How To Be Creative During Uncertain Times

Life continues to be weird. Seriously, how many more blog posts am I going to open this way?!

In order to limit distractions and to hopefully get a little work done, I’ve come up with some guidelines that I wanted to share with you. This blog could have been called Productivity Tip For Surviving an Apocalypse, but I think How To Be Creative During Uncertain Times reads a little better, no?

Without further ado, here are three simple ways to stay sane, happy, and creative — right now!

Limit your expose to the news

I don’t mean that you have to be ignorant about what is going on in the world, but you also don’t need to check the news every thirty minutes or even every day. Honestly, you could probably get away with checking it once a week. If any massive announcements are made, chances are you’ll find out about it through social media, your family, friends, or some other incidental source.

Here’s the thing, you don’t actually need to know how many people died in China today. You also don’t need to read soft-news pieces that detail one individual’s financial hardship.

This information will not enrich your life or make you more ‘prepared’, it will just distract and distress you.  

Yes, it is important to be empathetic, but how will reading these types of news stories help you?

This is especially important if you are feeling lost, overwhelmed and/or experiencing a lack of control.

Exposing yourself to excessive amounts of news will only exasperate these feelings.

Break up the routine

This point could be applied to your writing routine or your daily routine in general. As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, anxiety and depression are the result of stagnant thought patterns or loops. The best way to break this pattern and to create new neural pathways in your brain is to mix up your routine.

Now that most of us no-longer have to commute to work, attend social gatherings, or certain professional events, we have a lot more time up our sleeves.

You don’t have to go to bed at 9 pm or wake at 5 am, but you can if you want to.

Now is a great time to experiment with your writing routine.

If you normally write in the morning, trying writing late at night or vice versa. Depending on your living situation, you could also experiment with writing in different locations around your home: couch, kitchen table, back verandah, bed, bath — throw caution to the wind my friend!

You can also break up your routine by changing the structure of your day. If you normal work out in the morning, try the afternoon. Go for a walk through a different part of your neighbourhood. Cook a different recipe.

If you have a strict morning routine where you journal, meditate, go for a walk, and then drink a cup of tea, trying mixing things up – even if it is only the order of the events.

By shaking things up, you are breaking the thought patterns that can lead to feelings of boredom, restlessness, fatigue, overwhelm and yes, anxiety and depression. (Insert obvious disclaimer). 

Make more art

I will admit that I am just as distracted as everybody else is right now. I have had good writing days and bad writing days, but here’s the thing, those good writing days are brilliant. For two hours, I don’t have to think about the pandemic or the long-term ramifications of the global lockdown.

If you find yourself wondering, “what is the point in making art during a pandemic?”, check out my recent blog here.

Making art is a form of expression, but it is also a form of escapism.

Hard writing days are hard: we are all too aware of ourselves and the fact that our work isn’t working. But there is still value in the activity, at the very least it is giving us something to focus on.

There is something really satisfying about engaging with a challenge, working through a puzzling plot hole, and shaping a piece until it eventually resembles our original intention for it.

On good writing days, we ceased to exist because we enter the work so fully.

While having lunch with my partner the other day, we found ourselves discussing the pandemic, rehashing the same concerns: how long will this go on for? Are the numbers tapering off? What is the latest update?

Like many of you, eighty percent of my conversations wind-up being about the pandemic. How could they not?

So, when I return to the desk and resume my work, whether that be writing or research, it feels like a sweet relief.

I can’t control what is happening during this health crisis, I can’t control this lockdown, but I can have some control over my creative process.

I know that things are weird and unstable at the moment. Some of us are out of jobs, some of us are navigating around working from home for the first time, some of us are worried about our health or that of family and friends – I get it!

This is an unprecedented time, so go easy on yourself. Do what you can, set realistic expectations (or no expectations), work, rest, play with your dog, get a little sun and drink a little tea … or whiskey.

This will all be over soon, and hopefully you’ll have some tidy little chapters done at the end of it, and a whole new appreciation of café culture!


 

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Why Writing Fiction Matters

A global lockdown could be the best time to write or the worst.

Maybe you’re loving the fact that you don’t have to run errands or attend physical meetings. Maybe you’re hating the sudden change to your routine; the fact that everyone is home, and that your finances have been upended.

