Head space

Writing Rejection​, Obstacles? Try to look at now with hindsight

Sometimes I feel like a fraud, on this blog telling people it’s possible to write with four young kids and all the other stuff that happens because sometimes it isn’t that possible or only just about by the skin of your teeth.

(Excuse me, I need to go and help the three year old….)

Where was I? Actually I’m lucky today because the eight year old is at a friends but the ten year old was diagnosed with Aspergers last year and his homework usually takes ages and the six year old is a great reader and loves to read whole chapters to me.

At the moment I have several projects on the go. A literary novel that needs some good scaffolding and forty thousand more words, a flash fiction project that is a third of the way there, a fun sci-fi housewife thing that I’m editing and a short story collection that could do with a shine and a polish, and a few short pieces for radio that need to be completed. All I need is time. Ha ha ha.

I recently applied for time in the form of a grant which, although was a long shot, would have enabled me to spend more time at writing. Disappointingly I discovered today that my application was not successful and although I’m sure there will be other possibilities it did knock me back. Family circumstances mean that I’ve been less able to put much time towards writing lately. I’ve worked hard in the past couple of years, eking out time in the mornings, doing two novel writing months to produce 50000 words each time. And while it’s lovely to see the Spring settle in, mother’s know that the summer means that kids are need entertaining and looking after for longer.

Here comes the pep talk bit.

The truth is somewhere in the middle a friend said. While it is true that I may have finished more books by now if I had more time, I may have applied for an agent, even been successful if I had the chance to put in a killer query, would I really have been happier. Yes.

No, hang on….

What I want to tell myself and you that we need to look back at now and see..

(hang on I need to make a snack for the kids…)

we need to look back at now and see our current situation, if we can as if with hindsight. For example these are some of the things I might tell myself if I came back from the future:

‘The book is much better two years later than it would have been if I’d finished it then’

‘I’m a better writer now, I wasn’t ready then’

‘I’m much better placed now, mentally and practically for publication, marketing etc

Traditional publication is slow, it didn’t matter that I took some extra time to get things right.

I’ve made better decisions about my writing than I would have back then.

With success becomes responsibility and that can be a headache too.

‘I’ve realised I didn’t want to be a writer at all, I much prefer being a second hand car saleman’

 

Maybe not the last….

 

I certainly don’t believe ‘there is a reason for everything’ – I think the world is a rather chaotic, chancy but sometimes serendipitous thing, the grass is always a little bit green where you are already and a little bit worn and patchy on the other side.

However this pep talk I’m giving, (and it’s really to myself) should make me think about what advantages I have now; artistic freedom, freedom from deadlines and marketing circuits, all my children close at hand, the cheerleading of my lovely real world and online friends, some solid successes in the short story world. I also need to realise that opportunity and success can also have their own drawbacks. The truth is somewhere in the middle. So once the disappointment fades let’s see where the truth about our writing lies and proceed on.

 

Mother Writer Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel Bloodmining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life,  is to be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton.

Tell us about your children, Laura

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space?

I work four days a week, so on these days I tend to write in the evening, once the boys are in bed. 9pm to 11ish, sometimes later, depending on how it’s going. I have been known to rise early, 5am, and write for a couple of hours before the rest of the house wakes up, though this is hard during the winter months. I don’t manage this every day, but I aim for three or four evenings/mornings a week.

On my ‘free’ day I write as much as I am able. On good days, I can write for two or three hours, take a short break, and then carry on for another two. Then it’s time to get the kids from school. Other times I find it much harder to get going, and then I might go for a walk, or pop out to see a friend, and then come back to the work. I cherish this day and I guard it ferociously. No visitors, no housework, no shopping. Writing.

I’m workman-like in my approach. I aim for 1,000 words each sitting. Of course, I don’t always manage this. Some days I might churn out a mere 400, but on others I might reach 3,000. It’s a productive week if I manage 5,000 words. My pattern is that I start slow (and yes, it can be extremely painful) and pick up momentum as I go on.

