I haven’t posted anything in a while, but someone just sent me this interesting little article and I had to share it. Enjoy!
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandparents lately. Maybe because throughout my childhood, it was at this time of year that I would pack a case and visit them with my Dad and sister for two whole weeks of fun.
Maybe it’s just because I’m at a point in my life when I’m feeling more sentimental – or that I’m searching for some writing inspiration. Either way, it brings back a whole host of feelings and emotions.
They lived in a small village called Felpham, on the south coast of England. It had a row of shops, three pubs, a golf course, cornfields and a beach. Every year in July we’d spend two whole weeks playing on the beach, visiting nearby castles and building tents in the back of my Granddad’s garden – which was huge, with apple trees, the most wonderful smelling flowers and a vegetable patch which had runner beans growing so high, to us it was a jungle.
For writers, drawing on memories can provide great material. Just one recollection not only evokes different sights, sounds, smells and sensations but a variety of feelings – of happiness, anger, sadness, regret or even guilt. Conversely, the smell of something familiar or glancing at an old photo can bring years-old memories to the surface.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days – when summer went on forever, where life was so innocent and in one afternoon you could go on so many different adventures and never have to leave the garden.
With memory being such a powerful thing, I’m thinking about a future writing project. It’ll be about a girl who spends the summer with her grandparents and will be littered with fond memories and sentimentality; maybe even some adventure.
They say write from the heart – so where better to find some inspiration that the back of our minds?
What memories would you use for inspiration?
I’ve always taken a great satisfaction from finishing things. A book. A long run. A cross-stitch pattern (another one of my interests). That moment when you can take a breath and think – “I’ve done that. There might have been times when it was hard to get going, but I feel really good now it’s done.”
Sometimes finishing a project won’t always make you happy – I remember, especially when I was young, books that would leave me in floods of tears or counting how many pages I had left because I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted the characters to stay with me forever. As the writer William Feather said:
“Finishing a good book is like leaving a good friend.”
That was why I started writing. I’d read a book or watch a film and think, okay I’m really sad that’s over so I’m going to write a sequel or another version to keep that “friend” with me. I would spend whole summer holidays scribbling down stories on paper in my room while my sisters were outside playing. Did I care? Not at all, I was creating my own adventures and for me, there was nothing better or more satisfying. If I’d finish one, I’d move on to another – simple as that.
Later on, when I focussed on bigger writing projects, it became harder to finish. The “internal editor” kicked in and I’d end up going back and re-writing scenes and whole plotlines, wanting to turn my story into something other people could read; striving for perfection. But how can you stop the internal editor from kicking in? Stop yourself from revisiting every chapter and picking out all those words and characters you don’t like anymore –changing the story yet again?
Two things spring to mind. The first – ignore that editor. There’s nothing quite like getting into the flow of writing, of sitting at a laptop tapping away on the keys and the words just flowing. It’s satisfying, fun and I always produce my favourite pieces of work in that way. If the editor tries to push you back, just swat him (or her) away and continue on that journey. You can go back and edit later, just get all the words down first.
The second is structure. Have an outline of what you’d like to write about – whether a plot structure scribbled on a post-it note or a full synopsis written and ready – just something so that when it comes to writing you have focus and direction.
And in my opinion, that can help you reach that elusive ending. Have that vision, that direction and go for it. Don’t let anything keep you from pushing forward and soon you’ll be taking that breath and thinking – “wow, I’ve done it.”
Lately I’ve been faced with a question. What do you when you’re already working on a writing project but another idea pops into your head? And it’s so new, exciting and generally inspirational you just want to start fleshing out your first chapters and a synopsis straight away?
My current project is several years old. Its length has been determined by my busy day job and amazing skill as a procrastinator – but sometimes I feel as though I just want to put a pin it in and move onto something new; to keep my writing skills fresh after all the editing and my imagination ticking over.
For me, editing can be a challenge. I feel as though I’m almost cheating when I start re-reading and re-writing my book; feel as though it’s not proper writing as there’s no free-flow or blank page where I can madly scribble down a scene. In some ways, it takes the excitement from novel writing for me, especially as it can be a pretty long process.
So how can I maintain the excitement I’m getting from my new book idea, whilst finishing my current project too?
The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope said in his autobiography:
“In our lives we are always weaving novels, and we manage to keep the different tales distinct… There is a good deal to be learned by anyone who wishes to write a novel well; but when the art has been acquired, I do not see why two or three should not be well written at the same time.”
A positive of having several unfinished works in progress at the same time is that if you get bored or blocked with one, you can work on another. It can keep you on your ‘writing toes’ so to speak and if they’re different genres, working on more than one novel can be a great way to alternate between two different moods.