I’m a member of a private writing group on Facebook that has approximately 5,000 members; recently, someone posted about how they were struggling to write during this uncertain time and they wanted to know how everyone else was going.

Some authors shared that they had to put current projects aside because of their subject matter (climate change/global collapse/apocalypse), others were ‘on and off’, having both good days and bad, while other confirmed that their lives were largely unchanged and that their life was carrying on as normal (mostly).

If you fall into one of the first two camps, I am sure you’ve had at least some of the following thoughts: What is the point in writing? The world doesn’t need my story. My story can’t make this situation better, so writing it is a waste of time.

Here’s the things guys, this situation is not going to last forever. Thankfully.

If you are struggling with any kind of hardship, writing will be difficult.

If you are experiencing financial uncertainty, if you or your family is sick, or working in high-risk occupations, then writing will be difficult right now.

Of course, it’s hard to write your novel if you aren’t sure how you’re going to pay your rent.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios, then go easy on yourself.

Do what you can, when you can, and if you can’t write because other things need your attention (*cough, cough* Centrelink *cough*cough*) or because you’re consumed with worry about [X], then that’s okay.

Life is weird right now. Don’t hold yourself to your normal standards.

However, if you fall into the latter camp and your life is relatively stable, and yet you too are grappling with these questions of validity, here’s some thoughts that may help you.

How would you feel if the book industry collapsed, Amazon folded, and libraries shut their doors? How would you feel if all the novels that lined your bookshelf disappeared? Would you be willing to live in a world that didn’t have any books?

I am guessing no.

So, why is that? What do books give you that is so valuable you wouldn’t be willing to live without them?

Books have all kinds of functions.

They offer entertainment, and provide insight.

They make you feel something.

They teach you stuff.

They articulate thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you have had, but didn’t know how to put into words.

You meet people who are just like you and nothing like you.

You get to walk around in someone else’s world and live through their problems with no responsibility to solve them.

Books do lots of things, just as all art does lots of things.

Our need to make art, to tell stories, to perform, and to create music is ancient.

We write stories in order to process events and circumstances around us. We write stories because a topic has intrigued us, it keeps us awake at night, and we want to know more.

In times of crisis, artists often wonder, what is the point? But the thing is, if you stop making art, how will future generation know what our collective and/or cultural attitudes were? How will they know what we were thinking or feeling?

I am all for art for arts sake, but if you need a ‘legitimate’ reason, a full-blown permission slip in order to write your story, here it is: Art is a record.

Your stories, regardless of their content, are a part of history.

Maybe you’ll only sell 100 copies of your book, but that’s okay. Maybe your novel won’t influence the zeitgeist or become the poster child of an era, but so what?

The world needs your stories anyway, happy or sad, in good times and bad.

There’s no shame in creating art. The only shame would be if we all came out of lockdown and you were left thinking, ‘but wait! I actually wanted some extra time to finish this story!’

This lockdown won’t last forever, but if you want to make the most of this time, then start now. Set a word count, dedicate an afternoon, make a mini-goal and pick out a reward for when you are done.

All progress is good progress.

Art has a purpose. Whatever purpose you want to give it.


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Does Good Writing Actually Mean White Writing?

There’s a good chance that most of the books you have read are written in Standard Writing English (SWE).

What is SWE?

Basically, SWE is a form of English that is uniform in spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. It includes the established formal and informal regional differences used in the writing and speech of educated people, and it is accepted wherever English is understood.

You’ll note that one of the key attributes of SWE is that it’s the language of the educated. For this reason, SWE is often referred to as Standard White English, and the biggest criticism of SWE is its contribution to the ongoing oppression of marginal voices.

So, why am I talking about SWE and why should you care?

Because the publishing world is overwhelmingly white. Because the vast majority of books published are written in SWE. Because maybe you’re unknowingly contributing to the problem by only writing white characters and/or only reading books written by white authors. Because it takes an intelligent and contentious writer to create a riveting story that not only reflects our present moment, but also interrogates it.

One of the core questions (there are many more*) that bubbles to the surface whenever discussing SWE is: What is good writing?

The short answer: White.

The long answer: this sh*t is complicated.

The pragmatic answer: clear, concise, emotive, propelling, compelling, invisible.

Good writing feels like a universal standard. We just know it when we see it.

