Category Archives: Inspirations for writers

Tips for Writers: writing through difficult times #2

I do find I am living in surreal times. Despite the very real misery and suffering which is surrounding us all, in this far flung corner of the North Yorkshire coast Spring continues to blossom with beauty and grace. Here is a wonderful photograph taken by my dear friend Jane Poulton (artist & writer extraordinaire, website). Why not use it as a prompt for some writing?

white blossom by Jane Poulton

Several of my writing friends have said that they are finding it difficult to put pen to paper in the current times and are seeking solace in other activities such as gardening or cooking or tidying up long neglected corners of their home. I believe that all writers – and artists and other creatives – will have a role in reflecting on, understanding and eventually effecting any healing possible for our current calamity. Some will find the words and the means later, once we are on the ‘other side’. On the other hand, I do think it is worth, if we can, recording some of this experience in the moment. However good our recall, ‘in the moment’ recording of a situation will always be different from writing done with perspective.

But how to get started? One way might be writing letters which will never be sent. Letters are usually very targeted on an audience, so choose yours first. Here are some suggestions.

The Anne Frank diaries are written in the form of letters to a ‘friend’ called Kitty. If you have not read them, see if you can find an extract on line to get a flavour (https://www.annefrank.org/en/). Writing to Kitty allows Ann to be intimate, to say things she would not say to those around her, to express emotions freely.

When I was a child, I was brought up to write thank you letters after every Christmas and birthday. My maternal grandmother had a talent for sending the most hideous and inappropriate gifts. Writing thank you to her stretched and honed my diplomatic skills. What kind of letter would you write to someone you did not want to worry or hurt? I am also thinking of some of the poignant letters sent from the front during the World Wars.

What if you imagined yourself on another planet? Sometimes it feels like I have slipped through to a parallel universe, where things are the same but not quite. What would it be like to write a letter to someone ‘back home’? I find Woman on the Moon by Jean Harrison (https://jeanharrisonpoetnovelist.weebly.com/sample-3.html) A very effective poem. When I have used this in workshops there have been many interpretations, including a person trying to communicate what depression is like to someone who has not experienced it. Have a read of it. Does it prompt you to write something about now?

If you are a sci-fi or Trekkie fan, how about you have just arrived here in a space ship. What kind of ‘log’ would you send back to base?

How about writing to a descendent or a historian in the future? What would you want them to know?

If a letter is too much of a stretch, how about a postcard? Just a few sentences. And a postcard has an image on the other side. What image would you choose? If you can’t draw it or photograph it or find it on the internet, describe it.

These are just some ideas. Try them out, they may be fruitful in themselves or they may lead onto something else. Remember you are not aiming for a finished product ready for sharing with others, just drafts/notes. However, if you do end up with something which you would like others to read, feel free to post it in the comments section here.

People have begun using online forums to discuss books, poetry and writing. I applaud all these efforts to reach out and make contact. On the other hand, I do wonder about those who do not have access to the internet. These may be the most in need of a friendly gesture. How about using the phone to have a conversation about a book or a poem? Or write a letter reviewing a book or a poem or short story and deliver it with the source material. With the latter there are some infection concerns and the receiver should not touch the envelope/package or what’s inside for at least 72 hours, preferably leaving it in the sunshine. If this is not possible, the receiver can move the envelope/package to where it can be safely left and then wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

We do indeed live in strange times. Stay safe and stay well.

Tips for Writers: writing through difficult times

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know that I am interested in creative writing for wellbeing. How might creative writing be therapeutic? Yes, there are ways of gently writing through the troubling emotions and teasing out understanding. But, sometimes, creative writing for wellbeing is about diversion, it is about taking our thoughts away from the difficulties and for a short moment connecting with the uplifting. This is unlikely to solve any problems, but it might help in the way we feel in ourselves which could mean we approach worries in a different way.

