Creative resilience in the face of self-doubt

I’ve wanted to restart this blog with a specific focus on creative resilience. There are so many things that can stop us – a world pandemic, climate crisis, tiredness, overwork, confusion, conflicting demands and that old perennial self-doubt.

To endeavour in the face of all those mega obstacles you need to have a reason. Once you have a reason you need to believe 1) that your work will fulfil that reason and 2) you can actually produce something half-decent that other people will want to read.

In a cruel twist of self-fulfilling prophecy if you falter at any of the above steps and succumb to self-doubt you begin to lose impetus to begin, if you begin your productivity disappears, nothing you write seems good enough and voila! Your greatest fears have been realised.

So let’s start with a reason.

Perhaps you’d like to take out your phone and open up the notes function, perhaps you’d like to tab to a blank page or open up that very special notebook someone gave your for your birthday and you’ve been saving up to now.

Now write down your reason. Why do you want to create? What drives you to write? What difference do you want your writing/artwork to make? What would be the best thing that someone could say about your work? Write all the answers down.

Next: What fascinates you? What gives you most satisfaction about a piece of work you are creating? What are the little highs along the way? What would you miss most if you could not do it again?

When you look over those answers you have your reason. Next week I will talk about looking at your range, what scope and reach is enough to satisfy you, what you can do to fulfill these aims.

You have a reason. Try to distil it in one or two sentences. Write it down and pin it up where you right or commit it to memory but every so often change the phrasing so that it doesn’t wear out.

Right now my reason might be: I want to write to make the ordinary glorious, to reach and console others in our common human experience.

You have your reason, it’s wonderful, it probably makes sense, now you know why you spend hours wrestling with words (or paint or whatever your medium) behind closed doors, for years and years with no recognition maybe in an endless groundhog pursuit that may possibly qualify as mad.

Then you sit down to write. You do your best to try to convey an idea, a setting, a character, a pure feeling adequately and I say adequately as it often does not feel more successful than that. We begin to question our subject matter or our ability in comparison to other writers whose work we enjoy and who are successfully published. Why can’t we be as (insert adjective) as they are?

First we must accept who we are and where we came from   

Each person is a conglomeration of circumstance, particular genetic and developed competencies and intelligences, particular ways of looking at the world. A person’s background and experience leads to a particular linguistic range and ideology, particular preferences, favoured words and themes. Some of these words or ways of seeing may seem inspired or some sort of genius or out of reach by dint of our different experiences. Take the rich Indian landscape of colour and spice versus the equally apt Scandinavian noir. Take the World War Novel or family drama. Each has its riches. What do you know inside out? Or what does your fascination drive you to know well? We might look at books on a grand scale -so ambitious and successful that we stand haggard in the face of them and believe we can never achieve such brilliance. There are moments when we see others render the seemingly normal and mundane in a searing and luminescent manner that takes our breath away. Getting the mundane right seems an even greater accomplishment.

Take time to recognise where you came from, what your memories are, how you grew up, the language you know. Accept that as your legacy and lexicon. What you see as your limitation can be a rich store from which you draw. Go deeper, mine your memories, recall local stories, interrogate your everyday and your past for the fine details. These may be details that others can identify with and love or specific moments that will give your work its originality and colour.

Believe in the jewels and record them

As you write you will churn up mud, you will make mistakes, you will write a hundred ordinary words and then, suddenly something will come up. Bursting out into the light, beyond our conscious plan or knowledge something appears like a cave strewn jewel or a spring bulb out of dark and cold soil. In that moment a true union of intention and completion occurs. We are delighted, we read the phrase over and over. In the longer term we struggle to pull an entire novel together and eventually succeed. Yet we forget, time and time over what we have achieved. In psychology terms it is the cruelty of the recency effect (when writing we are more often closest to frustration than to celebration) and how we are wired neurologically for evolutionary advantage to see what is wrong. Take time to note the lovely phrases, the commendations, the compliments, publications or shortlists or just the internal satisfaction of having a phrase or a character do what it, he, she, they was supposed to do. Yes, write these successes down and allow yourself to enjoy the intrinsic motivation of doing a good job at something you (yes, see Reason) love. Have a long list on your noticeboard or at the back of a notebook noting every success. Revel in it every once in a while.

