blog, writing process

So, where next?

hiking_maxmann
maxmann via pixabay

Okay, so it’s properly 2017 now. The tree and cards are gone, we’ve all gone back to work or school. It’s traditionally the time to look forward, make plans, set intentions and make resolutions for this New Year that we won’t keep.

No, this is the year of setting ourselves up for success rather than failure. Where last time I talked about footprints in the snow, this week is more about deciding where those steps are leading. What is the distant goal or mountain peak on which you hope to plant your flag? Without some end point, your journey is literally aimless.

However, your goal is not my goal. And that’s okay.

One writer might want to be a New York Times bestselling author. The next might recoil from that, but simply want to hold their book in their hands. Another writes only for their own enjoyment, to know themselves better or work through an issue in their history. And yet others want to make enough money from their writing to support themselves. Very different goals, needing very different tools and routes to success. Though it should be said that most writers want to be read by others.

A story comes alive in the telling.

That includes the stories we tell ourselves, that sabotage and undermine our conscious efforts to reach the goal. They usually boil down to fear, that protean trickster hiding behind a thousand faces.

I’m too______________
My stories are too _____________
The market is too  ____________

But this is fear talking, and that leads to fantasies that have no basis in fact. Writers succeed when they refuse to listen to this internal critic, that claims to protect you, even as it slams the door against the possibility of reaching your goal.

Fear keeps you home, anxiously listening for noises and wolves at the door, when you should be packing your bag and walking boots and getting out there. Remembering a big stick and wolf repellent of course, because a great antidote to fear is anticipating challenges and making a plan to overcome them. Success is not bestowed on a lucky few without effort. Success comes to those who stumble, fall, take a hit, and get up again ready to fight on.
Success comes to those who keep going.

What’s your goal?

 

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Mysticsartdesign via pixabay

 

I’m going to talk about writing because that’s my medium, but this visualisation exercise can apply to any creator.

Take a moment now to exhale, and get comfortable. Close your eyes and fly away into the future. Time does not matter here. You’ve achieved your ultimate writing (creative) goal. Breathe easily as you sharpen that picture of yourself and bring it into focus.

Maybe you’re watching the film of your book. You’re sitting in a bookstore, with a line of fans waiting for you to sign your latest book. Or you see your name on a book in Waterstones or Barnes and Noble, and smile to yourself. You get a letter from a fan, telling you how much reading your story helped them.

You’re typing away on a new MacBook in your ideal study, and your days as a wage slave are behind you. Or you are at a party, and when asked what you do you say confidently, “I’m a writer, and this is my latest project.”

Be specific. What project? Is it your current WIP or another book? How many people surround you? What are you wearing, what can you smell, touch, hear and see? Is the bubbly drink in your glass Prosecco or beer or soda water? Put in every vivid detail, and set no limits. Imagine it all, because this is where you are going. It’s Shangri-La, it’s the promised land, it’s your perfect idyll.

And it will only exist if you first create it in your mind’s eye.

We are artists and creators. We are the dreamers of dreams, and we deserve to dream for ourselves first. This picture is one to fix in your mind and come back to when things get hard, as they will. To fix it, or anchor it in your brain, it must be associated with a physical sensation. Pinch your left thumb and middle finger together firmly, while the dream plays in your mind’s eye like a bright, colourful movie.

You might be sitting alone on the side of a rough road, bleeding from being knocked down. But the memory of your happy future self is like a photo in your wallet. You can pull it out and remind yourself just why you’re out here, trudging this long and difficult path, risking pain and rejection and loss of faith. The anchor helps you recall it. Pinch your left thumb and middle finger together.

Breathe; time loops on itself, as you relive the memory of your future here in the present. The magic of creation is bringing into reality that which existed only in your own internal world. Dream for yourself, let your creativity flow in the service of a bigger goal, and it will give you the strength to get up and go on again. This is your true North, where your compass points.

Next time I will consider how to plan the route, but remember this.

The prize must be worth the journey. So dream your best dream.

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

Learning to see

and choosing your view

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Sunset at the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje) in Zadar, Croatia

Seeing is simple.

Open your eyes, look around, perceive and process visual stimuli. And yet, we know it isn’t as simple as that. We filter and block, we edit and disregard far more information than we retain. It’s essential, because we could not hope to pay attention to all the inputs.

