Why enthusiasts share their enthusiasms

Driving back to the house I was staying in last week, after an afternoon walking the coastline of Shetland, I was listening to an item on Radio 4 suggesting that the wonderful natural history programmes we have these days are putting people off actually going out into the countryside and exploring nature for themselves. The contention was that the natural world feels disappointing compared with the close-up images we can see on our screens.

Walking the coast in Shetland
Walking the coast in Shetland

Chris Packham, one of the Springwatch presenters, was understandably put out by that argument. He said the motivation behind programmes like his was to inspire people to get out and discover the joy of being in nature, by showing how wonderful the natural world is, and all the plants and animals you might see.

I had just seen an otter walk down to the water across the stony beach right in front of me. I would have seen him better in close-up on TV but, having seen the footage of otters on Simon King’s Shetland Diaries a few years ago, I could fill in the detail for myself. I also knew how lucky I’d been to catch a glimpse of such a shy creature.

Sea otter in Shetland
Sea otter in Shetland

I’d barely started walking again when i came upon a group of seals lying on a small sandy beach. They were less shy, and allowed me to go down onto the sand and sit watching them. Again, in a close-up on TV, I could have seen every detail, but as Chris Packham said, that would not have come anywhere near the excitement I felt at being so close to the animals themselves.

Just as Chris Packham is an enthusiast for the natural world, I am an enthusiast for the inner world of dreams. Like him, when I share my own experiences, I want to inspire other people to make their own explorations, and I would hate to think it could actually be putting them off.

Jacob's numinous dream
Jacob’s numinous dream

Not everyone has the time and dedication to devote to one area of experience and most of us like to dip the toe, as I do with my walks in nature. Devoting time and focus will always reap rewards. When I talk about the faceless ones, or numinous dreams, or lucid dreaming I know some people will not have had those experiences, but I hope that simply knowing they exist might inspire them to go looking, or at least recognise them if they chance upon one, and know what they’re looking at, like me and the otter.

How to get new ideas for life, work and dreams

I’m a great believer in holidays. When you’re away from home, you can see your normal day-to-day life from outside, and it gives you a different perspective. What are you relieved to be away from? How do you chose to pass your days when the constraints of work and other responsibilities are lifted? The answers to these and other questions can surprise you and offer precious insights into fruitful changes you might choose to make when you get home.

As a dreamer, one of the things I enjoy about holidays is that my dream life also shifts perspective. Holiday dreams usually have a different quality, and bring in new kinds of imagery. It was during a holiday many years ago that I first encountered the faceless ones, and began to engage with the archetypes, those images which Jung called ‘pieces of life itself.’

Holidays are times when you can wake slowly and really savour your dreams. You can carry them around with you during the day, and ponder them in quiet moments. The images you bring home with you will have the same sense of time and place as the physical souvenirs you buy.

As a writer, I find the same shift in perspective. Ideas I’ve been working on at home seem different from far away. Sometimes more exciting,  sometimes less. They form up in unexpected ways; they show different aspects of themselves to me. I’m sure that’s why so many writers go on writing retreats.

You don’t have to go to exotic places or spend a fortune in order to feel the benefits of going on holiday. In fact, like many other people, I usually go to familiar places I love. The point is simply to be somewhere else, to look at things from a different angle for a while, and come back to normal life feeling renewed.

Thinking creatively in shop-free North Ronaldsay recently - petits fours made from prunes and dark chocolate. Not something I'd ever have eaten at home, but surprisingly good!
Thinking creatively at the bird observatory hostel in shop-free North Ronaldsay recently – petits fours made from prunes and dark chocolate. Not something I’d ever have eaten at home, but surprisingly good!

Have you ever found that being away from home gave you new ideas about life, work or dreams?

Art for Happiness!

I’m delighted to welcome the artist, author and creativity coach Val Andrews into the House of Dreams today to talk about her new book. I’ve followed her blog for ages, and feel absolutely in tune with the way she links creativity with wellbeing.

Val Andrews
Val Andrews

As a part-time visual artist and creative writer with 30 years of experience working in the healthcare sector, I have a keen interest in the impact that creative expression has on health and wellbeing, and on a person’s capacity to be innovative in their work.

For a number of years, I’ve been exploring this interest by delivering creativity workshops and offering coaching to people who are committed to moving through blockages in their creativity. I’ve also been interviewing professional artists and writers about their creative process and sharing those interviews on my blog in the hope this may inspire my readers: https://artforhappiness.wordpress.com

Over the years, I’ve found there are many reasons why people choose to learn more about their own creativity. Sometimes they’re driven by a desire to approach work tasks in a more creative way, sometimes they wish to ‘be more artistic’, or write a book, or invent something the world has not yet seen. Whatever the motivation, unleashing the creative process certainly seems to boost personal wellbeing, and enhance performance at work.

picture of cover

It’s for this reason I chose to write the book “Art for Happiness: finding your creative process and using it”. Freshly published in March 2015, this book explores the some of the contemporary research on the creative process – what it is, how it works and what it does for a person’s sense of wellbeing. I’ve also included a number of exercises which I’ve found helpful in unlocking the creative process and developing ideas beyond their original naivety. Please feel free to look inside this book on my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Andrews/e/B00HGG15A0

Impatience is a form of resistance

Sometimes, I look fondly back on my early days as an author, when the whole job was simply writing books, and the wheels moved very slowly indeed.

