My #WriteSpace | With Space to Create #WhereIWrite

I have always been fascinated with the spaces where creatives love to retreat to. I loved the Hachette vlog series #WhereIWrite. I absolutely love Catching Days’ How We Spend Our Days interview series where Cynthia Newberry Martin asks writers to guest-post on how they spend their days. I have also just recently found the delightful rabbit hole of  Novelicious’s My Writing Room. 

 

courtesy of the freedictionary.com

 
To me there is something sacred about being let into a creative space. For many creatives, this space is often where they feel most like themselves. It is a nest where they can retreat to succour their creativity. So I thought I would invite you into my #WriteSpace for a short while. 

*Ever curious about other creative spaces, I have also knocked on the doors of some of my friends and asked if we could have a quick peek into their creative spaces over the next few weeks. If you’re curious to see where they create too, remember to click on their names, at the end of this post, to take you to their digital spaces.*

“The writing life is defined by the succession of choices you make, primary among them whether or not you will write. You honor your writing space by entering it with this mantra: ‘I am ready to work.’ You enter, grow quiet, and vanish into your writing.” | Eric Maisel.

Welcome to my #WriteSpace.

This is where I go to run away with my characters and escape into my stories. I am fortunate enough to have a dedicated “Room of my Own” with space to create. I write full time and for me my home is the perfect place to write. I’m not one to write at cafes. I prefer to be in my own space in solitude when writing. I love this space of mine. It is on the top floor of my home overlooking a beautiful golf course in hills embraced by the Pacific Ocean. It faces north-east which means that the morning sunshine streams into this space. But being north-facing, this space is filled with light throughout the day. I’m a country-gal, born and bred, so to work well, I need lots of natural light, spaciousness and a view of the outdoors, as free of buildings as possible. A space from which I can hear bird song and enough open space to get lost in. 

I have spoken before about my vintage solid-oak rolltop desk which I waited patiently for years to find and finally make mine. There is something special about sitting down at a rolltop desk and writing. Talking of sitting, my chair is the most comfortable chair I have ever sat in. I paid more than a a pretty penny for it but every penny was worth it. It is a leather ergonomic (very important for the comfort of my lower back, where I was kicked by a horse 20 odd years ago) swivel chair that rocks back and forth, leans back like a lazy boy chair, swivels in 360′ and has both a seat that is height adjustable and arms that are height adjustable.The desk itself is an inspiration for me. Each object on this desk has a purpose and a special meaning particular to me. 

“People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.” – Stephen King

One of the many reasons I love my rolltop desk is all the little storage compartments and many, many drawers, even a few secret drawers, it has. Here are a few of my own “hearts in a jar” that I keep on my desk.

Top of the Desk

  • Jessica Fletcher ~ My sexy Vintage Imperial Good Companion 5 Portable TypeWriter circa 1957.
  • Angel Sculpture (left) ~ I bought this beautiful Angel of Inspiration in Greece. She is holding a font of water that is said to be from a sacred waterfall of inspiration. 
  • Bronze sculpture of Hermes (right) ~ a nod to the Ancient Greek patron of Writers.
  • Photographs ~ photographs of me in places I have travelled and my beautiful Arabian gelding I left behind in South Africa when I immigrated to New Zealand.
  • Special memento objects from my favourite places that I have travelled ~ a sea-shell and glass bowl of semi-precious stones from South Africa + Exquisite handcrafted perfume bottles +traditional copper coffee pot from Dubai + Urn from Greece – my flower vase when I feel like fresh flowers + glass paperweight with a dragon kanji from Singapore + glass paperweight of a Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.
  • A wooden paper weight carved for me from my brother when he was a child + stuffed tiger also from my brother.
  • A perpetual desk calendar with daily quotes from Shakespeare.
  • A collection of scented candles ~ I love to burn these when I’m finding the blank page/screen overwhelming.
  • The top of my desk also works excellently as a standing desk-space when I get tired of sitting.