People in positions of power who uses subjectivity as their defence for saying “no” — it’s just not my style — fail to witness their own biases. They do not realise that their judgement is steeped in cultural and social beliefs; a lens that shapes their perspective on what quantifies as “good art”.

Personal “taste” is biases in wolf’s clothing. The publishing (and reading) world’s definition of what is literary, worthy, high-brow, intellectual come from somewhere for all beliefs have a history.

The reason why we assume that good writing is white writing is because most of the books we have read, studied, and see on listicles and shortlists are written in SWE. Now of course, there are exceptions, how could there not be when, according to Google, there is nearly 130 million books in print.

The preference for and publication of SWE is a perpetual cycle.

People in power (white) published stories by people who used the same language as them; writers kept writing in said style so they would get published; writing teachers trained their students how to write in order to meet industry standards (ie: get publish); and teachers across disciplines trained their student how to write in order to meet their industry standards (ie: get a job).

Now, SWE isn’t evil, after all, there are benefits to having a wildly accepted and understood form of writing. Being able to write a book in a language that is comprehendible to a wide audience is an efficient way to share a story.

While a standardised form of writing allows for mass communication, it is not fully inclusive.

However, writers, readers and publishers are more aware than ever about the faults of standardised writing. Debates about appropriation and the demand for greater diversity in fiction continue to appear on the bill of literary festivals, book events, and conferences. Not to mention the volumes of opinion pieces and articles that have been penned on the matter.

The issue here is that appropriation bumps heads with diversity.

White writers continue to write white characters because they fear the criticism that could follow if they wrote non-white character – even though that is what readers want. This fear is not without warrant; many white writers are accused of appropriation. However, this usually only happens if the non-white characters are depicted stereotypically or if the story is somehow exploitive.

This then raises a whole slew of questions, such as: who are books for? What is a universal language? What are writers for? What are novels for? How can you judge the quality of prose without standardisation? How do we want the system to change? How are we asking writers to change?

And again, what is good writing?

A basic answer: you know it when you see it.

But this defence of subjectivity is no good to us other, for how can we trust that our biases will not affect our judgement?

The only conclusion I can arrive to is this: writing is not writing, it is revision.

Writer, readers, and publishers are aware of the limitations of standardised writing and they want to do better. In the same way that a work of fiction can be tweaked, rework, and improved with time and effort; our desire to do better and to expect more of ourselves and the books that line the hallways of our homes will begin the dismantling of an industry that favours the voices of some while silencing others.

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of a standardised writing system? Have you read many novels that would not be considered SWE? I’d love to know, please leave your comments or reflects below.


 

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Writers Need to Read More

 

I was recently listening to a writing podcast where the interviewee stated that she read three hundred books last year (not including re-reads). When the interviewer asked her how she did that, the interviewee responded, “I don’t watch TV.”

Now, I rarely watch TV and I didn’t read three hundred books last year.

In fact, I only read a pitiful thirty-eight books last year (you have no idea how much courage it took to write that!); a tally I find incomprehensible because it seems like all I do is read and write.

It would be easy to rationalise my short list by claiming that I am a slow reader, or that I spent most of last year writing, but that river is called denial.

Here are the two real reasons why I read fewer than forty novels last year:

  • I only read before going to sleep.
  • I chose to do other things instead.

I know I am not alone on this front. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that most writers need to read more.

I’ve talked at length about the benefits of reading before, but for the sake of argument (and because we all need a reminder from time to time), here they are again.

Reading:

  • Improves you vocabulary
  • Improves recall
  • Improves brain function
  • Prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s

And that’s just the body, let’s cover some of the ways that reading improves your writing.

Reading shows you how to:

  • Create characters
  • Create a plot
  • Write dialogue
  • Write prose
  • Create narrative tension …

Basically, reading books shows you how to write books.

Now that you got your why, it’s important that we cover the how. How (the hell) do you read more books?

Read with a pen in your hand

Think back to when you were first learning to read, what did you do?

Chance are you, your parent/guardian, or teacher underlined the sentences with their finger as you read aloud.

You need to go back to this method.

If you trace each sentence with a pen or their finger as you read them, you will read twenty-five percent faster.

Why? In part, because it is easier for your eye to follow the moving pen than the stagnant sentence. This method allows you to focus on each word and your eyes don’t have to work as hard to ‘keep their place’ on the page.