Here are some suggestions. Give them a try, but don’t be down on yourself if you don’t connect with them. Perhaps they will spark off ideas of your own, in which case follow them.

daffsMarch16

#1. Find an uplifting word. My suggestions would be: love; friendship; joy; happiness; pleasure; sparkle; fun… But find a word which works for you. Write it at the top of the page and answer some or all of these questions:

  • what colour is it?
  • what shape is it?
  • what sound does it make?
  • how heavy is it?
  • what does it taste of?
  • what does it smell like?
  • what texture does it have?
  • what does it feed on?
  • if it were an animal, what animal would it be?
  • if it were weather, what weather would it be?
  • if it were a landscape, what landscape would it be?

You might want to add some questions of your own. Take about ten minutes to do this. If nothing comes, leave it. If you get inspired, follow your inspiration.

#2. Focus on a piece of nature. This might be something you have indoors – a stone, a feather, a leaf, a plant – or maybe you can look out the window or open your window and hear a birdsong or go for a walk. Find something from nature and focus on it for a couple of minutes. Then write for five minutes. To start with, write freely, whatever words present themselves. As you go on, start to think about the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, texture – and make sure you are using all of them as far is possible.

Write for another five minutes about the journey this piece of nature has taken to come to your notice.

Overall, take about fifteen minutes to do all this. If nothing comes, leave it. If you get inspired, follow your inspiration.

#3 Framing it. You might now have something quite crafted or a jumble of words. It doesn’t really matter. Go off and have a break. Preferably, do some stretches, get a gulp of fresh air, have some water. Make it a longer break if you want and return the next day or the next, the words are likely to look different whenever you choose to re-engage with them.

When you come back, read through the words or sentences or whatever it is you have on your paper. Choose several, the number is up to you. Write them in the middle of a plain piece of paper. Then create a frame around them using colourful paints, paper torn from magazines, pens, crayons… whatever you have to hand.

Try not to judge what you create. The process has been the thing, the time spent with words and colour has, hopefully, helped your mood.

However, if you wish to share your experience and/or your creation, then please comment on this post or contact me. My email is on my website.

 

Tip for Writers #1: Read

We’re all probably trying to find our stride again after the festivities and the turning of 2019 into 2020. How do we support our writing projects for this year? One way is to read. Read widely, indiscriminately and a lot.

We might read to research, or for background to, what we are writing. We might read the same genre as we are writing or to study technique. But, I would contend, it is equally important to read things which seem to have little to do with what we are currently working on.

Graze the shelves of your local library. Borrow from friends (and lend to them). Have a hunt round your local charity shop.

I think it is important to read as a writer not as a reader. Yes, of course, enjoy the story or the emotional engagement, but also have a third eye, a critical eye, looking out for technique, for ideas, for flourishes which surprise.

I keep a note of all I read, stating briefly what I thought worked and what I thought was less successful. I may not re-visit these ‘reviews’ but just writing them concentrates the mind and allows ideas to seep into the creative brain.

It’s easy for reading to get hustled to the end of the day, when we’re too tired to absorb anything. And I love to read in bed, though I tend to go to bed early to read so I am not dropping off over the pages. But I also put time in during the day which is for reading. For many people reading is a recreational activity. For writers it is work.

I am intending on putting more time aside for reading poetry, though I am currently working on novels. Dear readers of this blog, what are your writing projects for 2020 and have you any reading intentions you would like to share?

 

Poetry Workshop – 23rd November, Scarborough

Very excited to have Nick Makoha come to Scarborough to run a poetry workshop and take part in Rotunda Night on the 23rd November. I was happy to host a post by Nick about his poetry on this blog in 2018: https://scarboroughmysteries.com/2018/04/16/reading-writing-poetry-nick-makoha/

Nick will be facilitating a workshop entitled ‘Writing as a stranger’. It will focus on the ‘metic’ experience and how it influences a writer’s work. The experience is most marked for black writers in the UK and the USA, but do we all have a unique metic experience and perspective that we can use to kickstart creativity and to forge original work? This will be an engaging and provoking poetry masterclass exploring issues of identity and race, migration, exile and ‘foreignness’.

