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Writing for Wellbeing in Barnet!

I’m very excited to share with you that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop will be on Saturday 26th April, 10am-4pm at The Amber Lounge, Underhill Stadium, (EN5 2DN).

It costs £65 and includes a gorgeous lunch, as well as all the tea and coffee you can drink!

We’ll be using techniques derived from narrative therapy and autobiographical fiction to trace who we are, what stories we have to tell, and to have a greater appreciation for our own tales! Plus, increasing confidence and self-esteem by truly valuing the stories we’ve created!

For more info/to book, email andrealmichael@aol.com, or call Andi on 07708225688

 

 

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Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

 

 

As many of you know, I’m currently setting up workshops in Writing for Wellbeing, as I continue training in my MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. 

The Arts have always been accepted as having healing properties, it’s why art therapists and music therapists are so widely accepted in hospitals, hospices, rehab facilities, and why the arts are at the forefront of the health and wellbeing industry. But where have the writers been in this? 

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Writers are very often complicated people with complex lives and emotions, and putting things down on the page, whether as autobiography or as fiction, is a release from that. How about journals? As children and teenagers, diaries were encouraged as a way to share the thoughts that we weren’t comfortable or capable of expressing to the adults in our lives. Why is that any different now? Sometimes, we just need a space to address and accept the parts of our lives we’re not sure about, without judgement or comment. Writing is the simplest way to open a direct line with your subconscious, open up your feelings, and validate how you feel.

 

We all have stories of value, we all have moments that make us who we are. My style of workshops (and my style of writing) is influenced by ideas of fragmentation. We all exist in a series of moments, a childhood memory, a dream, a description of your mother’s kitchen, – our lives and our selves are made up of snapshots. They’re not necessarily in order, and you might not be the same person you were in those moments- but they’re still a part of you. 

Connecting to your stories through a fragmented writing process can bring a sense of calm, confidence, and a greater sense of self. It also allows us to be more empathetic with our ‘selves’. To look back and say ‘yes, I see why he/she made that decision, fair enough.’ To get some distance, some perspective, and look inwards with kindness.

Our lives are brilliant interweaving tapestries, complex and sustained narratives that are still growing and changing every day. Writing for Wellbeing, and working with fragments, can work a lot like therapy, helping us to break down the chunks, but to also take a step back and look at the bigger picture of who we are. 

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Sounds like a lot? It’s also fun! It’s brilliant to unearth those beautiful memories you thought you’d lost, to make up stories that make you laugh, to adequately and comfortably handle those stories that you never think about. 

If you’re interested in what Writing for Wellbeing can do for you, leave me a message here, and stay tuned for the workshop in April 2014, based in Barnet.

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Finding your Writerly Processes

Finding Your Process

In our writing classes this week, the inevitable discussion concerning how you write came up. People have been wondering about the ‘right way to write’ since people started writing. Hundreds of books have been sold telling you the ‘right way’ to do it. And I suppose even weighing in on this process means I’m telling you what to do.

I think whatever works for you is the right way. The only downside is that there’s a line between establishing a process that gets you in the right mindset, and setting up unnecessary barriers that encourage procrastination and doubt.

 

Writing because you HAVE TO

This doesn’t mean working to a deadline (although that works for some) but writing because you absolutely can’t not write at this very moment. This poem ‘So you want to be a writer’ from Charles Bukowski sums up his way of thinking about it.

I agree to an extent, about not writing for fame or congratulation or love. But at a certain point, we have to work hard at it, correct it and edit it. There should be a level of work at creating something brilliant. Charles Bukowski also had ‘Don’t Try’ written on his gravestone, so to be honest, there are moments when we disagree.

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I’ve reached the point where I trust my own brain to know when it has to write. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting and just have to do it. But often if we don’t give ourselves the time or space to daydream and pick up a pen, we’ll miss the window.

 

The Beauty of Process

There’s a reason that people associate writers will coffee. Mainly because it makes your brain work when it doesn’t want to, but also because there’s a process behind getting a cup of coffee. Whether it’s clearing your desk, making a caffetiere, walking to your local spot, or setting out your favourite cup and saucer for tea, there’s something to be said for creating a ‘ready to write’ process. If you do the same routine for weeks before writing, eventually your brain will see the pink floral tea cup and go ‘okay, better get writing then.’ You’re creating a precedent. Also, associating writing time with ‘you time’, making it enjoyable and comfortable means you’re more likely to actually do it, instead of writing blogs about how to do it for other people, like I’m doing now.