Alternatively, you can hold a card under each line and move it down the page as you read.

Stop it with your subvocalisation

Subvocalisation is the habit of reading in your head as though you were reading aloud. Rather than saying each word in your head, allow your eyes to run over the line as your brain connects these words together and creates meaning.

For example, if you read the phrase “see you later” you don’t need to read each word individually in order to decipher the meaning because this phrase is so familiar.

This technique will quicken your reading pace because your eyes will be traveling along each sentence faster.

Note: If you are trying to improve your writing, or if you are analysing a text for a particular reason, then avoid this method. Speed reading is only useful if you want to pull the guts out of a book quickly. It is not so useful if you are trying to develop your understanding of craft by analysing how other authors create character/tension/beautiful prose.

Take a book everywhere

There are many tiny gaps in our day that could be filled by reading. Yes, there are the obvious ones like waiting in the doctor’s office, but there are also those unexpected moments, like waiting outside your child’s school at pick-up time, or the ten minutes before a meeting starts (and the room is still empty).

When you have a book on hand, you can dip into the story whenever you find yourself caught in an idle moment.

Imagine this: instead of reaching for your phone while you wait for your partner to get ready, for the fish and chip owner to call out your number, or for the kettle to finish boiling, you opened a book instead. Magic.

Read more than one book

This may seem counter intuitive. You may think it’s better/faster to read just one book at a time, but oh, dear friend, that would be such a terrible mistake. I believe (as does Gretchen Rubin) that it is far better to have multiple books on the go.

Why?

Well, because it pretty much eliminates the excuse of “I don’t feel like reading that.”

If you have two (three, four, five) books on your night stand, chances are there will always be something you’re in the mood for. And if you’re worried about getting stories confused, don’t stress. Simply make sure that you are reading a variety of texts and that you aren’t reading two (or more) books within any one genre.

Hello, audiobooks!

I am yet to jump on the audiobook bandwagon, but even from my distant vantage point I can see the benefits of this format: audio books are mobile. Audiobooks eliminate the biggest compliant readers have about reading: time.

You don’t have to find a spare thirty minutes in your day to get your reading done; now, you can plough through those pages while you are exercising, cleaning, or commuting.

This one tip alone will have you powering through your TBR pile quicker that you can download a podcast. 

This year, I’ve promised myself that I will read at least forty books. This may seem like a low number, but I wanted to set something that was realistic, but also just challenging enough.

To date, I’ve read one book every week (fourteen so far), so I am currently on track to meet my goal; and believe me, I will definitely be putting the above tips to practise.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. How many books did you read last year? Are you happy with that amount or would you have liked to read more? Got any tips to share on how to make more time for reading? If so, please leave a comment below!


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Hosting a Writing Retreat at Home

There’s a lot of uncertainty going on at the moment. Our work schedules are changing alongside our work environment; some of us are worried about our income (hello, casual employment!); and some of us are concerned about loved ones with compromised immune system or who are otherwise vulnerable.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on.

Like many of you, I am highly distracted and yet I have deadlines to meet and responsibilities I need to tend to.

There is no blog this week; however, I created a video on the fly that details how you can continue to engage with your creative practice by hosting a writing retreat at home.

Stay safe, stay calm, and keep writing.

 

Developing Your Writing Voice

When newbie writers are first starting out, they are told time again how important it’s that they ‘find their voice.’ But, what the hell is ‘voice’, how do you find it, and what do you do once you’ve got one?

At its most basic …

Voice is how a novel talks.

Voice is style, tone, language, syntax, and rhythm. Voice is attitude; it’s the way the story is told.

Voice tells us something about the story.

Elements such as theme, genre, and view point, all affect the type of voice a narrative may have.

When it comes to writing, you need to consider your voice as a writer, but also the particular voice of your project.

Some writers are known for their voice because all their works are written with a certain vernacular and style. Stephen King, for example, is famous for his working class, Maine, dialect.

Voice is how a novel talks, but your voice as a writer is not necessarily the same as your speaking voice. Instead, your voice may be the voice you think with. It’s your interior dialogue made manifest.

A good voice should make the reader feel as though they are being personally addressed; that this story is being shared with them, no one else.

You may be fooled into thinking that each genre has a particular voice. And while each genre may have a certain quality or delivery, the best books within any genre will have a voice that is somehow unique to them.

