How learning to play is the key to creative freedom.
How learning to play is the key to creative freedom.
Exploring ways of filling our creative wells in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Episode 25 of my Staycation Podcast.
I never thought the day would come when I would be able to announce to the world that my book was published and available to buy, but it has, and it is. I have been attempting to write a novel for twelve years. I have, in fact, written it four times over, each time close to seventy thousand words, and each time have deleted it. I know some of you will recoil in horror at this news. “Save everything!” is the advice we give one another, and you are all absolutely right. The only problem was, my internal critic had a louder voice.
But I have an editor, a friend called Ros, who has been a quiet encourager to me over the years. She has read many drafts of my supposed opus and has always told me I’m a great storyteller and she can’t wait to find out what happens next. Only the next never came and I think she got a bit frustrated with me, because she eventually said, “just write a blooming book. I don’t care what it’s about. It can be anything. The important thing is to just write it and get it published. Don’t even send it to me to edit it. Don’t worry if it has the odd typo in it, or the prose sticks slightly in your throat when you read it, get it written and get it out there! Then, once you’re an author, you can spend the rest of your life honing your craft and getting better at it.”
She had a point. I wasn’t going to be a master wordsmith if I kept unravelling and starting again. I needed to finish something and learn from that experience as well. But what to write about? I decided on non-fiction as it is something that comes more easily to me. I love writing fiction in the way that I love knitting, but I have to work that much harder at it than I do with crochet. But I digress. The subject…
I have been leading a Writing for Wellness group online since lockdown began, and over the weeks we have grown both numerically and in terms of self-awareness. This group encompasses all of my favourite things, writing, wellness, creativity, inspiration, imagination, and the equipping and empowering of others. Not only that, it is topical, as we have faced the ravages of life in lockdown together. There was a built-in deadline to it too! I was on a roll.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned about my writing is that I work so much better when I work to a routine and to a deadline. I now get up at eight every morning and go into my office to begin my working day, coffee in hand. I stop at one for lunch, and return to my office at two. I stop for the day at four as I have some other commitments I need to attend to by then. This routine works for me, and is what has helped me write this book. I can’t imagine not doing this now.
So I began to write. I spent quite a bit of time devising the chapters, sifting through the writing we had done over the weeks in the group, gathering anecdotal stories, and planning. Then I sat down and began to write. The words flowed, and when they didn’t, I used dictation software to help me get through the dryer spells.
All in all, this book took about six weeks to write and edit. It is fairly short, but it is a book and the sense of achievement I felt when I had finished it was such a relief. Now came the hard part. No, not the editing. I did the best I could with that in the short space of time I had. The hard part was the formatting for Kindle and print on Amazon. There’s an app for the former which makes things considerably easier, and there are templates for the latter. The only problem was, I hadn’t used those templates until then so had to copy and paste my book into it which meant a fair amount of reformatting. But I did it, and the print copy is currently under review.
It felt good to change my bio from writer to author. I have learned so much from this entire process and I am eternally indebted to Ros for giving me the shove over the cliff edge so that I could learn to fly. This is just the beginning. I have made many mistakes in this process, all of which I hope to learn from so that I can do better next time. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s progress, and not perfection that will drive me forwards from now on, and help me to achieve things that are beyond my wildest dreams. How about you have a go at doing that too?
With much love, Liv x
Welcome to day seventeen of my staycation podcast where I talk about how the gift of writing in many forms can bring us an increased sense of wellbeing during challenging times.
Welcome to day sixteen of my Staycation Podcast in which I talk about the plethora of things we could be doing with our time at home. Hope you enjoy. Do let me know how you are doing and how you’re spending your time right now.
One interesting thing that has started to happen as I journal throughout the day while simultaneously blogging and working on my novel is that I am starting to dream more. I don’t remember what my dreams are when I’m awake, at least I can’t grab the pen quickly enough to jot them down before they evaporate from my conscious mind, but I am aware it’s happening. I suspect that I’m unlocking something. The more I write, the more my brain wants to show me things.
