The overarching theme of this blog, as you know, is head space. In the context of my endeavours as a writer this in particular means the kind of head space that will engender creativity, that feeling of flow that connects you with the wellspring that is your subconscious and your memory, allowing you to draw on it as you develop your characters and their stories. The space in your brain where slumbering synapses flicker alive, stirring up old thoughts or rememberences but connecting them your current context so that they become fresh and novel.
I am lucky that I have a wonderful physical space in which to write, a dormer room that looks out at trees and is the most tranquil room in the house, elevated as it is from the tramp and everyday clatter of the four young children. What is difficult is finding the temporal and the mental space to ‘chill’ and take breath before embarking each day on a current project, novel-in-progress or story. I have begun getting up at 6am to give myself that temporal space but mentally and physically the frantic pace of life, particularly since the schools term began has left me a little flat, unable to breathe life into myself, my characters or stories.
There are many excellent writing exercises out there for helping you overcome writer’s block or generate creative ideas. (I am aware as I write, I don’t mean to imply that writing isn’t about hard slog and writing even when you don’t feel inspired). Last night, overcome with tiredness but feeling cut off from my writing life, I sat in bed with a notebook and ask myself to consider these Five Fives.
FIVE FIVES Writing exercise for clearing the fog/mental fug
1: Write down 5 people who interested you lately
2: Write down 5 unusual dilemmas
3: Describe 5 phenomenon (social, natural, psychological, etc) that fascinate you
4: Detail 5 striking places
5: Document 5 emotional reactions that struck a chord with you or surprised you
Do the exercises quickly and without censor. The aim of this exercise is just to slow down the mind and to orient it to take note. A good example of this process is in my poem Now where the panic of the everyday is contrasted by slow observances. Your aim in using this exercise over several occasions is to achieve greater and greater subtlety in your observances. When describing a place that interested you, you first might say ‘Paris’ or a ‘local train station’ but as time goes by your observances might become more detailed, such as ‘a pebbledashed wall with a lovely texture’, or ‘The rafters of the station roof where pigeons were tightrope walking’. This exercise may help you pay attention when out and about in daily life. When considering the ’emotional reaction’ or ‘people’ exercise you may find yourself taking note of people in conversation and their facial expressions or physical characteristics and mannerisms that make them unique.
The five phenomenon that I listed were ‘The Twitter Community, An unexpected flash of light (the bulb of one of the lights in the room later blew), Transparent Fish (from a national geographic magazine), Geysers and Death Valley.’ I realised I could use the symbolism of the transparent fish in a short story I am writing about a woman who feels that she is leaving no lasting imprint on the world. The other locations and experiences might well end up as landscapes or images in other stories.
The 5 dilemmas of course are fabulous ways to generate plot and motivation for your stories, they give you an immediate hook around which a story sometimes begins to coalesce almost by itself.
So, if you are in a mental fug, are weary or stuck, try out these exercises and please comment on whether or not you found them useful and why. In the meantime I will try to follow my own advice and get back to putting layers in my stories.