To illustrate what I am talking about here, I have pulled some excepts from a few horror novels I love.

The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway – no pun intended. So is the loose and faded leather coat, though not as much as the sideburns. And the way he keeps nodding and flicking his Zippo open and closed in rhythm with his head. He belongs in a chorus line of dancing Jets and Sharks.

Then again, I have an eye for these things. I know what to look for, because I’ve seen just about every variety of spook and spectre you can imagine. (Kendare Blake, Anna Dressed in Blood, p. 7)

See how much attitude this passage has? Anna Dressed in Blood is written in the first person, as such, Blake is able to use the vernacular of her teenage protagonist in a way that is appropriate and ultimately convincing. Phrases like ‘non pun intended’ couldn’t be used in second or third person because that wouldn’t be consistent with the view point. In this example, it’s easy to see how much perspective can alter the voice of a narrative.

Here’s another:

The body. The-body-the-body-the-body-the-body, she thinks. (Lauren Beaukes, Broken Monsters, p. 9)

See how Beaukes’ uses grammar and rhythm as a way to establish voice?

Here’s another:

Louis Creed, who had lost his father at three and who had never known a grandfather, never expected to find a father as he entered middle age, but that was exactly what happened … although he called this man a friend, as a grown man must do when he finds the man who should have been his father relatively late in life. (Stephen King, Pet Sematary, p. 3)

Grammatically, King as chosen to open the novel with a convoluted sentence (split main clause) that allows him to inject a clip of backstory before returning to the present moment. Though told in third person limited, phrases like ‘as a grown man must do’ allude to character values even though we don’t have direct access to the character’s internal life. It is phrases such as these that contribute to the novel’s voice. Incidentally, King is famous for his compound sentences (never expected to find a father as he entered middle age, but that was exactly what happened), his inclusion here is a wink to fans and is akin to a personal seal.

The above novels are all horror, and while they have the ominous quality often associated with their genre, they each have their own distinct voice.

The type of voice you use in your novel will depend on the view point, the genre, theme, time, setting, and your personal skills as a writer.

It can take a lot of experimentation and revision to land on the right voice. And often, the only way to develop it is through time and practise.

As Amy Severson said, “When I finally realized that I was never going to write like the authors I loved and just started writing how (and what) I wanted to, it was like someone blew out the little candle I was huddled under and flipped the switch on a dozen spotlights.”

Voice is important, but remember that it is also subservient to your narrative. Premise, characterisation, and narrative pull are just as important. And usually, if you just follow your gut, the voice will take care of itself.


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Create a Killer Morning Routine

Morning routines have become fetishised.

Why? Probably because they work and they sound like fun.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a morning routine (and the only way you wouldn’t know is if you lived in a Wi-Fi free cabin surrounded by woodland creatures for company. If that is the case, do you have a spare bedroom?), let me explain.

A morning routine is a personally curated ritual designed to ‘set you up’ for an ideal day, and it goes way beyond the route habit of bathroom, coffee, get dressed, have breakfast.

Why has this phrase become a part of the zeitgeist? Simple, because (many) successful people have morning routines.

I had a morning routine for a long time, and though that routine changed in response to whatever was going on at the time (work, study, family), I kept at it … until I didn’t.

For the past year, my ‘morning routine’ had two setting: auto-pilot and response. When I wasn’t coasting through my day mindlessly, I was responding to whatever was going on around me. 

The reason why the slogan of morning routines revolves around ‘setting yourself up for the day’ is because of their intentionality. Rather that responding to external stimuli, you decide who or what is worthy of your time. In most cases, a morning routine contains some element of mindfulness.

For example, here’s a bunch of activities that often appear in people’s morning routines:

  • Meditation
  • Breath work
  • Exercise
  • Walking the dog
  • Drinking lemon water
  • Journaling
  • Gratitude practice
  • Reading
  • Breakfast
  • Dry brushing
  • Stretching
  • Oracle cards

You get the idea.

How much time you want to dedicate to your morning routine is totally up to you; it can be as long or as short as you want.

Most morning routines seem to be made up of three to five of these practices. And often they go for 30 minutes – two hours.

I had forgotten how effect morning routines were until I started incorporating them back into my schedule.

