Utilise Every Spare Minute!

Do you have a long commute to work? An hour of peace once the kids have gone to bed? A lunch break perhaps? No matter how busy you are, you can always find time for what you love.

As J.K. Rowling said, you’ve got to fiercely defend your writing time and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. Even if you just snatch a minute here and there, making notes on your phone or scribbling in a notepad, you will make progress before you know it! Every word adds up and if you stick at it, you will reach the finish line eventually! This way of thinking applies to any hobby or passion.

Many people despair about not having enough time to do what they love. Until recently, I have been skimping dramatically on my writing time. In fact, I wasn’t even showing up at the keyboard, so how on earth could I expect anything to happen? You’ve got to open up the space for your creativity to flourish.

Keep on creating, folks! Even if you’re going at a snail’s pace, each little bit of progress is better than none. This week, I’ve been taking my phone into work with me, typing away on my commute and whenever I have a spare moment, my imagination bubbling in the background, living and breathing once more.

Keep on pushing forward, enjoy the journey and have good fun with it. And don’t forget to have well-earned pit-stops along the way! If you whip your horse too hard, it will collapse with exhaustion, so go at a pace that is comfortable for you. “Without haste, but without rest,” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said.

Good luck, fellow creators!

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Salvaging An Old Project

It has been two years since I wrote my second book. When it was first finished, I sent it off to literary agents, but it’s kind of been forgotten about since then. Other projects have taken priority and I’ve also been rather preoccupied with life, so my second book has been left sitting on a dusty shelf in cyber space.

This week, however, I felt the urge to revisit this story. Before I knew it, I was re-drafting the first chapter and realised that it is a story worth salvaging. The prose is a little clumsy, as I was still learning my craft when I wrote it, but I am a better writer now and know how I can fix it. With a thorough polish, I know it can sparkle!

Revisiting the book, I no longer feel such a personal attachment to the story and feel as though I can edit it more objectively. My second book draws upon a lot of personal experiences, so I think I was concerned that people might think it was autobiographical; certainly, there were quite a few parallels between my personal circumstances and those of the characters, but a lot has changed over the last few years. I can now look upon this book with completely fresh eyes.

So far, I have really enjoyed polishing the prose and seeing how better it looks afterwards! Now that I have stopped drawing comparisons between what was real and what was fictional, I can see that the story pays homage to the trials and tribulations that many young people face when graduating from university. I know that many young people will be able to relate to this and so I wish to share this story with the world. I do not know how long it will take to edit , but I have committed myself to this restoration and plan to see it through!

Ideas That Refuse To Go Away

This week, when sorting through my writing notes, I made a very interesting discovery. In one of my journals, I found the initial seed of the idea for my first book, written two years before my supposed eureka moment!

Amazingly, this piece of paper had been completely forgotten about, yet the idea stayed in my subconscious and resurfaced two years later, as if for the first time! While the initial seed differed slightly from what I thought was the initial seed, it was the same idea in essence.

What I’ve learned from this is that some ideas are very persistent and will stay with you throughout your life, begging to be brought into the world. They may lie dormant for a time, but they always find a way to return to you. This is reassuring for a writer like myself who clings on to his notes for fear of losing his ideas – clearly such written prompts are not needed, nor are they re-visited much once written. Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep notes, as you just don’t know what notes might spark your imagination, but I’m merely pointing out how persistent our ideas can be.

Throughout your life, you may have many ideas, some great and some not so great. What I recommend is focusing on the ideas that really sing to your heart. Don’t give a hoot what others might think. If you’re going to express yourself, then it should be something that appeals to you.

You are the judge. You are the gatekeeper of your ideas, who gets to decide which ones are worthy and which are not. But how do you choose what should take priority? Oh, that’s easy! I think you already know deep down which ideas are special. They are the ideas that refuse to go away.

 

 

Finding Your Creative Voice

In recent months, my thinking has been very scattered and I’ve been allowing myself to get wrapped up in all kinds of things that aren’t really that important. This has worn me down, spread me thin, left no space for my creativity to emerge. Indeed, my creative voice has been submerged beneath an ocean of miscellaneous crap, completely drowned out and distorted.

Nurturing your creative voice is so important for an artist. Without it, you feel as though your wings have been clipped. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot take flight for long. This can be very frustrating, especially when you have a story to tell or something to express, but the only thing you can do is work through this challenging period.

My biggest problem is that I don’t devote enough time to my writing. Instead, my energies are channeled into mundane things and not being spent on my one true passion. At the moment, though, I am going through a massive de-cluttering – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and I am finding that as I peel away the layers of dead-weight, I am rediscovering what my priorities are.

