Do any of you do morning pages? By this I mean: write longhand immediately on waking each morning.
Julia Cameron advocates this in her book The Artists’s Way. I haven’t read the book but heard about it from someone who has done morning pages for many years. This lady scribbles down everything that is going on in her head, things she has to do that day, negative thoughts about whatever is going on in her life etc. She finds it clears her brain and enables her to start the day in a better frame of mind. Sometimes it produces something that can be used in a story or elsewhere.
I know that other people get up early to work on their novel or another project, either because it’s the only way they can make time in their day to write or because they just enjoy the quiet at dawn before the rest of the family erupts into activity.
Up until now I’ve lacked the willpower to set the alarm any earlier than absolutely necessary, just to write. But my husband has changed his job and needs to be at work by 7:30 am – forcing us to set the alarm for 6:00 am, and therefore giving me the opportunity to try morning pages.
So I’ve been writing for 25 minutes each day before getting up (with a cup of tea brought to me!).
I decided that I wanted something positive to show for this time so I’m drafting a longer piece than I normally write. I never read back more than a sentence of what I wrote the previous day and I don’t edit anything. I don’t pause to think of the right words, I’m just trying to get the flow of the story down on paper.
It’s a positive experience because I get up knowing that I’ve already ‘achieved’ something and the number of completed A4 pages is growing.
Does anyone else do this – or, as Julia Cameron envisaged, do you write about whatever is on your mind?
There’s no right or wrong in this. Different things work for different people.
I also jotted down some ideas for short stories and I’m going to share them with you because I know that we’d all produce completely different tales (& submit them to different places) from the same initial prompt.
We stayed in Little Lilac Cottage - a tiny 350-year-old dwelling with a king-sized brass bed, a Victorian rolled top bath and open beams on the ceiling. Reading through the guest book I tried to imagine all the other visitors to this romantic cottage, why they came and whether the holiday lived up to expectations:
- Honeymooners – young or old? first or subsequent marriage?
- A couple having an affair – unused to spending so much time together, will they still get on or will guilt take over?
- A holiday to save a marriage – away from it all, can they get their relationship back on track or will it go up in flames?
- First holiday for years without the children – do the couple still have anything in common?
We did plenty of walking and one day came across a set of intertwined initials carved into a tree by a waterfall:
- Who carved them and why?
- What happens when one or both of them come back to revisit the carving?
There’s also plenty of scope for stories with a historical setting:
- Think of all the people who were born and died in our cottage
- A local told us that the last ‘ordinary’ people to live in our cottage brought up 3 boys there – how? The house was barely big enough for the 2 of us!
- The old coffin route from Edale to Castleton. At one time there was no consecrated ground in Edale and all the dead had to be brought over the hill to the church in Castleton
And that final point brings me to my poem – poetry connoisseurs please look away now. The rest of you can blame Julia, Susan and Alison, who all asked to see it after my post about the poetry writing workshop I attended in Castleton.
A Coffin Route Farewell
My baby, wrapped in sacking and loaded on a mule
a tiny corpse under a pauper’s shroud.
My baby, born mute, motionless and far too early
now travels the path toward Castleton.
My baby, cast out from home to ride with a stranger
in search of consecrated land.
Exhausted from birthing I never even held you.
They snatched you away without time for farewell.
My baby, you never shed a tear but my eyes will never be dry again.
We’ve all done those writing exercises with postcards, where you use the picture to provide stimulation for a story or a poem. Last week at my writers’ group we took a different angle on this well-worn activity.
Frances ran an interesting workshop which got us looking at the writing on the back of the card instead of the photo on the front. She provided us with a selection of postcards which were from and to people we didn’t know. Then she broke the activity down into 3 steps:
- Create a pen portrait of the sender of the card by analysing what he/she has written, the handwriting style and the picture they chose.
- Create a pen portrait of the recipient of the card by looking at what information the sender chose to tell them, the manner in which the recipient was addressed etc.
- Create a short scene of what might happen when the sender returns from holiday and meets up with the recipient.
I found this a difficult exercise but it certainly gets the brain cells working when the only clues to your main characters and their relationship with each other, are a few brief, scribbled words. So Frances, thanks for getting the old grey matter working!
In coming years it may get more and more difficult to use postcards as prompts. According to a piece in the Daily Mail, forty years ago one-third of Britons sent a card home from holiday but now only 3% of us pick up a pen whilst we’re on the beach. Instead we tweet, text and Facebook.
When I go away I like to cut all links with ‘reality’ and the fast pace of electronic communication so I send postcards. I like to receive them too – they brighten up my kitchen wall.
What about anyone else?
Writing is a frustrating occupation with little reward. It’s easy to get fed up with the rejections, the publications that don’t bother to reply at all and that blank piece of paper which refuses to be filled with wonderful prose.
So why do any of us keep writing? Why do we pick up a pen or drag ourselves to the keyboard day after day? Is it the pleasure of losing ourselves in another world (in which case it would be easier to just pick up a book written by somebody else)?
Hope is what keeps me going. Hope that the editor might like this article pitch, hope that this story might win the competition or this reader’s letter might bag me the star prize.
This hope is fired by small incidents and minor successes along the way – things that cheer me up when the bigger prizes are eluding me.