Venue for the workshops is Woodend, Scarborough, North Yorkshire. It will take place on 23rd November, 2-4pm. Places on the workshop are strictly limited and cost £10 each. If you are interested, please contact Felix Hodcroft at feljen@feljen.plus.com.

Nick Makoha is a dynamic young poet and dramatist, born in Uganda, now living in London. His debut poetry collection ‘Kingdom of gravity’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection and nominated in the Guardian as one of the best books of that year. His poetry has been published in the New York Times and the Poetry Review and he is a trustee for the Arvon Foundation. His poems explore themes of injustice, migration and ‘otherness’, peeling back the layers which constitute our humanity. His particular concerns as a poet include the experience of ‘metics’ – people born in one country, living in another and the challenges and opportunities that experience brings.

Nick will also be performing at Rotunda Night, that evening at the iconic Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Information and tickets from Scarborough Museum Trust, https://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/rotunda-museum/ 01723 353 665.

 

Writing Tips: Voice

I have previously blogged on ‘voice’, so some of this may be a repeat for some of my readers. However, I am adding to my previous thoughts.

I think there are two aspects to voice for a writer. Firstly there is the writer’s voice. This might include (among other aspects) choices as to plot or point of view or language, structural quirks, an outlook on the world and/or future. In some ways this is like the voice of an actor. There are different types of actors. I watch a film with Michael Cain in and I know I am watching Michael Cain. On the other hand, one year I saw three films starring Daniel Day-Lewis and it could have been a completely different actor in each, so effectively did he morph into the characters. I think writers are the same. For me, Colm Tóibín is more of a Michael Cain, while Louise Doughty is more of a Daniel Day-Lewis.

Then, if a writer is creating fiction, there are the voices of the characters. Here I do believe a writer should strive for diversity, which must mean going beyond their own experiences.

One of the narrative characters in my Scarborough Mysteries novels is Theo Akande – young, black, gay, male. What is a fifty-five year old white woman doing writing in a young, black, gay, male voice? There has been some suggestion that this disjunction is one reason why it has not been picked up by literary agents. Perhaps it smacks of appropriation or colonisation. There is a good point here, there are not enough young, black, gay voices out there and publishers should be focusing on promoting them rather than a voice created by me. I do get that. And sometimes I do feel nervous that I’m not getting Theo ‘right’ in some way.

I was cheered slightly by an interview with Bonnie Greer which I heard on the excellent podcast: https://www.thelastbohemians.co.uk/. Greer said we are, after all, from the same species. She also said don’t be an artist if you want to be safe.

Theo evolved over several novels (unpublished & published). Initially he was the ‘sane’ counterweight to Hannah’s descent into depression. He has faced prejudiced and bullying and has many reasons to feel aggrieved, but he maintains his more balanced view of the world because of the ‘secure base’ (à la Bowlby) of his upbringing. I believe Theo is more unlike me because of this than because of his other attributes. I have a very bleak view on life. I also wanted him to be different from the many ‘cops with hang-ups’ which are out there in contemporary fiction, while also having his vulnerabilities. He is more a Peter Wimsey (DL Sayers) than a Rebus (Ian Rankin).

Whether readers will be content with my depiction of Theo is up to them. However, as writers, it is worth considering how we come to characters who are very different from ourselves. I have several suggestions. Firstly, writers need big ears for listening. We also need curiosity. When we meet someone, we need to be asking questions and listening to the answers. The ‘overheard’ is also a great source. Secondly, we research through reading, TV, radio, internet, social media, interviewing… Thirdly, I come back to what Greer said about us all being the same species. At a very basic level, we all have the same impulses to want to be loved and respected and have a sense of purpose. How we might try and gain love, respect and a sense of purpose will vary, more, I believe, by nurture than by nature, though genes must play its part. I only have to look at me and my siblings to understand that. Fourthly, characters develop if we writers allow them to. Planning is often useful, but not if it gets in the way of characters bouncing off each other and off what is happening to them. As with real life, characters behave differently, and are changed, because of what is going on around them.

