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Archive for the tag “Julia Cameron”

When is the best time to write a book?

dog and seasonsI recently read an excellent article by Professor Alexandra Harris in The Author Magazine about the best weather for writing.

Traditionally people have associated springtime with artistic creativity, all those budding plants and trees somehow linked with the germination and production of creative ideas. But for a rurally based author (like me) spring is a very busy time, flowers might be bursting into life, but so are the weeds, and what with planting and potting on, and doing all the garden chores that are so unpalatable in the dark days of winter, there is little time left for writing.

Then there is summer. Surely those long warm days lend themselves to the creative process? Well yes, but they also attract visitors. Living in an idyllic spot by the sea (as we do) makes the summer even more busy than spring. All our lovely city dwelling friends who baulk at the thought of Welsh winter mud and rain, descend on us during the summer, and so, instead of writing, I find myself picnicking on the beach and hosting endless jolly barbeques in the (well-weeded) garden.

Autumn seems the obvious choice for a decent bit of writing. It isn’t so hot and the children are back at school so there is less to distract me. But no. Because now the people who want to avoid school holidays arrive, older couples and single friends, wanting long quiet walks on the coast path and equally long talks about life and loves.

So maybe I should pin my hopes on winter. But winter in West Wales is not to be taken lightly. Not only is there the problem of resisting the urge to hibernate, there’s the problem of hours spent persuading our elderly dogs to venture out into the howling gales, of the need for warm baths afterwards.

Then even when we authors do find time to pen a few words, there is the issue of trying to write about the season that we aren’t actually in. It is hard to think about snowdrops during long hot sultry August days, and equally hard to remember that lovely feeling of sun on skin when sleety winter winds are rattling the windows.

But somehow, word by word, chapter by chapter we get it done. Sometimes we have to retreat into our own cocoons, spurning entertainment, and alienating our friends and loved-ones.

Because books have to be written. And for those of us who don’t have the inclination or indeed the stamina to write all night, finding the time to work is an ongoing problem. Because time is what all writers need. We need to live – ‘to fill the creative well’ – as Julia Cameron puts it, but we also need time to write.

Even if life, whatever the weather, whatever the season, always tries to interfere.

 

 

Helen Carey’s latest novel LONDON CALLING is now available in hardback, ebook and audio versions. The paperback follows in December. All Helen’s other novels are available at Amazon, or in good bookshops.

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Filling the creative well

One of the nice things about being a writer is the opportunity to go to places you wouldn’t normally go to and experience things you wouldn’t normally experience, all in the name of research.

well actuallyJulia Cameron refers to this process of seeking of new experiences as ‘filling the well’ of creativity and considers it an essential aspect of a creative life.

If she is right, that gives us authors carte blanche to do pretty much whatever we want.

But, hey, why not? We only live once (as far as we know) and we might as well make the most of it.

I was tempted to apply for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship grant recently. They were looking for writers to go to Antarctica for three months, and what a great opportunity it would have been.

Or would it? I love penguins as much as the next person but I’m not sure I want to spend three months in their company. Okay, there would probably have been a few scientists and oil speculators and maybe even another ‘creative person’ thrown in too, but even that didn’t quite swing it for me. Had it been three months in the Caribbean, well, obviously that would have been another story. But looking back I actually think I should have gone. It would have taken me out of my comfort zone and although being out of your comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable, (and in this case possibly rather chilly,) it is no bad thing for a writer. Or for anyone else come to that.

To a greater or lesser degree we all tend to get stuck into a pattern of living. But in order to write convincing and entertaining fiction most of us need to experience more than our ordinary day to day lives. We shouldn’t dismiss out of hand art that challenges our taste. It’s good sometimes to see films we wouldn’t normally choose. At the very least we should read books that aren’t written by our top twenty favourite authors.

The other week I found myself lying flat on my back (on a specially provided mat) in the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate to try to experience Edmund de Waal’s concept of ‘skying’. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I got completely into the spirit of it, although it was rather nice to have a little lie down after a hard day’s socialising. But perhaps that was the part of the point. Lying down on the floor of a crowded public space is not something I have ever done before and it was a strangely exhilarating experience.

Of course you don’t have to be a writer to try to experience life more fully, there are benefits for everyone. On a macro level encouraging a more open and understanding viewpoint is surely good for society, but on a private level it is surprising what pleasure can be gained from even the smallest attempt to pop something new into the creative well.