 

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Sacred Space

A lot of people are into this one. As above, if you associate a place with writing, that’s great and you’ll feel secure and comfortable. But what happens if you go on holiday? What if you do a residency or a writers’ retreat? What if you see something spectacular abroad and want to write, but don’t feel comfortable? Just as we must set up processes, we must also push ourselves to the edge of being awkward and unsure. We live in a digital age where everything is expected to be possible anywhere. The writer, with a pen and notebook always in bag, has had this advantage before anyone else.

Find your sacred space, but use is sparingly. Try writing in a coffee shop or a park, describe the people around you, absorb an atmosphere. Perhaps there’s a use for it.

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What are you writing when you’re writing?

The different processes will change if you are working on one specific project, or are still looking for inspiration or splitting your time between projects. In which case, if you’ve been working on a novel for a year, and all your notes and charts and character details are at your desk, stick with it. I completely understand after a long time setting up a process that it feels your characters live in that room and can’t explore outside until completion. But if you do find yourself lagging, changing it up is always a good option. If you’re working on smaller projects, there’s no reason you can’t carry your writer’s room in your head (or your pocket). Often working from home can be seen as ‘I’m available for you to talk to’ or as if you’ve got a day off. It’s worth escaping that environment when possible, putting yourself in a situation where you have to be up, dressed and out the house encourages productivity and energy. (I also find it’s better for my biscuit tin).

 

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Ignore Other People (Yes, me too)

If something works for you, then it’s working. Don’t fix it. If you want to work more regularly, then perhaps you can employ some of these ideas. If you enjoy waking up at midday to write until 6am, then go do it! If you enjoy setting aside an hour a day with a cup of tea to revisit your stories, then do so! Writers are naturally competitive people when put together, and as supportive as your fellow creatives can be, we try to believe that our way is the right way. I was convinced as a writing student that because I wasn’t writing all hours, listening to free jazz and wandering wide-eyed into the night looking for characters, that I was probably a fraud. Here is the truth of the matter: a writer writes. If you are writing and you are committed to it, then you are a writer.

 

More Scribble, less Drivel

 

I’m personally trying to adopt the theory that how much you talk about your work should be proportional to how much you actually do. There should only be ten percent ‘talking about it’ and ninety percent ‘doing it’. Mainly because no-one cares. I say this as someone who is extremely nosey and wants to help people with their creative endeavours. But if you’re talking about what your minor character-who-only-appears-in-chapter-forty ‘s family history and how it relates to nordic folklore…honestly, no-one cares about the book you haven’t written yet. Mainly because if you’ve got the energy to be explaining it to strangers, you’ve got the energy to be getting on with it. Keep your story yours, until it’s ready to be unveiled.  It’s like being friends with a pregnant woman. Are you excited for her? Yes, it’s amazing. But do you want to be inundated with ultrasound pictures and baby name possibilities and all this stuff for something that isn’t even here yet? People will invest in your story (or your baby) when they arrive to speak (or be cute) for themselves. You should be creating a story that people will love because it’s good, not just because it’s yours.

 

 

So, I hope that helped those of you searching for your writerly identities. You can put down that ancient ceremonial vase and jumping around on one foot in an anti-clockwise direction now. Put down the bongo drums and throw away the roll neck jumpers. You can be who you are, and do what you do, and as long as you actually write, you are a writer. Whether you write at a desk, on your bed, in a coffee shop. Whether you type or write in expensive moleskines or scrappy pieces of paper. As long as you write, it’s working. So get going.

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How to Make Art and Influence Your Bank Balance

(Or ‘Why I’m Poor’)

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Having been spreading the gospel of creative entrepreneurship left, right and centre, you think I would have figured out how to be a millionaire by now. Sadly not. It still remains that often creative fulfilment and the ability to buy a pair of Louboutins are not aligned.

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I am (technically) quite successful at the moment. I am working, I am getting published, I’m moving into the area of adult creative writing workshops, something I’m absolutely passionate about, and all in all, life is good. To feel creatively content, I think the only qualifiers are that a) you’re writing and b) people are recognising that you’re writing.