Business-like ways to eliminate self-doubt

Daily aims

After the poetic be practical. Beyond meaning and reason and lovely words you can also mechanically and practically work to eliminate self-doubt. Make a plan, create daily aims, put them in a table or spreadsheet and tick them off, include mitigating factors – a sick child, an unexpected errand.

Record and reward increasing wordcount or the solving of difficult problems

Wordcount isn’t always a true indicator of the worth of your work but its an easy way to feel that you’re succeeding. If you’re wrestling with a problem again get out your work notebook and note what you’ve been working on and how you’ve moved it on. At the very least logging progress on a daily basis will help you see that you are getting somewhere.

Share and submit

This is a tricky one. If you submit and are constantly rejected you may feel worse than ever but even sharing and getting encouraging feedback from your writing group is a way of feeling that you are truly a writer and that you can develop and improve. If you widely submit (but choose your appropriate level – a local competition as a beginner or something more prestigious later on) then you can gain feedback and – sometimes – validation and success.

Classes and Mentorship

It can be daunting to take a class to improve your skills. You may have so much self-doubt that you won’t even apply for a mentorship scheme but classes and mentorships are ways you have to develop and improve your skills to improve your self-confidence. Be realistic about skills you may lack and take steps to address these. A proactive and problem-solving approach engenders an energetic feeling of efficacy and competence. Classes and mentorship will also identify your particular strengths at this point in time. This brings us full circle. Make the most of what you’ve got, shine within your own sphere, if your background and interests are confined it means they can be highly specialised but if you want to broaden your scope, take steps to do so. Instead of self-doubt, revel in the self’s unique perspective.

In summary, don’t let self-doubt become a miasma that clouds your thinking and impedes your progress. Make a clear path through identifying your reason, passions. Inform yourself by noting what you have in your backpack (or baggage!). Plan your route, set your goals, review your progress and get help and fuel along the way in the form of mentors or other inspiration (more on that in future). These practical and value-driven methods will align your purpose and progression and help you put your self-doubt to one side.

Creative resilience in the face of chaos

During lockdown I saw things in the garden much closer than before.

In the past this blog has focussed on how to keep going in difficult times during periods of upheaval, overload, uncertainty, loss and grief and in 2020 during the time of the Covid19 pandemic we have all these together. If we have not lost a loved one, we know of someone who has, we have seen the devastation on our screens and in the daily reports. Across all occupations and in the arts and culture sector outlets and earnings are severely curtailed. Some of us may have been gifted time along with the burden of uncertainty or guilt.

For writers, what does anything mean anymore? What is going to happen to the publishing industry. Isn’t the book we were just about to pitch completely out of touch now? How can we write without referencing what is happening? Should we? Isn’t the skin of self-doubt we have always worn since we decided we have to write just a petty arrogance in the face of real problems?

To the latter question, the answer is Yes, and No. For the writer the aim, beyond fashioning words and sentences for their own sake, there is usually a further calling – to amuse, entertain, inform, console, touch, inspire, create a common human feeling. Surely these aims are just as important now, than ever? And when everything is called into question, when everything is meaningless and horror abides, isn’t it the choices we make (as put forward so touchingly by Edith Egar and Victor Frankl) and the ways we make meaning and enhance the lives of others through writing more important than ever.

Be on your own side

So many of us struggle with self-belief, self-esteem, even basic self-respect. We vilify ourselves with our critical self talk. As writers we beat ourselves up about the opportunities lost, wrong choices, lack of productivity, lack of progress, lack of publication. Yet when we hear of our writing colleagues getting a break after years of trying or a small success along the way we cheer. Because we know what it took, we can empathise with how hard they worked, how they wanted it. Yet we do not afford ourselves the same cheer leading. I’ve benefited hugely in the past couple of years from the work of Rick Hanson whose message ‘Be on your own side’ tells us how important it is to be a friend to ourselves, to visualise ourselves and put a hand on our own shoulder, to have genuine delight in our own achievements, to have pride and joy in our efforts and aims. When we treat ourselves with compassion we allow ourselves to stop panicking about panicking, to stop being afraid of being afraid. Everything I say to you I struggle to do myself but I know that the moment I soften and enjoy the fact that I have written 500 words today instead of getting fraught that I wasted 3 hours, I feed myself more energy for my next attempt rather than taking the ground from under my own feet.

