Keep calm and write a novel

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I am wondering if it really is possible to “keep calm and write a novel”….

On the one hand we, as writers, are supposed to be consumed with the mighty fire of the Muse and throw ourselves like flotsam into the fray of birthing this novel.

I want to find a different way.  I want to find the writerly equivalent of a water birth – soulful, soothing and spiritual.  I don’t want to be consumed and burned up by this process.  I am on a quest to find a way of writing that feels full of a calm sense of purpose.

There is this association between art and depression/ madness that I have bought into in the past.  The romance of Sylvia Plath.  The tortured genius of Van Gogh.  The bright light of Mozart.  We want to see artists and creatives as different, dangerous, somehow defective.  We buy into this idea that angst will make us better writers, bring more depth to the process.  And indeed when, a few years ago, I played with poetry I did find that my best poems came from mining deep into my psyche and opening old wounds.  I was able to access those scars and use them to power the words on the page.

But can I do this for a 90000 word novel without decimating myself at the same time?  Probably not.  And more to the point, do I want my writing to destroy my mental health and take down the joy of those around me?  Absolutely not.

So how can I do this?

By shifting my paradigm.  Great art is not only born from great pain.  The artist/ writer does not have to sacrifice themselves to their art.  This is a story that we have been fed to justify not trying to create great art in the first place.  It is the systematic degradation of genius to the realm of dangerous and ‘sick’.

My new paradigm is that my writing can be a joyful expression of all the facets of who I am as a person.  I can write about sadness because sadness is part of my emotional spectrum.  But I can equally write of joy.  All the emotions that I feel are part of my story, my voice.  I do not need to take on the cloak of mental illness in order to be a ‘good writer’.  I can see writing as part of the expression of my whole self.  Writing should not burn me out, it should fill me up.  It should not feel like an endurance test, it should feel like playing.  Yes, playing hard and giving my all to the game, but playing nonetheless.

So today, I call upon this new paradigm to guide my process.  I embrace the idea that my happiness is invested in bringing this project to fruition, but it is the process that will bring me joy, not the outcome.  All too often as writers, we attach ourselves to outcomes over which we have no control.  And then we wonder why we get disappointed when the final ‘product’ fails to perform in the marketplace??  That is madness disguised as a industrial business model.

Today, I write for myself.  I write to express my own unique interpretation of the world.  I do not write to create product, I write to create an outlet for my spirit in all its unique glory.

Why are you writing?  Is it time for you to shift your paradigm?  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

Writing as a Spiritual Practice

use your gifts

For the last few days I have found myself retreating into my journal more and more.  Not that I am doing creative writing exercises or honing my craft/ideas/ writer discipline in any way shape or form.  Simply, I want to understand this desire to write stories.  I want to  optimise my process and not throw myself haphazardly into the fray, hoping for the best.

I am sure that there are those who would refer to this soul searching as a rather elaborate form of procrastination and perhaps, on some level, they are right.

However, mental preparation and understanding your own motivation and process is an accepted part of training to be a professional athlete.

Writing a novel is going to be like running a marathon, I presume, and I want to be in pretty good condition before I put pen to paper.

I think seeing my writing as a spiritual practice helps me to rise above that nagging inner critic who thinks that deciding to be a ‘novelist’ is a ludicrous display of vanity and narcissism.  ‘ Who the hell do you think you are?” the Harridan cries.

And I am answering Her call by trying to come up with an answer that gives a heartfelt response to this question.

Indeed, who the hell do I think I am?  I am not connected, or experienced.  I have no qualifications as a writer.  But this I know.  Being a writer of fiction has been the dream for as long as I can remember.  Being a novelist has been the dream that I have run from as long as I can remember.  I have found incredible ways of resisting this dream.  I have married partners who confirmed how ridiculous it was to even think of doing such a thing.  I have got degrees and certificates coming out my ears and yet the dream remains.  She quietly whispers to me in the night, “you know what you need to do…. do this and you will be happy”

So I am embracing the idea that writing is a spiritual practice.  Writing is my way of fulfilling my dharma, connecting with the divine, sharing something of myself with the world.

Because, even if I do not experience the hoped for outcome, I am determined to enjoy this journey.  I want to savour every moment of my writing, even this stage when I am not writing very much at all.  I want to feel that loss of self that comes from truly diving into a task and allowing the flow to run through me.  I want to see writing not as self indulgence but as the ultimate act of self-care.

