Monday, 25 January 2016

2015 Happiness Jar

I can’t believe it has taken me until today (25 January 2016) to open my 2015 Happiness Jar. My post at the beginning of 2015 in which I analysed my 2014 jar, was one of my most popular ever blog posts.

Just to recap, at the beginning of 2014, I read an article by Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, The Signature of All Things and, recently, Big Magic. She suggested keeping a happiness jar for the year.

Basically, you start with an empty jar and put into it a note of anything that makes you happy or grateful during the year. In 2015 I had 67 happiness notes in the jar, compared to 53 in 2014.

Twenty-nine notes related to family events and experiences. Many talk about the new member of our family, our first ever dog. She has definitely bought a new dimension and many firsts to our lives. The rest mention successful outcomes to events and, of course, the achievements of both of my sons. However, the most pertinent happiness notes relate to simple times spent with my husband, sons and dog at meals, walks and at home together.

Sixteen notes relate to friends. These notes detail times with writing friends at RNA events and accompanying other friends on courses or walks. One recorded an afternoon listening to my mother and my best friend’s mother reciting by heart poetry they could remember learning in their youth.

Four notes detail my gratitude for successful health outcomes – clear mammogram, clear smear test, a mole declared harmless. These are particularly pertinent as a number of my friends have had serious health issues this year.

Nine notes speak of trips, talks and courses. My London trip (Blog post 1/12/2015), tea with Katie Fforde (Blog post 23/9/2015), a spiritual writing course (Blog post 27/9/2015), local history talks and a quilted picture course and nine of achievements, mainly writing - shortlisting in two competitions, finishing my NWS manuscript and successfully completing Nanowrimo, together with various submissions of my work.

All told the jar gives a record of a successful 2015.

I have found the process of keeping and analysing a happiness jar, very uplifting. This year, however, I’m trying something slightly different. I am writing a gratitude and experience log book. I’m also using the last page of this book to record the names of anyone needing help, for health or other issues. By making this list, I can direct positive thoughts to those who need them throughout the year.

I’ll let you know how I get on with this new format.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Big Magic

I promised a report on the talk I attended in London by Elizabeth Gilbert. She was being interviewed about her latest book, Big Magic.

The things that stuck in my mind from the talk were:

She believes that ideas have their own consciousness and are waiting for the right partner to bring them into the world. – This ties in with the feeling I often have when I'm writing that the story is being downloaded from somewhere beyond myself.

Keep one foot in the real world and one with the fairies so that you push the boundaries and explore ideas that other people say won't work.

It's fine if people have a contrary opinion to yourself, but exercise caution when reading reviews of your work. Don't expose yourself to hatred and maliciousness. Reading reviews can be like eating a sandwich with broken glass in it.

Be wary of showing your work to others in the early stages in case negative opinion kills the idea stone dead.

Creativity doesn't have to be for anything apart from you feeling like exploring it. It doesn't have to be serious. Lose your distrust of pleasure and save guilt for when you've done something really wrong.

Write an idea in different ways, play with it and liberate it from format.

Elizabeth Gilbert on stage

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her best selling novel, Eat, Pray, Love when she was depressed. She believes that depression, anxiety and despair can be an invitation for creative thinking. Experiment until you find the doorway. Examine yourself and your life until you find something right, cells of light, then add to these..

Write a letter to your fear.

If you want to be creative you have to make room for it, start saying no and give things up to find the space. Get real about the limits of your time and energy.

I found the question and answer session inspiring and reading Big Magic kept me going when I was flagging with my edits. A recommended read.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a fantastic 2016!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Nano Success and Weekend Away

I am feeling distinctly odd this week, having completed my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words written in November challenge at the weekend. I spent the whole of last month submerged in the English Civil War and had a thoroughly lovely time. I’ve been reading non-fiction books about the period and watching YouTube videos too.

I love the discipline of Nano and now have a first draft, albeit with outlines in some places. Once I’ve done Christmas – cards written, trees up and presents bought, I shall return to this manuscript and polish it to submit to the RNA for my New Writers’ Scheme critique.