On the Desk

  • Left: A shelf of fountain pen inks ~ Currently: Iroshizuku Yama Budo, Diamine Ancient Copper, Diamine Bilberry, Diamine Red Dragon and Diamine Eclipse + along with my rubber stamp and book darts collection
  • Right: Some more memento objects from my travels + a pink-haired troll (circa early 90s) with a sign – “Nobody’s Perfect” – important reminder for a recovering perfectionist.
  • Desk Area: A few of my collection of leather Traveller’s notebooks. (Leather covers that can hold multiple notebooks.)
  • Centre Desk Area: My A5 Custom Trifold leather Traveller’s notebook that houses my drafting notebook, my research notebook and my plot notebook + my favourite fountain pen ~ The Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night with Medium nib.
  • Desk Area: Rear Centre Left ~ A leather and wooden carved book-box, carved by my late maternal grandfather, where I store my fountain pens. On top of this box are my Hobonichi planners. 
  • Desk Area: Rear Centre Right ~ My Rain Design M Stand (aluminium laptop stand) and MacGyver aka my MacBook Pro 13″ aluminium laptop
  • Desk Area: Right~ Apple Time Machine (very important backup storage) + modem
  • Desk Drawers: If you opened my desk’s many drawers you would find a stationer’s supply of writing + sketch notebooks, pens, pencils, watercolour + oil paints and coloured pencils. These are essential to be kept close to me for my own sanity. I don’t believe a writer can ever have enough notebooks and pens/pencils. I also love to relax by sketching or painting. My love of sketching and painting is almost as strong as my love of writing. Just recently though I have started sketching with fountain pens as well which I am really enjoying. 

“Do me a favor – right now, today, start a list of all your crazy obsessions, the things that get your heart pumping, that wake you up in the middle of the night. Put it above your desk and use it to guide you, to jumpstart your writing each and every day.” | Jennifer McMahon

I do face the wall when seated at my desk but I could not bare a blank wall. So I have a print of one of my favourite paintings by Jackson Pollock ~ Silver on Black. I love the controlled chaos and sheer creative freedom of this piece. It is absolutely mesmerising to stare at. On the surface it looks chaotic but actually as you look deeper at it it reveals exquisite layers of colours and shapes. Ever single time I look at this painting, I see something new. Between this Jackson Pollock masterpiece in front of me and magnificent views to the left of me, I am never without visual stimulus sitting at my desk. I also love this painting because it reminds me that every creative masterpiece contains many initially imperfect, chaotic layers that eventually combine to form a masterpiece. 

“Routines and rituals, discipline and structure: it is within this order that the wild, free creative mind is set loose to roam.” | Judy Reeves

I do more than just writing in my space. I do a lot of reading and I love sketching here too. Every nest needs a comfortable corner. My comfortable corner is my large blue leather couch. There is nothing I love more than to lie back on my couch, pull my purple mohair blanket over me and tuck in with a new book to read. Of course as any self-respecting writer I am a caffeine-addict and coffee is my chosen vice. So I have my coffee corner all set up with my DeLonghi Automatic Espresso (the working drink) / Cappucino (the relaxing drink) machine and my assortment of favourite mugs and cups.

My two prints above my couch are copies of my two favourite Dali (Salvador Dali) paintings. Dali is one of my favourite artists and his works all inspire me to continue to dream and imagine. I am obsessed with surrealism but Dali is definitely my favourite surrealist. 

I always wanted a large whiteboard/blackboard to work out ideas and fill plot holes but never found anything quite right. Luckily enough I have a huge built in double wardrobe in my atelier and it has very useful, convenient full length mirrors. These work perfectly as my “whiteboard” area. So if I’m stuck in a plot-hole, I’ll usually write my way out of the hole by working things out on my mirrored plot-wall.

You’ll also have noticed the can’t-miss-it bold red carpet that fills most of the floor in my atelier. I absolutely love bold, bright colours and red is my power colour. So even when I look down at the floor, I am visually stimulated by the bold geometric patterns and bright colours of my carpet.

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” | John le Carre

Although I truly love my creative room of my own, I love to get outside. I do some of my best thinking outdoors. I have a cozy sitting area on my verandah (Jazz, my ever-constant writing companion, my beautiful papillon believes this space is as much his as mine) that is situated in a very leafy, small enclosed garden and being north-facing is bathed in sunlight most of the day. 