Today’s blog post is subtitled, “three little words,” because I have realised something important in the last few days. No, I’m not about to say, “I love you,” but rather, quite simply, “I need help.” Writing is such a solitary past time that it’s extremely difficult for us to do it on our own. The Bronte sisters would walk around their dining table reading their work to each other, Jane Austen would write letters to her sister, Steven King is all over Twitter. There is something magical that happens when creative people come together to share their work, to brainstorm ideas, and to dream dreams.
That’s what I need. It’s what makes me feel most alive. My dream is to write a story about a girl who is a workaholic, over-achieving perfectionist. Tragedy strikes her family, she crashes and burns, and finds herself in a magical place that people only find when they need it the most. That is what Finding Freodholm is all about. That’s what I’m doing when I sit down and write every day. What about you?
What are your hopes, your dreams, your struggles, your fears? What ideas do you have that need fleshing out with an interested ear? How can we help each other? I need your help. Do you need mine?
So here I am on day two of journaling, blogging and writing my novel throughout the day. It’s going really well so far but one thing I’m realising is how easily I’m distracted. Whether it’s a family member coming in to ask me a question, a WhatsApp message from a friend, or even a lawnmower starting in a neighbour’s garden, I find my mind wandering, and then journal about it and pull it back to the subject at hand.
Today that subject is research! This is actually one of my favourite things to do when writing a novel as I get to learn something interesting and new. As you can see, my current research subjects are Tea and Herbal Remedies. The first is because there is a Tea Emporium in my fictional world that features heavily in the story, and secondly because of the Apothecary who does likewise. She’s Spanish, and called Carmen, but bears no resemblance to the opera of the same name.
It’s also proved useful as I’ve realised I love Assam Tea, and am going to try a herbal remedy for the inflammation in my knees. Better than popping pills any day. I think I’ll treat myself to a new teapot and cup and saucer. The bigger the better. I could even knit a funky tea cosy to go with it! But I digress. How has your day gone? Have you given the journaling a go? Is it working? What interesting subjects have you been looking into?
Here’s me signing off until tomorrow,
A couple of months ago I went searching for a new writing app, and stumbled across Novlr. One of the things I like about Novlr is the dark background which is easier on my eyes. I’ve been using it for my work ever since. It also has a fantastic free writing course, the Couch to 80k Boot Camp by novelist and poet, Tim Clare.
In my experience it’s all too easy to forget how important it is to warm up with our writing every day. I’ve wasted countless hours staring at a blank page or screen, groaning under the strain of trying to force my writing muscle into action when it very clearly wants to sleep. Yet since discovering this course, with just ten minutes of writing a day, I’ve found that when I do now sit down for the main event I’m so much more limber and agile and I have a new-found confidence in what I’m doing that I never had before.
It really is a brilliant course. I can’t say enough about it. The clever way in which it slowly builds on itself and navigates so many areas of the creative writing process without you even realising how much you are growing is simply thrilling. Clare is a master when it comes to teaching, and listening to him prattle on a bit only makes it more disarming and accessible.
The fantastic news is that there’s more even after the course has ended. Clare is a prolific podcaster and his Death of 1000 Cuts podcast is available online and via iTunes. This is such a gift to us as writers and I’m extremely grateful to him for providing us with so much inspiration and for helping me warm up my writing muscles.
There’s more inspiration to be found all over the Internet and in many book shops, if you know where to look. For example, the San Francisco Writers Grotto have produced a book called “642 Tiny Things to Write About.” Whilst a bit more random, and not as sequential, as Clare’s warm ups, they can certainly breath new life into a tired mind.
Above all else, warm up! It’s not wasted time, quite the contrary. It helps you save time later by giving you the life and energy you will need for the big race. It has helped me learn how to play, have fun, and think outside the box. It has helped me grow in confidence, and not to strain my brain in trying to force it to run before it can walk. What I find it prefers to do now is dance. I hope you find it works for you too.
My sister recently won a ballot place for the London Marathon. Being more of a country stroller and book shop browser I was interested to learn more about the psychology of running such a long way. Sara Kurth has written a fascinating article on the Eight Stages of Running a Marathon. I had these stages in mind when I embarked on the gruelling journey that is NaNoWriMo this year.