Finally, as a writer, it is important to believe that all human behaviour is possible. For me, I want all my characters’ behaviours/feelings to stretch back to those fundamental needs of love, respect and sense of purpose. I suspect I would not be able to do great violence to another person, I am far too squeamish and fearful. But I wanted to write from the point of view of someone who could and created Max in my short story Adrift (still available on Amazon somewhere). I feel I managed to capture a mindset which could allow extreme violence and rationalise it. That’s not saying I believe what Max did was right, only that he thought it was right.

What is your experience of creating character and voice? Have you deliberately set out to write a character very different from you?

Midsummer Magic

It is the Summer Solstice. Yes it is! I always feel midsummer comes too early at these latitudes. I have barely got my shorts on. However, midsummer it is.

Why not give yourself permission to give your creative spirit some time to play and let the midsummer magic sink in.

Scarborough lighthouse at dawn. Mark Vesey 2019

If you haven’t read it already, take a moment to jump back to a previous post: https://bit.ly/2RqqBKn

Now look at these amazing photos – or maybe you have one of your own – and do some free writing.

Scarborough beach huts at dawn. Mark Vesey 2019

Write freely for about ten minutes. Perhaps leave it for a while (take a walk or do some breathing/stretching) then scan through and pick out five or six words, sentences or phrases which seem interesting. Spend 30 minutes playing around with these. Perhaps you will put them down the page like a poem, adding in other words/phrases as necessary. Perhaps you will see if they will lead you into a 100 word narrative which goes across the page.

It doesn’t matter what you end up with. The main thing is to play and enjoy.

If anyone does this and feels like doing so, feel free to put what you’ve done in a comment so it can appear below this post.

Thank you!

 

A Writer’s Toolkit: Getting Started

However much I ignore it, the New Year does bring with it the idea of new possibilities and opportunities. It feels like a time to reassess, perhaps, and try new things. Maybe it is the moment to start or re-invigorate your writing?

This year, I plan to do a series of posts called A Writer’s Toolbox which aims to give anyone the impetus to get on with the writing they want to do. These posts will be interspersed by my usual musings on being a writer, plus some posts by guests. I have some exciting ones already lined up. But if you are a writer and would like to contribute a post, please do get in touch. There’s no money, no glory and it won’t change your life, however, if you would like to give it a whirl, email me on kateevans@tinyonline.co.uk

Igniting or re-igniting the spark
At the risk of sounding un-empathic, it sometimes bemuses me when people tell me they want to write. I wonder why they are not doing it. On the face of it, writing is one of the easiest creative arts to ease into. There’s no need for any special equipment or even much space. If you can put one word in front of another down on paper, then you can write.

So if you want to write, and you are not doing so, then the first question to ask yourself is what is getting in the way of me writing? Perhaps spending ten minutes writing about this should be your first piece of writing. Over years of writing, running writing workshops and being around writers, the general things which get in the way of writing are:

  •     Finding the time within your life. To start with it doesn’t have to be a lot, perhaps as little as ten minutes a week. But, like doing anything, it’s about carving out the space to focus on what you want to do.
  •      Other pressures, such as earning money or looking after children/other family members. This is obviously a tough one, but needs to be negotiated and balances and boundaries found.
  •       Giving yourself permission. Sometimes it is ourselves which get in the way. Negative thoughts such as: ‘I’m not good enough’; ‘what’s the point in this?’ ‘Everyone will laugh at me.’ My advice is, as far as possible, don’t get too hung up on the why or the end product or on what you might imagine other people thinking and saying. Writing is first and foremost a pleasure for ourselves. If it becomes something else – something to share with an audience, for instance – that is a bonus. It is not necessary to start out with the idea of what you are going to write. The first exercise is to put one word down on the paper and then another while setting your critical voice(s) to one side. It can be a struggle. So don’t beat yourself up if at first you don’t succeed.
  •       What is your motivation? If it’s to make money, then these posts are not for you. If it’s to explore your world through writing and develop your creativity, then read on.

