31 ways to keep your Head above Water

New Year, New Writing Verve

New Year's in beautiful Kerry

New Year’s in beautiful Kerry

Happy New Year and I hope it will be a terrific one for you personally and writing wise. This time last year I took the big step of committing to a creativity post each and every day of January and while I hope sometime to compile these and others I’ve written into a downloadable book, the resource of those 31 posts, on walking, persistence, inspiration etc is there for you to peruse now and all the links are here.

To start off with verve this new year I’ve written a post based on my reading of Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing called Writing with Love and Gusto: Lessons from Ray Bradbury over on my Writing.ie blog. Please take a look and share your thoughts. As you’ll see I wrote a list of my life fascinations in the post as it’s by following and exploring the things we love that we can put heart into our books and make them sing for readers and agents/publishers alike.

I like to think that I put my fascinations and wonder at this world into my books, and I write to connect and share this wonder with others, so I’d be delighted if you want to read any of them. (They are good value I think!) You can read what people said here or go direct to a full list here.

Let me know if you will be releasing a new book this year or what you are working on. I’m submitting my novel about an unusual exhibit that transforms the life of a town and a reluctant curator The Exhibit of Held Breaths to agents just now and I’m still very excited about a new project set in Ireland’s manic boomtime, a voracious, linguistic feast exploring greed, emptiness and featuring a girl with pica and a would be cannibal. The book is called Eat! and the flash fiction from which it is developed will be in the next issue of The Stinging Fly.

Now I must fly, wishing you every good thing this year and the determination and optimism and love in your work to keep going at whatever you do.

10,000 ideas for a story

As many of you know I decided in January to write 31 posts (with the help of some brilliant guest posters) on creative and mental resilience. Well what has happened is that with the particular orientation and outlook that that endeavour gave me I have developed more of an eye and awareness for interesting articles, events and related ideas so I intend to keep posting on a regular basis. What I think will work best is blocks of posting and blocks of focused novel work so that I can remained focused on whichever I’m doing at the time. As you know a particular theme of this blog is how to keep creative energy and I’m still figuring out the answers. We need to follow through on our work and plough on when it is difficult but equally we can sometimes keep going through the tunnel of our panic and narrow vision and what we are writing becomes dead. We need to constantly feed the mind with experience, delight, wonder and awe in order to keep that wordfire burning.

Anyhow, enough of the impassioned speeches for today. I wanted to share with you a really interesting product I discovered recently. Aimed at kids, it’s called Rory’s Story Cubes. It consists of nine dice, each with a image on each side – so a total of 54 images.  The idea is for the child to throw the dice and see which combination of images arise. Images include an eye, a plane, a foot and a key. The children then use the images as elements within their story. Because of the possible permutations of the nine dice there are more that 10,000 possible combinations of image, thus 10,000 possible variants on the kinds of story!

We’ve had and will continue to have regular wordprompt and creativity ideas on this blog including the similar David Bowie creativity prompt but I think this is a really neat way of providing creative prompts for storytelling. While this product is aimed at children, it could be a good way for us all to kickstart our story writing and it’s possible of course for adults to create their own version of this game either physically or with some kind of random generation software. This whole dice thing resonates with me because when I was a kid I wrote a tune by using random notes assigned to numbers on the dice. It turned out to be quite a lovely tune and I still remember it today.

This dice technique is random so why might it work? There’s a wealth of information in your head and how it comes together is, in my opinion fairly random. Psychologists refer to information being stored roughly as schemata, an organisational device that groups similar things or things that are connected by the same internal personal story together. But these schemata must be constantly updating depending on time, location, mood, the prompts of the external environment. We are more likely to recall happy memories on a sunny day, or similar gloomy thoughts when we are tired, run down, upset or drenched wet on a grey day in November. What the story cubes and similar devices and wordprompt do is make a connection between your thoughts and associations. And more importantly makes a BRAND NEW AND NOVEL connection. When is an umbrella like a crow? When is it like a helicopter? Why does it call to mind a sheep? (think about it!)

What the world is looking for from writers, what publishers are looking for, what we are looking for from ourselves is to see and express this world, our history, our emotions, our psychology, our customs and interactions DIFFERENTLY. We want to talk about the age old things but say them new, with a new voice with a new viewpoint, making fabulous counterpoints, juxtapositions, clashes and harmonies as in the best classical music.

