blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Where do you write?

anywhere, or one specific somewhere?

boy writing on a rock_StockSnap
StockSnap via pixabay

Where do you like to do your writing?

Images of beautifully curated writing spaces fill Pinterest and mock less organised writers at the top of equally beautiful articles. White walls enhance carefully chosen artefacts on the table, and there is always coffee with artistic foam.

JK Rowling started Harry Potter’s journey at The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh. Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac met at Vesuvio Cafe in San Francisco. Maya Angelou rented a room in a local hotel by the month. Marcel Proust wrote in bed. Roald Dahl and George Bernard Shaw had sheds in their gardens.

A piece by Holly Isard in AnOther magazine delved into the many idiosyncratic places chosen by writers old and new.

The necessary environment is that which secures the artist in the way that lets him be in the world in the most fruitful manner.
Robert Creeley

Creating a ritual

A space to write can form an essential part of the ritual of writing. The mind and body is primed for the coming activity, and overcomes the inertia of getting started. This is particularly important to evade writer’s block. Like a sports or crafts person, we need to show up and do the work. By having designated space and a list of things to follow, you can avoid the empty brain syndrome of not knowing what to do next.

However, one size does not fit all. Some like music, others, white noise, others natural sounds. Some must have silence, and others like activity around them while their peers shudder at the thought and close the door.

Routine is a prison

Most of us have busy lives. In order to write every day, or capture inspiration when it strikes, we must be able to write in different places. Life is rarely ideal for more than a moment, especially if writing is something you squeeze into a packed schedule rather than your sole activity.

Knowing your ideal writing space is one thing. Learning to block out the non-ideal will free you to write elsewhere. Before my last holiday I would have said it was too hot, too distracting and uncomfortable to write at the beach. In fact, writing by hand in a small notebook and observing people was a revelation. Dialogue fragments, poem ideas, and simple journaling poured on to the pages. The background sounds of the sea are very soothing for me, which helped.

Play on

Music can be the best companion, or the worst. I find lyrics distracting, as they compete against the words I’m trying to find. Instrumental music is good, especially familiar pieces that fade into the background. You can find lots of playlists on 8tracks designed for study or writing. There is a free option with ads, or you can pay a monthly fee to avoid ads and make your own playlists.

I tried a nature noise generator and found that rain is soothing but thunder distracts me. There are over one hundred and fifty noise generators available at myNoise.net. They are grouped by activity or need, such as focus, to mask tinnitus or external noise, or for relaxation and sleep. Each soundscape has several elements that can be customised to create your perfect mix.

Not only helping you to work better, the soundscapes can also keep you company while working alone.

woman sitting on concrete pillar
Photo by Sachin A on Pexels.com

Making anywhere your best place to write

Creating a ritual and finding a dedicated space is helpful to a solid writing habit. Being able to change things up, whether that means learning to write with noise or creating your own soundscape to block it out, will broaden your options. Routine should be your servant and not your master.

In the end, it is about creating different options for the situations you find yourself in. Then you will not be reliant on your lucky mug or favourite pen. When the idea strikes, you will be ready.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

In the eye of the beholder

mask-woman-wall_kellepics
kellepic via pixabay

 

I replayed that disastrous meeting in my head all the way home. Kim was perfectly made up, her lipstick red enough to command attention, but not so red that it was an outright invitation. When she started to explain the concept that we’d developed together, the shock of betrayal jolted through me.

I gaped, probably looking foolish, then clamped my mouth shut and fixed my gaze on the treacherous mouth taking credit for my idea. She was all surface gloss with a concealed weapon. No-one else saw through it. Continue reading “In the eye of the beholder”

blog, writing process

31 day writing challenge – the results

close up photo of may graphing paper
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

In May 2018 I took part in the Ninja Writers challenge to post every day. I wrote about what I hoped to achieve from the daily challenge here. My stated aims were

Consistency
Community
Confidence

So how did it work out?

