Thursday, 28 January 2016

Inspiration: Away from the Laptop

At the moment I’m on my laptop all the time. All my endeavours at the moment seem to require me to be at a desk with my eyes on a screen and my hands, pianist like, on the keyboard. Sometimes, you need to step away from whatever writing task you’re working on and give your writing brain a rest. I’ve come up with a few ways you can work on your writing project away from your computer.
  • A creative playlist. Getting in the mood to write can be aided by music. You might choose songs about success and winning when you’re trying to reach the end of something. For something more tailor made you could choose songs that reflect the mood of what you’re working on. Would your heartbroken character be listening to the mournful tones of Billie Holiday? What song best encapsulates the argument X and Y have in your play? Over time the music alone will get you into the right headspace for your project.
  • Make a map of your novel or play. Trace the journey of the narrative from beginning to end, marking the various milestones on the way. Add pictures and quotations from your writings. Look at the map when you’re feeling lost to remind yourself of where you’re going.
  • Image board. Create a board of pictures inspired by your story. Find images of places that look like your setting, people who look like your characters and significant objects that appear in your story. As a visual thinker, it always helps me to ‘see’ how my story looks. Glancing over your image board will remind you of what you’re trying to capture.
  • A day out. Collecting ideas and inspiration is an ongoing process.  A great way to get a fresh perspective on your project is to take an outing to somewhere that connects to your book. For example, if you’re writing a wartime novel you could visit the Imperial War Museum. If your story is set on the Cornish coast take yourself there for the day and immerse yourself in the environment. Get curious about lectures, exhibitions and outings that remind you of why you fell in love with your subject matter. 
  • Tidy your workspace. Give your writing space a de-clutter to refresh your environment and mind. Don’t forget to post an inspiring quote or picture where you can see it on your desk.
  • Retail therapy for writers. Go shopping for your character.  When you hit the shops have in mind a particular character and look out for things that might appeal to them. Thinking about the objects your characters surrounds themselves with, will give you plenty of insight. Why does your character demand fresh flowers every week? Why is your protagonist taking a slimming aid? Make a study of a particular object as a starting place for writing.
I hope these activities recharge your batteries and leave you feeling refreshed and re-inspired to get writing again. Let me know how you get on...

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Variations on a Theme

‘Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves- that’s the truth.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald

With the sad passing of David Bowie last week, I, along with the rest of the world couldn’t keep my eyes from the deluge of images of our unique star in all his vivid guises and characters. So many people commented on his ability to change from look to look, genre to genre, always reinventing and never being boring. But Bowie viewed his kaleidoscopic career as something far simpler than this. Bowie felt he always wrote and sang about the same things - loneliness, alienation, stardom, identity, sexuality – throughout his career and that it was these underlining themes that were the common denominator in his work.

Julia Cameron talks about something she calls ‘the vein of gold’. Her idea is that all artists have topics that obsess them, inspire them, ideas that they can’t help but revisit project after project. Moreover, when they explore the things that fascinate and impel them they are working within their vein of gold. I think Cameron’s theory is so right. It’s the reason Monet made waterlilies his metier. It’s the reason we know that when we pick up a Margaret Atwood book we’ll probably encounter something that will get us to think about a woman’s place in the world. It’s the reason anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider finds solace in the work of Morrissey.

In fact, if you choose any artist you’ll see these patterns. This is an idea that really reverberates with me. I feel that everyone is given a topic or two, a theme they are urged to explore throughout their life and through being creative they somehow find a conclusion to their curiosity. When you look back over things you’ve written it can sometimes feel like you never do anything new, that you’re always getting at the same old thing. Your characters might blend into one. Your plots might be similar. But I think this is a sign your writing about the things you should be. The alternative would be to write about things you think you should be writing about and that wouldn’t be authentic at all. So, stick with the things you want to know about, the things that inspire you and see what happens.

Just as Cameron suggests in her brilliant book make a list of the films, books, songs, television programmes, art works that you love. When you’ve done that think about the topics that you find yourself thinking and talking about. Then make a list of things you love doing. Look at your lists once you’ve done this and see if you can see correlations – do your favourite films share similarities with your favourite reading topics? I’ve found the things that really resonate with me and pique my curiosity are the things that end up in my stories.  It was a real ‘a-ha’ moment for me when I began seeing the echoes across my writing. Two of my themes included sibling dynamics and characters who are somehow unable to deal with the societies they find themselves in.

Give this a go and see if you can see any patterns in your own work. I’d love to hear if you make any discoveries.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

To Keep or Not to Keep a Journal

At this time of year, we are tantalised by the variety of journals to take into our lives. For some, this is an intimidating commitment – having to write a daily entry seems an annoying burden, another ritual we won’t stick to. Journals also have the cringe worthy connotations of adolescent angst – mementoes from times in our lives we’d rather forget. I encourage you to put these fears behind you and be open to the wonderful benefits of journaling.  Here are some of the ways you can use a journal to have a positive impact in your life:

Journals enhance creativity

Journals are ideas factories, private little worlds where we can ferment our thoughts, plans and dreams. Great writers like W. Somerset Maugham and Virginia Woolf kept diaries throughout their lives. Whilst these provide fascinating insights into them biographically, what’s most striking is the sense of them needing to digest their day to day life. Maugham is impelled to write quick character portraits of people he comes across, and Woolf ends up charting Bloomsbury group gossip and housework frustrations. You might use your journal as a space to jot creative ideas down. There’s something less scary about writing in a journal than a blank page in Word. A journal is a place to be playful, cross things out and warm up before hitting the keys.

Journals cultivate a sense of gratitude

Read any wellbeing book and the concept of gratitude is bound to occur. I saw a quote the other day – on a pyjama top in fact-  that said ‘when its dark, look for the stars’. A journal is a convenient place to count your blessings. Set yourself the challenge of making lists of people, things, qualities you have, places and events you are grateful for.

Journals allow us to think through problems

When an issue is bothering you a journal is a great way to relieve yourself of the burden. By writing your problem down you can attempt to minimise its impact. A great technique is to write constantly for a set amount of time or for a specified length. This can help breakdown a problem and shine a light upon possible solutions for your conundrums.

Journals are places to be inspired

Journals don’t have to be filled with reams of writing. They can also be a record of things that pique your interest. A journal is a private scrapbook to keep track of things that interest and inspire you. My journal is full of quotations, postcards, pictures, doodles and quick notes.

Journals are tools for recording our lives

Diaries are insights into our memories and our passions. They remind us of who we were and who we wanted to become. They conjure up images of days gone by, obstacles overcome and provide us with an insight into ourselves. A quick and easy way of processing your day is to make a list of five things that have been significant for you each day. You might include something you did that day, a new idea that occurred to you…anything that is noteworthy for you. After all, unless you end up being the next Samuel Pepys, your diary is for you alone.

Do you keep a journal? Has it been helpful for you?

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