As all the crap is being banished from my life, I have been able to devote more time and energy to the things that I love. Already, I have noticed that my mind is clearer and more focused, less concerned with silly trivial things (such as what my work colleagues think about me). I still have some way to go, but hopefully once I am fully unburdened, my creative energies will be able to spring forth unhindered.

Crystalising Your Thoughts

It matters not where you write down your thoughts. Whether it is on the back of a napkin, a scrap of paper or a pre-ordained notebook, what’s important is that you capture your ideas in any way that you can. Most inspired thoughts fade quickly from your awareness, so it is always good practice to jot things down.

You just never know where an insight may lead you. One little sentence could be the beginning of a whole creative project, growing from a seed into a vibrant, fully-fledged piece of work. Some seeds take years to come to fruition, while others do not grow at all. But unless you cultivate your imaginings, then you are not creating the ideal environment in which they can thrive.

Sometimes, ideas are only worth writing down when you give them a little time to ferment in your mind. It can often take a bit of daydreaming before that inspired eureka moment comes along. Trust in your creative process and learn what is worth writing down and what isn’t.

We are all creative beings and we should rejoice in the fact that we can crystalise our thoughts and transform them into great works and projects. Whether you jot things down on paper or a digital device, always make sure there is a place where you can capture your brilliance.

Losing Your Creative Ability

Recently, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, an animated film about a witch-in-training. Aside from being a charming and highly original story (as most Studio Ghibli films tend to be), there was some very useful advice for creative people, imparted by Ursula, a really cool artist who lived in a log cabin in the woods. Here is what she says to Kiki, the young witch who has recently lost her ability to fly:

Ursula: Painting and magical powers seem very much the same. Sometimes I’m unable to paint a thing.

Kiki: You mean it? Then what? What happens?

Ursula: Kiki, please don’t move. It’s hard to draw a moving target.

Kiki: Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself to find out how I did it. But I just can’t figure it out.

Ursula: You know, could be you’re working at it too hard. Maybe you should just take a break.

Kiki: Yeah, but still if I can’t fly …

Ursula: Then stop trying. Take long walks. Look at the scenery. Doze off at noon. Don’t even think about flying. And then, pretty soon you’ll be flying again.

Kiki: You think my problems will …

Ursula: Go away? That’s right. It’s going to be fine. I promise.

[A few hours pass by]

Ursula: When I was your age, I’d already decided to become an artist. I loved to paint so much. I’d paint all day until I fell asleep right at my easel. And then one day, for some reason, I just couldn’t paint anymore. I tried and tried, but nothing I did seemed any good. They were copies of paintings I’d seen somewhere before … and not very good copies either. I just felt like I’d lost my ability.

Kiki: That sounds like me.

Ursula: It’s exactly the same, but then I found the answer. You see, I hadn’t figured out what or why I wanted to paint. I had to discover my own style. When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you, don’t you?

Kiki: Uh-huh. We fly with our spirit.

Ursula: Trusting your spirit! Yes, yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That same spirit is what makes me paint and makes your friend bake. But we each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.

Kiki: I guess I never gave much thought to why I wanted to do this. I got so caught up in all the training and stuff. Maybe I have to find my own inspiration.

This scene in the film spoke absolute volumes to me. Until a few days ago, I too had lost my creative spark and it is so frustrating to lose that natural flow, but there are usually reasons as to why it has happened, such as pushing yourself too hard or losing belief in yourself. It feels as though your connection to the cosmic radio station has gone faulty and you can no longer tune in properly, having to put in so much effort to produce something that once came so naturally to you.

But the advice in Kiki’s Delivery Service reminded me that we all get creative blockages and the best way to combat them is to take a break, switch off and relax. Such creative droughts are not the end of the world and I have certainly bounced back from such situations before, though it can feel like you’ve lost your creative talent forever. Indeed, you could not be blamed for fearing this, but take it from me: once your spirit has been lifted and the blockage removed, you will soar once again.

Trust me, I’m a writer.

Crystal Dragon Jesus

Recently, I discovered something called TV Tropes, which is an amazing tool for writers. It is essentially a wiki database for all the different elements you find in books, TV, film and other media, covering everything from narrative devices, character archetypes and genre components. All of these concepts are collectively known as “tropes”.

It is so fun just to browse this website, even if you’re not a writer, and enjoy these tropes in all their glory. It seems that every conceivable literary element and device has been given a name. So far, my favourite one is “Crystal Dragon Jesus”, which is when a fictional religion features in the story. Another great one is “Magnificent Bastard”, which refers to super-intelligent and cunning villains (a chess-playing mastermind who always seem three moves ahead).

There is a button at the top of the page that allows you to view these tropes at random, but many entries cross-reference each other and you’ll probably find that your curiosity will get the better of you, especially when the likes of Crystal Dragon Jesus are mentioned so casually in passing! Somewhere on the website, you can also access the periodic table of storytelling, which features some of the most widely-used tropes.

Each entry also includes examples of where these tropes are featured, which is handy for research or if you happen to be searching for a “Weirdness Magnet” or a good example of the “Hand Wave”. Curious, aren’t you?

Whether you’re a writer or just appreciate how stories are put together, then I definitely recommend checking out http://www.tvtropes.org. I, for one, have definitely been converted into a troper! As a writer, it is reassuring to see that you are using tropes that people know and love.. it may daunt some people to know that nothing is original, but everyone uses these tropes in their own unique way. Tropes are the fabric with which stories are woven, forming a common language between writers and their audiences.

Slow Down And Enjoy Right Now

Many of us get caught up in the race of life, trying to get ahead, forever striving to reach our goals and feeling guilty when we’re not pushing forward. But there is nothing wrong with slowing down and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Why do we kill ourselves in the pursuit of success? Why do we insist on flogging our horse when it needs to rest? Why do we buy into the insane expectations that society thrusts upon us?

By all means, reach for the stars, but don’t lose yourself in the process. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Albus Dumbledore wisely said. And quite right he is, for there is much joy to be found in the everyday. Yes, you may wish to travel the world or set up a business or learn how to play the guitar, but you may find joy in the little things, such as eating a tasty sandwich or meeting up with an old friend.

This week, I have made the conscious effort to take some time out and recharge my batteries, as I am definitely guilty for pushing myself too hard. But I know I’m not alone with this and so I wanted to remind others to relax and laugh and play.

Don’t spread yourself too thin! Focus your energies on things that really sing to your heart. Do you really need that new iPhone or fast car or a perfect body? Do you really need to do everything on your bucket list? At the end of the day, we are only human and there’s only so much that we can do in one lifetime, so you can’t expect to do it all and see it all. I shall leave you all with a poem I wrote, called A Race Against The Clock, which I think sums up the madness of our go-getter society:

I need to go somewhere,
Do something,
Be someone.
Stay young,
Party hard,
Have fun.

I want to learn a language,
Climb a mountain,
Play the guitar.
See the world,
Get rich,
Drive a fast car.

I want to fit in,
Yet stand out.
Have a relationship,
Yet sleep around.
I want a career,
But I’d like to be free.
I try so hard to be
Cool and trendy.

I want to live abroad,
Start a business,
Keep fit.
Volunteer,
Skydive,
Watch the sun set.

There’s so many things I want to do,
Keeping up with what’s new.
I’d like to have a family one day,
But first I’d just like to play.
A race against the clock,
Tick tock – tick tock…

 

 

Like A Lamb To The Slaughter

Today, I mortally wounded one of my characters, which was difficult for me to do because I have grown quite attached to him. But unfortunately, he was always meant to die… in fact, the whole reason I invented him was so that his death could illustrate an important plot point.

Like a lamb to the slaughter, I nurtured his character precisely because I knew he would be sacrificed. But as the story unfolded, I grew to love his character and found him difficult to let go. He came to life on the page much more vibrantly than I had expected.

I even considered keeping him alive and sacrificing someone else, as it would have been interesting to explore his potential further. But surely the fact that he will sorely be missed is testament to the character I have created? After all, don’t we all have unexplored potential when we die? If he leaves behind a noticeable hole and his absence causes heartache for the reader, then surely that is a job well done writing-wise!

During the writing process, a story can change direction and alter. Characters who were doomed to die can be spared, while others might be bumped off instead. In this particular case, I followed through with my original plan.

 

 

“Fate-Led”

The other day, I came across an amazing sculpture in the Walker Art Gallery. It depicted a young woman, her eyes distant and vague as though she was lost in a trance, with her hand hovering out in front of her. She was beautiful and mysterious and totally captivating. I honestly could’ve stared at her all day (and no, it wasn’t because she was naked!).

There were many statues in that room, but there was just something about this entranced woman that was so enchanting. The description beneath the piece said that it was originally exhibited in 1892 with the following lines:

Fate leading, she must needs go on and on
Blindly, yet fearing not, till the goal be won.

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To me, this spoke absolute volumes. Many of us are led by faith or by a purpose in life and tentatively follow the path set out before us, often wondering if it is the right one. But this woman has such unwavering faith in her destiny and is not afraid, succumbing completely to the higher powers that guide her.

Ideas of faith and “being guided” feature very prominently in my fantasy trilogy, so I was very pleased to see this sculpture. Perhaps there is something that we can all learn from it.