New Articles at Write Anything

Following in the  footsteps of the wonderful Jen Brubacher, I’m posting an update on my Write Anything articles for the month of March.

March was a tough month for all of Write Anything’s staff writers. Paul set the daunting task of a writer’s self audit, followed up by a blog post sharing what we unearthed.

Out of the process came Shall I Compare Thee,  followed up here with The Perils of Comparison and the Posse of Imposters Answered. My second article for the month, Friend or Foe: The Impact of Your Belief System on Writing, explored a slightly different area of my writing life:

In the early weeks of January I set off to find the person I knew and loved as ‘writer’. It meant a harsh process of deconstruction; demolishing what was left of myself as writer after recurrent bouts of depression, severe loss of self-confidence and long period of inactivity. I knew I had to do this, or I would never make sense of how I came to be marooned in this charred no-man’s land of writing, much less leave it for lusher locales.

With the aid of my journal and a few well-timed tarot cards, I realised it all came down to my belief system. Over the past few years I’ve become very good at creating absolute paradigms for my creative life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I doused the paradigms in flammable value judgements and for want of anything better to do, flicked a match in and watched the whole shebang, previously known as my writing life, burn.

At the core of the mess lay the belief I could only ever write OR edit.

You can continue reading the article here.

I’m proud to say, since originally writing the article back in early February, writing and editing are cohabiting a better space. It is still a struggle, especially around deadlines, but having a new set of beliefs to fall back on, makes it far easier to move forward, to write every day and to accept the times when editing must take precedence.

Prompting Ideas

where-ideas-come-from

First published at Write Anything: Monday, 9th February, 2009.

Ideas for writing come from all sorts of places.

I have to admit, personally, coming up with ideas for what to write is something I have always struggled with. Good, original, sustainable ideas that capture and hold the reader seem even rarer in my world. That’s why when I returned to the page in October 2007 and was directed here to [Fiction] Friday by my wonderful friend Danae, I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I didn’t have to think up the idea – just had to gestate and put down the story.

Left to my own devices – I would probably write very little. I would always be searching for the ‘perfect idea’ and let’s be honest – there is no perfect idea. Prompts bypass the need for perfectionism and allow writers, like me, to do what they’re best at – write!

It’s not always easy though. Using a prompt as the impetus for a piece of work can challenge you – especially if there is no light bulb moment to assist you in those first few minutes after reading the prompt. It can almost be more frustrating than having no idea at all.

Sometimes you’re lucky, other times you’re not. There are weeks when I stare at the [Fiction] Friday prompt and feel like an unlucky fisherman, continually casting and dragging in nothing but a slightly nibbled piece of bait. In these moments I begin to ‘freak out’ and lose faith in my abilities as a story teller.

Who cares – it’s just [Fiction] Friday – the world won’t stop rotating on its axis if I don’t post (even if I have committed to writing one a week). But if I give up because a prompt is too hard, the idea wont come, the story isn’t clear, the characters are ambiguous or I don’t like them, it sets up a negative avoidance pattern for when things get tough. And I don’t need that for my journey. After all it’s rarely smooth sailing all the way.

It’s good to have a back up plan for these times, rather than rely on luck, serendipity or begging or the return of your creative inspiration to get you through.

Jennie Cromie in her New Year’s post No-Fail Freelance Resolutions: How to succeed in 2009 talks about planning for low motivation days. She writes:

“There will be days when you wake up all motivated and ready to tackle your daily goals, and then several hours later—for some inexplicable reason—you’ll feel like throwing your hands up in the air and chucking the goal, the novel, the article, or whatever you’re trying to accomplish. I call these the “F*&k-Its.” You have to decide how you’re going to handle these moments ahead of time. Because no matter how much you think you want to achieve that dream of yours right now, I guarantee that there will come a time when that shiny new goal of yours becomes a pain in the you-know-what .. The key is to maintain the forward motion toward your goal, no matter how imperfect that forward motion is.”

So what about a Plan B?

In moments of extreme creative drought I’ve turned to my writing oracle. Women Who Run With Wolves is a feminist psychoanalytic exploration of fairy stories – mainly very old ones to do with women’s rites of passages. When I first got it (a wonderful $10 buy at bookstore that helps to support a women’s shelter in my home town of Cairns) and began reading, a friend told me that it could be used for bibliomancy. That is, you can hold a problem in your head, open to a page and find some wisdom to mull over. More recently my soul sister told me that she’d it in the same way as a writing oracle.

Since learning of this useful trick I’ve turned to it twice. The most successful was the creation of Demon Lover (inspired via a dream from a paragraph in the story The Red Shoes) – a short story that I actually sold last year! It’s a good fall back, when the flow of ideas dam or dry up.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way suggests that if you’re stuck or blocked to mend a piece of clothing or to bake something – the physical process of fixing and mixing works at a creative/unconscious level. A friend of mine swears by this, as she does about knitting to keep the creative flow moving. Sewing, cooking and knitting are not everyone’s cup of tea though.

Mundane, everyday, repetitive tasks have the ability to still the mind. Many artists and writers say their best ideas/plot revelations/characters developments happen in the shower, while hanging clothes on the line, driving the car or walking.