IBM_Selectric

The act of writing was slower because, in the days of typewriters, even a minor change such as choosing a different name for a character could be a long-winded redrafting task, searching through reams of paper armed with a tippex brush.

When the manuscript was finally finished and neatly packaged up, it made its leisurely way to the agent or publisher via the Royal Mail, and some weeks later, their response would eventually come back.

450px-Post_Box_-_Nest_Box^_-_geograph.org.uk_-_807700

In those days, I was blissfully unaware of sales figures and marketing, publicity and self-promotion, and I certainly didn’t have anything at all to do with the publishing process.

In many ways, being an author twenty years ago was far less stressful, but there are lots of things I love about being an author now:

  • Word processing has made every stage of writing much easier and quicker. It means I can make manuscripts that look brilliant and are a pleasure to work on from the earliest outline to the final draft.
  • The internet means I can have frequent contact with readers who follow my blogs or read my books. Their feedback and ideas are both encouraging and inspiring to me.
  • Self-publishing means I don’t have to have unsold manuscripts languishing on my shelves, out of print books consigned to obscurity or projects I want to work on having to be abandoned because they’re unlikely to find a mainstream publisher.

The only problem is that, while I positively enjoy all the opportunities this new way of being an author presents, there’s an awful lot on my to-do list, and if I have to take unexpected time out because of illness, as has happened recently, things can quickly get out of hand.

IMG_0017

On my to-do list right now, I’ve got:

  • redraft my YA novel Drift from editor’s suggestions
  • ditto my next adult non-fiction When a Writer Isn’t Writing
  • write design and cover brief for Drift and When a Writer for designer
  • redraft my iPhone and iPad app Get Writing! following testers’ suggestions
  • plan my workshop for the home educated group
  • write my commissioned article for The Author
  • pitch further mag articles in time for the September launches of Drift and When a Writer
  • write blog articles for writinginthehouseofdreams and girlsheartbooks
  • write my guest blog article for Val Andrews’ Art For Happiness blog
  • write the new children’s fantasy novel that I’ve had in outline since New Year

All those years ago when I started out, and everything seemed so slow, I had a postit on my study wall to remind me, ‘Impatience is a form of resistance.’

When  writing my new book can’t seem to get off the bottom of the list, I still have to remind myself of that today.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Writing Retreat

I was looking forward to being the guest speaker at The Writing Retreat a few weeks ago and giving a workshop the next morning, not least because the venue looked amazing and the organisers seemed very friendly, although I had never met them.

The coast at Lamorna, close to the Writing Retreat at Rosemerryn
The coast at Lamorna, close to the Writing Retreat at Rosemerryn

I was looking forward to it, but with that slight feeling of trepidation I always get when I’m about to speak in a new place or teach a new group. However, as often happens, those feelings were blown away by a funny dream a few days before the event that made me wake up laughing.

I shared the dream on Facebook with one of the organisers, Jane Moss.

I dreamt the group included Steph and Dom from Gogglebox, a Bear Grylls lookalike, the young playwright I chatted to on the beach yesterday and two mums with half a dozen unruly kids between them. My workshop had to take place in a bus shelter in the grounds because Jane and Kath were teaching a group of local children a musical dance routine in the main room, and Kath was dressed from top to toe in vibrant aquamarine silk, with matching bandana. The workshop went pretty well, all things considered!

This dream planted bright funny images in my mind which I recalled whenever I thought about the upcoming event; it put me in a happy mood, because there is nothing like laughter to relieve stress and anxiety and, as someone has commented here on the blog before, even if you can’t remember the detail of a dream, the emotional tone can stay with you for days.

I used to have stressful dreams in the run-up to potentially stressful situations, dreams in which I was unprepared or distracted or trapped. The received wisdom is that those dreams prompt you to make sure you’re properly prepared. Maybe that’s why these days, when I generally do feel properly prepared, my dreams in the run-up to new events more frequently give me a laugh than a warning.

If you’ve had a dream that made you laugh, do share!

Can a dream really change your life?

When you tell acquaintances and strangers that you write and teach about dreams an interesting thing happens – the polite, interested look disappears, their faces light up and they straight away tell you about a dream they’ve had…

This is the first sentence of Writing in the House of Dreams and I wanted to tell you about recent example, when a complete stranger told me this story.

He said that as a young man in his teens he had experienced intense suicidal feelings, and he happened to be going out with a girl who felt the same way.

They talked very seriously about suicide and he was in no doubt that they would indeed end up killing themselves.