Walking is one of my – and Jazz’s – favourite daily rituals. Often I will take my Traveller’s notebook and pen and settle down in one of my favourite outside spots. I live on a gulf so am lucky to be within walking distance of the ocean, a river bordered by beautiful willow trees and a peaceful marina. I love being near water, somewhere where I can watch and hear the water flow or the tide come in. If I’m feeling in a funk, then I know it is time for Jazz and I to take a walk which usually takes me to these serene spaces.

“Most people dream a dream when they are asleep. But to be a writer, you have to dream while you are awake, intentionally. So I get up early in the morning, 4 o’clock, and I sit at my desk and what I do is just dream. After three or four hours, that’s enough. In the afternoon, I run. The next day, the dream will continue.” | Haruki Murakami


So tell me where do you create, think, dream? 

Do you have a creative room or place of your own?

Care to show me your write space? 


*Knocking on some Creative Doors #ShowMeYourWriteSpace*

Darcy Conroy | Narrative Disorder

Julie Christine Johnson

Rebecca J Bradley

C.J. Carver

Michael Jecks

Cynthia Newberry Martin

My favourite Websites of Creative Spaces

Hachette | #WhereIWrite

Catching Days | How We Spend Our Days

Novelicious | My Writing Room

Tattoos, Killers, Psychics and The Delicious Decadence of The Big Easy…

20140113-190317.jpg

Inspired by Kristen Lamb
+ Leigh K. Hunt

Researching
The Tattooist

So I have seen a few posts on various blogs, facebook statuses and twitter where writers give the world a glimpse into their google searches. I was mostly inspired by the post by Leigh. K. Hunt.

As a writer I tend to do a lot of research. I do it the old fashioned way by taking out library books. Believe me I have lived down my fair share of raised eyebrows by blue-rinsed-haired little old ladies at the check out counter. Sometimes I am tempted to ask them what they are thinking as they stamp my books of nefarious themes.

But I probably do about 60% of research with the help of Google. Google is my friend. Although sometimes that friend takes me to places I may not want to go. Did I mention I Love to research. When I get started with a new W.I.P (Work in Progress) it becomes both an obsession and an addiction to research. Let me preface this by saying, for those who don’t know me, I don’t write romance. I write about serial killers, unsolved murders and the paranormal.

Unlike actors who like to use The Method school of acting, it is unadvisable for a thriller writer to try this method to better get into their character’s minds. Unadvisable because it would mean breaking quite a few laws, committing crimes, having to evade the law by obtaining a false identity and skipping the country to some tropical island where nobody speaks your language (preferred), where cocktails are the preferred beverage (goes without saying) and where there is no internet (less likely to be caught by the law).
Although in the interests of being open and honest, I have placed my body in weird death positions to see if it is physically feasible to lie in that way. As I reread what I just wrote I realise how ridiculous my logic is because after all if you’re dead it does not matter if it is “physically feasible” to be in your death position.

I have been a thriller and crime reader since I can remember. For me the thriller especially gives the deepest insight into what makes the Homo sapiens tick and more importantly what makes the ticking manic enough to give into a darker nature. I follow true life crime stories too because of this same fascination. So naturally it was natural that I fell into writing about the darker side of human nature.

Of course by now we are all aware that every little thing we do online is seen somewhere by someone, usually a worker drone at some international alphabet lettered company. If you’re online, you’re not private. I have often wondered what people would think about my google history.

So first let me repeat that I AM A PARANORMAL THRILLER AUTHOR.
It is vital that in the interests of authenticity, I must know about what I write. Which is where Google comes in. Just like the saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”; Don’t judge this writer by her google search history nor by the books she chooses to write.

Let me ensure you:
I am sane.
I do not have mental issues.
I do not want to nor have I murdered anyone.
I do not keep a list of people who annoy me.
I do not own a weapon of any sort.
I do know how to take an intruder or person with bad intent down.
I do know how to take a weapon off someone.