The reason why I reintroduced a morning routine back into my days is because I was feeling frazzled, unorganised, and like I was no longer in control of how I was spending my time.

For a while, I used the excuse that I couldn’t have a solid morning routine because every day was a little bit different. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to have a fluid routine that I was able to reintroduce them back into my life.

Here’s the general outline of my morning routine:

  1. Wake up, but stay in bed for a few minutes. Slowly become aware of the fact that I am awake and try to recall any dreams I had the night before.
  2. Scrape my tongue and drink a large glass of water.
  3. Morning pages.
  4. Meditate for ten minutes.

That’s it.

It takes about 30 minutes (usually), then I take my dog for a walk (30-60 minutes).

If time is on my side, I might read a couple of poems or a few pages of a book.

What has enabled me to keep this routine going is the permission to break these activities up.  For example, rather than wake up early on gym days, I allow myself to do activities one and two before heading out the door and then three and four when I get  home. On really busy days, it’s totally okay if I don’t do my meditation until 10 a.m!

The point is, introducing a morning routine has made me feel like I have gained control over my days again. Even if my schedule goes out the window – for whatever reason! – I can (usually) control what happens between 5 a.m. – 7 a.m. each day.

Morning routines are useful because they are a curated set of activities that you want to do. It provides a way to pay yourself first by injecting a sense of mindfulness and pleasure into your day.

And because these activities happen in the morning, it’s less like that your plans will be derailed by the forces of darkness (AKA email). 

Deciding to do something and then actually doing it is the best way to remind yourself that you are in control of your life.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it and how does it support you? Leave a comment below and feel free to share your own morning routine.


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How to Make Writing Fun Again

Sometimes our routines and practises can start to feel a little stale, a little uninspiring, or a little same hat.

It is easy to become overwhelmed when you first start writing because there is so much to learn about craft, the publishing industry (traditional and indie), and marketing. The volume of information out there for you to consume is tremendous: writing advice blogs, online courses, membership communities, podcasts, digital tutorials, etc.

You’re incredibly aware of your own ignorance, but you’re also excited by the challenge of stretching your abilities and the novelty of doing something new.

Over time, you figure out a writing routine and you develop enough confidence to commit to a writing project whether that be a short story, a collection, novella, novel or screen play.

Your confidence grows as you start to get articles and short stories published; maybe you start your own blog, finish your book, and get it published.

The years roll on and soon you begin to see yourself as a true craftsman.

Now, feeling comfortable with your craft is one thing, but what do you do when your practise starts to feel stale? How do you continue to keep the love for your art alive when deadlines, rather than inspiration, become your motivation?

How do you reanimate the form of your creative practise?

How do you make writing fun again?

Dedicated playtime

It’s common for a writer to perform some kind of ritual before they start writing. Maybe they cast a prayer out to the muse, take a couple of deep breaths, or spend some time re-reading their prose from the day before.

If your writing desk feels just as oppressive as an office cubical, then I urge you to inject a sense of play back into your writing.

Before clicking open your word document, take 15 minutes to write something for fun. Write a tiny piece of flash fiction, a poem, or you can dedicate this time to another writing project that you have no intention of publishing!

Remember: You started writing because it was fun; because you got something out of it emotionally, whether that was a sense of joy, pride, or intellectual stimulation – whatever!

Reintroducing that sense of play back into your creative practise is the best way to remind yourself that you are creating art – not saving lives. (Though, sometimes art does save lives).

It’s also a good way to ‘pay yourself first.’

Take the time to make art for yourself before you make it for someone else.

Artist’s Date

Have you read Julie Cameron’s beloved book The Artist’s Way? If so, then you’re already familiar with her concept of an artist’s date and you can probably skip ahead to the next section – just as long as you promise to take action on Cameron’s brilliant advice!

Now, an artist’s date is not when two broke people go out for Italian hoping the other one will pay; an artist’s date is when you take yourself out (solo) and do a real world activity that will either replenish your creative well, inform your current project, or provide inspiration.

The idea of an artist date is that you carve out some time, once a week, to do something ‘enchanting.’ This activity should be fun, playful, and nourishing.

Here’s some examples to get you inspired:

  • An afternoon out spent taking photographs of anything that inspired you.
  • Taking a class (art, sewing, writing, language, pottery).
  • Going to a museum or art gallery (especially if there is a cool exhibition on).
  • Seeing a play or musical.
  • Being a tourist in your own town (exploring unfamiliar suburbs, parks, etc.).
  • Going on a short road trip.

Note: an artist’s date doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘artistic’, just do whatever activity excites you!

Read Books & Author Interviews

Okay, I know this suggest seems beyond basic, but one of the best way to become excited about writing again is to read.

Yes, you can increase the amount of time you spend reading generally, but I specifically recommend taking 10-20 minutes each morning to read something that makes you feel inspired or moved in someway.

What inspires one person may not necessarily inspire another, and what inspired you one day may fall flat the next, so feel free to mess around.

Read a few pages from a familiar book by an author you wish to emulate, or complete a challenge in a writing advice book such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind. You may prefer to read a few poems, or a few pages from a memoir you find especially inspiring.

On that note, listening, watching, or reading authors interviews can be an endless source of inspiration as well. Hearing other writers speak about their process, their work, and their motivations for writing is one of the best way to resuscitate a dying creative practise.

Like any relationship, we need to put mindful effort into our writing in order to keep it alive, interesting, and rewarding.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to keep writing interesting? How do you keep your creative spark sparkly when the daily grind starts to feel especially grindy? Leave your comment below!


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How to Make Writing a Physical Practise

Compared to other creative practices such as music, visual arts, theatre, and dance, writing is usual thought of as a mental activity rather than a physical one.

In many ways, you are trying to forget that you have a body, and that you even exist. The ideal writing session is one where you are dictating rather than creating. You are so immersed in the story that you are simply describing what you see, hear, feel, taste, smell.

Those are very good writing days.

In the same way that an artist may squeeze a dollop of paint onto their fingertip and smear it across the canvas, writers also create their art through their hands. Our hands are the medium through which we make our idea or concept (internal) a piece of art (external).

But is this process of making meaning really the same for writers as it is for other artists?

Are we perhaps missing out on something that exists within these other forms?

How would our writing benefit if we were to make our bodies part of the process, and what would that look like?

Enactivist theory states that whether we realise it or not, we all use our senses (hands/body) to explore the unknown but also as a way confirm what we already know. We learn through action and we can accumulate knowledge through embodied experiences with the environment. In this way, the body is integral to all knowing.

Perhaps you’re working on a scene and you need to describe a particular movement. Of course, you think you know what it feels like to punch someone — you were raised with brothers — but when you actually punch the air and focus, hard, on what that action actually feels like, you may notice more nuance movements. You could walk across the room and try different styles of walking while thinking about how to descried them: smooth, stilted, stiff, slinky, march, amble, confident, scarred.

This is knowing-in-action.

As I’ve written about before, powerful creative insights can happen when we move our bodies. There is a reason why so many writers are active walkers, hikers, or runners.

When we sit down our brains switches from “alert” to “relaxed.”

This is why we come up with our best ideas and the best solutions to plot holes when we are away from our computers doing the dishes, walking the dog, or weeding the garden.

If you listen to a podcast while exercising or even cleaning your house, you will remember more of the content than if you were to sit and listen to it. When the body is in motion, any motion, our brains become alert.

Our bodies contain knowledge. Muscle memory allows a musician to play a beloved piece without sheet music, a ballerina points without thought, and an actor knows how to engage their diaphragm and to project across a theatre. A novelist’s fingers (if trained) can construct a manuscript without said novelist looking at the keyboard (or in my case, even the screen!)

Writing can become a tactile act when we start negotiating with the work and this can be done in a variety of ways.

Structure

1. You can print out your manuscript and arrange the chapters on the floor in order, then consider how the sequence of events could be changed. How could you make this story coherent while telling it in a non-linear fashion?

2. Write your outline on play cards and then shuffle the cards around to see what alternative structures or view points are possible.

3. Stand up and read your work a loud. Act as though it is a live reading of a play and ask yourself: How does each character move? What is their tone of voice like when they reply to X’s query?

Problem solving

1. Try productive meditation: a practise where you go for a long walk (minimum of 2 hours) by yourself (no Fido, no phone, no music, no podcasts) with a notebook, and challenge yourself to break out of repetitive thought loops and to look for creative solutions.