This novelty is not something we should sit and think about, tear our hair our over, bemoan. We shouldn’t get upset that publishers only want the next big thing or the breakout book or the extraordinary debut novel. The world is AMAZING! We’ve been in space! We’ve built gigantic monuments! People will soon be able to control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts! We’ll soon be able to print a 3d model of anything in our own home. We’ve built bridges and undergrounds and wiped out particular diseases. We made music and films and written books that have transported and transformed. We strive, constantly strive to progress and invent, we give birth, we love ferociously, we stand for good, we do difficult things, we do impossible things. And we do small, lovely, everyday things that need a torch shining on them. Find new ways of saying this. Find new ways of tell 10,000, 100,000, 100 million stories!

I’d like to extend my congratulations to E.K. Carmel and Henry who have both won a copy of Becoming Human. Arrangements will be made to send out your prizes. Well done!

31 Days: When writing is at the heart of us we will not let it go

I’ve been blogging for the 31 days of January on creativity and mental resilience. I hope to explore this area in the future but this phase is at an end. To access the rest of the posts click here.

notebookfrcropThe pencil scratching on the page, diaries for years and years, a notebook thrown further and further under a bed because it’s interfering with my studies, the story that springs from no-where when I’m back in Kerry where I grew up, a story of girls leaping over the gaps in bogs and a ‘rainbow mosaic of sphagnum moss’, a first poem at eight, poems in the teens and early twenties as Faraday cages for intense electric emotion, first love and freedom. The words written between the naps of my first infant, the stories fashioned amidst the chaos of two, three, four tiny children all mouths and hands and jabber and exhortation. And now these novels and stories, layers of accumulated knowledge and observation and experience and joy and sorrow, ways of looking at the world, slant ways, peripherally and then direct, in the gut, tearing at the places only barely healed under the gauze of memory.SuninCillRialaig

In my stories there are girls on the hills and girls under glass there are men fascinated by an exhibit of twin spheres, there is a girl who sends herself to the stars in a cryogenic chamber to save her life, there are two women at looking each other through the mirror of their alternate realities, there is a place where stories are forbidden, there is a man dreaming of his old lover in an octagonal house, there are Emily and Eddie, stuck age eighteen on a shore where they loved each other, before real life began, there is a woman flying with her child in a flugtag towards the sun.

This is the core of it, these stories that come out, these feelings that are preserved for the future, like bog bodies, like beetles in amber.

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If we could hold onto the heart of that then the rest wouldn’t matter, late nights, early mornings, the fear that our words are worthless and such feeble approximations, the fear of rejection or ridicule for our endeavours. There are absolutely no guarantees. We want to be heard, we want to be read, not for money, necessarily, not for ego or fame but just because we are human and want to share what this means with others, all the emotion, and intrigue, the elevated and base things that we struggle to understand. We will write because we lose heart without it because we lose ourselves, are disconnected, endlessly adrift.

I watched a program on psychology that showed that when a person was about to be told a story that certain areas in the brain would fire, these areas mirrored exactly the areas that fired in the storyteller but fired BEFORE the storyteller began. We are wired for narrative, we are primed for stories, we are waiting to hear the story of what happens, what has happened, what will happen.

When I began this 31 days of exploring how we keep our Head above Water, what I wanted to do most of all was to find ways that we could ignite the spark in us for expressing, for creativity and to keep the wordfire burning in the face of everyday challenges. I was trying to discover yes, what keeps the joy in writing and what can keep the joy and energy in us, how we can keep reaching in, in order to reach out and connect through the words we spin and the stories we share.

blurryrosebudsWe’ve looked at running, walking, relaxing, comedy, sad thoughts, claiming your identity as a writer. We’ve looked at different forms of creative writing, the energy of flash fiction, using word prompts to create new pieces, at song writing  and how poetry can enhance prose. We’ve looked at creativity, writing goals and how taking up a new pursuit can create new opportunities and verve and ways of looking at the world. We’ve seen examples of people who have taken optimistic and unexpected steps towards making money out of aspects of their writing.

The most popular blogposts have been those that get right to the heart of the things that people worry about, whether they can really call themselves a writer, how to keep joy in what they do, and what to do when trying to live and write all get too much.

The 31 days is over so what next?

I’m working on a second novel called The Exhibit of Held Breaths. I’m just starting the second draft and want to keep myself in the mindset of the book till I have another draft done. I’m often a project butterfly so it’s good for me to set myself a particular aim. It’s been great connecting up and meeting new people as a result of these creative posts so I’ll continue to post a couple of times a week during that time, most probably with a general post and some kind of creativity exercise. I’d also be grateful for any suggestions as to areas you’d like to see explored. I’ll also be blogging on www.writing.ie on my blog Random Acts of Optimism.

Thanks so much to all for your participation and comments in the 31 days. The Becoming Human prizes draw will be on Friday and I’ll draw for the Self-Printed and Writing Gifts  on Sunday evening, so be sure to get your name in the comments to enter. I look forward to more interaction on the blog in future, hearing more of your stories, endeavours and triumphs.

31 Days: Guest Post: The Benefits of Creative Pursuits – Feltmaking and More

One of the things I’ve been interested in doing in these 31 days is looking at what engagement in a creative pursuit can mean to an individual, how it can satisfy something within them or change how they see the world. While the focus on this blog is writing, I want to see how different kinds of creativity work. Today I’ve invited my sister Sharon Wells who has always had an affinity with the visual arts, has become a proficient feltmaker and is now involved in furniture upcycling to tell us what these creative endeavours have meant to her.

The Benefits of Creative Pursuits: Sharon Wells

sharoncropped

I am currently a stay at home  mother with three children aged, 10, 8 and 2. In my past I have worked as an Archaeologist, Archaeological Illustrator, graphic  designer and project manager in online learning.  During my second pregnancy I began to feel very creative. It was possibly a result of being at home in charge of my own day, in my own environment, hormones and restlessness.

landscape

Two weeks after my son was born I took a feltmaking course. It opened up the creative world to me. I loved the process itself and the connection it has to people thousands of years ago,  as feltmaking is one of the oldest known crafts in history.  It was like a door had opened for me. This craft has so many possibilities. The process involves  laying down wool fibres and mixing other decorative threads and silks into this. By wetting down the fibres and adding soap and rubbing and rolling, the fibres migrate together and form a solid fabric.

bag yel

With this skill I was able to make hats, scarves, dresses, sculptures, pictures. They could be made in one piece or cut and sewn. I designed new patterns for some of these items and learned how to create dimension. I became enthralled in the process and absorbed by the colours, textures and patterns I used. The process of laying out the ccolours was like meditation. A wisp of thread here and there placed flowersintentionally as a highlight. There was a freedom due to the nature of the felting process in that, if mistakes were made they could be incorporated into the design. I learned to go in the direction that the project decided. Even though I might plan things it would not turn out that way exactly. This was fine as I was involved in the evolution process.

I have gained enormous confidence from engaging in all these crafts. It has shown me flowers detailthings about myself. I get excited at the prospect of new projects.  I know I need to plan when I do them and balance this with my life with my family. Sometimes the moment isn’t right, and I have to be patient. There is always a moment when I think it’s rubbish, I suppose that’s  like hitting a wall, and then I push through it. I am not afraid to try new things and I can usually come around some awkward  problem.

I wonder sometimes, whether I craft because I need to be creative or because I always have and I know how.  It’s a bit of both and more. I remember when I was a young teenager pondering the meaning of life (with a sister like Alison this was quite normal!) The only thing that made sense to me was that we all strive to move forward, to do the next thing, to be better and to keep learning.  I still believe this.

Upcyclechair1

I had to cut down feltmaking due to severe tendonitis and moving house. I now paint and upcycle furniture.  I am also heading in the direction of mixed media art. This really fascinates me and although I diverge I am picking up the pieces that will pull it all together.  As my husband tells me ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’. Even if it’s a knitted hat, or a painted dresser or a recycled bed into a bench, I see myself and my own expression in it. This has brought me a calm, contentedness, from the act of doing it which is chairapplication of concentration, and from the knowledge that I am doing something I can, something I want and something I am able to do.  It just may be that simple!

Thanks to Sharon for sharing her thoughts with us. For more you can visit The Down at Gate facebook page http://www.facebook.com/downatthegate

Sharon’s blog, though not recently updated is well worth a look to see the processes involved in her art and in her craft and she involves her young family in her work. She has also run a local craft group and I hope to share with you the wider view on how this group has helped people not previously involved in crafts to develop their artistic side.

Please share with us any thoughts you have or endeavours you have taken up. It’s great to hear how creativity feeds into your life and wellbeing.

31 Days: Eliza Green – Why Self-Publishing can be good for Debut Authors

Eliza Green1

Publishing is a hair-raising and confusing game at the moment. Lists are said to be shrinking and even well known authors sometimes struggle to make a living from publishing. There are also many publishing possibilities and many authors are choosing to let readers decide by bringing their books straight to market with the help of professional editing and design services.

