5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?

 

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‘I Got A Head Full Of Ideas That Are Driving Me Insane’; Tips For Dealing With A Busy Mind

I’ve always loved this line from Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’. I first heard it on a best of Bob Dylan compilation tape I bought when I was 12 years old. Yes, I was a strange kid, obsessed with words, old music, and writing. I used to scrawl lyrics and random thoughts over my bedroom walls and floorboards. And at the time I discovered Bob Dylan’s lyrical genius, I was also discovering how addictive it was to put words together. Little poems. Songs. Stories that grew into novels. I’d get one idea and become obsessed by it, only to have another equally exciting one show up on its heels, demanding my attention.

I remember the feeling of having too much inside my head. And having no escape from it, no way to turn it off or quieten it. I was always thinking about something. I disliked small talk and found it hard to concentrate on people when they spoke to me.

These days, it’s even worse. Just like when I was a kid, I have these people in my head. These made up people who feel so unbelievably real and who all have desperate stories to tell, and who all want their turn NOW!

So how do you cope when your mind gets this noisy? How do you focus on what is important and not end up burning out or giving up? I wouldn’t say I’ve fully figured this out yet, but here are a few tips for anyone who has a head full of ideas problem;

  • Count yourself lucky. Yes, I know it can feel like a burden and a curse. If only just some of these people would shut up and go away, you could concentrate fully on the task at hand. But it pays to remember having too many ideas is actually pretty cool. You’re never going to run out of material. You have decades worth of books and sequels lining up to be penned. That’s lucky and that’s exciting.
  • List your projects. I did this about a year ago. I have a to-be-read list and I have a to-be-written list. I’m a list person and there is nothing more satisfying than putting a tick in a box. So make a list of all the ideas for books you have and then enjoy that feeling when you get to tick them off. Also, this way you won’t forget any of the ideas!
  • Multi-tasking is your friend and ally. If you are taking the indie route, you’re going to need those multi-tasking skills in an abundance, so this is another reason to be happy that your mind is so busy. If you can juggle all of those projects and ideas without losing it, then you will probably do pretty well as an indie writer, juggling writing with building an author platform, promoting and so on.
  • Give yourself a day off each week. I didn’t always do this. I didn’t feel like I could. How was I ever going to get all these books written if I slacked off at any point? But then my kids kept giving me sad eyes and saying they missed cuddling up on the sofa with me. So I take every Saturday off. Completely. I don’t turn the laptop on. I sit downstairs with them and watch whatever they want to watch and take a deep breath. It’s my reward for all the hard work in the week.
  • Make sure it’s still fun. I think serious writers, or at least those who are serious about actually selling their books, should treat writing like a job. I always wanted writing to be my job, and now it sort of is, although obviously, I have to do other things to earn the real money! Viewing it as a job doesn’t have to take the fun out of it.On the contrary, writing should be a fun job. The best job in the world, in fact. So keep an eye on the fun factor. You might be churning out novel after novel and hitting all of your word count targets, but are you still having fun?
  • Feel free to slack off a bit every now and again. I’m doing this at the moment. Or at least it feels like it to me. I’m going over the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels I started a while back which is about half written. I’m editing a bit but I’m not doing any actual writing yet. I have two books with beta readers, so you know, can’t do much there right now. I’m gearing up for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, but until the artwork and formatting is done, I can’t set a release date and put the plan into action, so that’s all kind of relaxed right now too. It’s nice. I know things are going to get hectic again really soon, so I am enjoying the peace. I’ve been watching TV! Unheard of!
  • Remind yourself that one day you will have more time…I’m a mum of four kids and I’m also a dog walker and run writing groups and workshops. My youngest child is almost three, so hasn’t started pre-school yet. He’s 24/7. My older kids are fantastic but let me just say this to all you new parents out there, it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder. Sorry, but it does! Anyway, I have days when I feel frustrated that I didn’t get much done, but then I remind myself that one day the kids will all be grown up. They’ll be gone one day. I’m not looking forward to that, by the way, but wow, I will certainly know how to keep myself busy when the time comes! So for now, I remind myself to be patient. These are busy days and I’m torn in many directions, but it won’t be this way forever.
  • Write weekly lists to help you stay calm. I would be lost without my weekly to-do list. I sit down every Sunday night and write down the things I would like to achieve in the coming week. There will be things I need to do, such as writing this blog or putting together the monthly newsletter, and things I aim to get done, such as more editing, research or whatever comes up. Basically, I sit down each night and decide which things on the list are the most pressing. I usually split my time in half between promotional things, and actual writing or editing.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. I could write into the night and not stop. I used to do that before I had kids. I’m more sensible now, because I know I have to get up early and look after them all, but also because I’m kinder to myself. My mind needs a break. I turn everything off around ten pm and climb into bed with a book. Reading helps me calm down and tune out from my own mind. You can guarantee the ideas will start up again once I turn out the light, but I quite enjoy this if I am honest. I always fall asleep playing mini movies in my head, where various characters move about and talk and basically perform the book for me.
  • Have other hobbies and passions. I think this is vital. Obviously, I have the kids, and I expect most writers will have family commitments of some sort, as well as a day job. But I think having other passions in your life can really help you switch off from the writing, and give your hectic mind a break. I love gardening and being with my animals. I can easily lose a few hours just weeding, planting and digging. I love reading and will happily pick up a book at any time of the day, including whilst making the dinner. I’m pretty addicted to music and will waste away an hour or two on YouTube if I ever get the chance! Make sure writing is not your only obsession.
  • And finally, remind yourself that it will all get done one day. One word at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. You will work your way through that list of projects. I’m sure more ideas will arrive when you really don’t want them to, but consider it a privilege and just keep going as calmly as you can!