Other useful ways to generate forward motion with an idea (or in the idea-less vacuum):

  • Just write – it doesn’t matter if it is bad or indifferent. The simple act of writing generates momentum. Writing badly is painful – but it’s not nearly as awful as not writing at all.
  • Create a scrapbook that you keep handy, where you can write down things or glue images that you like: words, sentences, ideas, plot, characters, colours, poetry, images etc. They don’t have to have any real shape or purpose – just things that strike you as being interesting.
  • Make friends with your bad/imperfect ideas. Like new friends – give them a chance and they may just surprise you.
  • Put your music on random and take the first line of the first ten songs and try to create something from that. Or listen to your favourite album, or something from a friend or partners collection that you have never listened to and do the same. Or just let the music wash over and through you.
  • Keep a record of your dreams. Some of the best stories have deep roots in the dream sphere. Even if they are just snippets or glimpses rather than a whole story downloaded to you while you sleep.
  • Have a word bucket – as described by Andrea.
  • Go for a walk – take your muse out for some fresh air and a new perspective.
  • Indulge in your favourite mundane task – wash the dishes, fold the washing, take a shower, hide away in the toilet. You know what works best for you.
  • Do something else that is creative – play a musical instrument, doodle, paint, dance, sculpt, take some photos. Change your clothes, re-do your hair, wear a silly hat (this was the favourite source of stress relief for one of the girls my partner used to work with!)
  • And remember that writing is meant to be enjoyable.

Having a list handy of the things that help to stir your creativity is a useful tool – a Plan B, for the moments when writers block hits or the ideas just refuse to come. Type it up, write it out, make it pretty, make it practical – but stick it up somewhere you can see it. If it’s filed away in the bottom of your desk draw it’s not going to be any use … you’ll forget it’s there in your frustration.

Sometimes writers need safety nets. We may as well weave ones with plenty of spring to propel us upwards and onwards.

What tricks do you use to feret out ideas for writing? How do you keep the creative juices flowing, and your ideas alive and brilliant?

Thanks to Eamon and Tricksie Pixie who shared their creative prompts with me last year.

Image: Where Ideas Come from by Natalie Dee

Monster Hall of Fame

“Your historical monsters are the building blocks of your core negative beliefs … It is necessary to acknowledge creative injuries and grieve them.  Otherwise they become creative scar tissue and block your growth.”

Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way

mind

Stephen King and Julia Cameron both speak, in their own ways, of creative monsters and the havoc they bring to the creative life.  Creative Monsters are the people we let into our lives who shame us about our writing or who seed self doubt that renders us creatively impotent.  If we have more monsters than creative champions in our life, it can be hard to keep writing.

King writes: “I have spent a good many years … too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write.  I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk …. I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

By age forty King had sold millions of books, best sellers such as It, Pet Sematary and The Stand. It would be incomprehensible to believe that such a popular and successful author had been so susceptible to doubt and shame, if we hadn’t experienced the exact same thing ourselves.

We all have them, a monster or perhaps a whole crew who hang out in the recesses of our memories, on the periphery of our creativity, making us ashamed and doubtful of our talent.

How dare you write that?

You really  think that’s good?

Writer – pft.  Who are you kidding?

I’ve realised the idiom sticks and stones may break my bones ‘cos names will never harm me is a load of bollocks.  Words do hurt and especially for writers (whose creative ‘mud’ is words) they leave an indelible print on our creative psyches. Like Cameron writes, they are injuries and they do need to be healed if we want to reach our potential, or even just begin to explore it. Creative Monsters are  mud slingers and it’s time to take ourselves down to the creative river and wash away the dirt.  I know I love the feeling of cold, crisp water coursing over my body and how you can’t help but feel refreshed afterwards – body and soul!

But how do you do it?  How do you find your way down to the river?

The answer is simple. You need to start by ousting your monsters. To listen to what they have said and to understand how you’ve taken their nasty words and made them part of your creative reality.

I have had a number of creative monsters in my life, but the most influential of them was a Writer in Residence I consulted during my first year at uni.  I was 18, passionate about writing and excited at the prospect that the In-Residence program offered … to grow myself as a writer. We were asked to bring along a piece of our work to the first session, and I took along a story called And Juliet Met Romeo in Hell.  He looked over my work, and then point blank told me that I needed to go out and live in the real world.  I was naïve and people didn’t really act like that out there. And that was it.  I was mortified and shattered. I wonder now if that guy ever watched Underbelly?

I don’t deny that I was naïve – I’d spent almost all of my education in a Catholic high school and I hadn’t been adventurous as a teenager. But I read through his words and heard that I was an imbecile, and that I had had the audacity to write. What’s more, his words were instant creative castration for my vulnerable muse.

From that moment onwards, my passion for writing waxed and waned.  I created projects that could never be completed, boxes and boxes of first chapters that I would never show anyone.  I felt a fraud – I was waiting tables and working crap jobs because the only career I had ever wanted was writing, but I couldn’t turn up to the page.  I focused so long and hard on ‘going out and living in the real world’ that I never made time for writing.  Part of me could never make it a priority in my life.

What I still shudder at was that I was so willing to take his words on board.  Thankfully now I understand how to deconstruct criticism and to know the difference between the constructive criticism of your work and a cheap personal shot. (I encourage all writers to find time to understand how to deconstruct criticism.)

Excavating my creative shame and doubts over the past two years has allowed me oust guys like that Writer In-Residence and to begin to heal the injuries they caused, wash away the mud and the blockages to my will and confidence to write. As a consequence I have become alive and brilliant as a writer for the first time in over a decade.  I’ve let go of the notions that I’m not smart enough, nor worldly enough to write.  I have the audacity to write badly, and feel OK about it.  I have the confidence to try new things.  And I’ve reclaimed the thrill; the pure, unadulterated love of the process of writing.

Who are your creative monsters – today is your opportunity to expose them?  What was the shaming charge levelled at you? What self doubts did they seed? How has it fashioned the way in which you perceive yourself as a writer and your ability create?

Original Artwork “Mind” by Danae Sinclair

This was originally posted at Write Anything on Monday 16th February 2009.