Writing By Hand

I was rather bemused to see a large stationery chain advocating the benefits of writing by hand. With actual pens and paper. There was a mention of an Australian survey which confirmed that people who wrote in this way for 15-20 minutes a day reported various benefits including a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction. My inner cynic wondered if this was just another way to sell more stationery.

But perhaps that is because I already do what is advocated by the survey. For years I have kept a brief diary with a line or two about each day. Looking back, I’m not sure what started it. I think it may have been a way to record subtle changes and events, and it has come in handy when I’ve wanted to see how I reacted to something months or years after the event. These record of the passing of days have been on Filofax diaries, and I have years of these scored with pens of varying colour, the pages heavy with the moments of a life. In recent months I have added three things I’m grateful for to the end of each day.

The twenty minutes of handwriting happens in my A5 journals. These are usually hard backed books with enough pages to capture three months or so worth of daily morning pages. These pages capture in more detail what is going on in my life and the world in general, along with snippets of news and updates on people I care about. Frustrations and victories are afforded equal billing, and I always feel better for having spent the time to write, even on days when I think there is absolutely nothing in my mind worth recording.

Occasionally I flick back through these pages, and I am usually rewarded with something to smile or laugh about, or reminded of something that seemed to dominate my life at a particular point. Until the next obsession came along. And there are snatches of dreams and story ideas which can be teased into something more substantial.  It has become a habit, and it is rare for me to miss a morning session. Occasionally I write at the end of the day, but I prefer to start the day with the rhythm and routine of the words on the page.

And I still write some creative work by hand. My notebooks are full of scratchings and thoughts, and as I write much slower than I type there is a different level of focus or energy about these writing sessions.

Do you write by hand?

[Photo: writing notebook scratchings]


My I Spy: something beginning with ‘J’

J is one of my favourite letters of the alphabet. It makes me think of joy, jubilation, jesters and jazz. One of my favourite words is ‘just’; I’m always just doing something, will be there in just a minute, or am just having a bit of a think, which is code for daydreaming. When I was younger – much, much younger – I had a pair of white sneakers with bright jelly beans on them. Not sure why, it was just a thing. Here are some things beginning with J that I’ve spotted recently.


Jumble of Jugs


Along with an eye for fine china, shared with my Mum, I like little jugs. They are handy for holding milk for tea, a small posy of flowers or water for an oil burner.


Journals – just some of them …


I’ve kept a journal on and off for years. I tended to write when travelling or when there were big issues in my life that I needed to digest and understand, or if I wanted to remember something that seemed significant. For nearly 3 years I’ve been keeping a daily journal as part of the morning pages routine, and this is some of the stack of journals I’ve filled with my daily scrawl. The pages are full of the mundane and extraordinary, and when I flick back through them there is usually something to smile at, ideas that I wanted to flesh out or times when I’m having a rant and getting it out of my system. They are the repository of little stories and observations and help me to connect with my writing life each and every day.


Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw Puzzle

I spotted this at Vinnie’s and brought it home although I haven’t had a go at it yet. I like the description of ‘over 425 pieces’ – it makes me wonder how many pieces there are in the box! Puzzles, like other board games, knitting or sewing, offer me the chance to do something whilst, well, puzzling over other things. If I’m trying to solve a bigger problem, doing one of these other activities seems to free up part of my mind to get to work. There is a great book on puzzles, life and creativity in general – The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble. You can read a review of it here.

K might present more of a challenge. Some of my favourite spies so far have been the fish plate and the emus. Fellow alphabet spy Autumn’s posts can be found here.

Methodical Matters or Why Routines Rule

There is part of my personality that yearns for order, consistency and a daily pattern of sorts. I know this wouldn’t suit everyone, and there are times when it doesn’t suit me either, but I’ve learned to accept that I work best when there is a structure about my day. This is applicable for me personally and professionally, regardless of the multitude of factors beyond my control that can have an impact on what I can reasonably accomplish in a day.

What does this have to do with writing? A few posts back I mentioned that I hadn’t been writing as much as I would like, and I outlined a few ways that I managed to find a bit more time or at least make the most of the time that was available to me to create. This has definitely helped, and by creating pockets of space I find that ideas are still coming through, even if all I can really do is get the bare bones down, at least I am capturing these moments.

Recently I stumbled across Quiet Revolution, a site with lots of great resources particularly – but not exclusively – for introverts. The work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet, is featured, and there is a wide range of articles across a spectrum of subjects. In early August there were two articles about creativity by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West: 4 Ways to Make Space in Your Brain to Create, and 3 Ways to Hack Your Environment to Help You Create. I found these articles interesting and have returned to them a couple of times over the past month or so.