And I don’t think I am alone.

I have read books about honing your craft and just hammering out the words.  There’s no mystery, they tell us, just set a deadline and get on with it.

But I am finding a different way.

I desire mystery.  I want to feel devotion.  I want the challenge to teach me something about myself and develop my strength to keep going because I am driven by love alone.

So today, I am pledging to see my creative process as a spiritual practice.  I am gathering my inspiration and finding my mentors.  I am taking this game seriously and wanting to do the best that I can so that I can look back and say to myself, “You did good.  You learned well.  You gave it your very best shot.”

And my best is good enough.

 

Using “the Hero’s Journey” to tame your story

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

As I embark on the process of trying to get the trust of my story and draw it to me, I keep myself busy by reading around the subject of writing.  There are so many books there which extol the virtues of planning and setting rigorous writing targets.  I know that in time, when I actually put pen to paper, this guidance will be of use.

However at present I am sitting still and waiting for my story to present itself.  I have had a tendency to rush into new projects with all the joy and enthusiasm of a five year old at the art table.

I get easily burned and so I am learning to be still and rest.  Not just into my story but also into the whole idea of myself as Writer.

I have hidden from it for so long.  So afraid to truly embrace that this crazy stuuuuupid idea is not going away.

I think that is why the Hero’s journey a la Joseph Campbell by way of  Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
strikes such a chord with me.

Because the fact is that writing a novel is a journey too.  We must be heroic to face this challenge.  We must as writers step out of the ordinary world and accept the challenge.

Yes I can use the hero’s journey as a nifty little plotting tool, but perhaps I can also use it as a guide on my own journey through the writing process.  I know that I will have to tackle my demons if I am to write this story.  I know that there will be threshold guardians (possibly the bank manager….)  I will meet allies and make enemies (not you dearest reader, I hope!).

So for those of us who are embarking on this journey, here is the route that lies ahead:

1.  Ordinary World – you know, just trundling along finding distractions to make you feel normal and pay the bills.

2. Call to adventure – it’s the middle of the night and The Story arrives and won’t let you go.  Or  (as it was for me) you are washing the dishes and a whole world opens itself to you whispering “write me, write me…”

3.  Refusal of the Call – “me?  A novelist?  Don’t be stupid – I have responsibilities, jobs to do, things to finish off.  It’s not the right time.  I would if only I had….   I’m not good enough…. What’s the point…”

4.  Meeting with a mentor – website, youtube, library, amazon – mentors are everywhere these days, don’t you know!  Just take your pick.  WARNING: just the act of choosing a mentor can be a subtle form of procrastinating, perhaps??

5.  Crossing the first threshold – could be buying a new notebook and scribbling down your notes, could be opening up a new file on the computer and trying for those first few words.  The blank page is our first threshold as writers and the thing that makes it such a challenge is that the page represents all our fears, insecurities and limiting thoughts.

6.  Tests, allies, enemies – oh this will be a journey of stamina.  Perhaps we will meet allies through social media.  Perhaps the enemy is time, space, “real life”, stamina, discipline – you name it, they are all going to come out of the bag when you attempt a literary marathon.

7.  Approach to the Inner most cave – I imagine that this will probably hit at around 35 000 words when I suddenly feel uncertain as to whether I can even make 40000 words let alone 90000.  Here is where I will face my fears…

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

8.  The Ordeal  – do I continue or do I abandon?  Do I allow my fears as a writer to tell me to stop being so stupid and get a real job, or do I push through and use all my strength to finish the task?

9.  Reward – the first draft is done…. time for a coffee and a nice slice of cake.  Perhaps even a trip to the Office Supplies store???

10.  The road back –   editing, redrafting, printing off the first draft and feeling inordinately pleased with myself

11. Resurrection/ Climax – “this first draft is absolutely rubbish.  It needs completely redoing.  Why did I ever think that I could be anything?  Why did I waste my time?”

12.  Return with the elixir – publication?  the call from the agent?  hollywood battle for the rights?  multimillion dollar advance???   Or perhaps just the wondrous satisfaction of knowing that I finally finished my novel.  I battled with my demons.  I did it.  Little old me…

Who knows how my journey will turn out as a novelist.  But here is where I begin.  I am still in the ordinary world at present but I have had my call to action, mentors are presenting themselves to me.

