Finding Your Way

Artwork by V Gemmell

Recently I’ve hit a bit of a creative slump so for my birthday a couple of months ago I asked for a copy of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. I’d always wondered about this book and my curiosity was piqued further when a recent article (in the May issue of The Writing Magazine) featured an interview with Julia Cameron, and she spoke about her recommended practice of writing ‘Morning Pages’, where you write down a stream of consciousness on three A4 pages every day before you do anything else. This is just one practice and task Cameron recommends in order to kick-start your creativity, or in my case, try to get ‘unstuck’. In the opening, Cameron describes the book as a ‘toolkit’ for artists, and, ‘as they (readers) learn to take small risks in their Morning Pages, they are led to larger risks. A step at a time, they emerge as artists.’ The book is divided into ‘weeks’ like you are undertaking a course, with new themes and tasks introduced each time, but what stays consistent is the suggestion to complete your Morning Pages daily, and once a week set time aside for ‘An Artist Date.’ This isn’t a suggestion that you hang around gallery openings asking for artist’s phone numbers. This date is with yourself, where you set proper time aside to engage in something creative, or at least an activity you enjoy, alone (the alone part is very important).

I’d like to say after delving into the book about 5 weeks ago that I have shown impeccable discipline, but I’ve not. I am averaging about three morning pages a week, and often this is typed into my notes pages on my phone as I travel by train into work. I get up at 6.45am the mornings I’m travelling into work and I’m not a morning person so I was loathe to set my alarm 20 minutes early (as it tends take about 20 minutes to pen three pages). For me, that was going to set me up to fail at the start, and would defeat the purpose of making this something I would hopefully enjoy, and something that would energise me.

So now my morning pages often turn into late afternoon or evening pages, and it’s probably missing the point of ‘clearing my head for the day’, but it has thrown up some very interesting musings and I often use my pages to reflect on why I’ve been feeling blocked. I have to say I am failing on the regular artist dates too but I have slowly started to set more time aside to enjoy and explore all sides of my creativity (not just writing) which is really important to me as it does really help me switch off from the distractions of daily ‘noise’. My pen drawing at the top of this post was a result of one such ‘date’, and I also finally read through a book I bought from the GOMA years ago, called ‘Art From Elsewhere’, which features 70 works by International Artists, selected by curator David Elliot. I particularly liked the photos ‘Girls in Cars’ by the artist Shirin Aliabadi – you can read a short article about her and her photography here.

Sometimes I feel I waste too much time scrolling through social media (don’t we all), but then I remember the fascinating accounts, such as Humans of New York, that I follow, and how there is so much inspiration to be found in ‘the every-day’. This is something I know; finding inspiration everywhere is a big message I thread through a lot of creative workshops I have delivered, but I seem to have forgotten of late. Noticing small things in life was mentioned in one of the chapters of Cameron’s book and I do think there have been so many ‘big’ unsettling things happening in the World of late, it’s easy to let that noise dominate. And it’s easy to tell ourselves we have so many important day to day responsibilities to carry out (which, let’s face it, exhaust us,) that we don’t have time to be creative and frivolous.

Recently I remembered someone from my past connecting with me on facebook years ago when my debut novel came out, who said to me, ‘Oh I see you wrote a book. I plan to do that one day but right now I’m far too busy.’ I felt like replying with the response I’m sure many writers would like to respond with, ‘Newsflash. We are all too busy, but if you really want to do it, you will make the time.’ Guess who I’m actually writing that message to now? Though as many writers know, having time is just one aspect of what holds us back. For me, being productive is very much about getting into the right mindset.

One of my favourite tasks so far in the book has been to write a letter from me at eighty to myself (with the prompts – what would I tell myself? what dreams would I encourage?). At first I struggled with this but then I quite liked eighty year-old me; she got quite sassy as the letter went on. It got quite personal, but I wanted to share part of it, because it’s probably something all of us need to hear sometimes:

Eighty-year-old me told me those times when I look at other writers/artists, whatever, and think I can never be that good, they’re so much better than me, they’re out there being so successful her response was, They’re not better than you. They’re braver than you. And if I look up when I’m eighty and all I see on my wall is some god damn modesty medal you won in your forties I am going to be very mad and hide it in a box of regrets. I want to look up from my armchair and see a wall covered in awards and certificates or at least some kind of photographic evidence that you have continued to put yourself out there, and celebrated your creativity and talents.

I hovered over that word ‘talents’ and nearly deleted it. But I didn’t. So I guess I’m half-way on my way.

Chasing Magic

 

At the end of June I spent a fabulous weekend at the quirky Rosely Country House Hotel on a Chasing Time writing retreat. The theme for this particular retreat was ‘Stop the Clock’, with the emphasis on taking ‘time out’ to write.

As soon as I arrived at this gothic mansion, which dates back to the 1800s, I could feel my imagination wake up. Writers Dawn, Elizabeth and Sandra were wonderful hosts throughout the retreat, delivering stimulating and creative workshops. Between workshops we were able to wander around the grounds of the hotel, and used the gardens as inspiration for one of our ‘writing sprints’. I loved that our hosts set up a little ‘library’ in the massive conservatory, with a table filled with books about writing and creativity, that we were all able to dip in and out of throughout our stay. I started to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ and it was perfect timing for me as a lot of the sentiments in this tied in with my last blog post about taking time out to daydream and ‘create’, as well as acknowledging the fear and doubts that can creep in when you try to write.

The beautiful conservatory

I loved meeting the other writers on the retreat – we were all at different stages of our writing careers, with different focuses and styles, but at the heart of every conversation was a passion and enthusiasm for words and creating stories. There’s nothing better than being able to switch off from the ‘real world’ for a while and talk about writing and books.

On my first morning at the retreat I woke up very early, with scenes from my new book tumbling through my mind. I used the free writing time on the Saturday afternoon to map out the first eight chapters (a kind of meticulous planning that I never do!), as well as writing extensive notes about characters. Since returning home I have made a good start on this book and I am so glad I took the time out on this weekend to kick-start the creation.

There was a real sense of calm and quiet in the house. There’s something about old buildings which I find peaceful, perhaps because there is none of the ‘buzz’ of modern appliances. It’s rumored that there are a few ghosts hanging about Rosely. I am almost certain these ghosts were writers,  joining in the fun on the retreat by weaving some creative magic into my dreams.

For any writer out there who is craving a little time away from their busy life, I can’t recommend this sanctuary enough. You can check out the Chasing Time schedule at their website here

I will sign off with a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’:  ‘A creative life is an amplified life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.’