One of these was my writing group’s Christmas meeting last week. Our new program secretary, Moira, organised a fun competition for a piece of writing containing the phrase ‘It happened every Christmas’ – with prizes from her attic store cupboard. We all took some food (there was way too much food!) and listened to everyone’s entries. We had fiction, poems, memoir and articles. Moira had the unenviable task of awarding the prizes. I received a scented candle in a pretty box (pictured). It may not be an award to add to my CV but it gave me a boost.
A couple of days ago I met up with my writing buddy, Helen. She didn’t award me any prizes but I did get inspired from our chat about plans for 2012. I came away knowing that I have to produce a certain amount of finished work otherwise I’ll let the side down.
Finally, I’ve been shortlisted in the latest Emerald Writing Workshops competition. It’s good to see a couple of other familiar names on the list - fellow blogger, Susan Jones and Sharon Bee who runs the Fiction Addiction website. Fingers crossed for us all!
So, maybe I haven’t won the Booker this month but there have been plenty of little things to keep me going!
This post is being brought to you in association with Sally Quilford’s 48th Birthday Celebrations on August 11th 2011.
Many of us whinge that we don’t have enough time to write. Home and work commitments are always getting in the way -I use this as an excuse for my lack of writing as much as anyone. So, here is a 7 day plan that involves writing for just 48 minutes per day and by the end of it you should have a short article all ready to go.
- Day 1 – visit a large newsagent and spend 48 minutes finding your market. Look for a magazine that covers something you know at least little about (i.e. write what you know so that the research isn’t too onerous). Check out the list of staff in the front of the magazine and compare to the ‘by’ lines on each article in order to check how much is written in-house and much is freelance provided. Buy the magazine you think you could write something for. (N.B. In a perfect world you would buy 2 or 3 issues of the magazine over a number of weeks/months in order to get a feel for which articles are regular columns and which are the one-off freelance features that we are aiming at) .
- Day 2 - make yourself a cup of coffee and sit down with a large sheet of paper. Set a timer for 48 minutes and then brainstorm! Dream up as many article ideas as possible for your chosen publication. For example, if you’ve chosen a dog magazine then your list could include ‘How to Choose a Dog Walker’, ’10 Tips for Taking Your Dog on Holiday’ or ‘Famous People and their Dogs’.
- Day 3 - choose which of the articles shows the most promise and spend 48 minutes writing an outline. Include an introduction (not too long – get straight to the point of the article), each point that you want to make and a conclusion.
- Day 4 - pitch the idea, via email, to the editor of the magazine. If you want some help on how to put together the perfect pitch have a look at Simon Whaley’s article here.
- Day 5 - start writing the article. If you don’t want to stop after 48 minutes that’s fine – keep going whilst the enthusiasm is high! Hopefully by now you’ll have stopped looking for displacement activities like cleaning out the kitchen cupboards.
- Day 6 - finish writing the article. Then find someone to read it aloud to – this will help you spot clumsy sentences, missing words, bad grammar etc. (this bit can be in addition to the 48 minutes since it can involve the rest of the family and therefore isn’t strictly ‘writing time’).
- Day 7 - spend the last 48 minutes having a final read through the article and then, submit !
For the purposes of simplicity I have assumed that the above activities will take place on 7 consecutive days. In reality there will probably be a gap between days 4 and 5 whilst you wait for a response to your pitch (fill this gap by starting work on a second idea). It might also be wise to leave a gap between days 6 and 7 so that you can re-read the article with fresh eyes before sending it off.
That just leaves me to wish Sally a ‘Happy 48th Birthday’ and thank her for the challenge to write a blog post based on ’48′.
Have you ever tried using old photos as a writing prompt? That was the task we were set at my writers’ group last week but it’s something that could be done just as well at home to get the creative juices flowing.
Our session was broken down into the following steps (we spent 5 minutes on each one before going round the group and reading aloud) and these may help you to get going on your own as well:
- Write from the point of view of one of the people in the picture – are they happy to be photographed or are they there under duress? Is their smile genuine or is it for the camera only and masking some personal tragedy?
- Write from the point of view of the photographer who took the picture and try to include some of the senses e.g sounds, smells etc.
- Write a piece of journalism about the scene in the picture – i.e. what newsworthy event could have affected these people or this place. Is one of them a murderer, a lottery winner or a kidnap victim? Was the building devastated by fire minutes after this picture was taken?
- Imagine that the photograph has been lost for a number of years. You have found it, traced the original owner and are now handing it over to them. What is their reaction – are they happy, sad or angry to have this section of their past raked up again?
As a group we then discussed which of these exercises had been most inspirational and given us something to take away, work on and turn into a polished piece of work. My own preference was the last piece because it enabled past and present to be linked through back story, with the opportunity to create mystery for the reader by withholding selected information.
The picture prompts work best if you don’t know the people in the photographs and therefore don’t have any preconceived ideas or go off at a tangent writing your family history. Bundles of old photos can sometimes be picked up cheaply in junk shops or car boot sales. Alternatively, try swapping pictures with a friend - recent pictures would work just as well, so long as you don’t know the people.
For some immediate picture prompts have a look here and then get writing!