A writers workout

Recently I did my second workshop with Sue Cooper.  The first was a few years ago and was writing inspired by artefacts in the Yorkshire Museum.  This one was called a writers workout and was about getting imaginations going and getting words down on paper.

She had a great selection of exercises to get us thinking and inspired.  I had a great time and was sad when I had to leave early because of pain (boo!).

The first exercise was to write for 60 seconds on a word she gave us which was a great way to start the day:

edited for spelling and grammar only

Stolen

He had stolen her dreams, her heart, her soul when he had left that day. She had always prided herself on being a strong independent woman who was more than her relationship to her man but that day, when he walked out, she realised she had succumb to him. She had let him steal her heart, her soul, her dreams, her hopes.

Roadkill

Her eyes flicked involuntarily to the corpse by the side of the motorway, a badger possibly, she couldn’t let herself look long enough to identify the rotting flesh. Her stomach heaved but she kept driving, eyes straight ahead, heart blocking out the pain.

A Vietnamese hat

A Vietnamese hat hung in the corner of the room, a reminder of a previous life, a time of travel and adventure, a time of excitement now sitting, getting dusty.  A relic of another life, a part of her that she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of yet every time she spotted it, she felt her heart sink. She would never again know the unfettered joy of discovering a new place, a new culture, new people, new food, the delight of turning a corner and finding a temple or a beautiful sandy shore. The Vietnamese hat would forever be bittersweet.

We then did an exercise where we wrote down a list of nouns and a list of adjectives and swapped them with someone else (so you have your list of nouns and someone else’s adjectives).  We then used the pairs to spark ideas.  Some were really interesting; bitter keyhole, skinny bollard, pallid wheelchair… The one I used to write about wasn’t actually that strange:

The yellow pencil

Nostalgia is a remarkable thing, triggered by the most insignificant of things. The yellow pencil that she turned over in her hands rushed her back to primary school, the smell of the electric pencil sharpener grinding the stick to a point. The simple joy of writing on a clean sheet of paper in your best handwriting with the sharpest possible pencil. She remembered sitting there, thinking as hard as a six year old can, she knew that it was important to write something really good on the first page of her new notebook.  In the end, she had given in to the pressure and simply put down her name and the date in her finest joined up lettering.

Holding it to her nose, she inhaled the strange smell of graphite and wood shavings and sighed.  How many words had it written, this pencil which was now little more than a stump?  Perhaps if she had followed her dream of becoming an author, it would have scribbled down notes for a bestseller or ideas for a children’s book.  Instead, this particular pencil, had probably scratched out shopping lists, reminders to herself and parents evening dates in her diary.

We did a range of other exercises and talked about what we’d written. all in all an excellent day!

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Storytelling tarot spread 

I’ve seen writing inspiration tarot spreads on pinterest and thought they were interesting. Then a while back a friend asked if I’d do one for her.

I had a look and couldn’t settle on a particular spread, they all had strengths and weaknesses and in the end I pulled together the strengths and my knowledge of writing to make my own.

Half focuses on characters, their motivations and their relationship. The other half is based on the story arc idea with a card for each key point in the plot.

The reading I did for my friend was really interesting with some great stuff for writing I think. I hope so anyway!  I was inspired to do my own reading which turned out to be very different even though there were a couple of the same cards.

hj 220716 edited

Normally when I read for myself, I just note ideas down but when I did this reading for my friend, I used full sentences and wrote all my thoughts which turned out to be quite helpful. So I repeated this for myself (PDF).

Following this, an essential step is to actually sit down and write… I did a writers block spread for my friend as well. For me, I’m going to try and create a writing plan or routine which sees me do a little each week. I’d love to say each day but I know that my unpredictable pain and energy levels will mean I don’t achieve that. And once I’ve missed one day, it becomes very easy to miss another and so on… I’m thinking it might be worth adding to my Friday check in /week ahead planning.

If i don’t get far with a plan, then I’ll do the writers block spread for myself but I think I probably know my own blocks; lack of self discipline, lack of energy at times, wanting to get something spot on first time but mostly just not sitting down to write. I have all the excuses… Pain, brain fog, using the computer can worsen my pain, using voice recognition software is frustrating… But I have the time, I have vague ideas and the inspiration from the above spread, I just need to actually turn on my laptop and start drafting and jotting down ideas…

Wish me luck!!

a poet, anger and a banana… a writing exercise

Sometime last year, I bought a few old issues of mslexia off ebay.  I’ve got a subscription but I wanted some more to read.  The last couple I’ve looked at have had some interesting exercises to get you writing.  And as one of my projects for this year is to get back into writing, I figured I should actually give them a go rather than just thinking “oh that’s an interesting idea”…

This is the one that got me onto my computer to write.

Write a list of professions.  Come back later and write a list of emotions.  Come back later again and write a list of objects.

  profession Emotion/feeling etc object
1 poet guilt Gun
2 taxidermist Anger Spoon
3 teacher love Banana
4 Police officer Despair Door
5 Model Joy Camera
6 Journalist Excitement Pen
7 Artist Happy Painting
8 Poison taster Ashamed Screwdriver
9 Vet Courageous Tablet
10 Cook Bitter Chair
11 Editor Apathetic Marmalade
12 Taxi driver Grief Jar
13 Masseuse Overwhelmed Glasses
14 Hair dresser Anxious Window
15 Carer Peace Peach
16 Photographer Lust Plate
17 Actor pride Book
18 Miller scared Skirt
19 Ghost hunter confused horse

Then there’s different ways you can use your lists but the idea is that it’s a springboard for a couple of sentences, an idea or a vignette.

I’m choosing three numbers at random and picking one word from each column accordingly.