The Threshold Awaits…..

What teachers have helped you at the start of your writing journey?  I would love some recommendations for great writing resources and inspiration.  Post a comment below.

Happy writing,

xxx

ps the book I was referring to can be found here. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition

How to start a novel?

How to start a novel? 

The million dollar question….  I think in the past I would have been rather methodical about he whole thing.  I would have planned each chapter and a word count, created a writing schedule and stuck to it.  I would have banged out the words to get the quota.

After all, we are all trained to work like machines and unfortunately we are often told that writing is no different.  Bum on the seat, fingers poised, stopwatch on and off you go.

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

I am sure that such a mechanistic model is very effective.  Just like I am sure that SMART goals work and that going to the gym on a regular basis will get your body in shape.  These are all proven methods.  They produce results.

But

I am so tired of being SMART.  I am exhausted by the punishing targets that I am setting for myself.  I have realized that as a boss of myself, I am a real BITCH.

So for this new novel, this first proper novel, I am choosing a new way.

I am retreating into my dream space.

I am resting and allowing the story to come to me.  Like a wild animal, my story needs to learn to trust me and in order for that to happen, I need to trust myself.

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

I need to rest into my writer intuition.  I need to trust that I have all it takes to tell this story.

Now, instead of thinking of plotting as Stage one of a project, I am retreating into the dreams.  Allowing the fragments of my story to drift to me, piece by piece.

I have set no words to these little pieces of ephemera.  I record them as they come in my trusty Moleskine.  I cut out pictures or pin them to my Novel Inspiration board.

I am trusting this new process.  It does seem rather right-brain and just a little bit dippy but, you know what, I am LOVING it.

Today why not join me in making a writer’s pledge to give your story the space to come to you.

Sit in the clearing of your imagination and allow your characters and their lives to creep out from the shadows and feed from your hand.

Here’s to intuition my friends.

What is your process for starting a novel?  Are you a planner or a dreamer?  Leave a comment I would love to know…

Juliette

How to start a “writer’s blog”

So you want to be a writer?  You have read the books and all of them talk about ‘platform’ and the importance of having a blog.  But how do you start a writer’s blog?  What the devil is really supposed to tantalise and excite your future readers?  Are they really interested in the ramblings of yet another wannabe writer?

Good questions indeed and the very questions that I ask myself as I sit at my keyboard to bang out this first blog post.

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The bit where I give you some background:

I will admit that this is not the first time that I have started a new blog.  This will be my fourth blog actually.  Am I seasoned blogger who knows the ropes and can tell you what works and what does not?  I wish.

Fact is that I really don’t have much of an idea about blogging and how to do it successfully.  I could write a book about the theory:  deliver good content, find your niche, be of great service.  Yes indeedie, I could tell you the theory and then some.  But now it seems that it is time to test those theories again…

And I am not all that excited about this prospect because I know that stats can be dismally depressing (I am not supposed to care but I do, sorry!).

I know that I am supposed to be tweeting and pinning and status updating and all sorts of other socialmediarie that is required of a “platform builder”.

So you know what, here is my declaration:

I declare that this is a blog that will possibly only be updated irregularly, despite my current intention to be very “regular” poster.

I will probably deliver content that is at best relevant but probably never “useful”, although obviously that is what I would like to think that I will do..

I am not an expert.  I have no niche.  Therefore some/ a lot of these posts will seem unrelated and possibly even, dare I say it,  tangential….

I am a writer who is just coming to terms with the weighty realization that if I don’t get off my backside and write this bloody novel then I could end up being one of those bitter old ladies that I really don’t like very much. I am just looking for a way to record my journey towards the writing of my first proper grown-up novel.

I am not a hot young thing dashing off text between parties and my job in the city.  I have ….ahem…responsibilities!

I imagine that I will find out lots of useful stuff along the way.  I also imagine that I will have to weather disappointment and failure.  There may be some rejection.  There may be tears.

But there will also be things to smile about.  There will be days when the words fly off the keypad.  There will be days when I wake up with whole chunks of razor-sharp dialogue just waiting to be caught.

But it is all yet to come.

This is DAY ONE of my writing journey. 

I am armed with a Moleskine and a coffee.  My ugg boots are warming and there is a granny blanket over my knees.

Watch out world – another lady writing!!

Again…..

Juliette xxx
photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc