Raw with all your might

While having a clear-out the other day, I stumbled upon a book I hadn’t seen in ages. This was a book I leaned heavily on in the early days of my writing journey. In fact, it would be fair to say it was my ‘Writing Bible’. You may have heard of it: The Right to Write by Julia Cameron.

It was thanks to this book that I forced myself to believe in my writing and take the plunge to send things off to agents. It helped me to stop seeing authors as a different group of people, a group that I didn’t belong to. It helped me to believe in my individual writing voice. I didn’t have to try to emulate someone else’s style or write something in the current hot genre.

I used to do a daily exercise (before I had children) as suggested in Julia’s book. It was called ‘morning pages’. The idea is to grab a piece of paper and a pen first thing in the morning and just write. Write whatever comes into your head and don’t edit a single word of it. Write fast. Don’t pause to plan what you’re going to say. The idea is to learn to silence your ‘censor’ and conquer your fear of criticism.

So this morning, for the first time in over eight years, I had a go at ‘morning pages’. Below is what I wrote. I’ve typed it up word for word, without correcting any spelling mistakes, or rearranging any sentences. I’ve resisted the temptation to sculpt it into something witty, or polish it to perfection. It is completely raw. I’d forgotten what a therapeutic exercise it is. It’s like cleaning out cobwebs.

I’ve also typed up a handful of the many gems I’d underlined in Julia’s book (see below) as they helped me no end. But if you’re struggling with writer’s block or self-doubt, then I recommend reading the The Right to Write cover to cover. By the way, if this is the last time I blog for a while, it’s probably because I’ll be in arachnophobia therapy after my husband gets me back for the toad incident.

My morning pages

Haven’t done this in years. Not sure I’ll be able to write without editing as I go along. Kids are on the computers. The music from the games they’re playing is sending me into a trance. Sainsbuy’s delivery will be here any minute to rudely awaken me. Feel sleepy. Keep having weird dreams. Dreamed Olympic opening ceremony took place in a London square & involved lots of grey slimey creatures emerging out of the water to crowds cheering all around. This most likely down to seeing a toad in my friend’s garden yesterday. Chris wouldn’t go near it. I touched the toad – as did the kids. Then we all chased Chris and I stuck my finger in his mouth while he was yelling. The finger that touched the toad. He freaked. So I said I was only winding him up & I never really touched the toad. However he went & rinsed his mouth out before I let on I was only joking. Only I wasn’t joking. My toad-contaminated finger did go in his mouth. I will never let him know or else he’ll wreak revenge on me. He knows my weakness is spiders and I’ll go mental if he puts one near me. Anyway back to present moment. Going to beach today if weather nice for picnic with friends. They are showing Mama Mia on an outdoor screen near the pier. Apart from the Abba songs I doubt the kids will be that into the movie. If I have to explain to them the storyline I’m wondering if they’ll ask why the girl doesn’t know which man is her dad. And so I need to prepare an answer. Because her mummy had special cuddles with those three men all within a short space of time probably isn’t the best way to go. Where’s the bloody Sainsy’s delivery man?

(You don’t know how hard it was not to edit as I typed this up.)

A few passages from Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write:

How much control are we willing to surrender for the sake of allowing creativity to move through us rather than our trying to flog it forward for agendas of our own?

I believe that what we want to write wants to be written. I believe that as I have an impulse to create, the something I want to create has an impulse to want to be born.

So much ‘good’ writing doesn’t seem to care. It’s too cool, cerebral, calculated and calibrated. Therefore I love to read the tabloids. The tabloids are full of ‘bad’ writing.

It is one of the ironies of the writing life that much of what we write in passing, casually, later seems to hold up just as well as the pieces we slaved over, convinced of their worth and dignity.

(Recounting a conversation with Arthur Kretchmer, editor of Playboy.) “Don’t bother to write for your common reader, Julia. You’ll never meet your common reader. Write for your ideal reader, the one who will get everything you say.”

(Quoting a friend) “…sometimes I need to write without thinking about an editor, without thinking about where it will get published. I need to write something just for the joy of writing it.”

…what is actually required at many points in a writing career is the grace to allow ourselves to one more time be a beginner, writing for the sheer love of it.

When we write from fear of criticism, we hamper our stride and we cripple our voice.

Put yourself out there

As the half-term holiday approached, I started to notice a pain in my right hand at the base of my thumb. Scrolling and clicking the trackpad seemed to be making it worse. Could it be RSI? If so, it wouldn’t be surprising. As a self-published author, I spend a lot of time on my laptop, much of it online, ‘putting myself out there’.

Aching thumb aside, I was starting to feel burnt out with writing, editing, proofreading, tweeting, blogging, monitoring sales figures, etc. My eyes needed a screen break, my fingers and thumbs needed a trackpad break, and my brain needed to stop thinking about how best to promote my books. I needed to put myself out there all right – but outside, in the elements.

Cue camping trip. Forecast: high winds and showers likely. Hmm…

As I packed and packed and packed, I thought that this wasn’t the most relaxing trip I could’ve chosen. Packing pretty much took the entire day before departure. On arrival, unpacking, putting up the tent and sorting out the bedding took time, too. It was a good while before we could sit down, relax and join our friends with a well-earned beer and admire their far simpler tents.

However, the simple activity of packing and unpacking, putting up a tent and preparing food for the BBQ in 40mph gusts of wind, all required 100% concentration. And while my focus was on these activities, it wasn’t on writing, editing and marketing – a good thing.

The rest of the time was spent having fun in the open air. The kids turned feral, building dens in the muddy woods, while the adults huddled closer to the fire and cracked open more Cava.

A highlight was taking a walk through the woods to the ‘cave of poo’. The cave of poo was not for the fainthearted – it’s dark enough to need a torch, muddy enough to need wellies, and smelly enough to hold your nose. So naturally I sent my eldest daughter in with a far braver adult.

Meanwhile, my youngest daughter had got herself stuck in a muddy bog. ‘Mummy! I can’t move!’ she screamed hysterically while I caught up with her and immediately found myself in the same predicament. We stood there, knee-deep in mud (it was only the top 5mm of our boots that were not submerged). As I debated whether it was easier to go forward or backward, we wobbled precariously from side to side, watched by the others with baited breath. Miraculously, we eventually managed to get out with our wellies still on our feet and without falling flat on our backsides. My daughter’s tears turned to giggles and she was soon racing with the other kids towards the next disaster zone: a muddy stream with a rope swing above it.

Our camping trip was over too quickly, but one weekend of being outdoors in the fresh air connecting with the elements was enough to clear my brain, restore blood flow to my thumb and replenish my creative tank. As Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘In order to write about life, first you must live it.’