So 1, 2 and 3 gives  me a poet, anger and a banana…

8,9 and 7 gives me a poison taster, courageous and painting:

Everyone thought the poison taster was so brave, so courageous, risking her life each and every day for the sake of saving another. But she knew differently. It was a cop out. It was placing the risk in someone else’s hands. She felt no fear when she took that first bite or mouthful for her boss. She knew the outcome; live or die. But the second she sat at her easel and held a paintbrush in her hands, she froze. Her mind filled with anxiety, doubt, criticism. Overwhelming her, forcing her to turn away. The canvas remaining blank. A stark reminder to her of her cowardliness.

The painting remains unpainted. The poison taster poisoned.

What combinations do you get?  What stories do they tell?

Meet me at the crossroads

Gougane Barra
I don’t have a photo of a crossroad…

So I’m at a crossroads in my life.  Or perhaps, more accurately, a dead end.  I’ve never had a great life plan or ambition or expectation but I think working full time was just always a given.

warning: this is unedited, apologies for errors

About a year ago it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t up to full time work.  By September-ish I had managed to externalise that, with lots of tears.  By March it was reality.  I had gone from 37 hours a week to 30.  Which might not seem a lot but dropping from five days a week to four days a week was terrifying, heartbreaking and agonising.  I’ve known for quite some time that my dregs of self-esteem are very much tied up with work and being productive.  And saying I can’t manage that stirred up some major issues for me.  I was essentially saying that I was worthless because I couldn’t work full time.  I was angry that my body had taken more things from me.  I was scared and it was a vulnerable place for me.  The way I saw it, I was having to put my hand up and say I can’t do this, I am failing at full time work.  What would people think of me?  More importantly, what did I think of me.  Hint: on the whole they were very different responses.

So it’s been almost a year since I told someone I needed to work less.  And a lot has happened in that time – I have started getting care, started using crutches, started using wheelchairs and my pain has increased considerably in the last year.

Which brings me to the present day.   I have taken more time off work because of pain in the last two months than all my sick leave from the rest of my career combined.  And the sinking realisation that I can’t work four days a week hit.  It hit with tears and frustration and anger and ranting texts sent to a very patient and supportive friend.  A week after I had this realisation, my manager asked how I was getting on with the reduced hours and were they helping enough?  No.  There’s no sugar coating it, the answer is no, I can’t work 30 hours a week.

And that’s why it’s less of a crossroads and more of a dead end – I can’t keep moving forward.  Something needs to change.  I don’t yet know what my hours will look like other than less.

And I haven’t yet figured out what those non work hours will look like.  When I first reduced my hours it was simple, I would work Monday and Tuesday, rest all day Wednesday, work Thursday and Friday and rest over the weekend.  That just about felt justifiable to me.  But I can’t comprehend the idea of taking more time off work and resting.  I think there is a need to do that to some extent because otherwise I still won’t be fit for work on the days I do go.  But, and this comes back to having self-worth tied up with productivity, I feel I need to be doing something.

And financially, I do.  Reducing my hours the first time was a huge hit to my bank account.  I’ve been supplementing earnings with savings and thankfully was approved for PIP just before my hours reduced so that has helped a bit.  But reducing my hours further will put me in a very vulnerable financial situation.  Yes there are other benefits which at some point I may be eligible for but (again, self-worth is raising its head) I don’t feel I deserve them (which is nonsense) and I find the idea of being reliant on the government quite scary and it feels like a vulnerable situation.  For so long, I’ve been financially independent and before that I was striving to be.

Anyway, to sum up the situation is more ‘free’ time and less money.  So surely I can find a way to make money which isn’t going to have a negative impact on my health?

So far all I’ve come up with is photography (with the help of a couple of friends).  But that is a scary huge thing to do.  So many what ifs and as far as I can see no certainties.  Or writing, which has the same risks.  The biggest fear is that I will be laughed at – people will look at my work and think why am I trying to sell it, it’s not up to standard, what right do I have to charge people for my work?

If it hadn’t been for my pain, I’d never be thinking about the possibility of taking a risk with the more creative side of me.  So maybe that’s the happy ending to this post.

Yes pain sucks, but maybe, just maybe, it means you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

“Morning” pages

Julia Cameron created the idea of morning pages.  Essentially, it’s a bit of a mind dump that you do upon waking up.  She says there is no wrong way to do it but for her version of morning pages, you must use a pen and paper, must do them every day and must do them first thing.  Which creates an issue for me.  I cannot write by hand (somethings I cannot even type), I cannot do them daily due to fatigue and I cannot do them when I wake up because I have carers with me and I have an hour to get from bed to work.  These are non negotiable.  So I’ve taken her idea and made it work for me.  I have committed to doing my “morning” pages once a week at whatever time of day works.  Some weeks I’ve managed to do them twice and sometimes even in the morning!  Essentially, in order to keep at them, I had to reframe the concept to make it achievable for me.

And I like them.  I like the satisfaction of being able to tick them off my mental to do list.  I like that they free up my head a bit so some of the mundane crap thoughts are out the way.  I like that it gives me a bit more space for ideas to come to me.  And I like that it helps me recognise patterns and themes in my thinking.

For example, today I sat down with no idea what I would be writing and went from weather (always a good start if you’re short on ideas) to “when you break everything down, we are all the same, we are all protons and electrons and neutrons. Elementarily, we are no different to the dirt we tread on. Elementarily, we are all the same.”  (How on earth did I get there?!)

And there is something in that which may later become a poem.  It may not.  And I don’t always end up with ideas or phrases from my pages but sometimes I do.  And if nothing else, I can say I have written this week.