Tag Archives: Julia Cameron

You and your writing – true love or passing passion?

It’s easy to fall in love with writing, but can you take it to the next level?

A lot of people love the idea of writing, and hold it in their heart for years as ‘a one day when I’ve got  time’ dream. And when they engage, perhaps in workshops or inspired by a book such as Writing down the Bones by Nathalie Goldberg or Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, writing does not disappoint.

Because it really is exhilarating to discover that all you have to do is open the door, and ideas will come pouring through. Characters, settings, stories… it’s astonishing and wonderful what you find inside that you never even knew was there.

This is the honeymoon period. It’s bright, fun and exciting, but it doesn’t last forever. You can abandon it for a while and then start all over again, with another course, another book, loving the romance but not committing, or you can surrender to it fully, and fall properly in love.

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Love is not easy. As Khalil Gibran says in The Prophet, ‘Even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.’

When you fall in love with writing, just as when you fall in love with another person, your centre of gravity changes. You are not the only important thing. You are willing to learn, to strive and to make sacrifices in the service of your love.

Loving your writing means making yourself the best possible writer that you can be. It means studying and practising all the skills of writing, so that you can properly honour the wonderful flow of ideas you have found.

Sometimes it might mean giving up things you really liked – ‘killing your darlings’ – if a clever image you were pleased with doesn’t sit well in the larger piece, for example, or if a descriptive passage you’ve worked really hard on has got in the way of the action.

It means curbing your annoying habits, such as using too many abstract nouns or adverbs, or peppering your text with a few favourite words. What you like is not important; you want to do what the writing needs.

Writing is a labour of love – labour and love, both. When you have setbacks, as every writer does – a book idea that doesn’t work after months and months of trying, a rejection from a publisher or agent, an e-book that’s barely sold a copy – it’s only your love for the art and craft of writing that stops you walking away and giving up completely.

I’ve had times when I’ve felt like packing it in, but writing always brings me back. It’s part of who I am now, not just a thing I do. As Khalil Gibran says, ‘think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.’

What is your relationship with writing? Would you like to commit yourself more fully? Would you like to be able to walk away?

 

 

When a writer needs to ‘go down to the well’

Just after Christmas, when I had finished my story set on a remote island, I had a brief hiatus, so I asked for a dream.

I’m in Cunningsburgh, in Shetland, but the coast is completely different. Instead of the wide flat apron of land around the voe, it’s high and mountainous.

Cunninsburgh, looking out towards the voe

We go to the top of the cliffs and start our familiar walk, down the narrow path which clings to the side of the steep slope down to the sea. We normally make this a circular walk, but when we reach the water and look up at the path ahead, it looks too long and hazardous. So we double back the way we came, and return to the top once again.

When I wrote the dream down, I knew I’d dreamt about this place before, and done the walk in other dreams; I also remembered that it almost always coincided with this stage in my writing, when I had finished one MS and not yet started another.

After I finish a book, I need a fallow time to rest and recover, refocus and regroup. I play with lots of ideas and then, just when I’m starting to feel impatient, one of them grabs me.

My dream of going down to the water reminds me of an idea I’ve read in books on writing, that writers need to take time out and ‘go down to the well’ to keep refreshing their ideas. Julia Cameron talks about it in her ‘writer’s date’ suggestion in ‘The Artist’s Way.’

Julia Cameron recommends taking time out every week, but I find my writing pattern is such that when I’m in the flow I just want to write 24:7 till I reach the end, and then take a chunk of time out to recover (and get some sleep!)

After this dream, and a period of rest, what eventually grabbed me was a return to the world of Peony Pinker, the protagonist of my latest published series. I guess that’s why I doubled back in my dream.

It’s only through writing down your dreams and noting alongside them the main things that are happening in your waking life, that you start to see patterns and parallels emerging. Certain themes and situations in your dreamworld may become familiar, as they reflect recurring themes and situations in your waking life.

I’ve just delivered my follow-up story to Peony Pinker, ‘Me and my big mouth, by Maddy Monday,’ so I won’t be surprised if I find myself walking back down to the water in my dreams these next few weeks.

If you’re a dreamer, are you aware of a recurring link between a dream situation and a waking one in your own life? 

If you’re a writer, how often do you ‘go down to the well’ – for a few hours every week, or for longer periods between writing projects?

Daily pages vs dreams

A few of my lovely dream diaries
A few of my lovely dream diaries

One of my favourite books about writing is Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a writer.’ It was published in the 1930’s and is still in print, which attests to just how good it is.

Brande says we should treat our writer self as two people, the creative, playful child and the business-like, grown-up critic. We should develop and nurture both sides of our writer self, and teach them to work in harmony.

She refers to the creative side as the unconscious, and suggests one way of opening to it through the practice of daily pages, an idea which later formed the core of another writing bestseller, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

The concept of daily pages is that you write stream-of-consciousness for twenty minutes a day, ideally first thing in the morning before the concerns of the day have a chance to intrude. You keep the pen moving on the paper, even if all you can think of is along the lines of, ‘I don’t want to do this, I can’t think of anything to say, it’s a bit rainy outside…’

One effect of this is to help you let go of the idea you have to wait for inspiration before you can write anything – you can write your way in. Another is that you learn to allow unconscious products to emerge when the mind is relaxed and receptive.

Many of my writing friends have found writing daily pages really useful, but it didn’t really do anything for me. It occurred to me that the reason why was because I already wrote first thing in the morning, recording my dreams, and rather than my conscious mind idling and allowing random stuff to come up, I had been fully immersed in this amazing inner world. So, unlike daily pages, my dream diary was full of interesting incidents and images.

Check out my ‘Tips’ page for information about how to start recalling and recording your dreams