Sunday, 17 June 2012

I am a morning person...

I know this because mostly I wake up in a good mood. I sing a lot, smile a lot and speak loudly to the dogs. 

"Make it stop..."
Whatever I do first thing is usually the thing I feel I have done best in the entire day. If I can start writing as soon as I get out of bed (after a cuppa, of course) I am at my most productive, creative and focused.

I am reliably informed this is something to do with brain waves.  In case you didn’t know, the brain has four different frequencies of brain waves, depending on the type of mental activity involved.

They are

  • Beta waves - associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness and visual acuity.
  • Alpha waves - associated with deep relaxation, and thought to be the gateway to creativity
  • Theta waves - associated with the twilight state that we experience fleetingly as we drift off to sleep and are strongly linked with creativity and intuition.
  • Delta waves - associated with deep sleep.

The most relevant of these to writers and other creatives are alpha waves, which appear when your eyes are closed and your mind is in a quiet state of relaxation. Usually this is between sleeping and waking (and vice versa) but an alpha state can be induced to enhance creative flow. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning.

When your brain is in an alpha rhythm state, the critical censoring function performed by your left brain is half asleep and the feelings and images from your creative right brain can more easily pass through the gate-keeper of your left hemisphere, unaffected by judgment, and into your conscious mind. 

Scientists who know about these things have been able to demonstrate that highly creative people have more alpha brain waves than non-creative people, that they are able to generate a big burst of the alpha stuff whenever they are faced with problems to solve, and that they have more insights or inspirations. Equally, less creative people who have sudden strokes of inspiration or insights should know that their brain has just produced more alpha waves than usual.

Phil was not a morning person
Concrete thoughts, physical activity, sudden noise or light on the retina of the eye can send the brain out of alpha and into beta wave activity. 

Since alpha brain wave activity is at its height when you first wake up, my early morning bursts of creativity should come as no surprise. But, for those creatives who are not ‘morning people’ alpha waves also occur naturally as you are falling asleep or day dreaming. You can induce an alpha state by closing your eyes, being aware of your breathing and counting backwards from 100 slowly in your head. When you reach zero, you should have slowed down your brain waves sufficiently to be able to start creating. At this point, open your eyes, grab your pen and write. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Book Which Changed My Life

Winner of the Children's
Book of the Year
and The Guardian
Children's Fiction Award
I remember the day Jacqueline Wilson walked into my life. Her book, The Illustrated Mum, was reviewed in the Guardian newspaper and I went straight out to buy it.

If you don’t know, The Illustrated Mum is about a little girl called Dolphin, her older sister Star, and their tattooed and slightly crazy mother, Marigold. Dolphin thinks Marigold is wonderful and unique, but Star is embarrassed by Marigold's tattoos and off-the-wall behaviour. Marigold meanwhile is obsessed with Star’s father, Micky. When Micky reappears in Marigold’s life, the reunion isn't quite what she had dreamed off, and Dolphin is the one left to deal with her mum’s subsequent mental breakdown.

Why this book affected me emotionally is not a big mystery, although I will spare you the psychoanalysis. How it changed my life is far more relevant and important.

To be honest until I discovered  Jacqueline Wilson, I wasn't much of a reader; I probably had the literary equivalent of attention deficit disorder and if a book didn't grab me from the start, I rarely finished reading it. I didn't read enough to know what I wanted to read and I had no idea that ‘teen’ fiction and ‘real life’ fiction actually existed. Discovering The Illustrated Mum opened my eyes to a genre of fiction I immediately felt at home with.

And I felt at home reading TIM because I’ve been a teacher, a hypno-psychotherapist and I’ve worked in schools where the children have been severely emotionally (and in some cases physically) abused. I am interested in real people, the real life challenges they face and the real life solutions they come up with, and I am especially interested in how children like Dolphin have risen to their challenges and come out the other side.

Not long before I discovered this wonderful book, my natural inclination to write (short stories, essays, letters, etc) was going nowhere and I was feeling creatively unfulfilled. There were only so many short stories I could write before I needed to get my teeth into something meatier.

And then I met The Illustrated Mum. Not only had I at last found a book and a genre I wanted to read, which reflected my personal interest in real people and their emotional journeys, I had found a book I wanted to write. A door had been opened, and there was no going back.