Listen

I will explore all of these ideas more in the coming weeks but I think one of the things that we can do especially in these times of uncertainty whether in the writing or arts arena in general is to use any spaces or bestowed time to listen to how we want to respond to our situation, our creative situation and what are the things we want to say. Mindfulness practice is one way that has been extremely beneficial for me in creating equanimity – not filling my mind with the rush of frustration, anger, confusion and so on. Jotting down early morning phone notes or journaling have also been ways of collecting those interesting fragments and juxtapositions of ideas that have arisen both generally and in these ever-changing times. Ideas are everywhere and in chaos even more so. And adversity is a fire that can forge these ideas and allow us to shape and utilise them.

Accept where you’ve come from and where you are

In my next post I will focus specifically on perfectionism and self-doubt and how we can discover the creative potential of our limitations. The broad point I want to make here is that yes, we all do have limitations and blind spots, we all came from certain backgrounds and cultures, we have certain educations and upbringings, we have financial security or we have none. We can see right now that there is a huge impetus in society to break down so many prejudices and barriers and open opportunities to wider groups but it’s also true that people have never been so judgmental. We have also never been as exposed to so many (quantum) possibilities against which we can judge our own progress or path. You may have a physical or mental health challenge, be a carer, be discriminated against, be exhausted, or nervous, or not fit into the profile of the bright young star or the critically acclaimed author or artist. You may never ‘make it’ because of these issues but, personally, I know it helps to shine your light as brightly from where you are, especially if that place is dark. We have all felt helpless or frustrated in the face of barriers of time, finances, visibility, market forces etc but we can only work from now, sometimes in the smallest of ways. Tara Brach’s work on Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion has been hugely helpful to many. Sometimes it’s right to rest, recoup, take a realistic appraisal of our chances but it’s also a testament to the human spirit to keep trying, to look for opportunities, to create, submit, use the mulch of our difficult experiences as a way to enrich our writing and reach others. It is when we accept ourselves and our circumstances that we, as so many have done in this crisis,that we can begin to be endlessly innovative and creative.

Let me know how you have found these past months in terms of creativity, has your head been buzzing with everything but you’ve struggled to produce writing? Have you managed to focus even for a short time on putting down your thoughts? Have you been working on an existing project that has enabled you to leave the current chaos and focus on another narrative? I would love to hear from you.

Public Battles, Private Wars – Writing, Motherhood & Laura Wilkinson’s new novel

public battles draftFollowing on from yesterday’s consideration of the challenges of a parent-writer, today we have a guest post from Laura Wilkinson who’s new novel Public Battles, Private Wars about a family, and particularly the women involved at the time of the 1980s miners strike in Britain is just out. With great depth of character and dealing with the pressing issues of that difficult era as well as universal themes, this is a engaging and moving page-turner. I originally interviewed Laura for my mother writer series. Over to Laura.

 

Out celebrating a friend’s wedding anniversary last night, I was asked by another guest how I manage to find time to write, with two children and a part-time job jostling for my attention. ‘My house is very dirty,’ I replied, only half-joking. It’s a question I get asked a lot and one many mother-writers hear.

I am lucky. Both my boys are pretty self-sufficient; they’re resourceful and good at entertaining themselves for chunks of time. And at fifteen and ten it is considerably easier now than it was a few years back. As I write this, my youngest son is playing outside with a friend and my eldest son is reading book one of Game of Thrones (that should keep him going for while!). All well and good, but I would be lying if I said I do not suffer from heavy bouts of guilt – more often than not when I’ve lost myself in the work and rather than being absent (not physically, you understand) for two hours, I’ve been absorbed for over three. During holiday time, we have a rule – mummy works in the morning and in the afternoon we go play. However, deadlines mean sometimes these rules have to be bent, or ignored altogether.

In an ideal world, writers need space to think, as well as write. It is the thinking time that is hardest to find. When they were very small, I grabbed whatever time I could and soon learnt to write at the dining table while they played Lego on the floor. The constant interruptions were hard for all, but they soon learnt that a raised hand meant ‘give mummy a minute’ and they waited patiently as I scribbled notes that made no sense to anyone but me. They understand that Mummy quite often drifts off into a world of her own and are old enough now to joke about it. They’re dreamy sorts themselves.