Consistency

I posted every day, using a mixture of some old posts remastered, new posts, and serialised fiction. The remastered posts were interesting to revisit. They showed that my blogging has improved: tighter writing, using pull quotes and bold text so readers can skim quickly. I can edit faster than two years ago.

I saw that some content is evergreen. Even two years later it is still relevant, as long as it is updated where needed.

Community

The Ninja Writers daily post group on Facebook had a new lease of life, with new members and more prepared to post links. This had dwindled to nothing. Occasionally I would be the only person to post in the thread, which was not encouraging. I read more, being sure to check out writers new to me in the thread, clapping and commenting. We all love acknowledgment; I made it a point to give more. And my own FB group were wonderful cheerleaders.

Confidence

This is how my stats looked for April 2018. I posted four times (one each Friday) and had 263 followers. Views varied between 2 and 122 per day.

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And this is how they looked for May 2018. I posted 31 times and had 310 followers, a net gain of 47 (gained 51 and lost 4.) Views varied between 23 and 110 per day.

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Views                         +150%
Reads                         +145%
Fans                            +150%
Followers                   +18%
Number of posts       +775%

I increased visibility, partly from having more content published by publications such as The Creative Cafe, PS I love you, and The Writing Cooperative. All have large readerships.

I increased interaction by replying to or clapping on all my comments. This has led to conversations with like minded writers, and we check out each other’s work. It builds a fanbase.

I increased followers by 51, 165% of my target. And lost four along the way. But I didn’t win big with anything.

Conclusion

I met my goals, but

  • It was arduous, even with a plan and reusing old content.
  • The almost eight-fold work increase was not matched by the other metrics.
  • Short fiction was hardly read even when serialised, which was discouraging as I think this is my best work.
  • Having posted 10 new and 1 old poem, I can also call myself a poet, maybe.
  • I can’t keep up my quality and post daily.
  • I managed to let a piece go that I didn’t think was great, which was new and terrifying. On the other hand I’ve posted good pieces with less engagement.
  • I’m much better at seeing ideas for blog posts in everyday life.

The sweet spot probably lies around 2-4 posts weekly for me. I’ll try that from June onwards and hope to build on the momentum I’ve picked up. I’m still gaining followers, a few at a time.

When people post about this experiment, the numbers are always fabulously large. I guess for most of us the reality is more modest. We keep slogging away, and maybe the next post is the one that goes viral.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

New adults, old times

the nest is never quite empty

dennisflarsen via pixabay

 

My son is home for the summer from University. My daughter never left, since she chose a college five miles away. She’s working now in a job not worthy of her first class degree, but okay for a start.

It’s been good for her, but this isn’t how I planned it.

She was meant to do what I did; fly the nest at eighteen with never a backward glance. She is part of a modern trend, whereby more adults aged 18–34 live with their parents than ever before. She can’t afford even a tiny rented place of her own on her current salary. I bought my first house aged twenty-five, on a mortgage of twice my salary. I try not to think about how or when she will be able to do the same.

So we’re four, a nuclear family again. Just like old times, except not. They’re adults. They don’t have to tell me what time they’re coming home. But I do have to include them in dinner plans apparently, except for when I don’t because he’s been invited to Tom’s ad hoc barbecue and oh, can you give me a lift?

I’m struggling to calibrate my parenting. On a scale from ‘call social services’ to ‘paranoid mama bear’ should I be ‘kitchen’s stocked, clear up after yourself’ or ‘give me your schedule, I’ll make that chicken casserole you like.’ Or something else entirely?

Back to the future

There’s something about returning to your childhood home that unearths long-hidden behaviour patterns and dysfunction. I saw that with my own siblings. Despite having partners and jobs and adult stuff, we still somehow lined up in age order, complete with ancient resentments about favouritism. It was ridiculous and exhausting.