2. Interview your characters. A loud. Like they were actually in the room. Don’t do this at the public library.

3. Buy or create a standing desk by piling a bunch of books onto your kitchen counter. This subtle change invites your body to become an active participant in your writing process, because your muscles are now engaged your brain will be more alert.

Inspiration

1. Fill a mason jar with random words, pull out three and then write a piece of flash fiction or a short story.

3. Read while walking around your house. (I do this often. It’s also how I used to memorise my lines for plays and how I continue to memorise speeches/presentations today).

Mixed media

1. Write a piece of flash fiction; film yourself reading a loud; post the video on social media.

Our bodies can teach other bodies how to create art.

After all, it was by reading books written by the hands of other writers that I learned how to write. The author both directly and indirectly shows me, using language, how to tell a story. It’s all there on the page. They do not say, “See here, dear reader, I made Ella enter the party by herself to convey that she is a Nigel-no-friends” or “Harlow is wearing a red, tight fitting dress to insinuate that she is a lust lady of the night”, and yet, through dissection and careful reflection it is possible for a reader to make an educated assumption regarding authorial intent.

Books are usually written in solitude sitting down, but it was by attending classes and talking to lecturers and other writing students that I was able to polish my drafts. It was during long walks that I came up with creative solutions and it was through scribbling and crossing out and adding new sentences (in bright red pen) that I figured out how I could apply those solutions.

The body can become a part of our creative practise, perhaps not in the same way or to the same degree that it participants in other forms, but it can support and inform a writer’s creative process.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What do you think of today’s post? Does your writing practise contain physical or tactile elements? Leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation started.


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How to Write a Strong Female Character

Recently, I received this LOVELY review from Dahlia Borroughs about Every Time He Dies. In the review, she made the comment that Daff was a great example of a strong female character: someone who was strong, but who could still experience heartbreak.

When I set out to write Daff, I wasn’t intentionally trying to write ‘a strong female character’, I was just trying to write a good story.

In order for the plot to work, I need to create conflict because … that’s the basis of any narrative …

One of the central characters is a ghost, so in order to create conflict, I designed a protagonist who was scientifically-minded, literal, and realistic.

The whole ‘strong female character’ concept has been a hot topic for a while and it’s great to see that creatives are intentionally writing female characters who are the leaders of their own story. It’s also great that creatives are questioning the behaviour of their leading ladies and evaluating why they (the character) are doing the things that they do.

However, there is a trend to create female characters who are basically … men.

What I mean is that some people have become confused about the definition of a strong female character.

When done wrong, a strong female character winds up being a meat-suit stuffed with masculine tropes and gender norms. She talks like a ‘man’, acts like a ‘man’. And to top it off (bizarrely), these female characters are then hyper-sexualised.

Think Lara Croft (I know … bit of a dusty example, but stay with me here). She has big boobs, tight clothes, and she shoots guns. (“But Tara! Lara has Daddy issues!” Yeah, yeah, I know. I saw the movie too).

In Every Time He Dies, Daff isn’t strong because she wears tight pants (she doesn’t) and fights bad guys (she does). She’s strong because she has agency.

Daff is in charge of her life. When problems arise, she finds ways to solve them. She chooses her actions and she takes action.

Also, Daff is also not an impenetrable force. In fact, she’s dealing with some pretty hefty emotional baggage. She doesn’t conceal this baggage either — it’s right there on her shoulder, you can see it! — but she knows how to keep it under wraps so that she can continue to function.

Every Time He Dies is Daff’s story. Naturally, it was important to me that she be seen as a subject, not an object.

Obviously, I can’t get into specifics because spoilers …

But the point I am trying to make is that it’s not the guns, marital arts skills, or heart of concrete that make a woman strong, it’s her agency.

If you want to write a strong female character, don’t try to write a strong female character.

Just write a person who happens to be female.

Allow them to take action and to make their own decisions. Also, allow them to have an interior life, because tough people are tough for a reason: they have the biggest wounds. And that is what makes them interesting.

Agency not only makes a story exciting; it’s how you get your readers to care about a character.

Cos let’s be honest, everyone likes proactive people.

They get things done.

Their take charge attitude tells us that they got this s**t handled, and that we’re in safe hands.

And that’s a pretty good feeling to have as a reader, at least until the protagonist shucks off their shoulder bag, undoes the zipper and reveals its insides. Then everything changes, and that is also exciting.


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