Eliza Green is just embarking on the journey into publishing. Her debut novel Becoming Human – part of what will be the Exilon 5 trilogy has just been released. Eliza has worked in many industries from fashion to sport to finance, but caught the writing bug several years ago and has now released her first novel, BECOMING HUMAN, part one of the Exilon 5 trilogy. Since Eliza was young, she has always been a fan of science fiction television shows and films and is bringing that love to her new trilogy. She hopes to capture the imagination of readers who shy away from the genre with her new novel, set on Earth and Exilon 5 by writing what she calls ‘down to earth’ science fiction

Eliza is here with us to day to share with us her thoughts on the advantages of self-publishing for new authors.

Why Self Publishing can be good for debut authors

Background

I’ve been writing for four years. Over those years, I wrote three books, submitted two to agents and publishers and resubmitted one with serious rewrites and a much more favourable response from a reputable agency. The submission process didn’t come to anything, so I decided to self publish my most recent work, BECOMING HUMAN.

Process

I tried my best to plan the release accordingly, but the date kept getting pushed back because I discovered new things I had to do before I could proceed to the next step.  For example, I commissioned a cover designer early so that I would have an agreed design well in advance of my ambitious release date of late November.  What I didn’t calculate for was that my designer would need my final page count so he could set the size of the book, including the all important spine width. That meant I had to have the final edit completed on my work (which I hadn’t). Three weeks of solid editing ensued and my miscalculations pushed the final cover reveal back by a month. You have no idea what is going to happen when you self publish, but it can be an interesting learning curve. The more obstacles you face and overcome, the less likely you are to repeat them.

Promotion Decisions

With very strict deadlines and the pressures of a full time job, I managed to release the ebook in Mid December and the print version five days after. I enrolled my ebook exclusively in the KDP select programme, which means that I’m not allowed to release the book digitally on any other platform for three months from the publish date. That brings me up to mid March. Why did I do this? Because it can be a good way of bringing a new book to Amazon Prime members which in turn could be good publicity for my work. Of course, that all sounds great in principle but I can’t sit back and wait for things to happen. I have to work out how to drum up interest in my book. How can I point the members to my work other than enrolment in a programme for which I have very few statistics?

At the moment, my marketing plan is a bit trial and error, but I will learn what works as time goes on and that should benefit the launch for my second book.

A learning opportunity

At some point, all writers dream of securing that elusive publishing deal through traditional means. I can understand that, I was one of those writers. But it can be frustratingly slow and instead of agents/publishers seeking out your talent, you have to convince them of yours. The rejections can take the tarnish off what should be an exciting time in a writer’s life. If you do secure a book deal, it can be a great thing. The agent will guide you and the publisher will edit and format your work before publishing it.  But for new authors that don’t see the work that goes into publishing as indie authors do, this could be a disadvantage.

Learning to promote yourself and your work

Indie authors are competing strongly with their traditionally published counterparts on digital platforms such as Amazon. And what self publishing has taught me is that you have to promote yourself and your work. While a traditional book deal is always nice, promotional efforts could be lost if the author is not involved.

Confidence

So, the ideal scenario? Understanding what goes into publishing your own work could make you a better author. Unless a publishing house has a marketing department, you will have to do the promotional work yourself. A friend recently told me about a guy who self published his novel but he didn’t have much success with it. He suggested I speak to him to get an idea of what went wrong. I don’t need to. I can list the main reason why. He didn’t promote himself or his work. Somebody once said about debut authors, ‘Nobody cares about your book.’ It’s up to you to convince them otherwise and self publishing can give you the confidence to do that.

Thanks to Eliza for this food for thought and I wish her every success with Becoming Human. She is currently working on ALTERED REALITY, book 2 in the Exilon 5 trilogy.

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Becoming Human

Two worlds. Two species. One terrifying secret.

In 2163, a polluted and overcrowded Earth forces humans to search for a new home. But the exoplanet they target, Exilon 5, is occupied. Having already begun a massive relocation programme, Bill Taggart is sent to monitor the Indigenes, the race that lives there. He is a man on the edge. He believes the Indigenes killed his wife, but he doesn’t know why. His surveillance focuses on the Indigene Stephen, who has risked his life to surface during the daytime.
Stephen has every reason to despise the humans and their attempts to colonise his planet. To protect his species from further harm, he must go against his very nature and become human. But one woman holds a secret that threatens Bill’s and Stephen’s plans, an untruth that could rip apart the lives of those on both worlds.

