The value of ‘stream of consciousness writing’

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Several years ago when I was trying to establish a writing routine, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In it she suggests the practice of Morning Pages, whereby you do (longhand) three pages of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing every morning as soon as you wake up.

Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand.

I ended up doing MP for many years and now have hundreds of ‘word-full’ diaries and exercise books, which, if nothing else, serve as a nice reminder of how messed up I used to be!

My latest ‘habit’ is 750 words, which has a similar premise but is done online. Like NaNoWriMo, it awards badges for reaching milestones, typing fast etc. and these little incentives, makes it a very easy practice to maintain. However, I’m trying to use it in a slightly different way to Morning Pages. If I’m starting a short story or a piece of flash fiction or a scene from my novel, I use it to brainstorm ideas or word sprints and honestly, it’s tremendously effective. Yesterday, I did a flash fiction which I’ve entered into a competition and today I worked out the idea for a short story which I need to submit in a couple of weeks. Try it – it might give you the inspiration you need!

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The Mindful Art of Being Sick

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A couple of weeks ago I succumbed to the flu and I must admit I was pretty down. For anyone living alone, getting sick is truly horrible – there’s nobody there to make you chicken soup or give you a hot water bottle, and when you’re used to constant ‘busyness’ as I am, it’s really tough to change this default setting.

Of course I naturally assumed that I’d be right as rain the next day – I was super fit after all – I worked out most days and took the best multi-vitamins and supplements, and admittedly I did feel slightly better but not well enough to do anything too demanding so when I woke up I wandered despondently into the kitchen. However, instead of grabbing a coffee and toast as I usually would, I sat down and thought about what I really wanted and chose fruit and muesli which I ate slowly in silence at the kitchen table.
After that I took a shower, and instead of using my usual leftover Body shop gel, I remembered some beautiful organic body wash I’d been given for Christmas, and as I breathed in the gorgeous aromas of lavender, geranium and neroli, my spirits began to lift (and I chucked the old stuff in the bin afterwards!).

As an exercise addict, whenever I’m not working I’ll shoot off to the gym for 90 minutes, whether I feel like it or not, but as this wasn’t an option today I decided to get a manicure, something I’d never do on a Monday morning. I didn’t choose red as usual either, but opted for dark blue, a colour I’d never had before. I normally find manicures a bit of a drag, but today was different as I chatted to the nail technician about her country, Vietnam and her impressions of London, whereas generally I’d just sit there with my hands out, fixating on what I had to do afterwards.
After my nails, I went shopping. Usually I’d race around the supermarket buying the same things each time, but today as I wandered slowly down the aisles, I spotted products that I’d never normally notice in my default mode, and afterwards I came home and made a sweet potato and chorizo soup – something I’d never done before.
What I’m basically saying is that in my sick state I couldn’t do things quickly as I simply didn’t have the energy. Consequently I was thinking more about what I truly wanted from each moment and focusing on one thing at a time which was infinitely more rewarding. Of course it’s awful to be sick, but the biggest thing it’s taught me are the benefits of slowing down and you don’t have to be sick to remember them.

Slowing down

1/ Makes you unitask rather than multitask. It’s human nature to try to multitask but by focusing on one thing at a time, you do that thing more thoroughly and feel more satisfied and less stressed as a result. A simple thing such as sitting down to have breakfast can make it feel like a special event, as it continues to do for me.

2/ Makes you truly consider your choices and gets you out of your default mode of always doing the same things in the same way. Trying something different (blue nail polish and sweet potato and chorizo soup for me!), can cultivate a sense of curiosity in your life and make you feel as if you’re truly living it.

Unless you consciously seize control of your auto-pilot, life will continue slipping through your fingers
̴ Dr Danny Penman

3/ Helps your mind become quieter as you focus more on the present. By slowing down your body, your mind adapts accordingly and you feel calmer and less worried about the future. I’ve come to realise that the only time that matters is now!
4/ Improves your personal interactions as you completely focus on the other person and give your attention to that conversation (as was the case for me at the nail salon).
In a guided meditation I did recently, the speaker discussed the importance of personal interactions and really listening to what the other person had to say. In so doing,

the power of our connections become infinitely more intimate and meaningful
̴ Joseph Goldstein.

January is said to be the most depressing month of the year and it’s obvious why. It’s cold, there’s little to look forward to and nobody has any money. It’s also the time when many people get sick, but there’s much we can learn from this experience, and as I approached the end of the day I talked about above, I found myself wishing that all my days were like this, with each activity segueing seamlessly into the next. Despite being sick, I felt calm, stress-free and happy and I’m sure this had a lot to do with having slowed down.

Trust your imagination

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and the ideas will flow …

I recently signed up for a writing competition – The NYC short story challenge. http://www.nycmidnight.com/Competitions/SSC/Challenge.htm

It wasn’t my normal type of comp. Generally I stick to something that I know I can do and consequently I’ve recently started to achieve a little success – occasionally winning or being placed or shortlisted. However, I suppose I’ve been feeling restless. I know what I can do but am also aware of what I can’t, hence my reason for entering.

The challenge goes like this. All entrants are put in groups with about 35 people in each. For the first round they are given a brief consisting of three elements 1/ genre 2/ subject and 3/ character about which they have to write a story of under 2,500 words in a week. The top five in each group then go through to the second round and the challenge continues in a similar way.

My brief was:  

Genre – suspense     Subject – PTSD   Character – X-Ray technician. 

When I saw this, my heart sank. I’d never written a suspense story and knew little of PTSD and X-Ray technicians. However, I let the elements float around for a while in my mind and gradually ideas started to form. The next day I did a word sprint, (a spontaneous typing exercise, something I got into the habit of doing for NaNoWriMo and a great way of getting the words down), and this enabled me to come up with a first draft and the last few days I’ve been fine tuning the story so it’s ready to submit before this Saturday’s deadline.

Of course I’d love to get in the top five but even if I don’t, I can look back on this week and feel happy that I’ve learned something new. I’ve learned how (in theory at least!) to write a suspense story and I’ve realised that I have the ability to write about anything if I only trust my imagination.

Make a Prompt Personal

This month I’ve been following the Blogging 101 course run by Word Press. I was kind of on top of things until last weekend when I suddenly succumbed to the flu. Thankfully I wasn’t working but all those writing related things I’d intended to do went by the wayside, including my daily Blogging 101 lessons. This task was for Day Eleven: ‘Make a Prompt Personal’. I picked out a prompt from ‘A Writer’s Book of Days,’ by Judy Reeves. This is a fabulous resource, which includes not only prompts for each day, but also tips, suggestions and encouraging ways to improve your writing. Anyway, today’s prompt was ‘When she looked up.’ Here goes…

When she looked up

When she looked up all she could see was the sky which was heavy with sadness and dark with overwhelming grief. She had to look away yet she couldn’t escape it. This too will pass, she thought yet the next day when she looked up, it was just the same, and the day after that too. The colours changed daily. It was England after all, and as it was January, the colour was often leaden, although once in a while it was a lightish turquoise as though diluted with a bucketful of water. But regardless of the colour, the sky always seemed the same to her.

th-1.jpegThe first thing she’d do when she got up was open the window and stick her head outside. Then she’d raise her eyes and gaze into the sky. It’s still the same, she’d think and sigh. This continued for a month, and then another month. She eventually became used to it so it didn’t hurt as much after a while, and then one day she forgot to look up at all. Instead she shoved her book and towel in a bag and wandered down to the park. It wasn’t far away, ten minutes on foot, but she’d forgotten it existed, at least since the accident. On this particular day she remembered though and when she reached the park, she spread out her towel, lay down and then looked up at the sky. It was as turquoise as before but light with happiness and optimism. This was the day that things started to change.

Reason to believe in prompts

I have every reason to believe in the use of prompts as ever since I picked up a copy of ‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves, the practice of writing in response to a prompt has greatly improved my writing.

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I’m currently doing quite a bit of reading on the subject of mindfulness and I’d strongly recommend ‘Mindfulness for Creativity,’ by Dr Danny Penman.
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In this book he says that mindfulness helps you to

observe how much of your life is controlled by habitual ways of thinking and approaching the world

and he suggests the practice of ‘habit breaking’ which will

broaden awareness, spark curiosity and open the doors to serendipity

I believe that this can be the case with writing. We very often write about topics which we feel we know well, and it could be that the end result is jaded and unimaginative. Writing on a prompt about which you (believe) you know very little can trigger your creative mind into producing something which you might never have done were you to sit down and write about a familiar subject.

I have to agree with Lisa Kraft’s comment,

Prompts are both joyful discovery and intense frustration.

https://rainbowhillmeanders.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/writing-prompts/

However, I’m now inclined to think that the ‘joyful discovery’ generally outweighs the ‘intense frustration’, and because of this I strongly recommend the use of prompts as a aid to creativity.

This post is in response to The Daily Post prompt: Reason to Believe

January Blues

Jan-blues.jpgHalfway through yesterday my energy levels dropped to the extent that all I wanted to do was go to bed. I couldn’t though as I had a plan; a list of things that I needed to achieve by the end of the day in order to feel it had been worthwhile. I managed a couple – my daily 750 words  and a meditation, but then I gave up and lay down. Despite the fact I was feeling horrendous and had clearly succumbed  to the flu, I really felt as if I’d failed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? As a freelance university teacher, I haven’t worked much in the last month and I intended that this time should be devoted to writing (or writing related projects). However, now that my return to work is imminent, I’m focusing on all the things I haven’t managed to do, rather than those I have.

It was reassuring this morning to read Mairi’s post,

https://mairineil.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/a-much-needed-circuit-breaker/

as she seems to share the same anxieties. She says,

I seem to have spent my time fretting over not achieving what I’d hoped

I feel exactly the same way. I guess one of my new year’s resolutions could be to feel happy, regardless of how little I think I’ve achieved, (in any case, it’ll certainly be more than I had at the beginning of the day!) I can’t help feeling that life is as much about being as doing, as my little kitten, Polly continually teaches me.

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Everything makes sense in time

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Yesterday I read a post by morningmojoblog https://morningmojoblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/lost-my-job/comment-page-1/#comment-226  It was beautifully written – clear and mindful and I had no doubt when reading it exactly how morning mojo was feeling. However, it also made me feel excited for her as this unexpected event represents a new beginning – a fork in the road if you like, and that can only lead to something better.

I guess that over the years, I’ve come to realise that everything happens for a reason, even things which seem so unbearable at the time. Around this time last year I wrote a short piece for Elephant Journal entitled ‘Connecting the dots in relationships.’ http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/01/connecting-the-dots-in-relationships/.  I discussed how it was possible after some time to look back at past relationships and understand why you’d had them and what you’d learned from them, and this philosophy can, I believe be applied to all situations in life, as I’m sure morning mojo will discover soon.

One of my favourite quotes comes from the Deciderata.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.