We’ve probably all at some point done it – taken up pen and paper and scribbled down thoughts and feelings in an attempt to express ourselves, or gain some clarity. Maybe we’ve written poems, journals or heart-felt letters that we never send. Maybe we have an idea and embark on a short story, or the first few pages of a novel, then for a whole host of reasons decide that whatever we have written is either embarrassing or rubbish and rip it up, or press delete! Or we put it on hold, telling ourselves, and others, that we’ll finish that story one day when a) we have enough time, b) the children have left home, c) we have a better laptop, d) we have a proper writing space, etc.
This is all a normal part of exploring our creativity. It is often how it is at the start. Clunky! Unsure. Confidence wobbles. And when the confidence wobbles the gates open wide and in rush the oft-heard lines – who do you think you are to be a writer? You’ve got nothing to say anyway! You’re not even well educated for God’s sake! You can’t even spell! Who on earth is going to be interested in reading what you have to say!!! You? A writer? Ha, don’t make me laugh! Etc.
No wonder many crush their story into a tight ball and fling it in the waste paper basket at this point. Oh, writing, they say years later with a sigh, yes, I used to dabble. But I wasn’t any good! So I gave it up!
We know that story. It is one most of us are familiar with.
But there are two words writers love. WHAT IF.
What if we kept going!
What if we crawled on our hands and knees to that waste paper bin to retrieve that story? If nothing else that is our voice in there. And as long as it’s in the waste paper bin our voice remains unheard. And the muscle to strengthen that voice – that would come with writing practise – remains unflexed. What if we found ways to silence the negative voices that clamour to crush our creativity, and replaced them with new supporting voices. I am a writer, I have something to say, I am educating myself with every sentence I write, and to begin with, I am interested in what I have to say.
Try saying that a few times and feel the energetic shift. There’s nothing crushes the spirit like a put-down, and there’s nothing buoys it up like positive thinking.
You are a writer. You have something to say. You are educating yourself with every sentence you write. To begin with, you are interested in what you have to say.
So say it!
Say what? You might ask, pen in hand, ready to scrawl. Well, write about the dream you had last night, and the way the cat slinks along the neighbours wall, and the wail of the siren you hear in the distance, and maybe you wonder where it’s going, and maybe you wonder what your mother meant when she called you last night, and write about the way the dust motes spin in the air. Write about anything. Write about everything. At this stage just write without stopping, and without thinking too much. Write from the heart. Write about the colour red. Write about your earliest memory. Write for twenty minutes every day and don’t even read it back. And if you can’t think what to write then write ‘I can’t think what to write.’ Write that often enough and something will break through.
Plan little appointments with your creative writer. Make the date in the morning for twenty minutes at some specified time during the day – then stick to it. Imagine you are meeting a lover. Don’t be late. Don’t stand the lover up. In this way you are wooing the creative and developing a commitment to your creative self. After a week of twenty minute daily writing read back through your notebook. Be curious. What are you writing about? What matters to you? What are the themes that emerge? Maybe there is a piece of writing, or a tiny phrase from your notebook that you could develop into a poem, or a piece of prose. Maybe you might take that piece you wrote about that time you made gooseberry jam with your grandmother and work it into a story, or a memoir.
And strange though it sounds split yourself in two when it comes to creative writing. There is your young self; your storyteller self. And there is your older self; she’s good at editing, likes to get the punctuation right. She might pore over a sentence until it is right. She can do a grand job, but don’t give her the pen when it comes to starting out. She’s the one you need when you are editing your work, but to begin at the beginning, give the pen to the one who is young, spontaneous, fast, full of ideas and enthusiasm.
Write! And see where she takes you!
Janis Mackay, an award winning children’s author and creative writing tutor at Edinburgh University
Janice lives in Edinburgh where she writes novels for children and adults, and facilitates creative writing workshops. Janis has a special love of sparking the creative flow in others, and in guiding people towards their own unique creative expression. She has an MA in creative writing and personal development, and is also a storyteller, registered with the Directory of Professional storytellers in Scotland. Prior to writing Janis worked as a speech and drama teacher and storyteller. She recently won the Scottish Children’s Book Awards with her novel ‘The Accidental Time Traveller’ and is currently nominated for a Carnegie medal for her latest book – Wild Song. She is offering a one year novel writing course in Edinburgh for 2016, meeting one Saturday per month. For more information on this email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.janismackay.com