20140113-193506.jpg

    My Google Search History

Tattoos
History of Tattoos
Mythology of Tattoos
Tattooists
Serial Killers
Understanding Serial Killers
Serial Killers, Motives, Crimes
Profiling
Psychopaths
Sociopaths
Psychopaths vs Sociopaths
Narcissists
The Nature of Evil
Unsolved Murders
Buried bones
Homicide Investigations
CSI and Forensic Investigations
Autopsies
Psychics
Psychic connections
Psychic links
Paranormal
Future Foretelling
Clairvoyance
Twin Connections
Telepathy
Telekinesis
Buried Memories
Schizophrenia
Multiple Personality Disorder
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Nurture vs Nature
Adopted Children
Being Adopted
Orphanages
Foster Homes
New Orleans
Crime in New Orleans
Old New Orleans
The History of New Orleans
New Orleans Mardi Gras
New Orleans Jazz
French Quarter, New Orleans
Convents
Catholicism
Streets of New Orleans
Famous sites in New Orleans
Food in New Orleans
Crime in New Orleans
Crime Investigation in New Orleans
Bayou
VooDoo

20140113-193526.jpg

So what’s in your Google Search History?
Do you make the cut for any Big Brother Suspects list?
What is the weirdest thing you have searched for on Google?

Posts of Interest

Ink & Blood
A Tendency to Obsess
Kick-Ass Heroes. No! – Make that Kick-Ass Heroines
The Haunted, Voodoo & The Haunting Magic Cocktails

Books that I recommend to hide those weird search subjects from Big Brother:

I just recently found the books below and now I swear by them. I have not given up Google yet but these books answer so many questions about forensics in fiction, many I had not even thought of. Both books are in question/answer format. The questions come from fiction authors and the answers come from experts in the forensics/medical/criminal investigation/legal fields.
Highly Recommend adding these two books to your book shelf. Even if you are not an author the books are intriguing enough to keep anyone interested.

Forensics and Fiction by D.P.Lyle
More Forensics and Fiction by D.P.Lyle

Related Posts as suggested by my good friend: Google

Be Careful What You Google
Writing is weird and so are my Google searches
In Which I examine my Google Search History
One day my Google search history will get me arrested
It’s ok I’m a Writer

20140113-193624.jpg

Getting the words down | Electric Keyboards & Grand Pianos

Meet Jessica Fletcher

kim-typewriter1

Not the character Angela Lansbury played in Murder She Wrote…No this Jessica Fletcher is my newly purchased vintage typewriter. Yes, my typewriter has a name. If you can name your car, then I can name my typewriter. Jessica Fletcher is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters so what better name to use to christen my beautiful “new’ typing baby. As much as I am a technology-addict and have all the latest gadgets I am also a bit of a purist when it comes to the act of writing. I like a little of the old and the new. I have been looking for a vintage typewriter for about 5 years now and this month I found Jessica Fletcher. She is an Imperial Good Companion 5 Typewriter Circa 1957.

cropped-cropped-kimkoningbanner.jpg

Typewriters are works of art. Comparing them to our modern-day machines from MacBooks to iPad is like comparing a grand piano to an electric keyboard. Yes the electric keyboard is more portable but it is not a thing of beauty. Nothing beats a grand piano. For me a typewriter is a work of art. There is something that gets me excited about that clickety-clack of the keys or the smell of the ink or getting the ink stains on your fingers as you adjust or change the ink ribbon. The other day I read an article about an author who types out their first drafts on a typewriter for that sheer “inspirational digital-distraction-free ambience” and then transfers that to the computer for the editing stages. I LOVE that idea. It inspired me. Soon after reading this article, I found “Jessica Fletcher” online and I knew I had found my “machine of inspiration”.

Being the enlightened writing purist that I am 😉 I used Google to look up the history of “Jessica Fletcher” and her sister machines. I was delighted to unearth a few gems. The Good Companion Portable Typewriters were named after a best-selling novel “THE GOOD COMPANIONS” by English Novelist J.B. Priestly published in 1929. (Aside, a typewriter named after a best-selling novel – KISMET for this writer.)  The first Good Companions were unveiled in 1932 with the Marketing Campaign of: “The Good Companion brings fame to writers.” The typewriters went on to becoming the most popular typewriter in England when it got the Royal stamp of approval (Royal as in the The House of Windsor of Buckingham Palace.) when His Majesty King George V (Reigning Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather.) purchased one for his own use.

From 1932 to 1963 the Imperial Good Companions went through 7 different designs and were called Good Companion 1 – 5. The Good Companion 5 – “Jessica Fletcher” was the last design and most modern version of these typewriters. Imperial then went on to manufacture three other typewriters after the Good Companions but the company ceased production and closed its doors in 1974.

