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On Being Authentic (and how writing can help)

It’s hard to be ourselves, these days.

 

We are constantly seeking a place to validate our thoughts and feelings on paper, or on screen. To see those words, and have them responded to respectfully and emotively is often all we crave. To receive a few kind words of encouragement or understanding. But the power of social media today means that we misplace that intention into a great fizzing ball of everyone’s insecurities, hang-ups, stresses and day to day life.

We do not heal ourselves by writing about our dead cat on facebook. We open ourselves up to derision, insincerity and judgement. But to write in a private moment about how we feel about such things, about our day to day life, our losses- it is our moment of understanding in expressing these things that matters, not the reception.

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It is so expected that your realisations and thoughts should be public, to be related to or ignored, that people cannot even define what is important to them. The loss of self, of authentic voice is more prevalent on social media sites than anywhere else. I am sad today. Well, if I tell facebook, people will tell me to cheer up, if I use twitter I am limited to characters, perhaps I’ll text a friend and they will comfort me. Nowhere in this scenario is sitting down and using words to consider why you’re unhappy today. You are too busy trying to figure out if your feelings matter enough to be considered your ‘status’ or if they are appropriate for the medium you’re using. That is the power of private writing- or even of therapeutic writing that is shared- there is no inappropriate, as long as you are authentic.

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An Exercise in Connecting to the Authentic:

Take a moment to ‘check-in’ with yourself. How are you today? Do you feel good? What one word would sum up how you are right now? Say it aloud. Own it. It is surprising? Is there anything more to be said? Have you picked a word that gives little away, like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? You don’t have to limit yourself, or be polite, you are just interacting with yourself. If you feel content, if you feel anxious, if you feel awful, all of these feelings are okay.

 

Take out a watch, or a timer on your phone. You’re going to do five minutes of ‘free-writing’. This means you will write whatever comes to mind, you won’t form it, you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation or sentences. Go with what feels right. Try and almost bypass the brain in this exercise, imagine your pen is connected to a delicate thread that goes up through your arm and into your centre. The pen connects with the subconscious, just let it do what it wants. Start with the word you used to define your state of being. Run with it. Write as much as you can, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t look back, just keep writing.

Okay, so you’ve done that. Look back. Was that check-in how you really felt? Did anything become apparent? How do you feel? Writing this way, writing for ourselves, not for any validation, recognition, or to fill a space, is a powerful thing. There might not be any writerly ‘merit’ in the thing you have written, but if it feels honest and true to you, then that is merit enough. You may also find a phrase or word that you really like in there, and can use that to jump onto a more structured piece of work.

 

Authenticity is important- we are surrounded by the noise and pressure and expectations of others, things to do, places to go, how we should be, that sometimes we just need to centre ourselves again.

That is just one small and simple exercise in how writing can be therapeutic. Why don’t you try it out and let me know what you created? If you’re interested in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, remember I’m doing a Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet on Saturday 26th April. Email andrealmichael@aol.com for more details!

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How to Write More in 2014

 

So, who made a new years resolution to write more? Are you working on new projects, or you just want to get yourself back in the habit? I’ve jumped into 2014 with the realisation that I have about three months (thought I’m desperately begging my publisher otherwise!) to finish the next novel. Now, considering I had absolutely NOTHING, I almost freaked out. And then I got writing. So maybe a little pressure is a good thing!

Here’s a couple of ideas me and some friends are working on to increase our writing this year:

Writing in a different environment. I work from home, and as much as I love it, things can get a bit samey. Some writers will tell you routine is key, and I’m not going to argue with them. But a different environment to shake it up can really get your writing going! Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, suggests going to a cafe to write. Make sure there’s comfy seats, it’s not crazy busy, and you’re actually hungry! Plus, if you’re taking up a table for a while, make sure you tip well! I went to Drink Shop Do in Kings Cross, which is my favourite London cafe so far. I went in knowing I wanted to write, and came out knowing my characters and rough plot! Inject some life into your writing routine! Plus, treating yourself to a decent snack never hurt the senses, did it?

Writing Together. My friend (and writer and blogger and publisher extraordinaire) Sara Veal and I have decided to have writing dates. We take turns picking a venue, sit together, write for a while, break and have a chat, write for a while, and so on. Probably until I drink wine and end up too drunk to write! Hemmingway, I am not. 

Talk About It… This is what I absolutely love about having friends in the same field. I can chat to my friend Louise Davidson (scriptwriter and drama genius) about what I’m up to, and she’ll get it! I got a text the other day saying she fixed a plot twist and felt like a genius. And I got it! Those little fiddly bits of writing, where you can spend hours trying to sort something really simple, can drive you mad and it’s great to have some support!

But Also Be About It… This doesn’t mean everyone wants to hear the whole plot of your novel. In fact, I’d avoid doing that. Firstly, because if you’re taking up a whole conversation with a play by play, no-one’s going to appreciate your company, and no-one’s going to buy your book! Also, it tends to make it a bit dry when you come to write it. So, share your enthusiasm, your progress, you irritations, but this is your story. If you’re not going to write it, there’s no point talking about it. Get to it!

Stationary- I don’t know about you, but buying a new notebook for a project really gets me excited! It took me forty five minutes in Paperchase to choose the right one the other day. #writerproblems

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself- Not to get all business-speak on you, but the problem with most excellent writers is that they don’t have a product. Talk the talk, blog, get excited, make contacts, look up publishers…but you need something to show them! Don’t make promises on what you think you can do- just do it! Lock yourself down and get going!

Read! I know a lot of writers who don’t read whilst they’re writing a book, incase it distracts them from their story. To each their own, but if you’re not reading fiction, then you should at least be looking at blogs, newspapers and just keeping engaged with the world. If we’re retreating into our own minds for sufficient periods of time, it’s good to get back into the world every now and then. Ideas come from within, but inspiration comes from the external world. The more you see, read and experience,the more you’re likely to get ideas!

Trust your process– You might not write every day. You might write when you feel like it. Some days may bring pages, others may have one great idea. If you know how and when you work best, trust that it works for you! We all work differently, and as they say, comparison is the thief of joy! Trust that you do this because you enjoy it, so make it enjoyable for you!

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I wish you all a creative and inspiring 2014! Please do follow my twitter @almichael and my facebook Author Page to keep up to date with the release of my ‘snarky chick lit’ novel The Last Word being published by Carina UK in the coming months! You’ll be hearing more about it soon! 

Plus, be aware of my East London Literary Festival Words With Edge