For first drafts I write on a laptop in bed, often in pyjamas, or slouchy clothes. A bed is a place for dreaming and passion. Perfect for first drafts. When I’m editing I’m at a desk on the landing, or at the dining table, in a straight backed chair, fully dressed, blusher and mascara on. Editing is business-like and often cruel. As you will have gathered I don’t have a room of my own; I would love a writing shed, or office. Twitter is my favourite new online habit and I have tweeted about this, demonstrating severe shed envy. I live in hope.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

The nature of children and family life requires a degree of flexibility, so, yes, I do readjust my focus periodically. The ease with which I achieve this depends on the stage I’m at with any given piece of work. Long haul projects like novels require momentum, especially when creating a first draft, and breaking the rhythm makes picking it up again difficult. I speak from experience here. Usually, editing comes with deadlines. Writing is a craft, and requires regular practice, so while we all have to adjust to life stuff that comes our way, my motto is to write as often as possible. That said, when the boys are sick, or need extra emotional input, it’s difficult to write and I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t during times like this.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

My eldest is proud, I think. He will ask about the story I’m writing, often presenting some penetrating and challenging questions, and he’s pretty excited about my first novel coming out. My youngest hasn’t shown too much interest. He knows Mummy reads and writes ‘all the time’ (I bloody wish), and often picks up whatever I’m currently reading and flicks through the pages and asks if my books are as long. When I reply that they are, he sighs, shrugs and wanders off. I suspect he thinks I’m fibbing. Perhaps once my debut is out, he’ll believe me!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and your work?

Practically, it’s time. There’s never enough of it. I wish my sleeping habits were like those of Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership she claimed to sleep for only three hours a night. Unfortunately, I need seven or eight to function. And there’s the need to make money. A private income would remove the need for paid work, and then I could spend everyday writing. Bliss.

Emotionally, I suffer Guilt, with a capital ‘g’. For not playing with the boys more, for daydreaming when we’re together, for not baking beautiful cakes, and so on. But most mothers I know, writers or not, feel guilty. On the plus side, my boys are very good at entertaining themselves. Having a dreamy, distracted mother has made them resourceful and independent.

You’ve had success with having Bloodmining accepted for publication, why do you think your breakthrough happened when it did?

The first short story I wrote won a (minor) competition and was published. My youngest was three. This gave me a misguided opinion of how hard it was going to be. Years later I realized just how lucky I’d been. I began my first novel when my youngest was four and my eldest nine. It took two years and several drafts to complete. Proper authors – people who had masters’ degrees in creative writing and even had books of their own published – were encouraging, and so I entered some debut novel competitions. While I was waiting for the results, a period of around eight months from entry to final announcement, I wrote a second novel.

To my surprise I was shortlisted in two novel competitions, one of which I went on to win. Back in November, when I received the call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williams that won, not you,’ call. It never came and, slowly, I’ve come round to the idea that it’s going to happen.

The children were settled at school and content during this period. In September last year they both changed schools and it’s not been an easy time, emotionally, especially for my eldest who started senior school. During this period I completed another two drafts of my second novel, though I’ve not been as productive as I’d have liked. Things have settled down now so I’ve started a third novel, as well as getting a submission package together for novel #2 and working with my editor on BloodMining.

In all honesty, I have no idea why it happened when it did, and I guess you could say that it happened because I was persistent. A writer needs to be tenacious.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance?

I’d love to able to say that the pressure facing both sexes is equal but I can’t. It’s a fact that women still do more than their fair share of childcare and housekeeping. But we can’t blame it all on the fellas. We take on too much. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, many of us (I include myself here) are reluctant to let go of these responsibilities, to trust that men can do them as well as we can. It’s a rare relationship where the split is even. Perhaps gay women manage it. I’ll ask a friend about this.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

Housework. I was never much cop at the domestic: cleaning, home decoration/making beautiful, cooking. But no one died of a grubby house or the odd take-out, did they?

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career?

Write. Forget ironing. Don’t give up the day job (at least until you’ve the three book deal with the six figure sum) , your kids won’t thank you if there’s no food on the table.

Thanks so much to Laura for telling us about her experience of being a writer mother. We wish her tremendous success with her new novel Bloodmining and look forward to it coming out in the Autumn. For more news on her novel and other projects visit Laura at her blog Sting in the Tale or follow Laura on Twitter. We’ll be sure to catch up with her again here when her novel is launched.

If you enjoyed this peek into the life of a writing mother, please check out the other interviews in the series.

Writing: Time for a break?