However, that doesn’t mean that you’re being commercially successful. Talking to another creative entrepreneur recently, we came to the conclusion that whilst both reaching artistic milestones, and being happy with our achievements; we’ve never been this broke.

How can the creative entrepreneur align this? Surely the idea is to make art, and then sell it and make a lot of money doing it. Or alternately, make two types of art: one for your own enjoyment and one for the monies.

So does being creatively ‘in the zone’ mean that you’re not focusing enough on profitability? Perhaps you’ve just wanted to create something you love. Fair enough. If you haven’t been focusing on your cash cow, maybe you should be considering your target market. How can you maximise profitability on your current project?

Mr BrainWash. From 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. Biggest artistic sell-out I've ever seen
Mr BrainWash. From ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. Biggest artistic sell-out I’ve ever seen

I have never written books expecting great wealth. I do, however, lead classes and do workshops and work with kids, and explain the themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ over and over again until I want to punch myself in the face. These are the compromises we make. I’ve recently been wondering if maybe I could just do a nine-to-five and write in the evenings, like countless writers do. But somehow, that feels like it reduces my sense of legitimacy. Plus, I hate routine. And being told what to do. And sitting down for eight hours a day.

So, as my mother very politely tried to offer me alternatives, I realised one thing: Commit to a career in the same manner you commit to a project. I write a novel knowing that there are going to be certain bits I love (the random scribbling) and the bits I hate (the fourth round of editing) and that it will eventually have a purpose and an end. I may not know what that is whilst I’m writing it. I have a chic lit book I wrote last year sitting in a box, that I may not use for years or so. But I trust that at some point, it will find its purpose. I must look the same way at my career. The jobs I am doing now may not be particularly profitable or enjoyable, or easy, but they are paving the way to their own purpose. I just may not be entirely sure what that is, yet.

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Dear entrepreneurs, we have always said to have an endgame, and find your focus. But sometimes, it’s just about riding the waves and getting on with it whilst you’ve got your creative head on. And that’s fine. You don’t always know the end before you’ve written the middle. Trust that what your doing will either serve a purpose, or it will reach its limit, and be left behind. If we do that, perhaps, the penniless artist will cease to be a cliche, and the business-minded artist will have both creativity and cash.

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What is Creative Entrepreneurship?

I was recently asked to give a talk at the UEA London Campus on what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. I thought I’d post the talk here, as most people still seem to have trouble with the concept of arts and business intermingling.

This is only my personal account of the course, and is fairly anecdotal, but it sums up what I think I gained from this excellent MA, and how I got to where I am now.

It’s a bit like therapy when you start out. Hi, my name is Andrea Michael, and I am a creative entrepreneur. It feels a bit strange when you first tell people that, and we certainly spent enough time on the course examining the root of that word, ‘entrepreneur’, and what people think when you say it.

 

I can tell you this:

 

I do not look like an entrepreneur. I do not wear designer suits to get attention, you cannot judge me by my watch. I, like most other graduates, still live at home. In short, I am not Alan Sugar.

But I am a businesswoman. And an artist. And that merging of two amazing worlds is what I’m here to talk to you about. Because I think getting a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship has been the most important thing I’ve done so far, and I’ve been an ambassador for merging business and art ever since.

I am a writer. I write novels. Mainly for adults, but also for teenagers and children. I write poetry, blog posts, articles, reviews, web content, comedy and outraged letters. And still, after doing this for years, even after graduating from UEA’s highly respected BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, I still walked into my first lesson on this MA, unable to call myself a writer.

 

I studied, I practiced my craft, and I was actually pretty good. But I still didn’t have the confidence to proclaim myself an artist. I had a excellent degree from a distinguished university and  had absolutely no idea where to go next. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a full time writer! I certainly had no business skills. All I had was my writing, my passion and a desire to never work a nine-to-five in my life. I like to think it’s my enthusiasm that got me accepted onto the MA, and the skills that I gained there that got me to where I am now.

 

We learned about all the things that my academic degree had failed to give me- an understanding of how to do things for yourself. How to market myself, to analyse my strengths and weaknesses, and work through, or around them. To use budgets, understand self-employment and tax. To set up a website, apply for funding. How to best use your ideas, and your art, to benefit you and others.

