Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Real You

Despite what I said in my earlier post (I love Research), all writing is to some extent autobiographical in that whether you know about something first or second hand, it will still be influenced by you, the writer. Good writing always discovers something new; a new angle, a character, a plot point etc, but what you bring to it is your personal understanding.

There was something slightly
unnerving about Susan's therapist,
but she couldn't quite put her finger
on what it was.
Whilst opening up your inner life to a therapist, counsellor or psycho-analyst might well be too scary an option for many people, when you write (whether you like it or not) you are delving into the depths of your unconscious mind all the time. You don’t have to be writing about your traumas or struggling with your own problems in your writing but you will inevitably find that the more you write, the more you repeat themes time and again. Analysing these can be interesting, therapeutic and a great move towards better self understanding, (if you're that way inclined.)

Alternatively, you can consciously use yourself as a starting point for fiction

Therapeutically, the benefit of fictionalising your life is that it helps you to see events, people and experiences in a different light. Turning yourself into a work of fiction helps you to be objective, it helps you to see other points of view, it distances you from the immediacy of painful emotions and it broadens your outlook. You have a chance to rewrite your life and to some extent, experience the life of your dreams (and/or nightmares.) You can change the past, create the future and embellish the present and actually, it's quite good fun!

You don't need me to tell you how to do this, but if you do want a quick exercise to get you started, try this.

1. Write ten interesting things about you. (You can lie if you want to, nobody will know any different.)
2. Now turn these ten interesting things into a short character description. Remember you are not describing you - just someone who happens to share the same ten interesting things that you have.
3. Now think of ten out of the blue events which might happen to this character. (Maybe some or all are events which have happened to real life you.)
4. Choose one.
5. How will your character react?
6. What happens as a result of their reaction?
7. Choose another - at random... and so on.

This is an exercise in character building and is meant as a starting point only, but to develop this you might like to try:
  • Writing about the same event but from a different point of view
  • Changing the emotions involved, so that for example if your character found the event a scary thing, maybe you could write it again with them finding the same event thrilling and exciting.
  • Create a new character for your first character to interact with. (Maybe someone who the real life you knows.)
  • Move back or forward in time and discover what your character is doing then. How is it different?
This is just a bit of fun, but you may be surprised by what you learn about yourself, and it may help you to act or react differently in certain situations in the future. It might also give you a damn good starting point for a story, and who know where you'll go with yourself after that?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How to let go, and what you’ll find when you do. . .

Toby struggled to fill a page, without
hitting himself in the eye.

As any writer will tell you, there are good days and bad days; days when the writing flows and days when there are nothing but empty pages. I have been deliberating on this for a while. Picasso has been quoted as saying, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” While I would generally agree with this sentiment, there are times when you have to STOP working and let inspiration find you.

I’m a great believer in letting go, and for me, the process of letting go is all about getting in touch with my muse.

There’s no shortage of advice about the best places to find your muse, and by all means do go on a muse hunt; read books, watch films, go for walks, listen to music, commune with nature, take a break, have a shower, eat strange foods, take drugs, strap yourself to a mast, lie in a coffin, inhale the stench of rotten apples… you can do all of that, but the chances are, as long as you are consciously looking for the holy grail of inspiration, your muse might well remain in hiding.

That’s because your muse is not without you; your muse is within. And accessing your muse is more about allowing it, than forcing it.

For me, letting go is about immersing myself in the present; being conscious of this moment in time only. I forget the problem and throw myself completely into something else. It might be baking a cake, walking my dogs or listening to music; it doesn’t matter. The one thing these actions/events have in common is that they absorb me. They give me a chance to let go of the words, sentences and storylines struggling for fluidity or meaning and allow my unconscious mind to make connections and sort them out without me even trying.

Martin enjoyed a
break with routine
If I am thinking, it’s thinking outside the box. I am not tackling anything head on. I am letting my creative mind lead me off in a different direction, rather than insisting it walks the path I have laid out.

Sometimes, the stress of life makes it difficult to live in the moment; pressures are such that we have no time to turn our minds off, our computers, or the people desperate for our attention so you need to find a way of letting go, consciously. Experiencing something new and different is a great way to occupy your mind and give you better muse receptors. The novelty of new sensations will keep you in the present and allow you to be more inspired. I’ve had some of my most inspired moments when I break with routine.

Failing that, try this simple exercise.

1. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing (although not whilst operating machinery or driving) stop for a few seconds, or minutes if you can manage. 
2. Take three deep breaths, making sure to relax your body with every out breath.
3. Notice that air is moving in and out of your body. Pay attention to your breath. Notice the space between your body and the ground. Notice your pulse, your breathing. Notice how you feel. Notice the world around you, as it is now.

That’s it. That’s all there is. You’re now present. Get in the habit of being here, and you’ll see fewer empty pages and find your Muse waiting to hold your hand. 

Me and my muse on a day out in Morecambe

Sunday, 15 April 2012

#Lucky 7

Nan Bonnington knew
how to make the most
of a Walnut Whip

As a break from my usual bloggery, this week Nan Bonnington has 'kindly' tagged me in Lucky Seven; a chain of blogs with extracts from our works in progress.

These are the rules:
1. Go to page 7 or 77 in current manuscript
2. Then to line 7
3. Post on blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating
4. Finally, tag 7 other authors to do the same
Can't help think there should be another 3 rules here. EG...
5. Reward yourself with some chocolate
6. Take a shower
7. Tidy the house etc

Anyway, here they are; my unedited, totally original and completely brilliant seven lines. It's a story about the complexity and joys of family life, as told through the eyes of an unhappy child.

"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; it was the day my grandmother exploded. My brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow and Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house and Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And if you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like."

What do you think? Am I onto something here?

Ye Olde Plagiarism Dance 

So now, according to the rules I must tag seven other bloggers. They are:
Catrina Peanutt
Hilary Fieldmouse
Evelyn Day
Agnes Elphant
Tanya Manners
Elvis Ramsbotham
Rex Meme

Normal Business will be resumed next week. Thank you.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Of Egg, Cress, and Praise Sandwiches

Receiving feedback on your writing is essential if you want to improve. But the art of receiving this feedback in good faith and humour is a developmental process.

When you first share your writing with others, it is entirely probable that you are in no mood for honest reactions. (Or was that just me?)

Feedback sessions at the writing group
were sometimes a little scary

Like it or not, it’s something you need to get used to. The proverbial praise sandwich (with a large mug of tea and extra sweeteners for the hard of hearing) is something you should find at any good writing group or forum, and it is something you should fill up on while you have the chance. There is nothing like a boost to your confidence, and the age-old sandwich recipe (two fat slices of praise filled with a tiny dollop of criticism) is great for this.

The doorstep sandwiches I ate in writing groups stood me in good stead when I ventured into the world of professional feedback and found the bread a little thinner in relation to the filling. 

But today my lunch was a rather delicious egg and cress filled baguette; the egg was soft and creamy; the cress peppery with a little crunch. Perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more sublime filling. And that’s when I had a revelation. 

You can put egg and cress between brown or white, baguette or barm cake, wholegrain or seedy - it’s the egg and cress which define the experience. 

Sitting on your backside and eating up the compliments is all very good, but it's the bit in the middle of the praise sandwich that's of real value. That is the bit you need to get right; the bit you need to give serious thought to. If it doesn't work for your reader, you need to ask why.

To improve as a writer, ultimately  it maybe necessary to dispense with the bread completely; I don't know if I am ready for that yet. I am still learning to love the filling.