1. Days One – Three – Starting Nerves
The build up to NaNoWriMo is quite similar to training for a marathon. We plan, we dream, we order in food and drink, we clear our schedules as much as we can. Now day one has arrived and we are full of excitement. There is the temptation to go too fast off the blocks in the first three days and set a pace we cannot sustain throughout the month. I was really nervous, but at the same time excited, when I began, but I didn’t let myself go over the 1,667 words per day during these days in order to set a realistic pace.
It felt weird to be writing every day like this, especially when my writing has often been haphazard and spontaneous before. I also felt overwhelmed and intimidated to read the enormous word counts coming in from others, and felt pressure to go faster. However, I didn’t, and stuck to the basic word goal.
2. Days Four – Nine – I’ve Got This
By now, I’d settled into a routine of writing as soon as I woke up every day. I didn’t even let myself get a cup of coffee, but instead made do with the water that was by my bed. Once I’d reached my word goal, I could get on with other things with a clear conscience. It also meant the inner critic, who is much slower to wake than me, could be bypassed and I could just get the words on the page. I actually felt confident during this time period.
3. Days ten to fifteen – Settling In
The routine continued into days ten to fifteen. However, on one day I got distracted by a phone call when someone woke me up early, and ended up getting a coffee before sitting down to write. The words didn’t flow as freely that day. The next day, I didn’t feel like writing at all and started to feel the burn so to speak as I realised I wasn’t even half way. To combat this I just pushed through, recreating the routine over the next few days, making sure I didn’t skip meals or not get enough sleep, and kept on writing. It wasn’t a very pleasant part of the writing journey but I persevered.
4. Days sixteen to eighteen – The Wasteland
I actually started to get bored at this stage. The inner critic didn’t seem to sleep and was constantly whispering in my ear how utterly droll my story was and how no one would be interested in reading it. I ceased to be interested in reading it. It felt like every word I put on the page was a blur of nothingness and tedium. But having been warned that this might happen, I kept going, just putting one word in front of the other and reminding myself that it could always be improved in the edit.
5. Days nineteen to twenty-one – The Dark Night of the Soul
Talk about mental anguish. This was when I almost gave up. The only blessing that helped to keep me going during this time was the fact that I went away on a Writing for Wellbeing course which inspired me to get excited about my writing all over again. This is definitely a good time to go away or join a write-in if you can.
6. Days twenty-two to twenty-four – Wow! I’ve Come a Long Way!
I seemed to get over a mental hump at this stage, probably spurned on by the retreat. I spent a few moments reflecting on what I had achieved so far and I kept looking at my daily word count and thinking, “Wow, I’ve come a long way.” I allowed myself to get excited at the prospect of completing the challenge, but this made me think more about the finishing line than the next words I needed to write. As a result it started to become difficult again for me to get the words on the page. Instead, I reminded myself to keep it in the day and to only do my 1,667 words. This seemed to help me to keep going. I also created a new playlist of birdsong and bubbling brooks, and ordered some Bergamot which seems to ignite my creativity.
7. Days twenty-five to twenty-nine – I’m Never Doing This Again!
These were the days when I cursed ever having signed up to do NaNoWriMo. Every day was excruciating. I felt like I couldn’t breath, much less write. But when I look back on my word count I see I actually started going over the daily target at this point and reached my goal early. However, I didn’t want to stop there as my other goals were to finish the thirty days and to eventually finish the first draft of my novel.
8. Day thirty – Collapsing in a Heap
Okay, so maybe not literally, but definitely metaphorically. I only wrote ten words on the last day but it didn’t matter because I’d achieved my goal and had become an NaNoWriMo Winner! I’m proud of what I’ve achieved but I know I still have a long way to go. I have about ten thousand words left to write on this first draft and then the hard work of editing and re-writing will begin. I’m looking forward to it though, but have planned a trip away for a few days before I sit down with my big red pen.
This has been an amazing journey and I’ve got to share it with some wonderful people for which I am thankful. I have taken from it the need to write every day, although I don’t think I can sustain 1,667 indefinitely. I’m probably more of a 600 word girl myself. That being said, this blog is already over 1k so I’d better draw it to a close and ask, what are your reflections from your NaNoWriMo experience this year? Do you think you’ll do it again? I, for one, am all in and can’t wait.