Have my children suffered as a result of this low-level neglect? I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Perhaps their creativity and resourcefulness is a result of it? What I am certain of, and they are too, is that writing fulfils me, and a happy, fulfilled mother is a more patient, caring and loving one.

There are many different parenting styles and we live in instructive times – there always seems to be one expert or another telling us how best to do it. But we must find ways of parenting that work for us and our children. For some that will mean other demands on their time, other than the essential habits of care-giving: food preparation, personal care (washing, cleaning clothes) and maintaining basic levels of hygiene in the home. My own rule is to keep a clean kitchen and bathroom and ignore the rest. No one died of a dusty house.

The central character in my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, is a young mother of four children. Mandy is a miner’s wife and stay-at-home mum. She flunked out of school after a personal tragedy and thinks she’s useless at everything apart from baking cakes and looking after her kids. She’s not, of course, and the novel follows the story of her rising star. Ironically, it is the upheaval and struggle of the landmark strike of 1984 that offers Mandy the opportunity to discover herself and her hitherto buried talents. But as she discovers a world outside the home, she is torn apart by guilt. This is especially poignant for Mandy because she believes that while her children are suffering during the strike, if the miners lose, their long-term life chances will be seriously hindered. What a dilemma. And there are plenty of other women in the book facing a similar problem. Most of the women I spoke with during my research for the novel were mothers – miners’ wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers.

cakes 2

Mothering and motherhood is a theme in much of my work. Hardly surprising, it’s an important part of so many women’s lives, mine included. Like many writers, much of my inspiration comes from the world about me and my own experience of it. That’s not to say my stories are autobiographical, but as a parent I am interested in the myriad pain and pleasures this role brings. How could it not slip into my fiction?

Here’s a bit more about Public Battles, Private Wars and where you can buy it.

Yorkshire 1983

Miner’s wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. Her future looks set and she wants more. But Mandy can’t do anything other than bake and raise her four children. Husband Rob is a good looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they live.

When a childhood friend – beautiful, clever Ruth – and her Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration, but Ruth isn’t all she appears.

Conflict with the Coal Board turns into war and the men come out on strike. The community and its way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. As the strike rumbles on relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out who her true friends are.

Amazon UK

Amazon.Com

Accent Press

 

More About Laura

Laura is a writer, reader, wife and mother to ginger boys. After hedonistic years in Manchester and London, she moved to Brighton. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor, freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones.

Laura has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies, and three novels, with another scheduled for publication this year. Public Battles, Private Wars, (Accent Press)is the story of a young miner’s wife in 1984; of friends and rivals; loving and fighting, and being the best you can be. You can find out more about Laura and the novel, including Book Group Questions, here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble

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.

Sit under your novel in progress, lessons from motherhood

As I mother of four I am very familiar with having to wait, to rein in speed and impetus and to go very slowly or not at all while being present for my children in some way or another. Walking with a toddler or even my 5 year old now there is more standing than proceeding, where special things such as pebbledash walls and ‘baby leaves’ need to be examined, legs are short and cannot do distances at speed. I take a step forward but my stride is too long, I stop, I wait. These days we might be on the school ‘run’ and I can feel frustrated at my lack of progress with the 5 year old as I watch my older children stride ahead of us down the hill. I remember breastfeeding in particular (since only the mother can do it) as one of those experiences where it was  a question of sitting under the infant for long swathes of time (perhaps up to an hour) at each feed and all thoughts of being elsewhere or achieving tasks of any kind needed to be put aside. Right through pregnancy and right up to the late toddler years there are physical restraints, whether it’s a cumbersome body or trying to negotiate a pushchair in the town. There are things that young mothers miss; having their arms loose as they walk, walking straight out of a house without first cajoling an army, getting into a car and just driving without negotiating with a plethora of awkward straps and resistant toddlers.

This society is geared up for achievement, for awards, for the spectacular rather than ordinary mundane heroics. As writers now we need to be everywhere, building a platform, marketing ourselves, we need to keep up a presence and be productive. But what we keep needing to be reminded is that the occasions when we need to stop, sit under our book and it’s themes for a while are absolutely necessary and valuable and part of the process.