BECOMING HUMAN is available in print and Kindle ebook format (exclusively until mid March). Afterwards, it will be available in several other formats through Smashwords.

Where to buy:  Amazon.com    

Amazon.co.uk   

Amazon.de

 

COMPETITION

Eliza has kindly offered a free copy of her book. All you have to do is add a comment below. Tell us about your favourite science fiction film., Favourite science fiction television show or Favourite alien (humorous or serious is fine).

31 Days Guest Post Claire King: How do you keep the joy in writing?

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

How do you keep the joy in writing? How do you put it back in when you’ve lost it, particularly if you are working on a longer project? These are questions I often struggle with in my own work, even if the project is one that I’m generally happy with and committed to. I asked novelist Claire King whose debut novel The Night Rainbow has been published by Bloomsbury if she could share her thoughts with us. Claire combines work, writing and family life (originally from Yorkshire, she lives in southern France with her husband and two young girls) and is now revising a second novel. I’ve found her thoughts inspirational and hope you do too.

How do I keep the joy in writing? Claire King

You asked how I keep the joy in my writing, or put the joy back in when I’m struggling with it. I feel as though I could come up with a short list of tips like going for a walk, using writing prompts to kick off a piece of flash fiction or reading something inspirational. But in the end that would sound glib, because lacking joy is more fundamental than just being a bit uninspired or bogged down and needing to take a break.

I would define Joy as a sense of well-being, happiness, exhilaration even, and one of my favourite quotes on life in general is from Richard Wagner:

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”

I think this is important on many levels, not least in raising the question: where does the joy come from in us? My view is that it’s to do with how we define ourselves, what we believe makes us happy and our lives meaningful. Writing is certainly one of element of how I define myself, so if I lose the joy in writing then I am losing joy in myself. Perhaps that sounds terribly over-dramatic, but isn’t it true that however you define yourself in life, the joy waxes and wanes? We may not always admit it to others, but there are times when we can lose the joy in learning, in parenthood, in being a spouse, in food, in sport, in our bodies, in our environment. Somehow all the colour goes out of it and we wonder if we will find that again.

One of the nice things about getting older is the accumulated experience of life’s ups and downs. So when you hit one of these patches you know that you’ve come through it before, that it’s cyclical, and that if you press on you will come through.

Yes, there are some days when I find writing frustrating and energy sapping, days I just can’t find the right words no matter how hard I try. There are some days I can’t even discipline myself to try properly at all, and then I feel bad about myself, and call myself names. But then there are the days when it just all comes together, when I lose effortless hours advancing the story and pushing the right pieces into place. When characters bloom and take on a life of their own. When perfect expressions seem to fall from the sky. And those times are rewarding, exciting and joyful. I have to remind myself of that.

Still, there’s no use just waiting for the joy to come back. I think we have to hunt it down again and that means figuring out the underlying reasons for why it was lost in the first place. Perhaps we are tired, discouraged, pre-occupied, or overwhelmed…If we can put a name to it, we can start to find ways out.

I’ve found, personally, that I have a sort of mental ‘bank account’ that fills up with triumphs and successes in the things that matter most to me, and depletes with failures and admissions of defeat. If writing is going badly it’s a drain on the reserves. A slow trickling debit. But it can be offset by little credits in other areas. One of the reasons I walk/run regularly is because it’s physically demanding. Once I’ve pushed myself up the mountain and galloped back down again I feel better about myself and what I can achieve. I think it’s important to have something like that, that gives you small victories in your life’s pursuits.

When I started writing The Night Rainbow I was pretty much constantly exhausted from having two very young children and juggling all sorts of work and personal matters. It seems like a crazy time to start a novel. But I realised that my entire time was devoted to the care of others and earning money to live, and in some ways I felt as though I was losing myself. I needed to do something to redress that.

Don’t get me wrong, raising my children was very rewarding and I was so inspired at that time by the joy I saw in my children. They found joy in the smallest things – a caterpillar, an iced-lolly, a drinking straw. I felt positively jaded in comparison to them, and I wanted to explore that in my writing.

In that novel I wrote a mother character, Maman, who is clearly depressed and not functioning at pretty much any level, spending most of her time in bed. Maman isn’t me, of course, but I think I was overwhelmed by how much my daughters needed me, and I was worried that this inability to cope was inside me somewhere. It was cathartic creating her, and it’s really interesting reading the early reviews coming in and seeing how they respond to that character. I’m so pleased that readers can empathise with her plight.

