‘Talent is not at all unusual, my dear…’

When I was first trying to establish myself as an author, I came upon a quotation from the theatrical agent, Peggy Ramsay, which I copied out and stuck on my study wall. She said that talent was not at all unusual; what was unusual was having the character to develop it.

I was really struck by that, because the biggest struggles of my early career were not in developing my writing skills – I had been writing about pretty much everything that happened in my life since I was six – diaries, poems, stories – and my voice and style were already quite well-developed.

But the process of moving from being someone who loved writing to someone who could earn their living from it was very character-building for me. Here are five qualities I had to develop in myself.

1 – Self-belief, aka a thick skin

You won’t last five minutes in this business if you’re sensitive to criticism or can’t take rejection. Way back when I was starting out, one of the agents I approached with a sample of my writing replied, ‘I regret to inform you that we only accept clients who either have some writing ability or something interesting to say.’ See what I mean?

2 – Patience

The wheels of publishing move exceeding slow. Nuff said.

3 – Flexibility

If you can’t sell an idea in one form, you may be able to sell it in another. Most of the ideas I couldn’t sell have turned out to be recyclable in the fulness of time (patience again!)

4 – Trust

Lots of writers have to learn to trust their creative process, but that’s never been an issue for me. Tapping into dreams every night makes you aware of the abundance of stories going on all the time beneath the surface, which can never dry up. However, I have found it challenging to trust I’ll stay solvent on such a haphazard and sporadic income. 

5 – Luck

You might say, what’s luck got to do with character? It’s random, right? But you make your own luck, to some extent. You have to be able to create and spot opportunities, and willing to consider any door that opens up, even if it’s not one you might have considered before.

 I know from my workshops that talent is not unusual. Everybody has a unique voice, and an interesting story to tell. I feel really humbled by some of the writing people produce in half an hour, round my kitchen table.

Trying to make a career of it is different. Not everyone who loves writing will want to embark on that path. If you have done so, what qualities did you have to find in yourself? If you are trying to, what qualities do you think you will need?

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Book Review: Poetry in the Making

Poetry in the making, by Ted Hughes

Written for young people, this has to be the most beautiful and insightful book I’ve ever read about the magical process of creating writing.

As you would expect, the author uses metaphors from nature to express his ideas about where poetry comes from, and what attitudes and skills a poet needs to develop in himself in order to be able to capture it.

He talks about the inner life, which seems equivalent to what I call the dream-world in these pages. It’s the world of imagination, memory and emotion, stories and images, which goes on all the time beneath the surface, ‘like the heart beat.’ We may be aware of it, or we may not. We may become aware of it through dream-recalling or any creative pursuit.

Hughes compares this inner world with a pond, saying that if we don’t learn the focus, patience and stealth to break into it ‘our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.’

He says you have to care about what you are writing, and if an idea gets stalled it will be because you don’t care enough. You shouldn’t worry about the words, but cleave to the imagination and emotion in your idea, then the words will follow in an organic way.

The review from the Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the back cover, says, ‘He makes the whole venture seem enjoyable, and somehow urgent.’

That’s exactly what the book conveys to me – the sense of venture, pleasure and also the importance of this inner journey, which takes you to the heart of who you are, and what life is.

Like most writers, I love reading about writing. Have you got a favourite book on writing that you’d like to recommend?

How dream emotions can energise your writing

In Naomi Epel’s book, ‘Writers Dreaming,’ several of the authors interviewed say that dreams are a way they can connect with very dark places and intense emotions.

My favourite interview in the book is with Sue Grafton. She says – among many other interesting things – that she has engineered the world so that she doesn’t have to face bad guys and monsters in waking life, as everyone does. Therefore one of the ways in which dreams energise her writing is by connecting her to ‘often very visceral experiences.’

In dreams, anything can happen. We can have extremely frightening, exciting or pleasurable experiences, as we did when we were children, before we knew how to engineer our world. That means we will feel the full force of our emotions, as we did back then.

Pure emotion produces strong effects in the body. That’s what makes these experiences ‘visceral.’ Dream situations may be the only opportunity you have in adult life to truly feel the physical effects of extreme fear, dread or murderous rage; of bodily power or spiritual transcendance.

As writers, we say ‘show don’t tell.’ Rather than describing how our characters are feeling emotionally, we describe where the emotion is in their body. We make it physical, so that the reader can feel it in their body too.

Sitting at the computer, we can imagine what it is to feel these super-strength emotions, but in dreams we can actually experience it. A dream recalled is like a memory of waking life; remembering it will bring the emotions flooding back with the same physicality as when you recall events from your dayworld.

Living your dreamlife with awareness means you have more emotional experience to draw upon, as well as more situations and events. Often, the emotion is so strong it carries over into waking life even though the events of the dream may be hazy. That intensity of emotion may spark your creativity as powerfully as the actual images and narratives in your dreams.

You can only draw on these memories of dream emotions if you remember your dreams. Check out my Tips page for info about recalling and recording dreams.

Guest post: The dream that sparked the poem

Bicycling in Brighton, by Pat Neill

As a child, I spent a lot of time day-dreaming and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I woke up to my night dreams. They came fast and furious, and I diligently recorded as many as I remembered. Analysing them helped me to understand myself in more depth. Now I’m tired of all that self-analysis and I want to follow Jenny’s idea of using them creatively. Here’s a dream that did inspire me to use it creatively.

I was driving down a long, sloping, wide-open road in a town. In front of me, a lorry had stopped. I easily glided out to overtake it and then discovered a car manoeuvring – that was why the lorry had stopped! I felt embarrassed as I stopped to let the car finish. The car moved on, with me following, and the lorry behind me.