So we’re not aspiring writers, we’re writers, so we write whenever we can. If we have a full time job we get up early or write into the night. If we stay at home with children we write when they are napping or happily occupied or in preschool or gone to bed. If we go out to work and have children we write from under a six foot pile of laundry with the dust bunnies for company, and sometimes we’re so tired we don’t know if anything is making sense.

Then life happens, other stuff, financial worries, work commitments, sick or anxious children, ailing relatives, a death or a report of one, something close to the bone or joyous events that need our time and attention.  These things affect both men and women but I think women try to hold everything in their heads all at once and may find it harder to switch between roles. Sometimes there are just too many directions. Is this why there are more major male novelists? It’s a controversial thing to ask and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. Are novels just too big a thing to keep in your head alongside all the micromanagement of life that women do? Does it take longer for women to reach the 10,000 hours of practise it takes to become an expert? Do women on average ultimately write less novels or have less ‘head space’ in which to incubate their novels.

Are there times, in particular for juggling women, but for all writers when you need to stop writing? Are there times when you are going through the motions and producing word count but your work lacks direction, depth, layering, association, all the things that can make a good novel or story great? Are there times when you need to just live, or just live and keep your mind open as the writing circulates in your subconscious?

Writing, do we need a break from each other sometimes? From the treadmill word count achievement, from the blogs and the flash fiction and the competitions and the myriad online publication options. Do we need to just sit somewhere, stare at the sun on the grass or into the fire to the bright flicker of flame and the roaring red core or just visit our relations, talk to our children, catch up on our day job, organise the laundry, have tea, go to bed early, read?

I read a wonderful post lately from Jennifer New on Studio Mothers, who tells us that the ideas we have in the thick of life and cannot follow up just then are not really lost, they feed into other things or we find ideas later that are just as good as the earlier ones. In my mother writer series I will be talking to author Jane Rusbridge. In her interview next Sunday she will be telling us about the long process over several years of writing her acclaimed novel Devil’s Music in tandem with her busy life situation. And prolific author Nicola Morgan has explored whether we can still write during difficult and challenging times in our lives. Indeed we all read of people who’s writing keeps them going through hard times. We all take solace from expression or from losing ourselves in something we love but is there a time to pause?

What do you think? Are there occasions when our life needs our absolute focus or when we need to step back and stop producing so that our writing ideas catch up with us? When we need to rid ourselves of the opposing clamour from the many requirements of our lives? Or do you just keep doggedly on, putting down even a few words every day. Have any of you taken an extended break and how did it affect your writing work, for the better or worse? If you take a long break will you lose momentum or gain perspective?

My feeling is that there is a time for pause. So often it is the down times when I only have a pen and a notebook and no plans that my best stories unfurl. So we may take a break, we may go off for a while and live our lives but the writing will always find us.

5 New School Year Resolutions for Writing Parents

Kids back at school

In which I muse aloud and you get to listen in.

Although it varies by a week or two across the Northern Hemisphere for many parents, children round about now are returning to school and the more rigid routines of school days, homework and earlier bedtimes will come into play. As parents we need to be more organised and lovingly firm with our kids as we ease them through the change.

Whether you are a going out to work writing parent or a stay at home one or a bit of both, it’s a good time to think about your own schedule, your priorities in terms of projects that you have to complete, client commitments and projects that capture your heart and that you want to spend time on.

An important question to ask is ‘what is actually possible?’ We can take steps to create writing time by getting up early or staying up late, by being good at using small pockets of time between chores or on commute but believe it or not, writing isn’t everything. Our resolutions need to take account of the current demands of our lives timewise, physically, emotionally, mentally. At different phases these demands will fluctuate. All out commitment to the cause of writing without consideration of your current situation cannot be a good thing. As children settle into school they may require more of our empathy and listening time, will benefit and feel less anxious by us just being around, taking a walk with them, creating space for communication. Later on in the year these demands may change.

But if we get a chance to write, we want it to be as fruitful as possible. I often struggle to feel satisfied with my achievements because I have several tasks and projects on the go and have not identified which need to come higher on the list. At the end of the session, which is never very long, I have achieved not much of anything as I flit from document to document, to my email, to Google etc. A simple thing, but sometimes I’m not really clear what I’m working on. Just writing that down and having a schedule will make a lot of difference.

Sometimes I come to write and just can’t get into it, I have no spark. This is often after a period where I have not had any down time, general pleasant relaxation, a walk, or sit down with a book or even an evening in front of the TV.  It is possible to make writing a stick that doesn’t bear fruit because you are beating yourself with it. (Ah the mixed metaphor, my favourite beast!)

So what resolutions might be good ones for the new school and writing year?

5 Resolutions for the new school and writing year

1: Write less but more fruitfully and watch more telly

2: Pick a project, set a deadline or a mini deadline and work to it

3: Think each day about your current demands/desires emotionally, mentally, physiologically, socially, for family etc and decide what is most important, what is possible and necessary.

4: Take pride and joy in what you achieve even if it is less than what you had hoped, write down what you have done, it’s easy to forget

5: Think about, interact with and support others, friends, extended family members, other writers, create a strong and positive network.

Goodwill and good effort for the most part come back. Writing and life energy can be created by taking care of our time, ourselves, each other.

Five fives for inspiring the mind

Use the five fives to inspire you

Use the five fives to inspire you

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

Look for the texture

Look for the texture

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.

Haven for the Head-Wrecked

Life can be a battle

Life can be a battle

I’ve become particularly aware in the last while that many of the people I am in contact with in my everyday life both physically or virtually (through twitter or email) are struggling in some way and putting a brave face on it. They are feeling confused, vulnerable, lonely, disheartened, unsure or scared and they are mad and fed up at themselves for feeling like this, for not being able to just get on with things and ‘be normal’. They can sense a stronger, more able person on the inside, a person who can ‘do so much more than this’, a Yes person who wants to embrace every opportunity instead of feeling overwhelmed and losing impetus. I understand these feelings, because I’ve been there at various times in my life, where stresses sent me spiralling, grief left me paralysed and self-doubt knocked me into a deep hole where I all I wanted was someone to throw me some kind of rope I could hold onto. At this time of the year I worry that the long dark nights and short grey days will take hold of me and drag me into a perpetual lethargy that will only lift in Spring.

People have real problems, difficulties at work, at home, with their children, finding balance in their lives. There are real tragedies, losses and readjustments. There are some days that are just plain bad. In these circumstances sometimes all we can do is wait for the passing of time, perhaps just a moment where we take a deep breath, half an hour where we do the things we burn to do always, a day, a week, a month, a year to move away from the pain that holds us by the lungs and squeezes.

There are some things that help:

  • Breaking our negative thought patterns:newmoodtherapy

We reinforce many of the negative feelings we have about ourselves and our circumstances through our negative thinking patterns. Pychological studies have shown that depression can be alieviated hugely by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy either alone or in conjunction with medication. Thinking habits build up over a lifetime but we can work on them and practice substituting more realistic, helpful and positive thoughts. We can use techniques to control our anger and stop procrastination.

Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns is a wonderful book with excellent exercises for breaking mood cycles and destructive types of thinking.

  • Head space
    Create head space by doing what you love

    Create head space by doing what you love

Doing something we love or indulging in our happinesses. On her website Winslow Eliot gathers examples of these ‘daily happinesses’ and on her site Barbara Scully helps us find serenity. It is often difficult to see where we can find time to recuperate, dream, kick back or create but very small changes can make huge differences. I found this recently when I decided to get up at 6 each morning to do some writing, despite having four kids and an almost 2 yr old who wakes in the night. I found that I actually gained energy from the satisfaction of having done something I loved.

  • Connecting

My involvement in the parent-to-parent support group Cuidiu since my first child (now almost nine) was born got me through the hair-raising and hair pulling out first years of the culture shock of children. Similarly my writing connections through twitter and writing courses have shown me that my writing struggles are shared with many others.

  • Keeping going, however slowly, you are doing well

A step is a step is a step, it’s still progression, and even if you step back, you still learned something from going forward to begin with. Congratulate yourself for your effort.

  • Let it out, communicate and express yourself
    Let others know how you feel

    Let others know how you feel

Tell someone, or talk to others with similar difficulties. You will be surprised at how others feel just the same. Many of the struggles a writer deals with on a personal level may find expression through stories or in journals. In what I called the Book of Joy,  I worked through a troubling period in my life, coming to the realisation that life is two sides of a sphere, dark and light.  We can  see joy more clearly  in relation to loss or grief. This is the theme of my poem ‘If we thought that love was gone.’

j0385413Who cares? Plenty.