One important element of Maman and her depression is that she is lonely and alone, which serves to deepen her troubles. She has no-one to talk to. I think we should always bear in mind that losing our joy on whatever level is not unusual and that we’re not obliged to tackle it alone. Other people can help remind us why we are doing this, remind us of the bigger picture, and what’s important. They can also help on practical levels, take responsibilities off our shoulders, give us encouragement or rest or whatever we need to find ourselves again.

At the moment I’m living a peculiar juxtaposition. On the one hand there’s the utter brilliance of being a couple of weeks from the launch date I’ve waited so long for, seeing wonderful reviews already coming in and being able to hand over a signed copy of my novel to my mum. Joyous. On the other hand I’m editing my second novel and it is such hard going. I haven’t showed it to anyone yet, because I’m not proud of it. The voice isn’t perfect, the character arcs stutter a little. I often wonder if I set myself too ambitious a task with this one. It’s like being on a roller-coaster all day.

But I know that if I change one word at a time, eventually it will take shape. I know this because it’s not my first novel, and I’ve felt like this before. I have to ignore that joyless inner voice who tells me to have a cup of tea and turn on the TV instead. I just have to put one foot in front of the other until I get there. The joy in these words will be around the next corner, I’m sure.

Thanks so much to Claire. If you want to discover more about the world of and characters in her novel, here is the wonderful book trailer to The Night Rainbow and you can read about it here.

31 Days: The benefits of laughter

Laughter is in.  There is laughter yoga,and laughter therapy there is the plain old fashioned laughing and banter with friends. It makes us feel better, it makes us breath more, promotes endorphins, those happy hormones, it can surprise us out of our lethargy.

Psychologists have had difficultly in pinning down humour and what makes a joke work but the consensus is that a joke results from the juxtaposition of two incongruous thoughts which causes a new connection to be made, resuliting in laughter. This new connection that allies things that should not go together is the joke trigger. A joke is usually quick fire, requiring us to make an instant assimilation of the material. In that way it fits very well with the creative mindset of these posts.

For some reason (boredom perhaps!) when I was a teenager my sister and I memorized the definition of To laugh from the dictionary. It went thus “The facial distortion, shaking of the sides etcetera which form an instinctive expression of mirth, amusement, sense of the ludicrous, scorn etc.

Reciting that was enough to make us laugh. (We had very sheltered lives!)

Comedy in itself is creative art, seeing things in new ways, often requiring the stand up comedian to get into free flow and sometimes requiring improvisation.

Since it’s the weekend I’m not going to get any more academic about it. I am just going to invite you to share your favourite comedy moments, shows and in particular books (since there is a serious dearth of fun books about.

I love watching 8 out of ten cats, Have I got news for you and Mock the Week – where the panelists have to come up with witty commentary on the news items of the day. I also love Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd and Father Ted and really enjoyed Mark Haddon’s ‘A spot of bother‘ among others. While a lot of what  I write is serious, it meant a lot to me at the time I wrote Housewife with a Half-Life (some difficult family events had just occurred) to fill it with humour and lightness. I love Zoolander and The Life of Brian among many others.

Let me know your book, TV and film recommendations as well as your favourite comedians and what you do to chill and have a laugh.

31 Days: What’s important to you?

The day has got away from me and it’s getting late but I’ll share a few thoughts with you running on from yesterday’s post.

We see the world in a particular way and one of the reasons we write is to explore our version of the world and perhaps fulfil what Maslow called ‘self-actualisation’, a desire to become ore of what we are, to follow what makes us, our particular ambitions.

In other posts I’ve talked about how we can make sure that we are writing the book we want to write how we must gather to us the ideas, pursuits, stories, places and people that we find fascinating. We must follow that heart thread more closely than any other because it is the only thing that will get us to finish writing our books in the face of doubt, fatigue and confusion. It is the only thing that will guard against weariness in the face of daunting odds.

Earlier today I read of phenomenal publishing successes and noted immediately an uneasiness in myself, a sense of failure for not having reached anything like such success. But then I thought about it, I asked myself what was most important to me, financial success, recognition, the act of writing and expressing my feelings about the world. For me, the latter is the most important of all. Only if we know what we really care about can we know if we’re going where we really want to or if we’re just doing what we think we should.