 

Traditionally, art has been seen as almost a polar opposite to business. But if there has been anything I learnt on this course, it is this: Art has two types of value. The first is the obvious, the aesthetic. The first reason an artist creates: to speak to an audience. To express passion or ideas, to create something meaningful and send it out into the world. But the second is monetary value. Art is worth a lot. And like all things, it has a price.

An artist may be creating out of love, or hatred or politics, or whatever drives them. But that artist also has overheads; tools to pay for, travel expenses and labour costs. Why shouldn’t that be viewed in terms of business? An artist has goods and services to sell. There is no shame in combining artistry and money. Good art is not made through starvation. It is made through understanding your own value.

That, above all, is what I prize most about this course. It gave me a sense of my own value. It made me confident enough in my skills to stand before you today and call myself a writer.

There are many other benefits. Being surrounded by like-minded people from different artistic backgrounds, ages, parts of the world, all of whom want to do the same thing- make a living from their art. With the course being so intimate, you create a support network, one which I still rely on today. My course-mates are talented and passionate professionals, and we still stay in touch, passing on work, bouncing ideas. We created a sense of identity on the course, we became artists who understood the importance of creating our own revenue, not depending on grants or funding from outside sources.

Similarly, that network expanded to include the specialist advisors and guest lecturers who gave lessons in their fields, whether that was how to write a press release, how to identify your selling points, or how to use social media to your advantage. Like the business world, the arts world is also all about who you know. And this course introduces you to all the right people.

 

Traditional scholars may tell you that art is sullied by business. But we are not living in a world where the cliched whimsical artist is provided for by a patron. Art cannot afford to be blind to value. Artists cannot afford to ignore how their talent can be used. There is no reason that when I call myself an artist, people should assume that I am not a businesswoman also. Companies seems to search for creativity amongst their employees, and the artist has this in abundance. Knowing how to apply it is the key. Creativity is not a weakness. Don’t I have to work to deadlines? Search for new clients? Imaginatively problem solve? Appeal to my target market? I can do these things, and now I realise how much they are worth.

 

 

It has been a year since I graduated, and in that time, my life as a writer has taken tremendous leaps forward.

A large part of the course is creating an Arts Plan, a guide for how I plan to steer my creative career over the next five years. It is a collage of aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, contacts, business plans, account details and a constant reminder of how far I have come, and how far I have to go. I ‘check in’ with this document, update my plans, maybe change things, but having it there to look at helps me push forward. And I am going places.

 

My first novel (which was a coursework piece) is being considered for publication, my second novel has just been finished, and the third is in the works. Various articles on the intermingling of arts and business, as well as fiction, have been published in magazines, and I’ve gained some great contacts in the publishing industry, as well as winning a few prizes along the way.

 

My comedic blog, Cafe Disaster, about the trials of working as a highly educated but minimally paid barista in Kensington, now has thousands of hits a week, a dedicated fanbase, and various advertising offers. This started as a creative outlet on the course, to amuse my friends and classmates. It’s now taken on a life of it’s own and is being seen as an example of the problems facing the graduates of the recession generation.

 

I started my own business, The DumbSaint Project, which provides creative writing workshops for children, teenagers and adults. It’s gained a great reputation at festivals and is expanding on target. I have since been able to quit my job as a barista and focus solely on my writing and workshops. My readers are worried that the blog will suffer.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough, and I have friends who joined the MA after me, because I pointed out that they had perfected their craft over the years, but were strangers to the life skills needed for their career. This course equips you with the tools you need to carve out a life for yourself as an artist. It allows you to find your own path, your creative niche, but also gives you the chance to experiment before you’re thrown out into a world that doesn’t always recognise the value of artists.

 

I can now legitimately call myself a writer. Because that is what I do. I write, I advertise, I arrange a business, I network, I do my accounts. I apply my skills in ways that allow me to live. I use my ideas to survive. And that is what being an entrepreneur is.

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Stereotypes, Pretensions and What People Really Think When You Say ‘Writer’.

 

2012 seems to be the year of the meme. Don’t get me wrong, logging on to UEA’s Meme page on facebook allows for a good five minutes of fun, and makes me a little nostalgic. And I do get the ones on different jobs- ‘What my parents think I do’, ‘What my friends think I do’ ‘What I think I do’ ‘What I actually do.’ It got me thinking about what assumptions people have when I tell them I’m a writer.