I write my stories because I want to touch people, to connect with them, to make something resonate within them, to give them words for the feelings they experience throughout their lives. I want to establish a well of common humanity which we can all share, so that we can understand what makes us similar, what can give us empathy for each other. Through my relationships with people in daily and virtual life, at the school gate, in Cuidiu, with relative strangers on Twitter, long standing but unseen friends over email and phone I know that I’m not the only mixed up crazy kid on the block. And I want you to be sure that there are a whole lot of lovely people out there, who not only care and feel, but care and feel for You. I’m one of them and there are plenty more. Here is where it begins and ends, I’m throwing a rope  into the universe to you all, hoping you will catch it and hold on.

Why I’m Missing 1970’s Wallpaper – Inspiration for Far Out Writing Dudes

Wallpaper can free your mind

Wallpaper can free your mind

I grew up in the 1970’s: the era of swirly carpets, psychedelic curtains, bed coverings and wallpaper. The wallpaper was flock, groovy, funky, floral, paisley, repeating geometric, colourful, clashing, kitsch. But you have to admit it, compared with the pared down smooth walls in neutral cream paint of the minimalist mode we have now, there was something going on there, there was movement, activity, shape.

When my husband and I moved into our first house, it still had the original orange and brown carpet with giant swirls. In college my sisters and I shared a flat – part of a large old building known as Blair’s Castle. It was decorated in luscious, heavily textured red flock wallpaper. As a kid, I remember lying in bed looking at the walls, picking out a particular pattern within the wallpaper, following it with my eyes until it morphed into another shape or became something, an animal or usually some kind of face. In particular, paisley design was my favourite, the ever repeating fractal like patterns echoing the world’s elegant chaos.

If you want to read a fabulous story about Wallpaper becoming something, or something becoming Wallpaper,  read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper.

We can see things in wallpaper

We can see things in wallpaper

First published in 1892 this 6119 word story is included in Peter Boxalls 1001 Books:  You must read before you die. He describes it as ‘This little slip of prose, a novella running to a mere twenty-nine pages, it is a literary masterpiece’ and a ‘yearning for sexual and intellectual freedom’. It is written in the first person as a series of journal entries by a woman whose husband has insisted she be confined to a room, (decorated in the yellow wallpaper) to recuperate from what he, a doctor, has diagnosed “temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency;” The story stays with her as she descends into psychosis with the wallpaper as her companion.

If the Yellow Wallpaper is an extreme example of where identification with wallpaper can bring you,  I still believe that the dearth of pattern and activity in our furnishings and wallcoverings is a loss in our creative lives. There’s a state of mind that is crucial to creativity. It’s a kind of free state awareness, where you become utterly immersed in what you are doing, an energized focus. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi identifies nine aspects of this feeling of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
Ever repeating fractal patterns help creativity

Ever repeating fractal patterns help creativity

As a writer, it’s that feeling you have when you are receptive to ideas, when the writing is flowing, when you are ‘in the groove’. It’s the feeling I used to get, spaced out on groovy wallpaper, a narcotic free method of ‘opening the mind’ and ‘chilling’. Its benefits for creativity and healthy mental relaxation – for us as writers trying to open up a path to our subconscious and our memory, for our children,  kicking back in their bedrooms – are huge. It’s a way of freeing the mind, letting go of our residual concerns and moving into a world of possibility. It’s a way of creating creative head space, going places. That’s why I’m Missing 1970’s Wallpaper and glad that its coming back into fashion.

Hand sewing a hem with invisible thread

It’s one of those mindful things, isn’t it, sewing? One of those repetitive actions, that, if you are comfortable with the process and more or less left to it, you can sink right into and your thoughts gently flow through the sense of what you’re doing, the rhythm, the steady harmony.

I suppose that’s what, as a writer, you might call ‘getting into the zone’, that beautiful time when the words write themselves or seem to come from your unconscious, fully formed and gorgeous.

The moment, it’s exquisite. But it doesn’t often last. Being human and not a Zen master, deep moments are had but not held. I have, in reality been hand sewing the hem of a curtain with invisible thread for the past half hour.  I was, for a while, at one with the thread and the movement, as I may, when I go to write a novel or story, be at one with its thread and momentum also.