It’s estimated that the brain receives 400 billion bits of data per second, of which the eyes receive 10 million bits per second. We are only aware of perhaps 2,000 bits per second. Just think about that for a moment. No wonder eye witnesses disagree. They all paid attention to different things.

Our brains are wired to take shortcuts and build theories to deal with all this data quickly. This can be helpful, but it also leads to biases, one of which is confirmation bias.

We all experience confirmation bias.

Thinking about buying a new car, maybe a blue VW? Suddenly you see VW cars everywhere, and especially blue ones, where you didn’t notice them before. It’s very useful to be able to home in on something, as long as we’re aware of how much we are ignoring.

Thinking positively in a negative world means operating with a particular filter in place. Look at the picture above. Beautiful, isn’t it? Tranquil and restful.

Now I fill in the gaps, adding more information from that moment. My stomach is grumbling, because lunch was hours ago. I am surrounded by too many people, crying babies, half empty beer bottles on the quay, screeching seagulls. My back aches, and I want to sit down. I wish there were more clouds, to make a better picture. I can hardly hear the Sea Organ, which is the main reason for my visit. I could choose this information, which is all true, and conclude this was a waste of time.

But look again.

It’s a beautiful scene. Gorgeous colours, the sun’s golden disc reflected on calm waters, and the distant sound of pipe music. The sea laps against the Sea Organ, playing a melody that is uniquely random and wholly calming. I am among a cheerful crowd, all come to salute the day’s end and welcome the night, and I have captured a reminder of that moment so that I can relive it at will. I choose to see natural grandeur.

Feels better, doesn’t it?

 

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Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes NP, Croatia

The scene above recalls something from a dream, or a movie setting. My trip to breathtaking Plitvice Lakes NP deserves a post all of its own, but here’s one image. (The water is as inviting as it looks.)

I can focus on the heat, sweat running down the centre of my back, a strap chafing my shoulder, a nagging pain in my right knee, (you know, the one I injured years back), an itchy bite on my arm. Then there are hundreds of people on the one narrow boardwalk, pushing past me, pausing to take selfie stick pictures, and getting in my way. Also I’m out of water.

Or I can take a breath, and apply a positive filter. This is one of many breathtaking vistas, bringing to life scenes I had dreamed of long before. I am stunned by the aqua green of the water, overcome by childlike excitement, exclaiming ‘look at that!’

It feels like coming home.

One day I hope to return to Plitvice, where I remembered something important.

Sometimes, when life seems too much, it might be time to look for the very thing I need.

If I pause for a moment and really search out the good,  I can still experience wonder. On re-entering Real Life, a little glow will remain, and lend a rose tint to ordinary days.

blog, writing process

Spark your positivity

sparkler
image:pixabay

It’s time to sparkle and shine

We get ground down by life, events outside our control, drudgery and rejection. We lose our shine and forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our enthusiasm fizzles and dies.

But what is better than enthusiasm?

It arises from passion, from creativity, from hope. It’s bright eyes, talking fast, hands tracing out ideas that tumble from us unchecked, until we’re breathless and laughing and shaking our heads and saying ‘you probably think I’m crazy’.

It’s a bit like being in love.

I admit, it can be hard to understand another person’s obsession, whether it is model cars or snowboarding or antique hunting. Or writing, come to that. But we need to listen and in turn be heard. We need to let passion flow through our veins, because without it life is dull indeed.

When someone (finally!) asks how the project is going, do we shake our heads, talk about the blocks, the fears, and look downcast? Or do we reconnect with the spark and talk about the progress, the high points, the fact that we are further on, even if that has meant several detours?

Write that log-line. Polish up a sentence or two that captures what excites you about your creative project. Remember that we all love different things, and don’t forget to listen in turn. We can give each other the gift of attention, and we can choose to be positive and light.

We are drawn to positivity like moths to a flame, but remember that we all have our own inner fire. Even if it has dwindled to a mere pilot light, it can be rekindled.

Remind yourself what fun feels like.

Try drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, with no end except enjoyment. Try a new recipe, get lost in a new town, look around a gallery or a garden. New ideas are the oxygen on which the inner flame feeds. Turn your back on your chosen form for a moment, dabble in something else and come back to your project renewed.

Be warm, dynamic, committed, lively.

Show your spark to the world. It might just light a fire.