Monday, 25 February 2013

When The Chain Breaks

In my last post, The Chain Commands, I talked about how to get into the habit of writing every day - but what if it goes wrong? When you break your chain of writing days, how can you get back on track?

1. Just do it.
In the words of a famous sportswear brand, sometimes all you can do is push yourself to get something done - just do it. Write something. Anything. Don't worry about how little you write, or how terrible it is. Write the world's worst haiku: it doesn't matter. It's the act of writing that signals 'I'm writing again' as opposed to 'I haven't written for days'.

2. Add the next link.
Do the same the next day - write a haiku that's even worse than yesterday's. Why? Because once you write two days in a row, you have a chain. Instead of a single link that may never join with another, you have started the chain of writing every day again.

3. Write something different.
I wasn't merely being facetious when I suggested you write the world's worst haiku - I find it effective because I don't usually write them. Or any other kind of poem. Allowing yourself to write something different to your usual style/genre/subject/whatever removes the pressure. Instead of sitting over your notebook with pen quivering, you can scribble some words and have fun. Try writing a segment of screenplay, a fable, a sonnet, a character's to-do list, flash fiction, a description of a dark and stormy night...

4. Do something different.
If you're stuck in a rut writing-wise, your life in general is probably stuck in a rut too. When I'm trying new things - or even learning new things - I tend to feel inspired and more motivated to write. Shaking up your routine doesn't have to be dramatic - a bungee jump may work, but so could a walk somewhere you haven't been for ages. Or cooking a new recipe for dinner. Or visiting a charity shop (especially if you challenge yourself to buy the most interesting item you can find under a certain price).

Brainstorm or ask a friend to suggest something if you get stuck. You could also try writing activities on pieces of paper and pulling one out of a jar. They could say anything: do a salsa class, talk to a stranger, make a dress using only materials you already have in your home, go on a swing, participate in a (non-writing) competition, count how many types of animals you can find around your home town... The weirder, the better!

5. Make a game of writing.
There are thousands of writing exercises that are fun to do - so try some! Open the dictionary at random, select a word and write whatever comes into your head. Make flashcards with various words on them and create sentences, or use the word order to create a story. Tell a story through a different medium - like drawing, photography, plasticine models, sock puppets, music, mime...

The idea is to create a springboard. You may think the writing that results from these ideas is stupid, but writing rubbish is better than not writing at all. However, I find that the exercises that seem most ridiculous are the ones that generate the best ideas. Having fun can be motivating in itself, but the ideas you produce will motivate you further and before you know it, your chain will (like a certain brand of toilet paper) be long and strong!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Chain Commands!

I read recently that Jerry Seinfeld got into the habit of writing every day by putting a cross on the calendar each day he wrote. One of my New Year's resolutions is to get into the habit of writing every day, so I decided to mark my progress in a similar fashion. Using a calendar would be pointless, because I never remember to look at the bloody things, but I do have a Mslexia Writer's Diary...

I use the diary for everything and anything to do with writing: competition deadlines, to-do lists of writing tasks, random thoughts and writing plans, etc. I already checked it most days, so I started circling the days when I managed to write. I also drew in squiggly lines between the circles, to emphasize the idea that it's a chain I want to avoid breaking.

And it's surprisingly motivating. Far more motivating than I expected. So I got thinking "how can I increase and harness this sense of motivation?"

1. Keeping marking your progress and look back over the chain to remind yourself how well you're doing. An obvious point, but if you don't flip back the pages of your planner/diary/calendar, you're missing out on a massive confidence boost. Also try marking the chain when you hit 50/100/200+ days of writing in a row.

2. The earlier (in the day) you write, the more likely you are to write more. This doesn't mean you have to get up at 5am and/or write before you have as much as a cup of coffee - if you can and do, good for you, but I am NOT a morning person. I love the idea of doing morning pages, as suggested by Julia Cameron among others, but it takes me 2 hours to wake up enough to find a pen, let alone write. During those 2 hours, I do stuff like sort out my emails, reply to comments, online banking, writing a to-do list, wasting time playing games on the internet... I think of it as gently warming up my mind! But once I am alert, I tend to be more productive if I get some writing done straightaway.

3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so push through those 3 weeks and it will become easier. I don't know when it happened, but at some point I began to think of writing every day as an integral part of my daily life. Most days, I do it automatically. The longer you keep going, the easier it gets - you might have to schedule it in at first, especially if you've got a busy lifestyle, but soon you will find yourself snatching a few minutes of writing time here and there without noticing you're doing it. But you will notice afterwards, when you add another link to your chain!

And if you want more inspiration, this Mslexia Competition is giving away Writing Maps (also available to buy from which contain exercises that guide you through different aspects of writing. The comp closes 28th February 2013. They sound pretty cool, so I might buy one or two - whether I win the competition or not!
There are diffrent types available, including My Writing Life, Writing in Cafes and Writing the Love, so you can choose the one(s) that suit you. The Writing Maps are £3.90 each and the website offers free shipping worldwide. They fold up, so the idea is you stick the Writing Map in your pocket and go forth with writing prompts available when needed.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Feel the Fear and Submit it Anyway!

One of the books that has helped me most with my struggle to cope with mental illness is Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Self-help books often get a bad rap. Especially if they have catchy titles. However, I found Feel The Fear to be a revelation and it's incredibly useful. This book is one of the main reasons I was able to crawl out of the depths of anxiety and depression. And the most revelatory part? Everybody feels fear.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But I was convinced that confident people were a different species to me. I never considered that they feel fear.

Jeffers also offers 5 truths about fear:
1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out... and do it.
3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out... and do it.
4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I'm on unfamiliar territory, but so is everybody else.
5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

Jeffers explains these in detail and they are the foundation of the book, which I recommend to anybody and everybody. It helped me when I was afraid to leave the house; it helped me hop on a plane (for the first time ever, on my own) and visit a friend in Valencia.

But it's only in recent weeks that I have thought of applying the lessons in Feel The Fear to my writing. I tend to be self-critical and avoid submitting my writing anywhere, because I'm convinced it won't be good enough. Whenever I get up the nerve to enter a story in a competition, I imagine it get photocopied and passed around - for people to laugh at.

If I was to continue like this, where would it leave me? At home, writing thousands and thousands of words I will never send out. I have to face the possibility not only that I'm too scared to be a writer, but that I might be scared of being a writer.

So what can I do? Give up on my lifelong dream? Er, no. I have to take action. I have to literally feel the fear and do it anyway.

I've submitted stories to a few competitions this week and plan to submit several more over the next week or two. I don't know when I will stop worrying about judges reading my stories and saying 'what possessed her to send us this crap', but I know there will be a day when I enter a competition or send a story to a literary journal and not feel it's such a big deal.

Because it's not a big deal for a writer to submit stories: it's a necessity.

I will have to do it again and again, for as long as I want to keep writing. And you know what? It's infinitely better than being stuck in a fog of fear.

If you're in a similar situation, find places to submit your work to - and submit them. It might cost you a bit of money through printouts, postage and entry fees, but the cost of staying scared is far greater.