The invisible thread also provides me with another analogy (if laboured). It was a very long hem,  like a novel or a story where you cannot see the beginning and the end at the same time.  I moved forward with the invisible thread but at times I couldn’t clearly see how far I’d come and whether or not the stitches were well-crafted or pleasing. As it turned out, I couldn’t complete it in one go, it needs a lot more work, and as its the curtain for my children’s bedroom window I need to keep at it and get it done as soon as I can.  It would be great if someone could do it for me, but like writing, it’s down to me.

This morning I was working on new story (working title Integrity). It was one that I laboured with for quite a while, finding the ‘flow’ hard to get into. There was plenty of stopping and starting on my part, plenty staring into space, procrastination.  I was going to swap over to something else but I gave it another read through and finally, things started to click, connections were made, the thread came through the story intact  all the way to it’s satisfying conclusion.

So as in writing this (hypothetical, No!) novel or story, when that beautiful easy moment is gone, I need to pick up the needle, commit to sitting back down, hope that I can retrieve the feeling and whether I do or not just keep going with the thread as best I can, until its all done.

Head space at dawn

Last night the baby woke again.  His Dad, who deserves a shelf of parenting accolades, got up yet again.  But if I don’t keep my eyes absolutely shut and resist the urge to turn over I start to wake up and if its almost midsummer and the bloody birds, bless them, think that the faint light of three forty five means its morning and they are going to sing their hearts out telling me that, then the wires connect and there you go, the brain’s awake and spinning. 

Hubby comes back to bed and to the sound of his gentle snoring, I think of a fabulous (ideas are either horrifying or fabulous at that time of the morning) idea for a new website for creative parents. I think of several new ideas for blogging and find two lines of a short story I am writing sitting on the kitchen table of my mind with a mug of coffee beside them.  I compose a e-letter to a friend and work out the logistics of pick ups and drop offs and the events of the forthcoming day.

How productive am I. It is 4am on a Monday morning of a very busy week.  The kids are all asleep, I am alone in my head for once and so I find there is plenty of space there after all.

Creative Writing Exercise

You arrive at the supermarket and bump into an old friend. What does she look like now? What was your relationship with her? How do you feel when you see her? How do you want to present yourself to her. Is there something in particular you really don’t want her to know?

She invites you and your husband to dinner. Do you go? If so, what happens. What happens if your secret slips out in conversation, are there consequences? Write up to 500 words just to see where it takes you.

Now is all there is

Hello.  Today you can just see the top of my head over the waves. Recently I edited a newsletter for parents on Mindfulness and Wellbeing. We wanted to explore how parents in the maelstrom (or sea, to keep to the blog’s theme) of raising children could possibly find the space in time or within themselves to re-energise and take stock of their circumstances. As a writer (I was going to say would-be writer, but here I am)  and mother of four young children, aged between 8 and 18 months I want to share with you whether or not it is possible to get your ‘Head above Water’ and find that moment of what Buddist’s call concentrated awareness, the now that has depth,  slows time and gives it greater quality.

My baby gives his absolute attention to the texture of a pebbledash wall. I feed off his fascination. As a writer I need to pay attention, to notice. As a full time mother I am prey to the constant demands of requests and chores, the hands on care of small bodies and the fuelling of expansive minds.  I cannot find a quiet place in my head or imagination. Friends in the parent support group (Cuidiu) in the early days of total immersion caring for a newborn alongside their other young children have experienced it as a kind of drowning.

Today all four children were at home on their school holidays. Two had very bad colds, the four year old in particular was constantly in crises and tears from sheer exhaustion. The two older boys were in a hyperactive frenzy usually directed towards each other.  While I checked my email this morning I distracted the baby with my paper clip container, while writing this tonight I have been treated to the sound of my eight year old whistling and have answered several calls for assistance. Is there still an identifiable train to my thoughts? You decide.

There are many reasons these days why people’s head are ‘wrecked’. It’s the fashion to be on the go, to be getting somewhere. To squeeze the last out of the analogy, sometimes we are wasting our energy swimming against the tide. (Groan, okay, I’ll be more inventive next time). In this blog I’ll be looking at how we can get our heads above water and maybe even spend sometime sunning ourselves on a some well-placed rock in a more gently flowing river.  And then I might even talk about writing as well.