How do you learn to write?

inspirationIt’s a funny thing with writing, some people think they can just write without doing any learning at all and others feel they’re not going to be able to write successfully without doing an MA in Creative Writing at a top university.

Both approaches have validity. There are successful writers out there who have never attended a single writing course or read a How To book. There are also successful writers out there who have MA’s and PhD’s in English Literature and Creative Writing coming out of their ears.

There are also a lot of writers somewhere in between.

What there aren’t many of, I would suggest, is many successful writers who aren’t also voracious readers.

One of the first things I do when I start teaching my Novel Writing courses is ask the participants what they are currently reading. You might (or might not) be amazed by the number of blank looks I get.

Tip 1. So my first tip for wannabe novelists (or any writers, really) is to read. And not just books in your favourite genre, read widely and eclectically, modern and classic, thrillers and romances, literary and popular. And don’t just read. Analyse. Sometimes this is hard to do if you are swept away by the story, but that it just the moment when you need to stop and think to yourself, ‘Why am I so engaged? How is the author achieving this page turning power?’ (If you can’t stop, just treat yourself to one enjoyable read through, and then read it again to analyse!)

Tip 2. My second tip is to read some How To books, blogs and writing magazines. Some are better than others. Some of what you find will help you, some will make you want to jump off a cliff. But it all adds to your portfolio of tips and techniques.

Tip 3. Have a go. Until you have tried to write a novel you won’t really know what you find difficult and what comes easy. You might find you are a dab hand at story structure but can’t write descriptions for toffee. (Or, slightly more worryingly, in my view, you might be able to pen a beautiful, emotive description but be unable to create engaging characters or a compelling plot.)

Once you have worked your way through tips 1-3, then, if you feel the need, the moment may have come for (Tip 4.) a writing course. There are masses available, varying from practising writing exercises at a monthly local writing group through to full time University postgraduate degrees. Just make sure you choose one to suit your needs, and check that it is taught by someone who knows what they are doing and who has some kind of reputation.

Tip 5. Practise makes perfect. I was talking to a group of published writers recently and we all agreed that we had written about a million words each before writing our breakthrough novels. Don’t give in to the temptation to publish your first novel straight away, just because nowadays you can. Work at it, or preferably write another, and publish only when you have something that’s really going to make your name.

Good luck!

Look out for:
Robert McKee’s courses:
The Arvon foundation writing courses
Julia Cameron’s creative rekindling – The Artist’s Way
Bridget Whelan’s book – Creative Writing School
Writing magazine:

Take it easy …

People often remark that I must be very disciplined to be a writer. If only they knew … (see my earlier post about life getting in the way!) But displacement activity aside, there is an element of truth in the observation. There is certainly more to writing than just dreaming up a good story and a few characters to act it out. There is the sitting down at the desk for one thing, and the getting the words down on the page another. Those things are certainly a key part of a writer’s life, they do take self-discipline and are clearly important.

But giving time to the dreaming is also important.

Good ideas, links, snatches of dialogue, observations, all grist to the writer’s mill, come to me at the oddest moments, and usually not when I am in my office. Motorway driving is often a fruitful source of inspiration, as is walking the dogs, cooking, eating, lying in the sun (or the bath), traveling, or even reading someone else’s book.

I’m not advocating that writers give up on self-discipline in order to lead a life of sybaritism (tempting though that might be), but I am advocating sometimes taking it all a bit more easy. Too much discipline and application can tend to have the effect of making Jill a dull girl, and it often seems to me that writer’s block has a tendency to set in when writers are trying too hard.

Writers obviously have to write, but it is also important for them to live. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls it ‘refilling the artistic well’ and she is right. We writers need to be constantly stocking up on our experiences, our awareness of other people’s quirks and foibles, our knowledge of life and times and our use of language.  We need to keep ourselves fresh and open to new ideas, new insights, new phraseology that we can recycle in our novels in order to keep them fresh, innovative and lively too.

So if you are having trouble thinking up ‘the next bit’ (or feel you are getting repetitive strain in your typing fingers) I suggest taking a break, take it easy for a day or two, relax, take a trip, go to a museum or an art gallery, do some shopping or some cooking, let your mind wander and have some fun. Don’t allow yourself feel guilty, just see it as part of the ‘discipline’ of being a writer.

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