There are a few things that I have been doing for some time to help with both routine and creativity, including Julia Cameron’s morning pages, but I hadn’t really explored the use of visual mental imagery as outlined in Stephen Kosslyn’s psychology of ideas. Something I liked was the idea of scheduling ‘unstructured idea-generation time’ after immersing yourself in a new book or movie, giving yourself the space to play with the images created by the experience. It sounds simple but how often do we launch from one thing to the next, rather having time to reflect and explore what has been encountered?

Environment plays a part in creativity, and I know that whilst I can be creative when I’m away from home, or at work, or doing the grocery shopping (sometimes inspiration strikes at odd moments!), having a dedicated space set up makes it much easier to get into my creative zone when I’m at home. This is similar to the idea of ‘The Bubble’, the ideal creative state outlined by Twyla Tharp. By working on the creation of this space, you can have a bubble of creativity that travels with you as a state of mind.

Is a designated space for creativity important to you?

[Photo: Megalong Valley Tea Rooms, Megalong Valley]

Creativity On Hold

Lately I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to, and it’s been bothering me. There have been external factors which have pushed their way into the time I usually have to daydream and scribble and think up new stories or ideas. There are times when I need to be a responsible adult, which is fine, but there is a feeling of restlessness and irritation at this incursion. As if I’m existing rather than living.

So what to do? I’m sure that normal transmission will resume sometime soon, but there will be other times where what makes me feel most alive – the daydreaming, creative side of me – will be jostled aside. I don’t want to feel like I’m going through the motions so I need to have a strategy for when this creative time is only available in small sips, rather than big gulps.

Here are some thoughts I’ve had on how to make the most of the available time.

Snatch Time. The little bursts of minutes when you’re waiting for someone or something, leave the mobile alone for a moment and look around. Take in what is going on, or spot something that you wouldn’t normally see and look, really look. There might be the trigger for a character or short story idea, or you might overhear the perfect phrasing for some dialogue.

Be Spontaneous. More challenging for a methodical mind such as mine. One of my highlights in the past week involved just stopping my usual point A to point B routine to take a photo for the #MyISpy game that I have been writing blog posts about. It was less than a handful of minutes in my day but there was the exhilaration of doing something out of the ordinary, and it still makes me smile days later.

Turn Up. I’ve been tired and grumpy and yawny and generally not in the mood to do anything creative at my usual time. But I know that if I get up and write the morning pages I can shoehorn at least a bit of creativity into my day, even if it is a jumble of thoughts that I can unwind at a later date when I have a bit more time.

Accept Limitations. Things happen. Great plans become unstuck. Guilting myself won’t help but understanding that I have to focus my attention elsewhere for a while makes it easier to endure, and I know that if I jot down bits and pieces when I can, there will be something that I can work with when my time is more my own.

What do you do when life gets in the way of your creative output?

[Photo: old postal and telephone switchboard equipment at the Wyalong Museum]



Blogging – what, why and where?

I was recently asked to put some words together in response to this question for a post on the Writers in the Mist blog. This blog is hosted and managed by the fabulous staff at the Blue Mountains City Library, and includes pieces contributed by my local writing group.

One of my fellow writers, Therese Doherty, also responded to the call and you can find her interesting and thoughtful response here. Therese’s blog – Offerings from the Wellspring – can be found here. The byline for this great blog is ‘creativity and connection in a living world’ and her posts are beautifully written, considered and encourage deeper reflection.

The Blue Mountains City Library also has a blog for readers – Readers in the Mist. There are book reviews, articles, news and entertaining infographics like the one in this post.

So below is my response to why I blog, and the original post can be found here.

Why did I start a blog?

Earlier this year I gave some serious thought about what mattered most to me and creativity was high on the list. I thought starting a blog would offer a creative outlet as well as creating discipline with regular posting – it would help me to write more. Which it does!

Why did I choose the theme I did?

I thought about what I liked in other blogs and what I wanted to blog about. It came down to wanting to share aspects of mountain life as well as writing about writing. So the Monday posts are about musings from the mountains, and the writing related posts appear on Thursdays.

How often do I blog?

Twice a week. This did feel a bit ambitious at first but I have found a rhythm and actively seek new material and experiences to blog about, which fuels my creativity, which creates more blog material! Before I started I made a list of possible blog topics and I keep adding to this as the ideas roll in. I keep the blogs short – usually around 400 words – which also keeps it manageable.

Why did I choose this blog site?

My blog is on WordPress.com. I set up a blog for serial fiction there a few years back and found the site easy to use. It works well across devices which is handy as I travel a bit for work and write a lot on my tablet and phone.

What is it like to get feedback on posts?