But what about for the less-experienced writer, who’s still working on their novel’s first draft?
Firstly, jot down as much as you can about the new idea. Any characters, motivations, plotlines, descriptions or scenes that have popped into your head in the middle of the night (like a lot of ideas do, unfortunately!)
Then put it to one side. It might be hard to do, but hopefully the energy you’ll get from this new idea will motivate you to not only finish your current project but start working on the next as soon as you can. You can always dip back into your ‘new-book notebook’ but think of it as a part-time project compared to the first novel.
I suppose like so many other things associated with writing, the only way to know is trial and error. For me, I think I’ll be tackling one final draft of my current book and then moving onto the next – just having the new idea has got me fired up and raring to go!
I’ve been attending yoga classes to help me de-stress and recently stumbled across a practice called mindfulness.
For me mindfulness is about being more aware of my thoughts; learning ways to engage with the positive and leave the negative behind. It teaches you that by living in the moment, you have more control over your thought-process.
Like many creatives I tend to overthink, with a mind that’s constantly active. My thoughts will spiral from a single worry into something huge and ultimately so unrealistic it’s funny; I can start worrying about leaving my hair-straighteners on and end up convinced my husband is leaving me. How does that work?!
When you’re plotting and fleshing-out a novel, this ability is generally a good thing. But when you’re really worried about something or finding life stressful, how do you cope?
Of course I’m not an expert in this by any stretch of the imagination, but I have discovered a technique that works, particularly when quiet or meditating (such as before sleep, when all those pesky thoughts really try and surface).
Imagine your thoughts as external to you – leaves in a stream, cars on a road, clouds in the sky. For me I visualise them as bubbles and when one floats past I mentally bat it away. It takes a bit of practice but after a while, you get a real sense of calm from letting the thought-flow drift by to clear your mind.
In meditation you can also achieve a sense of calm by focussing on a specific thing, whether that’s your breathing, a mental image or an external object. But how can you apply that to writing?
Try and block out your peripheral vision. There must have been times when you’re reading a book, surfing the internet or working on something and fail to hear a conversation, a car pulling up outside, the sky getting darker. You basically block out what’s happening around you to focus on that one, specific thing.
I find this is when my writing flows. I’ve produced some of my best scenes while immersed in that state – where you focus on the words you’re writing, the rhythm of the keyboard tapping, perhaps the melody of a song you’re listening to on your headphones.
It reflects one of the main principles behind mindfulness – of not focussing on the past or the future, but being engaged in the present; keeping us calm and less stressed.
So next time you sit at your laptop why not give it a go? You have two different techniques there to help you enhance your life as a writer – or even just in general. Good luck.
Ps. For those nearby, I’m currently practising yoga at Whitespace Studios. They will be running an 8-week mindfulness course, starting October 2013.
Spring is a time we naturally associate with new beginnings, fresh starts and shaking off the literal (and metaphorical) cold, heaviness of winter to make way for warmer, lighter climes. This winter has been harder than usual for me. Alongside the extended cold weather we’ve all experienced, I found it a real struggle to stay positive during all the challenges life was throwing at me.
Often when I’m feeling down writing is a cathartic process, lifting me from the negativity and giving a much-needed focus. But this time the exact opposite occured and being down made me question if there was a point in writing at all – I wanted to do anything but, which made me feel guilty and frustrated. And that’s a difficult cycle to break.
Do you ever doubt yourself? Do you ever think you’re not good enough to write and question why you should ever bother picking up a pen again? Well, if you do, don’t believe it. EVER. No-one said being a writer was easy but if you have passion, an idea and that nagging voice at the back of your mind whenever you’re without a pen or your laptop, then keep going.
I snapped out of my negative spell quite suddenly on Easter weekend. I was halfway through a run and saw some bright yellow daffodils bobbing in the wind and blossom on the trees. The sight made me smile and alongside it being my first outdoor run in months and receiving some good news on the telephone, a huge weight just lifted. It reminded me of what Easter was about – resurrection – and I felt as though I’d experienced a shift. Come out the other side, so to speak.
Now I feel so much more positive and am plotting new book ideas and blog posts. The patience and perseverence paid off – I broke the cycle. So if anyone else reads this and feels the same way, I hope you can too.
“I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Last week I finished reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and it reminded me that above all the other memories I have of growing up; being a teenager brought the toughest challenges.The book’s main protagonist, a freshman called Charlie, has a story that is tender, charming and painful all at the same time – focussing on his lack of sense of belonging and a social awkwardness that render him the aloof loner at his US high school.
This doesn’t read like teen fiction even though it’s about a teen – at least not in the theatrical, dark romance way which has become synonymous with young adult fiction nowadays. Where other novels are dramatic, ‘Perks of’ is honest, particularly around the complexities of love and friendship – dealing with unrequited love and shyness, as well as abuse, violence, breaking up and the fact that it isn’t all straightforward. Who we want to be with isn’t necessarily the person that’s right for us in the end; if we’re lucky, we can achieve comfort and contentment.
It’s refreshing to see love depicted in such a ‘real’ way. Too often modern teen fiction – whether in books, TV or film – depicts love with a happy ending; two people meet, overcoming obstacles to be together and then walk away into the sunset holding hands. But it was really quite poignant when after the girl he longs for splits up with her boyfriend, Charlie admits his first thought wasn’t to pursue her himself, but concern over her sadness. He wants to be her friend. And when they finally reach the point of consummation it’s not sparks and passion – it’s awkward and ultimately, uncomfortable, for reasons I won’t go into in case you want to read it.
In popular media and books – Twilight, Gossip Girl, The Hunger Games to name just a few – fictional teens often speak and act like adults, most probably because they are created by adults. Yet this was written in the same simple, observational style you might expect a teen you know, to write in.
It reminded me of a show I’ve started watching called Freaks and Geeks, which came out in 1999 – I’m only 14 years late – and achieved this huge, cult following despite being axed after only 12 episodes. Both have similar themes; no sense of belonging, love being painful; parents and the distance that grows as you become your own person with your own identity and questions. And the main characters are awkward, struggle to communicate how they feel and don’t always end up with their true love. Much similar to how I remember my formative years.
Was school really that tough? I for one hated it. I didn’t fit in with any particular group although I had a few, close friends who shared the same tastes in music and clothes as I did. And so I wrote and read stories like Charlie did, taking comfort in a teenage bubble.
I kept journals throughout my teens and now I’m going to revisit them, because with every book I read I always ask how the experience will make my writing better. And by reading my journals I can with clarity draw on memories of what it was like being an awkward, drifting teen – facing unrequited love, embarrassment and tough arguments with parents and friends.
And if I can translate those thoughts and feelings into the creation of my teen characters just half as well as Stephen Chbosky has, it will be an achievement.
I’ve pondered this quote a great deal over the last few years. When I was younger I had dreams of being an impoverished bohemian author, where the only thing that mattered was writing and I could live on a diet of beans and toast in a cheap bedsit but that was ok – because I was a full-time writer and not sacrificing my art for money.
Years later and a recent graduate, I realised that aiming for the bohemian stereotype was somewhat overreaching. Having been a student I’d already done the poor thing, and now I wanted some cash to buy all those things I couldn’t before; new clothes, a laptop, books, music. Although I still liked beans on toast, I wanted to go out for dinner and drink something other than watered-down Fosters.
So I wrote in my spare time and although it was difficult, I managed to churn out the first draft of a mammoth project I’m still working on now – a teen novel called The Haven. But my job always got in the way, whether it was evening events, late nights at the office or simply worrying about a big report that was due. We’ve all been there, so know it can interfere with our motivation; ebbing the creative flow and leaving us so tired we can’t be bothered to even glance at a computer screen let alone write something.
I was once offered the opportunity to quit my job and have someone support me financially so I could write full-time. It’s funny, but I couldn’t do it. I valued my independence too much. Do I regret my decision? Never. It inspired me to believe that you can write no matter what your situation in life – working, not-working, rich, poor. If you love the craft you will make time for it.
And a room of my own? Well, it’s pretty much my laptop on our big leather couch, with my headphones on and some music playing. Luckily I can escape quite easily into the worlds I create and don’t need a room or even a desk to do it; just the ability to block out the world and be left in peace.
So whilst Virginia Woolf had a good point for the time she lived in, I think that nowadays anything is possible. The only thing stopping you from writing is you.
Well I suppose I should start at the beginning really; explain a little more about who I am and where the idea to set up a blog came from.
The truth is I’ve always enjoyed being creative. Whether it was writing, painting, taking photographs, baking or crafting; making something new has forever inspired me. But lately I’ve been consumed with the daily grind of life and I’m hoping that by taking a step back and working on a new project I can get back to who I really am – a writer.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting up ideas and thoughts on being a writer, books I’ve read and things I’ve seen or heard. I’ll also be writing about the things that inspire me, which have made me laugh, cry, smile or simply think about things differently. Perhaps by reading this, you’ll feel inspired too.
So stick around for updates on Pens and Paperbacks and feel free to add a comment or two. Thanks for stopping by!