“Jessica Fletcher”and her sister machines were very modern for the day. The innovative design contained these new additions to the Companion Portable Typewriters:

  • An aluminium body in a fibreglass case
  • A 4-colour choice ribbon
  • Touch-Control (where the writer/typist can choose the striking power of the keys to match individual finger strength)
  • Two colour Stencil Selector
  • Total Platen control for precision paper register
  • Automatic Ribbon Reverse
  • A Finger-friendly basket shift which means very little pressure is needed to operate the keys

I have tested all the keys and they all seem to be in perfect condition. I do need a new ribbon so will have to still buy that. The keys feel much smoother than any typewriter I used to use at school. The keys also feel much more tactile. “Jessica Fletcher” has the very sexy, curvy style that the most gorgeous 1950s ladies had. (Think the stylish female cast of Mad Men.) The colour is gorgeous too: a metallic silvery blue-green. It is not an accident that I compared the vintage looks of “Jessica Fletcher” to a Grand Piano. When I lift the lid and take a closer look it reminds me of a harp or an opened Grand Piano. “Jessica Fletcher” has only had one owner and it is obvious that she took good care of her baby.

No matter what instrument I use to “Getting the Words down”; whether it be pencil, pen, fountain ink, typewriter, MacBook, iPod, there is something about a vintage typewriter that inspires me in some deeper place. Perhaps it is the sensual feel of the keys that are made for my fingers or the sound of those letters hitting the paper but there is a definite sensuality that typing on a vintage typewriter brings to the craft of writing. Maybe it is a longing for simpler times and slower times when you did not have a million immediate distractions and a clamouring to use up time at a rate of knots. Perhaps it is the storyteller facet of this writer that is drawn to working on a vintage typewriter or longhand writing with a fountain pen because storytellers are the history-keepers of the world. So perhaps it is up to us storytellers, us history-keepers to constantly bring Renaissance to our corners of the world. Perhaps it is up to us storytellers to teach the stories of the past to inspire the storytellers of the future. What I love about “The Good Companions” in particular is that they were among the first portable typewriters that were not only inspired by a novelist and his novel but were marketed and manufactured for the Writers not the Typists or the Secretaries. This is a machine that must be cherished but must be used. It was never manufactured to collect dust on a shelf in an attic. It was manufactured to help writers tell their stories to the world. That is what this writer is going to do. “Jessica Fletcher” is going to let me tell my stories  with a romantic blush of the past and all the writers and their stories that have gone before me.

Jessica Fletcher, my literary Grand Piano, sits in pride of place next to MacGyver, my literary electric keyboard, my Macbook. Sitting, pride of place, in the centre of my beautiful antique roll top desk Jessica Fletcher has found her home.

” The Good Companion brings fame to writers.” – Kismet with perhaps a hint of destiny for this writer…

but

“This Good Companion brings joy & inspiration to this writer.”

There is a place for The Typewriter in the 21st Century.

Would you/Have you found a place for a Typewriter in your world?

If you have not ever used a typewriter, what are your thoughts on typewriters?

Which favourite vintage model typewriter do you lust after?

Related articles

Call me Writer 007 ~ I take my Coffee Shaken or Stirred with Words on the side

An image came up on my Facebook feed this week and sparked the idea for this blog post…

Coffee and Writers go together like Petroleum and Grand Prix.

Coffee and I began our love affair lustful addiction in a town on the southern coast of Greece, 50kms from Athens. I was 21 and on my first overseas trip to visit my BFF in Greece. I left South Africa innocent of the vice that was soon to have me addicted, enthralled and enticed. In Greece my two drink options were Coffee or Ouzo. With that first sip of dark viscous liquid (I am speaking about the small cups of Greek coffee not Ouzo. 😉 Ouzo is a post for another day. ) that looked like a cross between mud and volcanic ooze I was hypnotized and Coffee became my favourite vice. From there it was a short fall to sipping the sweet, strong, rich goodness of a Greek Frappé. (I am not talking about the Westernised Frappucino that tastes more like a milkshake than any cousin of the original Frappé.) The lustful addiction had entrapped me and I was lost to the rich, decadent embrace of caffeine.