It’s really encouraging. I have received some great feedback and it is interesting to take a step back and review what generates a higher response. One of my best posts was a writing book review (Still Life with Teapot) and anything that includes a reference to writing morning pages usually gets some feedback. I am still learning but putting in lots of tags definitely helps. I also enjoy reading and following other blogs, and provide feedback too as I know it makes my day to know that someone has taken the time to read my blog.

Tips for new bloggers?

Content matters most. Blogs are a great way to get your voice and your interests across. Some will get a better response than others, and it is important to read what others are writing too. I have come across some really great blog posts and found inspiration and learned a lot from more experienced bloggers. I now feel more engaged as an active writer in a virtual community.

If you are thinking about blogging, I’d encourage you to give it a go. There are many benefits to creating, writing and putting your work out there, and to be an active part in a writing community whether it’s local or online or a happy mix of the two.

Why do you blog?

[Photo: dog in a bathtub reading The Land for some inexplicable reason atop the newsagency at Gunning, NSW]


We fall into old habits*

I like routines. I find comfort in habits and having things in their place. By creating structure I find I have more freedom and mindspace to think about other things.

Routines do need a bit of room for give and take as things inevitably happen. I’ve written before about morning pages, which are an enduring legacy for me from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Since January 2014 I have been writing three pages daily in A5 journals, emptying out my head, ranting when I need to, testing out ideas, plot points and thinking through work related challenges. I was surprised that I kept to it, even though I have kept a journal intermittently for years. There is now a growing collection of these journals, swollen with the ink of many pens, marching their way along the desk in my study.

The routine of writing these three pages, preferably in the morning, has saved my sanity at times. There are other days when sleep is too tempting, or I have an early start, or there is some other hurdle to sitting down and getting the words out. But if I do miss this morning session, I tend to feel less ready to deal with the day ahead. There are some days when, before sitting down, I can’t think of a single thing that would be worth writing. And yet, with the weight of a pen in my fingers, the flow begins. If I miss the morning, I usually write when I get home, knowing that I’ll feel better for spending 20 minutes doing it, and vowing that I’ll get up earlier to honour this time tomorrow.

I know that keeping this routine matters to me when I miss breakfast or coffee to get the words out before I face the work day. If I do a self-scan at some point in the day, I will recognise a restlessness if I’ve missed a part of my morning routine including daily pages, meditation or walking my dog. These activities provide structure, but all of them also give me time to think, to dawdle a bit if I need to, to look up and see something other than the challenges of work or chores or the endless to-do list that keeps spitting out tasks like a dot matrix printer in my mind.

Sometimes routine is turning up at the desk even though the well feels a little dry. Pick up a pen or poise fingers over the keyboard and see what comes out. It might be slow and sluggish at first, but by creating the framework for creativity the chance of having something to show for the admission price of turning up is greatly enhanced.

How important is a routine in your creative life?

* The opening line from ‘Laugh in their Faces‘ by The Whitlams.

[Photo: winter landscape near Cooerwull in Lithgow]

(Some) Wednesdays are for Writing

Today is my first official writing Wednesday. I have negotiated some leave and have eight Wednesdays, including today, between now and the end of the year that are just for me. These days are separate from work and family obligations, and are part of my still evolving plan to carve out more time for things that really matter in my life. Like writing.

It was not my intention when I came up with the idea that the entire day would be devoted to writing. Truly, it was an epiphany that struck me one Wednesday afternoon that life would be more enjoyable if I worked a little less.  I know what I’m like. I’m organised enough to have a few things that I want to accomplish throughout the day. I know that I will get through these tasks, particularly as some of them have deadlines attached. Having the day laid out with a schedule would not work. What I needed was a clear idea of what I wanted to get done and the space to accomplish it.

Whilst it wasn’t a work day, I stuck with what I usually do of a morning before work – my morning pages and meditation. Then the day was a rather delightful mixed bag of writing, chores and just being at home.

I have polished the piece for my writing group submission around doing some washing and picking up some of the bark and sticks and debris after the very heavy rain and high winds of the past week. I finalised the creative work which is my contribution for the Deep Red Scarlet Pen Project through Emma Kay Inks. The last writing session on my novel has been proofread and I’m all set to add to it once I finish this post. I’ve caught up on reading relating to writing and followed up on some of the links that have been waiting for my attention on my ‘when-I-have-time’ list. I also took my dog for a wander down the road in the late afternoon light, enjoying the bold wattle blossoms and the hedges of camellias in bloom, the hectares of gum trees on the other side of the road, simply being for a change rather than rushing.

For me, writing does not happen in isolation. It is integrated into various aspects of my life, and is fuelled and inspired by the extraordinary and mundane in the everyday. I’m chuffed I’ve managed to create some space to let more of it into my life.

How does writing fit into your life?

[Photo: close of up of one of the two majestic lions guarding the entrance of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba]