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Write What We Know, or Write to Discover?

It’s an old writing adage that we should write what we know. Some contest it, some live by it. I think it’s rather unavoidable. Even if you’re writing about a futuristic world war where robots made from old bean tins have started a mutiny, you’re writing about human emotions. Even when it’s robots.

We can’t help but write what we know…it’s just that sometimes we don’t know that we know it. My point here? Writing is revelatory. It’s all very well saying that if we’ve been a butcher for fifteen years, we should use our experience to influence our settings, lend authenticity to our creations, but often we find parts of ourselves embedding in our fiction anyway. 

I’ve often written things, and only found where their familiarity comes from when someone else points it out. Ah, that broken toaster that was a metaphor for how we love unconditionally, we actually had one of those in our first house, didn’t we? Huh.

These aren’t always major revelations, but with the right questions and tasks, they can be very powerful. As writers, people often think we spend a lot of time on self-reflection, but the truth is, if we’re dealing in fiction, we’re more interested in other people. Usually the ones who are having conversations in our heads! But we can use what we enjoy and find useful, to explore parts of our own lives!

Think about how you come up with a character’s name, or when you’re a reader, how do you identify with the character. What does their name signify? What possible meanings can come from it. Now think about your names. Not just your given name, but any nicknames, any affectionate words, or unwanted familiarities. How do they make you feel? How do they define you? We name characters and allow their names to shape them- are we given the same opportunity? What about titles? Wife, mother, husband, brother, teacher, agony aunt? Boss? How is who we are shaped by the names we are given.

These are just some small wonderings, but it’s an example of how we use writing to look inward, even when we’re creating outwardly, and it’s part of a task I’ll be doing at my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet in April!

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For details and tickets, click HERE

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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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Andi Says RELAX

 

 

When people ask me what my main strength is, I don’t tend to say writing. I tend to say enthusiasm. I am like a child. Give me a task and I’ll see an adventure. On the right day, I may even jump up and down and clap my hands. I love what I do. I love writing, teaching, reading, editing and helping people learn to harness their gift. But goddamn, it’s exhausting sometimes.

Creative Entrepreneurship teaches us that, as artists, we are likely to get our wages from a variety of income streams. The more strings to your bow, the more you can make. Now, I’m not saying a 9-5 isn’t exhausting, but this whole multiple income streams business makes me look like I’m vibrating on a different frequency. You have to be able to switch between projects pretty quickly, as well as travelling, planning, executing, arranging and looking out for new opportunities whilst making sure you don’t lose the ones you already have. Plus there’s social media, which can’t be ignored. What’s the point of doing all this work if no-one knows about it?

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I wasn’t this exhausted when I worked a PAYE job, and worked for myself part time. And I got up at 5am most days.

This is the question: Should we do many things, and do them well enough, or do a few and do them brilliantly?

When you split your income stream, you split your focus. If you have to teach to make more money immediately, then the novel gets put on the backburner in order to plan a lesson. Do we end up prioritising away the whole reason for this lifestyle?

When your job splits down into five or six different jobs, and then you consider the average tasks that come with being a human- paying bills, grocery shopping, socialising, doing laundry, going to the bank….how do we ever get stuff done?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or rather, I’ve known the answer all along, I’m just incapable of sticking to it:

CALM THE HELL DOWN.

Frazzled, exhausted minds do not do good work. Unless you’re Hemingway. Or Kerouac.

If we are our own boss, we need to treat ourselves nicely. We need to know when to switch off the laptop, put down the pen, turn off the phone, and STOP WORRYING. We need to sleep well, eat good food, exercise. Spend time thinking about things that aren’t work. Stop thinking that we’re not going to survive if we don’t do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Make plans with friends and stick to them, prioritise them over the chance to make a little more money.

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I’m terrible at this. I’m an overachiever, right until I burn out and spend weeks feeling ill and depressed. And then obviously it’s so much harder to get back to work with that attitude. Balance. That is what we need, and what I’ve been searching for. We all know the basics: Eat well, exercise, work, learn, socialise, have fun, create, sleep.

I used to think the busier I LOOKED, the more successful I was. This isn’t true. You think you’re juggling balls and spinning plates like a pro, when actually you look like a run-down jittery maniac running on coffee and determination. No-one approves of that person, because their work is destroying them. That’s not smart.

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So, next week I will be on holiday. Problem being I’ve already agreed to do a proofread on a client’s novel and set myself the task of polishing up one of my novels for perusal by an interested publisher. So I’ve pretty much just agreed to sit doing two weeks worth of work in 5 days. Why did I do that? Because I looked at them and thought ‘Ooh, those days are free!’ THAT IS THE WAY THEY’RE MEANT TO STAY. My holiday is usually for reading and writing, but in a non-uniformed, enjoyable and open way. No goals, just fun. And I’m not saying I won’t be sitting there with a cocktail in hand whilst I do it, but the lesson has yet to be learnt.

We need time to ourselves, to heal and reboot and relax. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes!