Why I think my best writing has nothing to do with me at all

I kind of hate to say this, but I think my best writing comes from another place totally beyond my control, my life, my consciousness. I’m talking about the kind of writing I read back the next day and think ‘where the **** did that come from?!’ (in a good way, I mean).

My flashes of inspiration come from a dark cave of pedestrian writing. (pic: istockphoto.com/rozbyshaka)

I know I have flashes of brilliance in my creative writing: times when I’m in awe of the written word to convey a feeling, a moment, a heartbeat. But those flashes are little chinks of light in what can sometimes feel like a dark cave of inane drivel and self-obsessed tosh.

Getting out of the way

I’ve realised that my best writing comes when I Continue reading

How to make reading a treat, not a chore, for children

Allowing children to read ‘cool’ books rather than stiff old tomes the authorities think they should be ploughing through is the key to stimulating a creative love of reading. That’s according to a wonderful little article in the Evening Standard, Forget Austen, there are no explosions, which quotes Steven Moffat, the writer behind successful TV series Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Give a child a ‘cool’ book and she’ll devour it. Boring books get left on the shelf. (Pic: istockphoto.com)

He says: “We should give [children] really cool books that they think are exciting. It doesn’t matter if they are good books as long as they read. Reading makes you better at English. Reading a lot makes you want to read better books.”

He’s so right. I’m a professional writer now who can’t bear to flirt with badly written fiction. Life is far too short for that, and my bookshelves are stuffed with books I’d much rather commit to. However, as a 10-year-old child, I devoured just about every Continue reading

The two decisions I made that helped me finish my novel

Like many writers, I’d been working on a novel for years. The idea for it came into my head, skittered across the page for a while, then exited stage right. I dragged it back on to perform, reluctantly, for many years – and each time it looked more awkward than before, and with increasingly palpable and self-destructive stage fright.

I so wished I had allowed the creative novel-writing impetus more time and space in my life while it was fresh and energetic, rather than cowed and defeated. Six years on – and already six months into the grace period of my extended Creative Writing MA deadline, with very little developmental or restorative work on my manuscript – I was considering asking for another extension.

Except that this time Continue reading

why I chose a bashed notebook over a pristine one

Oh, how many lovely new pristine notebooks do I have in my drawers, on my shelves, and lined up proudly on my desk.

A self-confessed notebook addict, I’m unable to pass a stationery store without a little peak at the perky new notebooks that could steal my attention, part me with my pounds, and then remain awesome but abandoned on my desk.

I got a posh notebook as a present for Christmas a couple of years ago –  complete with inscription from the gifter – and somehow I’ve never felt worthy of using it. There has never been an occasion when I thought this book would be suitable. So it sits, in its shiny-clothed isolation – like a posh dress waiting for a gold-rimmed invitation – not being used, loved or creative.

An already damaged notebook has more chance of encouraging my creative writing.

It was in the want, rather than need, of a new journal, that I passed by the lovely Paperchase and happened to spot the perfect notebook for me. Twice the price of what I would usually pay, but leather bound and worth it. The lines are closer together – I dislike those fat-lined notebooks, as they need so few words to fill a page, and I feel my thoughts need lines that are narrower and somehow more intimate. The leather is already damaged, as though someone had bent over the corner on the front and pressed a hairbrush to the back. The paper inside is yellowing, and perfect for use with a fountain pen.

My new purchase was not perfect. I checked out all three purple leather journals in the shop to see which one fitted me best. All three smelt of that ‘old’ leather that you get in second-hand shops. The book I chose felt wise: its pattern was innate, it had been around the block a few times, and it was comfortable with its lines, its bends, and its creases.

This felt like Continue reading

catch your creativity by letting it go

I’ve often wondered how people can do ‘structured’ creative thinking and come up with ideas on demand, because I find that my inspiration comes when I least expect it and when I’m nowhere near a pen to write things down – like when I’m driving, washing my hair, or brushing my teeth.

If someone demanded a brilliant idea from me at knifepoint I doubt I’d be able to deliver, because creative thought somehow deserts me when I’m under pressure.

Yet this is the way the creative brain is meant to work, according to an article New Insights on the Creative Brain in Psychology Today.

The secret to creativity is not thinking and thinking and forcing a thought to emerge, but to Continue reading

is a ‘drunk diary’ a creative way of silencing the inner critic?

Can booze let loose the juices of creativity?

I admit my first reaction to hearing about singer-of-the-moment Adele writing her soaraway successful album 21 while under the influence of booze was one of disbelief: firstly, that someone so talented needs to drink (the shadow of Amy Winehouse loomed large in my mind), and secondly, that she could so coolly and publicly admit to it.

Except when I read beyond The Sun headline of ‘Booze helps Adele write songs‘, I realised there was more to it than just downing a bottle of wine and churning out indulgently booze-fuelled lyrics.

What it turns out the singer had done was bypass her inner critic – with all its angst and murderous intentions towards a newly born idea, thought or tune – with the anaesthetising effects of alcohol. Without that switch into another part of herself, the bitter-sweet unexpectedness of her number-one songs may never have Continue reading

Holidays boost creativity, says psychologist

As I sail to the end of my holiday, and reflect on just how productive I’ve been with my writing, thinking, creating and planning, I discover that holidays are brilliant for boosting creativity.

Writing in the August 2011 issue of The Psychologist, Christian Jarrett’s article Wish you were here? examines the psychology of holidays. He says that creativity can emerge when ‘unshackled from the constraints of work and stress’ – in spite of all the frustration that can occur when getting ready to go on holiday.

The only challenge is that this boost to creativity is only temporary, and the effect quickly fades once we return home and are swept back into the quotidian demands on our time in what’s called the ‘fade-out’ effect. Thankfully, however, scientists are working on how to extend that post-holiday glow.

I fully intend to extend mine once I get back home.


a counter-intuitive cure for writer’s block

Is inspiration all a writer needs...?

Writer’s block is never something that has plagued me. I make a living as a writer and editor, and a deadline makes writers’s block a bit of a joke; there’s no time for such narcissistic indulgences.

Which is why I was intrigued by a story in The New Yorker, brought to my attention by the wonderful The Daily Post, about how a psychotherapist cured a screenwriter from writer’s block. The method, as I understand it,  involved Continue reading

True creativity means focusing on your target audience (what writers have known for years…)

New research has proven what writers have known for years: devising ideas to entertain and delight your audience is what stimulates one’s creativity. Don’t just focus on what’s interesting to you personally, as that might just fail to engage the interest of people who might want to buy and read what you’ve written.

Apparently, bearing in mind how someone will benefit from your idea can help you Continue reading

giving myself permission to be imperfect improves my creative writing

I attended a creative writing class recently, facilitated as part of a community project – the idea being that people could come along and have fun writing stories and poems. In other words, this process helped give people the ability to articulate what could otherwise not be said, and the opportunity to express in an oblique way what was going on for them. What emerged was some powerful writing with strong symbolic resonance.

Since studying for an MA in creative writing, I’ve approached my prose as something that has to be ‘perfect’: I carefully craft each word as if each one might be judged and found wanting. What was so liberating about this creative writing class was that Continue reading