Now I just need to keep reminding myself to do all of the above and I might just survive!

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to know how you cope with having too many ideas!

 

 

 

Lessons in Dog – A Response To Lessons In Kitten

Last week, the brilliant Lisa Sell posted Lessons in ‘Kitten’ on her blog. Like all Lisa’s posts, it was funny, honest and quite brilliant. It also made me think. I’m a dog person, myself. I like cats. But my dogs really, really don’t. I started to think about Lisa’s post regarding her new kitten Feegle and how he is helping her through her depression and inspiring her writing habits at the same time. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that my dogs have also had a massive impact on my writing life. So, I decided to write a post in response!

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Dogs Can Change Your Direction

For me, they quite literally did. For five years I was a childminder by profession. For eight years I’d been a mother to three small children. There was simply no time in my life for writing, and very little time for reading. We went through a bad period. We lost two homes and my husband lost two jobs. We felt cursed and helpless and guilty. My reaction? I got a dog. I got a dog because I needed something that was just for me. I’d always been dog obsessed, in fact the first books and stories I ever wrote as a child were always about dogs. Funnily enough, although we brought this little chap Skipper home in the most uncertain period of our lives, everything changed for the better after that. We found a house to rent. Semi-rural, massive garden, a river running past it, fields behind, woods beyond. It was like a dream come true. And then one day while out walking my new baby I had a revelation. I would give up childminding and take up dog walking instead. And I would go back to my writing. And…I did! So it’s kind of thanks to Skipper that I can now call myself a proper writer.

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One Is Never Enough…

Yep, you guessed it, one was not enough. Dogs are addictive. I might be biased but I happen to think lurchers in particular are incredibly addictive! After I fell in love with my big boy Skipper, I started fostering dogs for a local dog rescue, and not long after that this scruffy little wretch arrived on our doorstep. I totally did not mean to fall in love with Tinkerbelle but she was always going to steal our hearts. She fitted right in. At this point in my life I felt like I was living the dreams I had chosen in childhood. I was working with animals and writing. Perfect.