We all get on, mostly, and I’m grateful. The family unit is reformed differently each time he returns, a minefield of unspoken rules and covert expectations between generations and siblings. I slide reluctantly into a role whose restrictions I was all too glad to leave behind. The apron strings bind both sides. Maybe they think I chose my role. Perhaps, but it is well past its expiry date, for me anyway.

Spread your wings and fly?

Around my garden, birds are feeding their young. It’s full time work, but at least there is a clear contract. I feed you until you’re as big as me. Then you’re on your own.

My kidults are caught between dependence and freedom. It feels to me like they have the best of both, feeding my resentment. Some lessons, like the mechanics of being fully responsible for yourself, cannot be taught. Those lessons must be lived and learned.

No doubt we should sit down together and lay ground rules, and we will. Just as soon as she gets back from her night out and he gets out of bed.

Meantime… dinner at seven okay for everyone?

blog, writing process

Given but not taken

Why do we find it so hard to accept compliments?

 

daisy-gift_GLady
GLady via pixabay

Last night in my writing group, we critiqued each other’s work as usual. One piece sparkled with wonderful dialogue. It is one of the writer’s signature strengths, and I told her so. Her smile faltered and I could see her thinking no, that’s not me.

But, it really is.

Writers bemoan the lack of decent feedback. If the feedback is negative, we are wounded more or less deeply, but we hear it. If it is positive however, we tend to discount it. This is like turning your back on a gift. Worse still is when we immediately deny the truth of the compliment. This is like slapping the gift to the ground and stamping on it.

Who has not felt disappointed after giving a compliment that was rejected?

The Johari Window

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 11.33.49

(from toolshero.com )

The Johari window model was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 at UCLA. Designed as a tool for self awareness and analysing group dynamics, it is, like any good theory, applicable to many activities. (you can find more information here )

If we want to improve, we need to hear what others know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Thus we seek feedback and act on it, to reduce the blind spot.

It’s like having someone tell me what the back of my head looks like.

Denial is a common response when faced with conflict between how we see the world and how the world sees us. When we internalise the observations of others (given in good faith) and adjust our behaviour accordingly, we move forward with greater self awareness. Our blind spot is smaller.

We are hardwired to notice threats in our environment, a legacy of the lizard brain that reacts quicker than thought to keep us safe. Hidden behind polite self-deprecation is fear.

Oh sh*t they’ve seen through me and now they know I’m an impostor. They want something, they don’t mean it, they’re trying to trick me.

Receive with grace

But, we’re better than our lizard brain and we can engage our big, beautiful cortex. You know, the bit of your brain that does the actual writing. We can feel the fear and defeat it.

Think of a compliment as a gift. Be polite, smile and say thank you like you were taught. The more you practise, the easier this becomes.

Doesn’t matter if you like it or not, that comes later. Give your cortex time to catch up to the instinctual response.

When you unwrap it later, in private, you might see that you’ve been given something precious after all.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

When baking isn’t Zen

but you still get to eat a cookie

home made oat and raisin cookies
actual cookies baked by me

I wrote a piece recently about overcoming writer’s block by immersing yourself in the Zen of simple things. In this case, baking cookies.

It was all there; soothing repetitive tasks, making something tangible, a dash of creativity in the ingredients (these are oat, mixed fruit and ginger cookies, in fact.)

I thought I had done a Good Thing.™

Then this dropped into my inbox from Austin Kleon. You know, the Steal like an Artist guy.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 12.51.54

Procrastibaking is a thing?

My world tilted. Was it possible that I had procrastinated without knowing — I had in fact procrastibaked?

No, no, say it ain’t so.

Okay, it might be so, sometimes, but I stand by my original article. And I learned something after the cookies (and my story) were baked.

  • creativity is a remix, combining existing elements in a new way
  • procrastination+baking = procrastibaking — love that word
  • inspiration is everywhere
  • productive procrastination still produces something worthwhile
  • whatever, I got to eat cookies and they were delicious

Now, go read his article and the book, which is fabulous. I’m off to make tea and raid the cookie jar.