About Me

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I still feel like a teenager on the inside, unfortunately my children do remind me how old I am!! I have lived for 20+ years as an Irish expat in The Netherlands. My favourite city here has to be Amsterdam.

Writing, reading, authentic living. It's all here at The Writing Process

Welcome to my blog. Let me start by telling you that I love writing. I love the sense of vitality it gives me. I love that it helps me to make sense of the world and to the people in it. I love that it helps me become wiser, more intuitive, empathic, and most of all autonomous.

All aspects - reading, writing and observing - are what make the process complete. The essence is storytelling, and learning about
life and yourself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

6. Mental Aerobics

Sportsmen and women will all tell you that when they are exercising, there comes a moment when a new level of consciousness kicks in. A moment when that voice inside their head stops telling them to give up, that they cannot go on a moment longer, or worse still, that they never should have started in the first place. When that moment comes the body and mind unite and they develop a rhythm, not too fast, not too slow. Their breathing settles, and there is no doubt in their mind that they will reach that finish line, or see the clock hit the top of the hour, or that they will keep pumping till the music stops.
With writing it’s the same process. As was mentioned in previous articles, the hardest part about writing is learning to override those voices in you head that tell you to stop. The voices of ridicule that make you feel like an impostor. The voices of criticism that belittle your efforts, laugh at your plots and characters, and in short suggest, not too gently that you ‘get real’ and leave the writing to those with talent.
What’s needed here is mental aerobics. And that’s where a journal comes in handy. Keeping a journal will help you still those voices. It will bring you to that moment of unity, when hand and mind and inspiration harmonise.
The moment before harmony is attained, you will, just like an athlete, have a moment of excruciating anguish, and that is the moment of truth. By journalising, you bring to the surface your insecurities, mistaken beliefs and prejudices about yourself, that you internalised and that have become your (de)motivators. Write them down; read them over and over again until they lose their power over you. Then write some new ones, ones that are in tune with your desire to write. These are all you need, for it is my belief that if you have a desire to write, then you will also find the talent to do it. Take your desire seriously – it is there for a reason. And remember, if you listen to the (de) motivators, then you will become one of those people who say ‘if only’ in the future and hang your head in disappointment. If you get beyond the voice of the (de) motivator and write that novel, or short story, or poem, then you will carry a sense of achievement with you for the rest of your life. You will be that marathon runner whose feet have crossed the finish line.
The only regrets in this life are for things NOT done.
Feel free to compare yourself to famous people, those you see fulfilling their dreams and daring to stand in the limelight. Catch a serious dose of hero worship and wallow in it. Take your favourite person (who doesn’t have to be a writer) and decide just what characteristics in them it is you admire so much. Then realise that you have those characteristics too. What you see in the other person, is often a reflection of what you have but have not yet owned or internalised. Remember that you have been filled with all those other ‘unproductive’ ideas and there has been no room for self-admiration. So, with the journal you have cleared the decks, so to speak. You have literally had a spring clean, and now you can start building some new ideas.
My favourite people are usually pop stars, and I have been laughed at or ridiculed for having the audacity or the stupidity to mention my own name in the same sentence as theirs (more of the voices that will paralyse when left to fester). My heroes were Sting, James Hetfield (of Metallica fame) and Freddie Mercury. And when I investigated my admiration, the common denominator was their courage. All three were prepared to break the mould in their chosen field and in their upbringing. Sting, initially associated with the Punk movement, dared to be intelligent. James Hetfield, a thrash metal guitarist and singer, displayed a tender, emotional side to his character, and wrote ‘meaningful’ lyrics. Freddie Mercury, of Persian descent, and brought up in a strict, religious environment, had the courage to be flamboyant, gay and utterly ‘over the top’. I wanted some of their audacity, their tenacity, and their courage.
But more than this, by identifying with these heroes, and by humanising them, my own ambitions to become a novelist did not seem so ridiculous any more. We are all born naked, and have to learn to make our way in the world. ALL of us, without exception eat and sleep and laugh and cry. So, my becoming a novelist is no more ridiculous than Sting becoming a performer. All I need is the same determination. All I must do is switch off those voices in my head.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Digging Deep

It’s all too easy to want to hasten the process and just get on with the actual novel, and I am sure there are plenty of novelists who are capable of doing so, but I would strongly recommend that a novice novelist take the time to do a chapter breakdown. The chapter breakdown will serve more than one purpose. Not only will it give more clarity to your initial inspiration, but it will also be a valuable aid in letting your characters evolve. And even more importantly, by going through the mechanics of a chapter breakdown, you will be able to see if there’s enough ‘meat on the bones’ of your plot. If at this stage the plot cannot be padded out into about fifteen chapters, then there’s not enough story to grow into a novel.
Given that you do have a fifteen-chapter story, then the breakdown will be an invaluable aid in your writing of the novel-in-progress. On those dull days when you feel overwhelmed by this project the chapter breakdown will do just that – break it down into manageable parts. It will also be your guide, and keep your mind clear and your thoughts directed. It will serve as a map and hold your focus. If you have chosen a less traditional novel form, one without the constraints of chronology, geography or historical context, then using the chapter breakdown will be your structure. I don’t know whether Michael Ondaatje used a chapter breakdown when writing "The English Patient," but I do know that were I to write such a complex novel, then I would definitely take the time to map out the story in this form.
There are novelists who shy away from a chapter breakdown, believing it will take the spontaneity out of their writing, and prevent the plot from developing and the characters to unfold naturally. And certainly I would agree with this opinion, if you choose to stick to the initial chapter breakdown as though it was written in blood. But if you give yourself the freedom to change and adapt, or swap chapters around, or re-write a whole section, then no, this need not be the case. Then the advantages then outweigh the disadvantages.
And now, with the chapter breakdown completed the first hurdle to your novel presents itself in the form of the OPENING SENTENCE. I have a rather simplistic solution to this – just write whatever comes into your head in order to get the story going. You can always change it at a later stage, even when the first draft is completed. At that stage the story will have grown into its own style and tone and chances are that even if you’d struggled for weeks on that elusive first sentence, you’d want to change it now, anyway! So spare yourself the headache.
I mentioned the word momentum earlier in the article. Now that you’ve written that first word, put that first, virgin idea onto paper (or your word processor), make an appointment with yourself in the same way you would with a colleague, friend or family member, that you will sit in your writing chair at a certain time every day or week. Inspired or not, you will write something. By making this appointment you are creating momentum.
Eventually writing will become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. The novel will inhabit your thoughts. The plot will unfold; the characters will talk to you. The novel will live, become real, tangible almost. And who cares if you fail to get it word perfect first time. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the ride. Remember that this is a first draft, and it can always be adapted and improved. A blank page is just a blank page!
When you reach a point where you miss the writing if you break that appointment, when you feel restless when not writing, when you don’t break that appointment because ‘something else’ comes up, you know you are a true writer. You know you have committed to this project.