My writing journals

Getting Started
Buy a writing journal, this is a pad of paper or notebook which you will only use for writing creatively in and no-one else will use or look at. Personally I prefer something with strong paper, a decent cover and no lines. Make sure you have some pens. Decide on an achievable amount of time that you can put aside for writing and write a positive statement in the front of your journal: ‘I will spend xx minutes writing every xx.’

Take a walk, preferably somewhere green and open. Sit down for ten minutes and write as freely as you can. Do this on a regular basis.

Begin to collect inspirational prompts eg postcards, images of different kinds, snippets from the paper, music, pebbles, buttons, scraps of material, flowers, herbs, small objects…. Take one of these up, examine it, and write for ten minutes as freely as you can.

After each ten minutes, close your writing journal. Do not re-read. Do not critique. Leave what you have written to ferment and marinade.

As far as possible, keep to a schedule of these ten minute ‘sprints’ from prompts (such as a walk or an object or an image or a piece of music) for a month. Then review. Is there anything in what you have written you feel particularly fond of? Then underline it. Was there a particular prompt which worked better than others? Perhaps use this more often.

Continue with a similar schedule for another month and review again. By this time, you may be getting a clearer idea of something you want to develop further. Or perhaps not. If not, continue with the sprints until something emerges.

NB: writing in short uncritiqued sprints from a prompt to get started in writing is a method used by many writer. I first came across it in ‘Writing as a Way of Healing’ by Louise DeSalvo and ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

Be Inspired!

I was going to write a considered post about Wilfred Owen and Edith Sitwell. Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4th of November 1918, almost a hundred years ago and seven days before the Armistice. His poetry still haunts us today with his depictions of the horrors and waste of war. Edith Sitwell (daughter of Scarborough) was instrumental in having his first collection published after his death and it is mainly thanks to her that we can read his poems today. However, since I have got my nose stuck into rewriting my fifth novel, No Justice, I haven’t got the creative energy to do anything else considered. So you can catch up with Edith and Wilfred in Richard Greene’s excellent biography Edith Sitwell: Avant garde poet, English genius (https://amzn.to/2zhuSDE)

Meanwhile, I invite you to be inspired by the changing seasons. Go out for a walk in some nature if you can. Notice the nature around you, open all your senses to it. Also notice what is going on in your body and your emotional state. I say notice, do not judge, merely notice. Then take fifteen minutes to free write – write quickly without thought to purpose, construction, spelling etc. Unhitch your internal critic as much as you can. If you want to, use this free writing as the basis of a short poem or a piece of flash fiction.

Feel free to ‘publish’ it in the comments section of this post, I would be interested to read what comes out. But make it short!

Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Aspects of Autumn

Season of mellow mists and after damp,
joint between fecundity and decay,
you’re the rusted hinge, the balanced moment
before summer green becomes winter grey.
Your turned leaves are brazen in their dying,
firelit, their brassy tones trumpet their end,
they only fall to nest the ripening
kernels, torn from their cradles by the wind.
Your clods of decomposing foliage
remind us of our oozing hours,
your fruitfulness recalls our barren endeavours
to do, to strive — vanquish the final toll.
So then, only let your splendour fill us —
allow it to give us pause. Let us be still.

 

#1 A Photograph

Writers can take inspiration from anywhere. Look at a photograph and imagine you are inside the image: write about what you can see, smell, taste, feel, hear. Then imagine you are something (not a person) within the photograph and write from that point of view using the first person ‘I’. As that ‘I’ what are you: feeling inside; thinking; hoping for; scared of; frustrated by? Take no more than 20 minutes to do this. Then see if you can distill down what you have written to five lines.

Here is a photograph. If you want, you can post your five lines to me via a comments box. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

signposts