Writers drink coffee. Writers love coffee-shops or cafes. There is an ambience to writing in a coffee shop that is akin to a GP racing car driver at a race track. Just like the aromas of petroleum and exhaust fuel excite a professional GP driver so do the aromas of caffeine and the inexhaustible supply of dialogue inspiration and quirky characters at a coffee shop excite the writer. This is especially true for the writer who writes full time. Writing is a lonely job at the best of times but when you are tucked away in your writing cave – just you and the voices of your characters – it can be very lonely. This is when a visit to the coffee shop offers fresh inspiration. You order your favourite order of coffee, tuck yourself in at a corner table, open up the laptop/macbook/pen&paper and start writing. I like to choose a corner table with a view of the baristas & coffee machines and a view of the comings and goings of the coffee shop patrons. At this spot, I can keep an eye on what is happening around me but also make sure that nobody sneaks up behind me: very important since my pages/screen tend to be filled with ghostly hauntings, chilling killers stalking my main characters and dark places.

Luckily great coffee is never difficult for me to find since I live on the northern coast of Auckland-New Zealand, rated by Conde Nast traveller as one of the 9 BEST places in the WORLD to have a Coffee.

Every time I drink a cup of coffee I am transported to the places I have enjoyed great coffee…from the coast of Greece to the souks of Dubai to the alleys of Melbourne to the many cafes of Auckland…coffee is a passport not only to creativity but to the memory of the places I have been.

There are still a few places I want to travel to enjoy coffee in…Rome, Vienna, Barcelona, New York but the top of this list would have to be…

My Coffee-Passport Bucket List

Paris, France

I would love to walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre in Paris, another of the 9 best coffee places in the world. Every writer should travel to Paris and soak up the literary ambience. I shall save that for the Bucket List.

In the meantime, excuse me while I brew myself an Espresso Macchiato and open up the next page in my WIP. Mmm I can smell the rich smell of that decadent nectar now and it is sparking some fresh words in the WIP.

Do you have a love affair with coffee? What are your favourite coffee orders?

Do you write in coffee shops? 

Where in the world is your favourite place to enjoy coffee? What place is on your coffee-passport bucket list?

Below are some of my favourite coffee-writer quotes and some of my favourite coffee orders.

Oropos, Greece – where Coffee & I first met

Image credits: Apostolos J. Doulias @ http://www.panoramio.com/photo/49551457

Image credits: Apostolos J. Doulias @ http://www.panoramio.com/photo/49551457

“Coffee. Creative lighter fluid.”
–Floyd Maxwell

My favourite ways to drink the decadent dark nectar

Greek Frappé in Santorini, Greece

Make your own Greek Frappé

This recipe makes enough for one serving.

  • 1 1/2 tsp instant coffee (Nescafe Original red label is the most popular brand) 
  • (Greek Nescafe is super strong so for all other Nescafe use 3-4 tsp coffee)
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • Sugar
  • Milk
  • Ice cubes

In a shaker or blender mix together 5 Tbs water, coffee and sugar to taste.

Shake contents for about 30 seconds or blend for about 10 seconds. The result should be simply foam.

Pour into tall glass and add the ice cubes. Add remaining water and milk to taste. Put in a straw. Milk and sugar are according to taste. It is not obligatory to add them.

 – Recipe courtesy of http://www.ineedcoffee.com

Espresso Macchiato

1 shot of espresso top with foamed milk

“Coffee falls into the stomach … ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop … the shafts of wit start up like sharp-shooters, similies arise, the paper is covered with ink …” -Honoré de Balzac

Espresso Con Panna

A double shot of espresso top with whipped cream 

 “The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 

Cappuccino

A double shot espresso + 2.5oz frothed milk + 2.5oz steamed milk 

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” –T. S. Elliot

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.”

The Cost of Creativity: Unblocking the dam before it breaks me

*Warning: This post is messy and doesn’t sugar-coat the ugly truth and is a personal confessional of sorts*

Writing is hard work. Writing is especially difficult when you are expected to plumb through the dreck, muck & mire in real life dramas to find a spark of creativity. Non-writers who think that writing a story is easy have obviously never tried themselves. Life is no easier for a writer than it is for a non-writer. There is no “escape” from real life dramas. Real life is Messy at the best of times and at the worst of times it takes all your strength to keep swimming to keep yourself from sinking and drowning. Sometimes the mess that is LIFE drains all the energy – both physical and mental – out of you and you are as creative as a dried-up sponge with all the water squeezed out of it. It is so tempting to stop swimming and just let the tide take you. You tell yourself “It is not giving up. It is just giving in to the inevitable.”. You wonder what the point of fighting it all is for. Why bother to keep swimming if the tide is going to overpower you and wash you out to sea eventually?