I’ve linked before to Ray Bradbury’s inspiring talks. In this post we hear more about why he thought it important to do what you loved (there are further links to finding your purpose.)

Choosing what is important to you out of the many many things you could do is one of the points in this fine post by Leo Babuta of Zen Habits on How Not to Hurry. He talks about following the principle of Slow Living and enjoying our lives and interactions more deeply. (Well worth a read, there are so many good tips in the post.)

There is in modern life a fallacy of us being able to do everything. Life is finite, time is finite. We can manage it better, we can make the most of it but we still have to choose. We cannot be a concert pianist and a prize winning novelist and a great parent and a film director, well at least not all at once!

Realising what is important is not always obvious. We are swayed by our peers, by our families perhaps, by norms and upbringing. What we feel is important will uplift and give us energy and strength of purpose, what we feel is not important will drain us and make us cross and resentful. We may need to find a space for things that we feel aren’t so important, reassessing and noting where they fit into a wider whole. But generally we must find a way of moving with joy towards the things that matter, putting our energies into particular projects until they are done.

 

31 Days: Reasons to Live, Reasons to Love, Reasons to Write

Life is not easy, there are many things that can hit you full on as you go through life, some challenges and losses increasing as the years go by and some people start out through illness and circumstance with challenges from the off. There are many horrors and injustices that make you wonder what kind of world we are living in.

On a personal level there is this perpetual striving to make sense, so we make stories, we are wired for narrative, we make attributions about our own and others behaviour, we seeks answers, meaning, higher guidance. We have superstitions, we make magic out of coincidence and feeling, we do what we can to traverse this life with some semblance of sanity but we all have our neuroses and delusions.

Why writing, why art, why books, why dance and music and pink and blue skies and fractal trees and light, sunlight through baby green leaves and golden autumns and the perpetual sea? Why, as writers, do we reach out to each other through words, why do we do this thing which is capricious and hard. Why aim for publication which is – as one well known writer recently said – often ‘disappointing’? It does not give you the means to live, it is fraught with lottery and hype. But when it works, when we find a book or write something and share something that says what we feel and what we mean, it is a gem, it is a triumphant, gorgeous thing and for that one moment we feel fine, the inner restlessness settles.

Why I am a writer is this: I am bowled over by the world, it comes at me, the miracle of it, here as we stand on a rotating globe in the middle of darkness. Here as we live as humans, look, see, love, look inward and think and marvel, our very existence, this astounding cosmological coincidence, this kiss of life.

A few nights ago on the day of the ice rain I stood in the garden talking to the universe, another sand heap rant. (Sand heap: me at 17 walking round and round on sand behind my house, wondering what life was all about as I stood on the edge of it.)

Here I am at this moment alive in this time, thinking of that man’s sadness in 1775 at his infant son dead. We think we are special, that we have sensibilities beyond those in the old days. No it is us, human, merely repeating and repeating. Right back to Archimedes and his fascinating inventions and thoughts, the stars mapped, the oceans traversed, this fumbling now out to the stars and more great satellites and probes and the earth melting and meteorites whizzing past.

Here I am, nothing and nobody but as much a part of humanity as everyone – that jabbering, gibbering mass of sense and nonsense. I am important and I am nothing. And these things I think and feel are as important as Betelgeuse and as insignificant, as dust, dust yes, containing everything.

What do we have –  we humans naked across centuries, our clothes rotting from us in the earth? We have these things we try to do, this impetus, we have love, what we think of as love, big or small, special or universal.

So I reach out, I make meaning out of the bricks of words. I gather to me and care deeply for those people who seem to share this sensibility and this frailty, this sense of standing at the edge of things, on the edge of things on this hurtling earth, those people who need to make marks in the sand as a testimony to our journey, this insignificant number of years we are here and then we are gone.

Susan Lanigan says it too. Why when depression hits and she might look at the dark side of the sphere instead of the light, she chooses to live and to make art and to bear witness to this life of horror and joy. This is why we write, this is why we go on doing something that is hard and makes no sense, logically. It is to make sense of all this, this senseless, chaotic spinning world, this restless, reckless humanity.

31 Days Guest Post by Fiona Melrose: Poetry performed Alchemy on My Prose

One of the wonderful things about my 31 days of blogging on mental and creative resilience is how I have made the acquaintance of new and interesting people who are finding ways to enhance their own creativity and are trying new things. One of these people is Fiona Melrose. She told me how attending a poetry course had revolutionised how she approached writing longer pieces. I immediately wanted to hear more since poetry and rhythm are important aspects of my own prose. In this guest post Fiona explains to us how her poetry course taught her to write from ‘inside the word’ then move out to the sentence. Here is her most interesting post.