For those who are pursuing the same course of action, there are two options. They (after conceding the fact that they too are legitimate writers) agree and we spend a happy afternoon down the pub chatting about the bollocks that is character development and how we’re going to be poor forever. Or they almost snippily question whether ‘we’ (I) should use that term if ‘we’re’ (I’m) not ‘properly published’ (up for a Costa Book Award).

 

I’m not going to get into that now, because it’s a long and arduous argument that can only serve to make me feel like a failure. I will tell you that I’ve only ever wanted to be three things in my life. When I grew up, I either wanted to be a writer, a secret agent, or a hippie. I actually find that I’ve kind of got a nice mish mash of all three in my life right now. Okay, so MI6 will not come calling any time soon to turn me into a Sydney Bristow character. I do not have the stamina for that. But, for all intents and purposes, it is my job to mislead people. I have to tell a story, keep people interested, keep them guessing. I am a liar. And okay, I do have one of those voice-recordy pens, and a stick that turns into a mini-telescope.

 

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The point is, I’m a spy. I’m spying on your life, taking the interesting bits and making them into fiction. And just as James Bond left his gaggle of love-struck women pining or wishing vengeance on him, I’m probably going to have some casualties along the way. Especially hanging out with other writers- if I’ve taken a personality trait it seems a worse faux pas than borrowing their pencil.

 

And then to the hippie. Well, okay, so I like incense and make daisy chains and play the guitar atrociously. I occasionally summon up enough political outrage to do things. But this writing life often takes some of those hippie stereotypes. The peace and quiet to write, for example. How many writers retreats are offered in bustling cities? One. And that’s because they understand not everyone can afford to leave London for weeks at a time.

 

Created by Jane Hunter (and taken randomly from google)

The point being, maybe slowing down and truly embracing the mundane, away from television, pop culture, and…dare I say it (so hypocritically, via blog) the internet, actually improves writing. Or the ability to sit down and write the damn thing you keep talking about. Taking joy in small choices and enjoying a moment that’s not just there until you get to the next one. Thoroughly enjoying a cup of coffee, the perfectly rolled cigarette, properly closing your eyes and listening to a song instead of letting it play on as background noise. Everything in life seems to rushed, such a caterwauling of hopes and aims and objectives and needs that the present seems to fall into past before it’s even been acknowledged. Take a second, breathe and enjoy. Eat cake for breakfast, walk in the sunshine, spend all afternoon drinking with a friend (or a pen and paper). All I’m saying is, we’re meant to be looking at things, truly watching in order to write. And if we’re too busy to watch, then we’re too busy to understand anything.

 

This all sounds a bit pretentious, I know, but I’m striving to live my life a little more like this. Because, I serve coffee three days a week, I teach people a few days a week, and I have a few days a week to write articles, try and set up a business and actually interact with other human beings. As well as promoting the novel, and starting a new one. So what does this tell you? I should be running around like a moron, getting things done. I should be craned over my desk, typing furiously into my laptop at three in the morning, slaving away on the latest masterpiece, fuelled only by black coffee and a righteous desire to succeed.

 

Well, you know what? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but writers are people. We have bills to pay, and jobs to do, and the occasional need to flop down in front of the television for three straight hours of Buffy re-runs. The point is this- the cliche benefits no-one. People saying ‘well, you’re a writer, you should be okay by yourself’ or ‘I thought you would look different’ or sniggering if I tell them I’m a writer who also serves coffee. We are not all sitting here in black clothes wearing berets and talking about Kafka. Thank goodness.

 

Bleh. Although I'm sure I own a beret...and bongos...and wear a lot of black...but I'm NOT a cliche!

For most people, their job is their job. For us, it’s an intrinsic part of who we are. When I say I’m a writer, I don’t mean ‘this is how I make my living’, I mean ‘this is how I live’.

And now this nice little rant/speculation is over, I suppose I should get back to it. Now, where did I leave my beret?

 

 

*Note: For those of you who haven’t already-please sign up to Authonomy and back my book. It’s doing really well so far, having jumped up 4000 places in the last week. But I could really use all the help I can get.

 

You can find the book here, and when you click ‘Back the book’ it should give you the option to register. You can then give it a star rating, leave a comment or put it on your watchlist. It only takes a minute, and you’d know you were helping a young writer on her way!