Joy

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.

 

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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: Writing Goals, how to achieve them & what if you don’t

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.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Aims and intentions – direction but not dictatorship.

There are many blogposts across the internet about setting goals this January but the emphasis I want to put on this post is yes, on achieving goals but not beating yourself up in the process! Speaking from experience I know how we can scupper ourselves by getting frantic, confused and guilty so this is what I’ve done that helps me.

1: Write a desire manifesto
Write what you want to do/achieve most of all. Under that write your lesser aims. You will know what’s most important to you and what you need to put ahead of everything else.

2: Be optimistic

There is tremendous energy in intention itself. I talk about intention in this post and how Orna Ross says that aims are not about ‘should’ but come from a more positive position. So set out what you would love to achieve in the coming months. We want to give ourselves parameters within which we can organise our life, we’re not talking sticks and sadness. We want to get away from a vague sense of dissatisfaction and see what kinds of activities and achievements will give us energy and makes us happier. At this stage jot down your wildest dreams.

3: Be realistic and specific

We’ve all heard about making aims SMART, specific, measurable, achieveable, realistic and timebound. Again, we need to set the parameters. It would be marvellous if we could write 3 novels in a month but it probably won’t happen. Subject your wildest dreams and aims to a reality test. Could you finish your novel draft by next month? Do you hope to start your next project by March. Do you need to fit in smaller projects along the way? Can you assign specific time slots to these?

Note: This is not set in stone! Your projects will take longer or less time than you think, family issues will occur. You DO NOT NEED TO FEEL YOU HAVE FAILED OR SHOULD BE GUILTY. So what if you’re 20 years too late to be considered for the 30 under 30 prize, is that really what you wanted anyway? And what would you be happy with instead?

4: Keep a ‘to do’ journal and track progress and achievement (this is magic!)

Get an A4 book into which you write your monthly, weekly and daily aims. Each day or week tick off what you’ve done (a big enthusiastic tick). If something is left undone add it in to the following week. Periodically (monthly, quarterly) write a list of achievements such as submissions made or pieces accepted, words written, ideas gathered. (There’s more on this below!)

What I find so good about this practice is that it gets everything out of my head, my to do list is not circulating in my mind and causing anxiety, I can clearly see what I want to do, what I have done and what I need to do to finish what I set out to do.

3: Regig your schedule regularly.

Based on the information you discover see where you need to add effort, prioritize or take away goals altogether. Again this is a rational and clever thing to do. There is no shame in not achieving everything. (Even superheroes have to send their costumes to the dry cleaners every so often!)

4: Set both tiny goals and marvellous ones

If you set tiny goals you can build on them. If you aim to write 500 words a day you will energise yourself by your success rather than disheartening yourself by your aim to do 2000. The energy of your achievement and it’s confidence will make it more likely that you can achieve 2000 words. Didn’t you know you had wings and could fly?

But equally big goals like the 50,000 word writing challenge Nanowrimo can work. If you see yourself by steady progression scaling the heights of such a challenge (through effort and camaraderie) you will forever know what you are capable of and that is a certainty that cannot be taken away from you.

5: Write an achievement manifesto

When I arrive at the pages where I write my quarterly summary of successes I am always surprised. It’s so easy to forget what you have achieved, even if it’s something quite significant. We often have a tendency to underplay success and focus on what we haven’t done yet. So writing down what we have achieved from solving family squabbles to winning the local poetry competition to writing your first flash fiction to winning the Booker prize is very important. We can take some time to see how these achievements reflect what we set out to do or whether some of the things we did took us in new directions that turned out to be rather wonderful. You can even go a bit crazy and write compliments to yourself on this page. I’ll be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help stop negative thoughts more fully in a future post and the positive feedback we can give ourselves in this achievement manifesto is an important part of that. This is our feelgood CV, imagine listing your achievements for a job, you can make yourself sound very impressive!

And what if you don’t succeed?

Psychology and Weiner’s attribution theory tells us that we attribute our own success to our efforts and other people’s success to luck. Failure works round the other way. I’m not so sure that those of us who feel responsible for everything, don’t attribute our success to chance and our failure to ourselves. There are those of us who set such high standards that we are bound to fail.

In the modern day though we have this impression that everyone can succeed if they just try. There is truth to the idea that if we start off more optimistic we’ll be more alert to opportunities and we’ll try things, whether it’s enter competitions or self-publish, become entrepreneurs or apply for a job that’s a little too far out of our reach (or is it?) It’s also true however that even if we’ve written a brilliant book for example or have been writing solidly for 20 years, there is a chance we’ll be unlucky and just won’t make it or perhaps we’re not as good as we hoped.

BE CLEVER!

If we are not getting where we want to we might need to get some constructive criticism. We might have to decide whether the love of writing is enough beyond financial success. We might take joy from other aspects of our lives that can make a rich cloth in its entirety. We can hope for posthumous fame. We need to figure out what aspects of life make it just good enough, what small pleasures add up into a satisfying whole. There has to be balance between making our goals and dreams strong enough and big enough to make us work hard & commit to our own success and also realising that to make one ambition the be all and end all is to set ourselves up for misery.

YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

We need to become good not beating ourselves up about not meeting targets. We need to be clever and reassess, not take it as failure.

What do you think, is there a way to maintain our optimism and intention while not beating ourselves up for the things we don’t manage to do?

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.