As an elective of my MA I signed up for the 6 week poetry Module with poet Liane Strauss.  I had, like many writers, dabbled with poetry but never with any serious intention.  By the end of the six week course,  my poetry was much improved but as a prose writer everything had changed, and all for the better.

I came to the poetry course at a time when I was struggling with my writing on a fundamental level.  I had over fifty thousand neurotic, empty words sitting in a drawer and none of them, I felt, had anything to do with who I am or what I hoped to achieve as a writer.

The course changed the way I write from the inside out not only in terms of technique but in terms of subject matter.  Both the art and the craft of writing were turned on their heads.  I have thought about this at some length trying to understand how so fundamental a shift could have occurred.

The most important archeology took place around the sentence.  Given that, in my abandoned novel, the larger sweeps of plot and form were failing me, the return to not only the sentence but the weight and play of individual words in them, was the perfect place to start to rebuild my writing.  Writing poetry demands a forensic attention.  Not only to the moment you are trying to capture or express but on a technical level too.  Each point of punctuation can fundamentally alter the heft and meaning of your entire poem. This taught me to write from inside the word and then out to the sentence, then the paragraph and so on.  This is not to say I always achieve this but at least I now know what I am aiming for.

Clarity and economy are synonymous with good poetry and if ever I learned to cut and edit sentences it was here.   Instead, rhythm and texture are all a by product of the sentence and the number of breaths it takes to express its meaning.  The oral nature of poetry made me so much more aware of how my sentences sound and how my breath travels through them.  This has also translated into how I can inhabit a character’s voice.  I have never really understood what it means when we speak about “voice” in fiction and the importance of finding it in oneself.  The poetry course taught me that it is a person’s own natural poetry.  How their age, culture, physicality, their most secret thoughts, all come together in the sound they make when they speak, be it direct speech (dialogue) or narration.

Poetry is rich is symbolism and metaphor, everything matters.  There is no colour, animal , sound, allusion that isn’t there for a reason.  Everything is working on at least two levels, possibly more.  This has made me much more aware of what might previously have been dismissed as “incidentals” in my fiction.  If I write about a tree is is a tree but it is also about a family tree about rootedness in the tribe and about belonging.  If a dog dies it is also about the death of a loyal bond and the dog in the Fool card in the tarot deck which represents the original self, the unencumbered soul.  Foxes feature heavily in my novel and much thought has gone into that choice.   For me, these choices put the poetry into the prose.

The course had its difficulties for me too.  The very personal often confessional nature of poetry demanded that I be more visceral about what I was prepared to put on the page.  I have an analytical, academic training and in retrospect my “first” book had a distance too it.  I found writing poetry in the first person very challenging.  Sharing it made me feel vulnerable and I felt it too confessional, even vulgar or indiscrete.  I am still no fan of this type of writing, but, I know that it has taught me to much braver on the page, seeking out the tooth and claw in a sentence and in a character as opposed avoiding it.

I wrote a short story just after the poetry class and for the first time the voice of the character came to me as naturally as if it where my own.  For the first time in fiction writing, I felt less as if I was trying to make something up than I was trying to get something down.  It was less about manufacturing a plot or character and felt more as if I were simply transcribing the images and scenes unfolding a few inches above my head and the words I was hearing in the character’s voice.  This story just came out in one exhalation and sounded nothing like me or anything I had written before.  It has become the basis for my new novel.

I believe that writing poetry allowed me to continue to write and explore my creative process but forced the expression through non-habitual routes and in so doing produced a more exciting, non-habitual response. I cannot recommend this enough.

Course: The 6-week poetry elective with poet Liane Strauss was part of the MA Creative Writing at Birckbeck, University of London.  As students we produced a short collection of poems and a critical essay on an aspect of the craft.

Fiona Melrose was born in Johannesburg where she studied and taught politics.  She is a writer, reviewer and blogger.  Her short fiction has been published and she is completing her first novel.  Fiona lives in Suffolk with two charming dogs who approve of her habit of writing stories in her head on long muddy walks.

You can follow Fiona on twitter at @papercutprint and visit her site at site www.papercutpublishing.tumblr.com

Sincere thanks to Fiona on this fascinating post. Please post a comment if you have experienced a course or activity that has changed how you write.