Now, I felt myself to be on a bicycle. The ride was smooth and the feeling exhilarating as I sped on down the hill. The street was like those in Brighton/Hove that lead down to the seafront. The weather was slightly grey and misty and the vehicles had their lights on.

I woke from this dream feeling happy, confident and optimistic. In my poem, I seem to have changed the weather. I think it was the feeling after I woke from the dream that carried forward into my writing. I have always set great store in the feeling a dream leaves you with – I reckon it has to be the most important feature of the dream.

Riding High

Georgian pillared terraces sloping to the sea,
I rode my bike between them feeling wild and free.
Swiftly leaning to the right, a stopped truck to miss,
I glided past, confident, riding high.
Oh what bliss!
Once, a sudden car appeared, half blocking my way.
No matter, I had pedal power and was lord of the highway!
Wind whistling, hair streaming, on and on I sped
With salt-sea horizon and cloudless blue skies, all beckoning ahead.

I love the joyful exuberance of this poem, and Pat makes an important point about the feeling a dream leaves you with when you awake. I’ll be blogging about emotions in dreaming and writing next week.  

Pat is an astrological life coach with a brand new blog  http://astrolifecoach.wordpress.com/ She uses astrology as a tool for understanding the issues present in a person’s life and life coaching as a method for moving matters forward to effect positive change. For details email pat.neill@btinternet.com or phone 01566 779792

A second award for the House of Dreams!

I’m delighted to announce that Kath Roberts – she of the delightful Reclusive Muse – has bestowed the coveted Unicorn Glitter Award upon Writing in the House of Dreams.

The beautiful Unicorn Glitter Award
 
You’ll see that, under the unicorn’s rules, I have to tell you some more about the House of Dreams.
 
What is the favourite book on its bookshelves?
‘Creative Dreaming,’ by Patricia Garfield, and ‘Dreams and the Underworld,’ by James Hillman.

 
Favourite film?
Bit of a surprise maybe, but you do get all sorts in the House of Dreams – ‘The Naked Gun’
Favourite poem or song?
Kathleen Raine’s ‘Heirloom’, which so perfectly describes the magical within the mundane.
Favourite myth?
Persephone, because it’s the story of dreaming.
Enchanted creature?
The owl, which knows the secrets of the night.
 
 

My little bloggie will wear the award with pride.

Do you follow a blog you think should get an award? Or do you have any more questions for the House of Dreams?

5 blogging tips you might have missed – I did!

It’s nearly four months since I started this blog, so I’ve been taking stock. Fortunately, I’ve just found a brilliant pair of posts on Anne R Allen’s blog on how to, and how not to blog, specially aimed at authors who’ve started or are planning to start blogging. You can read it yourself here: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-to-blog-beginners-guide-for-authors.html

I’ll be changing my ways from now on, based on five of Anne’s top blogging tips that I missed.

  1. I’ll be posting more regularly. I’m going for once-a-week, on Wednesdays. I find it hard to keep up with blogs that have new posts every other day, but I go cold on the ones that seem to have gone cold on me. Once a week suits me as a follower, so I hope it will please my blog-followers too. This is my first Wednesday post!
  2. I’ll be doing more linking (you’ll notice I started this post as I mean to go on!) What’s social networking, without sharing the good stuff? I’ll also put my link in Anne’s comments, and make more comments on the other blogs I read, so that their followers might click through to the House of Dreams.
  3. My blog titles might involve numbers (yep – starting as I mean to go on again) There might also be a sprinkling of bullet points within my posts, if I remember to put them in.
  4. I might make my posts a bit longer. They’ve been coming in around the 300 word mark, which is well under half the average for blog posts. But then again, I might not. I like to write lean – possibly in part because I’m not a patient reader myself.
  5. While taking on board all the great advice out there, I’ll go on ploughing my own path. Blogging is creative writing, and half the fun is finding out what it’s got in mind, and watching how it evolves. (Yes, I am one of those authors who DETEST writing synopses)

Doh – that’s all I’ve got to say and guess what? It’s 300 words. I rest my case!

Now, because finishing with a question is another tip I kind of missed, or rather got in a quite haphazard way, I’m going to close with a question for you, O welcome visitor to the House of Dreams – What are your top tips for successful blogging? 

More people want to write than to read – why?

First of all, I must confess I can’t remember where I read that there are more would-be writers than readers, so it’s more of an eye-catching title than a statistical fact. But having said that, it doesn’t sound too preposterous to me.

My kitchen table - ready for a writing group

Writing courses are springing up all over the country, from major universities to my kitchen table; online writers’ resources are increasing daily, and in National Novel Writing Month alone participants have already produced a staggering  2,755,787,833 words this year, and counting  http://nanowrimo.org/

You would think the main reason why so many people are interested in writing is because they’d like to be published, perhaps with a view to changing career, or to making a fortune out of a single best-selling book and going to live in the Seychelles. This is certainly true for some.

But I think for a lot of people who want to write, being published is not the main driver. It’s something more primitive and profound. People come to writing because they want to discover and tell their stories, not necessarily to the world, but to each other, like tribal elders gathered under a tree, or children making up games in the playground.

I think there’s a yearning also, in such a material world, to connect with deeper layers of the self, and explore the mysteries of the inner world.

What creative activities of every kind offer is an experience of total absorption and flow, and an opportunity for spiritual experience and community in a very secular world.

I’d love to hear your views, if you’re a teacher or participant in creative writing courses.

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