The thing is LIFE is a journey and not a destination. Nobody said it would be a vacation. Nobody said it would be fair. Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said there would be enough good to balance out the bad. Creative people are by nature more emotional and more sensitive. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and with every tear and every scar from our lives we flesh out our characters, shade our stories with emotional truths and try to make sense of the MESS. But sometimes real life truths are too painful to plumb for a creative spark and a kernel of inspiration. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is rehash real life in a story. Even fiction has an underlying element of emotional truth. And sometimes it is easier to believe the white lies than face the truths. This is when writing is hard for me. This is when I go into hiding from my own creativity. This is where I have been living for the past two months. Although ‘living’ is an optimistic term because really all I have been doing is ‘surviving’ at the best and treading water just keeping my head clear enough to gasp out a few breaths at the worst.

Usually writing helps keep me sane. Only 3 times in my life have I been in hibernation from writing and now is one of those times. I look at my screen and the flashing cursor mocks me. I take out my notebooks and try to write down words, any words at this point will do. But the words don’t come. It feels like I have a dam inside me just about bursting through the walls of my heart. I know I should let the dam wash through but I am scared the heaviness of the waters will pull me under. So instead I tamp down on the dam’s strength, I build the walls higher and bolster them with false euphemisms, easy white lies I tell myself. Every time I look at the screen or open a blank page of my notebook I know what I want to write but they are not good words, not a creative spark. They are dark thoughts, heavy emotions and poisonous threads that will weave themselves into a cobweb around my words and my creativity.

As I write this post I realise though that I am a writer and words are my way of dealing with crap that I don’t want to deal with. Which is why the cursor mocks me, the blank note-page empty of ink splotches mocks me. Because I am fooling nobody but myself. I don’t want to process the dark emotions. I want to hibernate from everything but especially words. Because one thing I cannot do is write a white lie to make things easier. That is just not how I am built. My words are the truest part of me. When I want to take a vacation from my real life I escape into the world of stories. I realise I have been blocking myself. I am my writer’s block. Hibernation and not writing is easier but it kills me a little more inside. I am the dam wall holding back the words, keeping the emotions at bay. Life should not be about surviving. It should be about LIVING and that means the dark shades are as important to colour in as the light shades are. Perhaps the darkest shades are the ones we need the most because if there is no dark there need be no light. I am ready to un-dam those waters and let the dark words out so the spark of a match will lead me back to my creativity and back to my place of sanity: writing. I have to remind myself  that even the rubbish words are still words. As scary as it is, it is time to un-dam the words. Otherwise I may as well just give up now. I am too stubborn to give up yet.

I am reminded by an old saying that some parents tell their toddlers: USE YOUR WORDS. 

How do you find the creative in the dreck of real life drama?

Have you ever felt like you were your own wall, your own block?

How did you work through it?

I leave you with the advice of one of my heroes: F. Scott Fitzgerald. A man who knew the darkness and wrote a way out of it.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

*Aside: For my writer friends out there, this is a great letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the price one needs to pay to be a successful writer. 
A little background, in late 1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen above.*
[Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald, via. Globe Bookstore and Cafe (facebook)]
***
The greatest creative minds don’t waste time telling white lies and don’t waste words sugar-coating the ugly truths. They dive into the deepest tides of that sinking mud and they get messy with the truth. They embrace the dark to give the light a canvas to shine from.

Related articles

A Tendency to Obsess…

I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”                           – Albert Einstein

Is obsession a bad thing? Sometimes it can be especially if your obsession is a person. But for most careers and most dreams obsession *in a particular field/set of skills* is not only healthy but necessary for success. I – like so much of the world – have been caught up in the Olympics over the last few weeks. With 9 dedicated channels to 24/7 Olympic coverage on the television, there is always some event to watch or some interview with an athlete. These Olympian athletes are prime examples of Obsession being a necessary boost to fulfilling their ultimate dream of besting their personal best times and ultimately standing on the podium accepting a medal.