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Dogs Force You Out Of Your Bubble

Like a lot of writes, I’m an introvert at heart. I love nothing more than snuggling up with a  good book, staying home and putting on music, writing for hours or losing myself in gardening. If it were not for my dogs who expect their walkies at the same time twice a day, I could quite easily shut the world out and ignore its existence. I could easily do the same with the human race. But dogs don’t let you do this. They force you outside, they force you to go to new places. They encourage interaction with other people and other dogs. For this reason, writers need dogs!

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Dogs Are Therapeutic In So Many Ways…

No offence cat people (I have loved cats before!!) but there is nothing quite like the love of a dog. They don’t just love you, they adore you. You are their world! They throw themselves at you when you come home. Their little faces watch you out the window when you leave. They want to please you, they want you to be happy! Dogs are happiness! And they can teach us to be happy too. They yearn the simple things in life. A comfy bed (preferably yours, or the sofa will suffice) Good food, (again, yours is better, and with lurchers anything left in counter-surfing reach is fair game, including rubbish bags) Playtime and sleep time. Easy. Unlike children, dogs are grateful for everything! They also seem to know when you are feeling down. Just stroking a dog can bring your heart rate down and help you to feel less stressed. Not to mention how therapeutic walking is. (Bit less so when they disappear after deer on the horizon, but that’s besides the point) They make you exercise, they make you talk to people, they make you care.

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Dogs Accept Us The Way We Are

One of the best things about dogs is that they like you just the way you are. They don’t care if you are fat, thin, attractive, ugly, able bodied or disabled, straight or gay, old or young, black or white. They couldn’t care less! They also don’t mind your character flaws. When I’ve had a bad day or felt misunderstood or judged, it’s my dogs I long to be with. Just one walk across the beautiful common with my hounds and I’m soon all right again. I often talk to them while I’m walking. Tinks will skip ahead, doing her own thing, acting crazy, but Skipper will walk right by me, as if he is listening to every word. I’ll talk about my day, what was good, what was bad, and I’ll talk about my writing.

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Dogs Help Me Write!

Yes, they really do. For all the reasons listed above and because walking them, being out in the open with them, close to nature and away from people, is where all my inspiration hits. It always happens on dog walks. New ideas that spring out of nowhere, (including several of my novels and future novels!) Characters start chatting to me, giving me conversations to steer their story forward. Loose ends tie up. I get massive revelations when out with my dogs. Something I’ve been struggling with for weeks will suddenly come together and make sense. I’ll get story ideas from the landscape and from the dogs themselves. I don’t think I’d get so many ideas without them! I always come back with a massive smile on my face, desperate to find my notebook so I can scribble down my ideas before I forget them. Or I’ll tap them into my phone while walking. So many of my blog posts have been drafted in rough form on my phone while out walking the dogs!

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They’re in all my books!

Not my dogs exactly, (although that is my gorgeous Tinks immortalised by the brilliant Justine Pateman, on the front cover of This Is Nowhere) but dogs in general. All of my books have dogs in them! The Mess Of Me has bat-eared cross-breed Gremlin, Lou’s ever faithful sidekick. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and This Is The Day have Danny’s adored Jack Russel, Kurt. This Is Nowhere has beautiful lurchers, Chase and Dash. And as for future books, The Tree of Rebels has a ball obsessed cross-breed called Charlie, and dear Elliot, from Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature has a Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Tizer. I just can’t seem to write a book without making a dog a character in it.

Writers Need Dogs!

For all these reasons, I think dogs make the perfect companion, muse and inspiration for writers. They get you out of your introverted bubble, out into the world and interacting with other humans. Exercise and just simply stroking and being with them releases endorphins, making you feel better and less anxious. They keep your feet warm when you’re writing, and snuggle up with you on the sofa when you are reading. They also make fantastic characters in books!

I need to say another massive thank you to Lisa Sell for inspiring me to write this post and being cool about me responding to hers! 

So how about you? Are you a dog person or a cat person? How do they help you or inspire you? Please feel free to comment!