Then one night he dreamt they were waiting for the last bus near a roundabout on the edge of town, after an evening out. Everything looked orange under the street lights and there was no-one else around.

When the bus finally arrived, the dreamer saw through the windows that all the passengers were skeletons.

‘Don’t get on the bus!’ he said, grabbing his girlfriend’s arm. ‘We don’t want to get on that bus!’

When he woke up, he thought the dream had been about her, and that he should tell her not to think about killing herself any more, but then he realised it was actually about both of them.

He thought, ‘If we’re not getting on that bus, we need to think of good reasons for living. We need to find out what we want to live for.’

From that day, the dreamer stopped obsessing about suicide and started to live purposefully, and at times in later life when things felt hard, he remembered that dream, and stayed off the bus.

As I write this, I’m struck by the curious fact that decades after the dreamer had this dream, there’s now a website for people considering suicide that uses the term ‘catching the bus’ to mean killing yourself.

I’ve heard lots of stories about people who have had a life-changing dream at a time of crisis, like this man, but sometimes a not-at-all epic-seeming dream can change the way we see the day-to-day things we’re going through, and help us over a hurdle.

For example, I had a dream that coloured balls were pouring from the sky as if someone was emptying a giant ball-pool. They were bouncing off the ground and landing all over everything.

I thought, ‘This isn’t right! The balls all belong in one place. They should all be landing in one box.’ When I woke, I knew it was about a situation that had been making me feel annoyed (it was ‘a load of balls’) and realised I had been  judging everyone according to one person’s behaviour.

That dream didn’t change my whole life forever, but it did change the way I was handling a passing situation. Big changes, little changes – dreams can provide an opportunity to consider things from a different angle when our conscious mind is going round and round, stuck in the same groove.

There’s another great story of a life-changing dream on Tzivia Gover’s blog 

Have you had a life-changing dream, or has someone else told you about theirs?

Money from self-publishing – it’s not just about how many books you sell

Just after I self-published Writing in the House of Dreams I blogged about my financial outlay in Self-publishing: What are the actual costs? Five months on, I thought you might like a progress report.

I initially registered the book in the amazon Select programme, which meant I couldn’t publish through any competing outlets for at least 90 days. The benefit of Select is that you can offer your book either free or on a sliding scale of reduced rates in a promotion which, while not making you any money, should make your book more visible and improve its amazon sales ranking.

I didn’t realise that you could only do one promotion in the 90 day period, and I don’t think the one I did really achieved anything for my book, so I wouldn’t personally enrol a book in the Select programme again.

As soon as the 90 day period was up, I took Writing in the House of Dreams out of the programme and made it available as an ebook via all the major online retailers, including Nook and apple, as well as amazon.

I’m thinking of publishing the paperback through Ingram Spark as well as Createspace (which is part of amazon), though I haven’t investigated whether amazon allow this (does anyone out there know?) I’m happy with the quality of the paperback, but apparently some bookshops are reluctant to sell books published by amazon. Happily, I have had orders from several independents as well as book wholesalers Bertram’s and Gardner’s.

Sales have been slow, and that hasn’t come as a surprise because the very reason the book didn’t secure a traditional deal was that publishers deemed writing about dreams as a creative resource rather than from the psychological angle ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

But I’ve had some wonderful emails from readers and a big boost in demand for workshops, which my agent predicted would happen. The book includes lots of writing exercises I use in my general writing workshops, not just the ones which involve working with dreams.

I’ve also hand-sold a fair number of copies through events and workshops. All in all, I’ve recovered less than half my costs through book sales so far, but I’ve had enough extra workshop bookings on the back of it to make up the difference several times over, as well as an article on creative image-work for authors in the next edition of Mslexia.

This reflects the fiscal facts of being traditionally published, because very few authors indeed can make a living from royalties these days. Most have to supplement their income from books with some kind of day job, or spin-off work on the back of their books, such as teaching and speaking engagements.

I’m hoping sales will gradually build, through workshops and word of mouth, but I don’t want to annoy my twitter and facebook followers by over-promoting, so my strategy now is to bring out a second much more mainstream book on writing as soon as possible. If readers enjoy either one of these two books, maybe they might take a punt on the other.

Writing and dreams
Writing and dreams
Just writing - no dreams!
Just writing – no dreams!

This second book is called When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat Your Blocks and Find Your FlowI’m going straight to self-publishing with it because

  1. it’s much quicker – I can bring the book out in September this year
  2. I can create a brand look with Writing in the House of Dreams
  3. I will only need to sell a fraction of the number of copies to make the same amount of money as I would if the book was traditionally published, and i have plenty of opportunities for hand-selling at writing events and workshops

Speaking of workshops, check out these pics from last week’s residential at The Writing Retreat in beautiful Lamorna, where I was invited to speak and teach a session on writing dialogue. Good times!

Rosemerryn - The Writers' Retreat
Rosemerryn – The Writing Retreat
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn

Creative dreaming, creative writing

%d bloggers like this: