was that I had started to realise there wasn’t enough conflict in the novel; got to give these characters problems. Goodness knows life throws me enough lemons, and by rights you should be chucking lemons at their heads throughout the rising action. As she wrestles with the problems with her neighbours and friends, my main character seems quite meek. I could find quite easily how others speak to her bit it was more tricky to get her to speak out loud.

Here were some tricks I tried to get the arguments going:

1. Ignore the actions

To start the scenes with arguments I didn’t getting her to the place but started writing where she already is. The setting isn’t important because if you are picturing it, you known where they are. Once I had started one scene I knew she was on the bottom step, looking up awkwardly but the words have already told us she is been treated as a subordinate.

2. Say it out loud

Saying the words you’ve  written helps the dialogue feel more real. I also get Word to read out my work to me to help spot those double words or odd sounding phrases.

3. Act it out

I am a wannabe actor as well as writer and this is where those years of improv play out. Playing my characters as I sit before the computer is one of the reasons I crave alone time! I think understanding the rules of drama (start late, leave early, for example) helps us write dialogue. I haven’t written a play since A Level but some of those skills still help.

4. Record it while walking

My final tip is to say it out loud when you’re walking. I think walking is a great trick for getting your mind mulling over things. Especially if you dare to go distraction free. If ideas hit me when I walk, I like to record using voice memos. It’s a great to really have that argument. Although my final tip would be to find a quiet spot to say it out loud!

Have you any tips for writing good dialogue? I’d love to hear from others who struggle with this.

The Deadline of Forty

How I live without regret (most of the time)

I saw a post today on another writer’s instagram to the John Lennon quote “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans”. She felt filled with regrets for time lost, when she wasn’t creating. As my child grows up, I get older I feel this existential dread often and hauntingly. Life is what happens when we are busy planning other novels and dreaming of our name in the book shop.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans

John Lennon

But also no regrets. We come now to the work, enriched by these full and busy challenging lives. Life is also what we make of it and our ability to reflect on the life that actually happened. I remember working alongside a number of students, listening to how they were planning their futures and laughing, not unkindly. Not a single day I have ever planned has gone exactly as I thought and yet in youth I was obsessed with the idea that I ought to know what was next. That is not to dismiss goals or even dreams but just to assert that they’re also to be expected to go off course. Constantly.

It is both niave and beautiful to believe in plans. To believe that there are not a million fracturing moments in each day that shifts and restructures the life that happens. But enough of the philosophy. How I see it is that for me my books, just as my life, are constantly being derailed. The life train hops track quite often and the final destination is nowhere expected. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so accutely if I had reached the infamy of a Beatle but given the Beatle we are talking of, we can assume no-one can predict the ending. No-one protests peacefully for a living expects this violent end. No-one who grew from working class roots assumes they’ll one day offer and reject a Knighthood.

But life is also in the small things. One of the quotes that I come back to for my writing is “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Chekov is interested in how we experience life, the mundane details of things are so much more evocative of true experience as well as of course avoiding exposition in our writing. If you don’t believe the the unplanned, novel will ever happen well you might be right. But you just try and write a character exactly as you intended and like any other person, you will find they have their own ideas and take you a different way.

As I tackle the final the furlough towards forty, I am inevitably reevaluating what I have achieved. But over the years much has happened to redefine success. At some point I may have thought it was a certain job or certain financial position. At other times I have of course wished to be published. And this year, as I recover from fatigue, I reframed it to mean working hard on looking after myself. How we define ourselves is often the work of an artist . From our unique perspective, we can also reflect on everything around ourselves. But not plan nor regret what has gone off course. Because the song John Lennon is singing is really a lullaby to soothe us. We do not have control of life. And it’s easier to learn that as soon as possible.

What gets in the way?

It’s hard to lead a creative life but here are ways I have found that help

I have been writing this blog for a few years and I thought it was time to reflect on how I help myself achieve my goals. So what is it that gets in the way of your writing? Because I have the answer for that. No more TEARS (Time, Energy, Artistry, Reading, Some Other Things) What do you not have enough of…?

TIME

It’s no joke not having enough time. I have explored on a number of occassions the way I schedule in small amounts of time to write. It is miniscule sometimes but it’s all chipping away towards the final goal: write the darn book!

I believe you can always do a little something towards your project.

And the best way to get some time to work is planning your time however messy life gets. And I use a Sunday reset to ready myself to take advantage of any slot of time that pops up in the week.

ENERGY

This is a big issue for me. I have a fatigue condition as well as lacking sleep from looking after my child. I don’t know why children are such morning people. I suspect the energy levels my child has is the real rate we are all supposed to have but for many reasons it gets stolen away as we grow up. Maybe by the fairies? Anyway if you struggle with energy start here:

Making the most of your higher energy moments by being just a little creative. Short creative activities can help you be more mindful, and also very calming. I also have to create on little sleep quite often and taking time for simple things like music, walks and meditation can have a surprising impact on your energy and your creativity.

ARTISTRY

I will recommend to everyone that you use The Artist’s Way programme if you haven’t come across Julia Cameron’s book, I have a series of posts about using the programme and how it helped. Here are some of the key things that have come part of my life:

You could try the Mum version of morning pages in my Imperfect Guide Each morning you write three pages of rubbish in your journal, get it all out and so when you do start your art, you’re ready!

I also use my journal in a number of ways and here I suggest some ways to use your journal to get more creative.

Finally, Cameron suggests you take two hours every week for an Artist Date. As much I would love to have more time at the theatre or at museums, I have a guide for some cheap and easy dates to take to inspire you. Whether it’s a wander around a market or taking photos of trees, I take weekly time out to explore a bit and feed my creativity.

READING

As a Mum, I have to work hard to get time to read . The biggest revelation in the last few years has been audiobooks. Having come to terms that audiobooks is actually real reading, I have actually managed to read some classics that I may have blanched at before because of their size and the concentration levels needed to track the cast! I loved Anna Karenina and Vanity Fayre and I am so grateful that, despite my fatigue condition, I have listened to these even when I haven’t been able to do much else.

SOME OTHER THINGS

I am a carer, under stress and have a fatigue condition. Life gets in the way. But I am always doing something, working slowly to chip away at my projects. The sites tag line is: if not now, when? So whatever I can do towards my goal helps. I suggest using vision boards and found an easier way to keep the vision updated by doing it online. I use Instagram and Pinterest to be creative and find ways to explore the world even if I don’t often go further afield, I always feel inspired in a new place.

How do you overcome your personal obstacles to be creative?