I’ve talk around this before, about how Kirsty Gunn spent seven years on her book, about incubation, the benefits of walking for creativity and so on. I’m thinking about it now as I’m looking at how I go about writing books, how expression and structure interplay, how the first excitement of an idea needs to be followed by thought and observation.

I’ll add more specifics of my own current experiences with a new project in a further post but what I will say in general is that if you come to an impasse at any stage of a project, don’t let your lack of progress dismay you, first, just sit and wait, follow your train of thought, read more things that are tangential to your work, look out the window, spend the necessary time, as this beautiful post by Kim Triedman explores, staring at trees to live ‘on both sides of the brain’.

The  children grow up in time, and your novel will too, there will be less need for stopping but the stopping has given you greater insight, added a whole new depth and dimension. Never apologise for your lack of speed.

(By the way, if any of you have joined us for the #15KinMay (which is a very reasonable/non manic wordcount target) I have now reached 10K words but many, many of these are not sections of the book per se but thoughts on what the book is. Many writers, including Irish writer Claire Kilroy who I spoke to at a writing event, say that they write many many thousands of words beyond what is required, including notes of all kinds, then they extricate the story afterwards, many of you are more methodical than that but we all need to find our own way.)

Creative Prompts and Short Story Sub Opps

Creative Sparks

We spent a lot of lovely time on here in January exploring creativity through prompts. My philosophy holds that inspiration is everywhere and that if you provide yourself with structure and impetus you can forge that inspiration into a finished product. While we’ll continue to explore creativity here, I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic blog by my Writing.ie colleague Elizabeth Murray. Her Wordspark blog is geared especially towards prompts and creative writing exercises, so she’ll regularly have something to get your mind working on something new.

Must read short story site

I’ve also recently discovered the fantastic short story focused site of Paul McVeigh. This site, with it’s very helpful at a glance layout gives details of submission opportunities, competitions and interviews with very interesting writers and champions of the short story form. It’s a really mine of information.

Sub opportunities

Both the new zine Number Eleven (no deadline given) and The South Circular (deadline April 26 so hurry!) are currently open for submissions.

The Writer’s Eye, Short story opps and more

I’m talking about observance, ideas and the special qualities that individual writers can bring to our sense and story making of this world.

As regards writing, finding stories, I do not believe in waiting for the muse, life is out there, stories are everywhere. Creativity often comes about purely by the juxtaposition of material or ideas from two apparently separate spheres of life, helping us to say things anew or with a stronger metaphor. 

You can read the full post Creative Happenstance and the Writer’s Eye here on Writing.ie.

Mel Ulm runs a fantastic blog on the short story and is focussing very much on the Irish short story writer. He’s very interested in hearing from up and coming Irish writers in particular, so do get in contact with him through his blog. He’s kindly discussed one of my stories Truth and Silence on The Reading Life.

Lisa Redmond has a new review of my Housewife with a Half-Life on her book blog.

Finally, short story competition deadlines coming up this month include The Bristol Prize.

The Joy of Self-publishing and Creative Sparks

Today I’m talking to Diana Bletter on her blog about Putting Joy and Energy in Our Lives, specifically I wanted to share why self-publishing Housewife with a Half-Life – a heartwarming book I believe in –  was a joyful and optimistic step and how I hope to maintain this joy and energy in my work in the future.

I also noticed this realistic post on How to be creative when your brain doesn’t want to play. Covering many of the topics we’ve explored here and especially during the 31 days of creativity posts it offers practical tips for what to do when you’re stuck and these suggestions work, there’s no mystique about creativity, you just need to find ways to ignite the spark.

This post by Louise M. Phillips on What does being a novelist mean is uplifting and affirming for those of us who have chosen to make writing our way of life. What is wonderful is that Louise wrote this post a long time before her debut Red Ribbons was published.

Best of luck with all your endeavours today. I’ve been up early at the #5amwriteclub – something which I’ll talk more about next week. A regular application of work to my novel is certainly paying dividends. If you can make time each day even for a small amount of work, it seems that the awareness of and familiarity with the piece builds up and makes it easier to see the whole. This may not be a revelation to you but my writing opportunities or routine was sometimes sporadic in the past and I’m interested to see how even slow progression can build into something more than the sum of it’s parts.

 

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.

wallreflection

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.