Claire King

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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Tactics for writing

Posted on: December 16th, 2017 by Claire - 4 Comments

pantone-color-of-the-year-2018-ultra-violet-lee-eiseman-quote I like finding out which colour Pantone has picked as the one that best represents our collective mood for the year ahead. For 2018 they’ve gone with Ultra Violet, chosen as a colour of reflection and innovation. It makes sense – after the political events of 2016 and their fallout in 2017 we all need a bit of mental space to regroup and find new ways to take positive action.

On a more personal level, the last year has amplified and consolidated a lot of things I’ve learned about myself as a writer that will affect how I do things next year. Something clicked for me earlier this month when my daughter was given a short solo in her school play. She loves to sing but worried that she wouldn’t be able to control her voice and it would ‘come out wrong’. And then people would judge her. I don’t know about singing but I know about public speaking, so I gave her some advice about posture and practice and mental attitude, but beyond that all I felt I could do was reassure her that everything would be fine. Then I thought, perhaps there was some more practical advice to be had.

I’ve been lucky enough to make contact on twitter this year with Alison Moyet, who is just a joy, and if you haven’t read them I really do recommend her Other tour blogs which are not only well written, but bursting with honesty and good humour and resolute no-shit-taking. So, I asked Alison if she had any advice for Bea. Alison suggested warming up thoroughly and some ways to do that, because, she said, “Fear closes the throat”. Long story short, Bea took her advice and it all went well, but this idea that fear can stop our bodies doing what we’d like them to do resonated with me.

Of course there are clear parallels with writing. Writers are also sometimes afraid – I am sometimes afraid – afraid that the words won’t come out right, or that they will not be judged to be good enough, or that even if they are good enough they will still be rejected. Fear that the time I give to this would have been better spent giving more time to the people in my life. Fear that some idiot might have started a nuclear war before I even finish the next chapter. And fear can also shut down our writing ‘muscle’, so what can we do to make our writing respond to our will?

Here are a few things I’ve learned that help me:

Avoiding reading or discussing the news in the morning. Starting the day by thinking about the state of the world is the best way to muddle my mood and my mind, and a constant drip feed of outrage and incredulity cripples my productivity. Half an hour of news in the evening is enough. So if this means asking my husband to keep our discussion on news to a certain time of day, or not logging onto Twitter, that’s what it takes.

Not wringing the pleasure out of writing. Many articles on writing say you should write every day without fail, rain or shine. While it’s true that forming a habit is helpful, if you’ve got a miserable cold and all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket and read a book, not write 1000 words, then I think that’s what you should do. Don’t let writing become something you begrudge doing.

Writing exercises or prompts. If I can’t get started on the thing I’m trying to write, coming at it sideways as a warm up often helps. Sarah Salway posts some great prompts, or you could try writing small stones – tiny vignettes of something everyday that you observe closely.

Switching from screen to paper and pencil. It changes the dynamic and wakes up a different part of the brain.

Dedicated writing time. This is about knowing for how long I can go undisturbed and having strategies to manage that. 30 minutes of uninterrupted writing is usually possible (unless you have a baby, when sometimes it just isn’t). If someone is in the house (kids, partners, builders) it means explaining that I can’t be disturbed for the next half an hour unless someone or something is on fire. If no one else is home then I  have to make a deal with myself that I won’t answer the phone or the door. It’s doable.

Accepting that routine is not important to me. I’ve tried writing at the same time and in the same place every day. It doesn’t work for me, but when I’ve tried to make it work and failed it felt like the writing had failed. By accepting that having no chance of routine does not mean having no chance to write, I’m already winning.

Being a writer not an author. This means keeping my head clear of publishing stuff when I’m trying to create. Publishing stuff is not writing. Thinking about reviews, sales, rejections, prizes, lists, the dismal state of the market for literary fiction…all of that is author stuff and needs to be dealt with separately.

Gathering people around me who nourish and support my writing, both professionally and personally. This is vital for my energy and enthusiasm and I’ve felt the effects of not doing it enough this year… and then putting that right. I am VERY grateful for all my writing friends and non-writing sympathisers who have given me such a boost this year, and also for my lovely new agent :)

Going for a walk. It’s a classic. But walking really does replenish my good and creative thoughts. The bits of the mind that marvel at the shape of a tree, the coldness of the air or the smell of the seasons. 2017 has been the first year we haven’t had a dog since 2002, so going out for a walk has had to be a much more conscious decision.

Tree Reflection

Of course the things that work for me might not work for you – I’d love to hear what does!

Wishing you all a very positive and creative 2018 xxx

Fallow Fields

Posted on: January 5th, 2015 by Claire - 13 Comments

The idea of a fallow field is thousands of years old. Farmers would let a field fallow for a year so that the field could regain its strength. If a field was used year in year out, especially for the same crop, the soil’s fertility was exhausted.

In modern times fewer and fewer fields are left fallow as it has a significant impact on farmers’ yields, and these days rather than grazing animals on the land for a year, letting the manure and the earthworms and the wild grasses do their work, farmers use commercial fertilisers instead.

I am not a farmer, but I do believe that this shift away from ‘resting’ a field and towards artificially stimulating the land to produce non-stop, must have an environmental impact. Just think how it affects the bee population, for example. There is also a theory that without fallowing, levels of carbon in the soil are reduced, releasing it into the atmosphere (see here if interested in this theory). I’m also convinced there’s  an impact on the flavour and nutritional value of the food produced.

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It’s quite easy to see, I think, how this example from agriculture is analogous to writers, and indeed to our lives in general. In Jewish teachings the concept of leaving fields fallow, or ‘shmita‘ gives us the idea of the sabbatical:

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek σαββατικός sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).” (from Wikipedia)

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As writers, we are often told that we should write every day, and when I can I do. In recent years this kind of routine and discipline has been the thing that has kept my words flowing even when I was too tired or too busy or just not motivated. But recently I got to a point where I felt I was forcing my brain to write, but there was something missing – an energy or an inspiration – that left me feeling flat. And when you are prioritising writing above, say, spending an extra hour with your family, that decision becomes easy to question too.

I wonder, can you really force creativity to work non stop? If you look you will find plenty of advice on how to keep going. But is that the right advice? I don’t think it is, at least not for everyone. I think sometimes our imaginations also need to be left fallow for a while. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, that the time isn’t productive. Far from it. Great things are taking place below the surface.

Daniel J. Levitin, the director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University explains why in his post in the New York Times on taking a real break. It seems that for our brains, stopping focusing on a task is exactly what we need sometimes to be truly creative. And writer Rachael Dunlop describes the process in action in this post about her taking a conscious decision not to write.

I am convinced. Not just for writers, but for anyone trying to produce creative work, every now and then our minds need a restorative sabbatical. It might be the best investment of time you could make.

My lovely editor sent me this link to the Wapping Project Berlin a ten week residency in Berlin for artists (aged 33+) photographers, writers, musicians etc. The residency is ten weeks accommodation in the heart of creative Berlin, and the one condition is that you do NOT use the residency for work. Instead, you take the time for “rest, recreation and reflection”. Perfect, right? (Well, perhaps when you have got over that part of you that’s protesting “but imagine how much writing I could get done in ten weeks!”)

I’m not in a position to be able to apply for this residency, sadly. Even while on writing sabbatical I still had to carry on with the rest of my life as usual – earning a living, being a mum and so on. But maybe YOU could – you have until 14th February, so follow the link and good luck!

My two-month writing sabbatical comes to an end today. My notebook is bursting with jottings and prompts and I’m feeling full of momentum again. I’m ready to sow the seeds of the next novel. Wish me luck…

Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

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