Growing up I was fascinated by the law, science and journalism. I chose my high school subjects with that focus in mind. It was a toss-up between being a criminal prosecutor, a pathologist, a criminal psychologist or a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist. I was also enamoured *and still am* with the FBI and MI6. Unfortunately though geography did not favour me here.

“A writer is someone who writes, that’s all. You can’t stop it; you can’t make yourself do anything else but that.” Gore Vidal (Writer)

Life had another route for me though, one that would lead me to the truest path for me and that is writing. If I had pursued any of those adolescent dream careers I might have come to the writing path much later. I am certain no matter what route I chose it would have eventually lead me to writing. But for now I am really glad that due to life circumstances I did not pursue any of those careers.

obsession |əbˈseSHən| noun the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.• an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind: he was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist. DERIVATIVES obsessional |-SHənl|adjective,obsessionally |-SHənl-ē|adverbORIGIN early 16th cent. (in the sense ‘siege’): from Latin obsessio(n-), from the verb obsidere (see obsess) .*Dictionary Definition*

I am a 100% all or nothing type of person. When I put my mind to something I put it in 100% effort and everything else falls to the wayside. I also have a perfectionist gene inherited from my German mother that won’t allow me to be anything than the best or put any less than 100% effort in. Which is why I am glad I did not pursue those early dream careers. I would have thrown myself headfirst into them and writing would have fallen to the side.

The creative habit is like a drug. The particular obsession changes, but the excitement, the thrill of your creation lasts.” – Henry Moore (Sculptor)

But my dogged determination, my stubborn perfectionism and a tendency to obsess serve me perfectly in Writing. As a writer my characters have their own careers, their own obsessions that have to come across as authentic. So here is where my leaning towards the law, justice, science and journalism can be played out on the page.

I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.” – Barbara Streisand (Actress)

One of my favourite parts of a new story, any story, is the research. To come off as authentic your plot, your setting and your characters have to be obsessively researched. Once you have come up with the idea then the FUN part begins. You get to throw yourself into a hunt for information of all kinds.

“If you don’t have obsessions, don’t write. My characters are obsessed.” – Marguerite Young

My current WIP deals with serial killers, psychics, tattooists and the FBI. So to get my facts correct I must study up on everything I can to get the characters right and to come up with an authentic plot. The internet is fantastic for the modern-day writer. Now with a tap of a button I can research millions of articles related to the subjects contained in my WIP. I can connect with experts in these fields through their online presence by following their blogs, emailing them pertinent questions and picking their brains on likely hypotheticals.

What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” – Eugene Delacroix (Painter)

Even though I am writing fiction, I still have to get the facts straight. If I don’t, the errors will be picked up by readers. The worst thing for a writer is to come across as inauthentic. So for this WIP a tendency to obsess combined with an adolescent fascination of criminal law and justice gets to play out in my research. This means I am in my element. For the time that I write in the Voice of my characters I get to see the world and the story through their POV. I get to “be” a criminal profiler much like the actors on shows like CRIMINAL MINDS (One of my television obsessions.) have to step into the shoes of criminal profilers. I also get to understand the alternative world of the tattooists and psychics.

The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.” – George Sand (Writer)

So even though I did not become a criminal prosecutor, a criminal psychologist, a pathologist, a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist…I get to “be” all these for a time period in my stories and through my characters. I get to write about people in these fields and for as long as I crank out the words in the drafts I get to “be” these people. I get to rub shoulders with the experts who are willing to assist me.

“You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” – John Irving (Novelist)

Yes, a tendency to obsess over the details and the facts and to walk in your characters’ shoes/inhabit their lives is necessary to write authentic fiction. I know I am a writer because even in life’s worst circumstances in real life I am spinning these seeds into story ideas. I hear things, see things, experience things and my itch to get it into a story is nothing if obsessive. It is true what they say, be careful what you tell a writer…you may read about it in one of their stories. Writers are the obsessive magpies of the world always on the hunt for that shiny new idea.

What are your obsessions?

If you could have your life over, what dream career would you have?

As a reader, have you come across glaring errors in stories that have had you questioning the author?

As a writer, what has been your favourite subject to research and obsess over?