I am particularly pleased at having reached the word count of the challenge, as in the middle I took a weekend out to go to London with a girlfriend. My husband works abroad and lives in hotels, so we used hotel points to have a room in a nice hotel in Park Lane.

The first evening was spent in Oxford Street, looking at the Christmas lights and Selfridges' windows, before joining the crowds at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We had tickets for the ice sculptures, but hadn’t bargained for how cold the marquee where they were housed would be. You got free hand warmers on the way out, as it was 8 in there.

Ice Sculpture
One of the Winter Wonderland rides
The next morning we headed to Kensington Palace. It was a gorgeous morning for November. We wanted to see the exhibition of the Queen’s, Princess Margaret’s and Diana’s dresses. We both had the same emotional reaction before going into the room containing Diana’s dresses. My vision was misted for a while. The dresses were beautiful with intricate beading and embroidery.

That evening we bused into Westminster and took photos of the lights, before the whole reason for going to London in the first place – a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity and her new book on the subject Big Magic. I have loved her work since I read Eat, Pray, Love. (I’ve since reread this book four times!). It was a sell-out event and well worth going to see Elizabeth in person.

Elizabeth Gilbert
We caught the train home the next day, tired but elated.

I’ll post about the talk soon. Which book have you read more than once?

Friday, 23 October 2015

Where It All Began

I often have an early writing session in Costa simply because if I go home I get caught up in housework, paperwork, etc. Little son has to be dropped at the station at 7.20 am, so I’m usually in a blissfully quiet cafĂ©. The other day, my heart dropped when I was joined by son’s school friend’s mother and sister – no writing ☹️

The little girl needed to do her reading before school, so I volunteered to listen. She got out a copy of Five On A Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. I spent my junior school years yearning for a big brother called Julian and writing about treasure, caves and pirates because of that book.
Five on a Treasure Island (Gift Edition)

It struck me as I listened to the familiar words that here was where my writing journey had begun. That book filled my imagination and sparked my love of reading and writing. A true lightbulb moment.

Where did your writing journey begin?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A Very Different Writing Workshop

The drumbeat transports me through the earth by way of a hollow tree. “You’ll meet your power animal,” the drummer says. Sure enough, a young female deer is waiting for me. Eyes unsure, she finally lets me touch her suede nose.

“Has your power animal a message for you?” The drumbeat echoes in the background, as the doe somehow communicates with me – "Be calm, be gentle, no need to push or hurry. It will all happen by itself." The message feels clearly about my writing, I’ve been feeling impatient with myself of late.

Then, I’m riding on the back of the deer at breakneck speed, through sunsets, over beaches, over a lake and to an island, where I eat flatbreads covered in sage honey with a young North American Indian couple.

This was the start of my day on the Words From Other Worlds – Tracking the Wild writing course in the Brecon Beacons. After this opening meditation in a lovely barn, sitting by a wood burner, we went for a walk in the countryside. Our mission was to be observant of nature, to look for the tracks of animals and notice the birds. We found squirrel feeding spots where acorns littered the ground, listened to the buzzard and raven calling, found tracks and followed them, found badger hair on tree trunks and nuts delicately nibbled by mice.

The weather was glorious and the landscape even more so. When we stopped for lunch, our writing exercise was to focus on one of the creatures and write about them from different perspectives. We stopped twice more, when the drum was again deployed to relax us and allow us to focus on nature, then we wrote about our experiences. My last piece was a very profound poem about my life to date and the way to the future.

We returned to the barn for yummy carrot cake and tea. We shared the poetry and prose we had written. Each participant had something new and different to offer. It was a truly magical day. An added bonus was the plot of a time slip novel coming into my head during one of the meditations.

I think my experiment with different writing experiences is off to a good start.

If you are interested in Words From Other Worlds – Tracking the Wild run by Shamanic Healer, Sarah Howcroft and Poet and Writing Tutor, Susan Richardson, have a look at Sarah Howcroft’s website for contact details.

Have you tried anything new to stimulate your creativity recently? Please tell me your stories below.