Tag Archives: The Artist’s Way

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

The Importance Of Being A Morning Person

The Importance Of Being A Morning Person

I have been doing ‘morning pages’ for nearly seven years now. That’s three A4 stream-of-consciousness pages that I write first thing in the morning. It was an ex-girlfriend who introduced me to the concept: she gave me a secondhand copy of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by renowned writer, Julia Cameron, when I was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. Cameron advocates the completion of morning pages everday no matter what. And I thought, ‘what the hell…’

What you write in your morning pages doesn’t have to be literary. It doesn’t even have to be anything to do with creative writing. It can be anything that comes into your head: a general moan-fest, your dream from last night, all the things you need to do in the day ahead… And anyone can do them: you don’t even have to be a writer, you just have to be interested in bolstering your own artistic ability. There are a couple of basic rules to the practise though: morning pages have to be written by hand (never typed), and no-one else should ever read them, not even yourself for at least eight weeks. (And I, personally, recommend that no-one should ever do what I did and collect forty-odd journals filled with your semi-conscious ramblings to revise on a rainy day).

Ironically, my ex later resented the time that I was spending doing the exercises in the book. These included going for daily twenty minute walks on my own, a weekly ‘artist date’ (which is basically an hour or so spent in solitude doing something playful such as feeding ducks in the park, taking photographs (sometimes of ducks) or reading random picture books from the children’s section in a book store)). The relationship (unsurprisingly) didn’t last, but it was certainly a learning curve. And I graduated to reading Cameron’s ‘Letters To A Young Artist’ and ‘The Right To Write’ and ‘Walking Through This World’. In February this year, I even went to a two-day seminar in London led by the creativity guru herself; and now, I’m working through ‘Vein Of Gold’, which is fascinating and inspiring but often very challenging.

Like a runner who has to put in the miles, these morning pages are both necessary for me as a writer, and incredibly addictive; I feel restless and unsatisfied and borderline depressed whenever I don’t get them done. Of course, no-one’s perfect and, there are days when I’ve skipped them or when I’ve had to take my notepad and do them on the bus or the train (or the waiting room at the airport at five AM); and if my girlfriend brings me a tasty breakfast in bed there really is no contest. At least, I’m pretty sure Ms Cameron wouldn’t mind me taking an extra ten minutes out, occasionally, in the name of love. Plus, I’ve learnt from personal experience that being too pedantic can only stave off creativity even more.

I’m not saying morning pages have suddenly solved all my problems. But sometimes – especially when I’m writing as fast as I can with no interruptions – I’ll get an idea for a story, or the name of a character will pop into my head. Mostly, though, it’s everyday inconveniences that are highlighted: I’m annoyed  because I’ve not sorted my filing cabinet yet, or because I haven’t received a piece of mail that was supposed to come last week. And I’ll write about these very mundane things over and over until finally I bore myself into doing something about them…

Just now the time is 8:35 AM and I’m still in my pyjamas, drinking a Lemsip and looking at an Amazon listing for Dorothea Brande’s 1934 creative handbook ‘Becoming A Writer’; I read somewhere that she used a technique called ‘early morning writing’ and this has piqued my interest.

Very soon I will get up and get dressed. And when I do I’m going for my morning walk. It will probably be another ten or twelve hours before I get around to typing up and posting this blog entry; because first of all I’ll chop and change it and then I’ll get sidetracked and scribble down ideas for other random stories; or I’ll hoover or sort that filing cabinet or check my mail, before going off on some sporadic mid-morning-time adventure…