I often think writing is a kind of coming out; we are always revealed in what we write, whether we are aware of it or not.
Simply setting pen to paper is a self-revealing act, which may make us aware of thoughts and feelings moving through us that we were not aware of before. Certain themes that recur time and again, certain characters and patterns of relationship.
Telling other people that you write is another stage in the coming out. I’ve had participants at workshops who have written whole novels and never told a soul, not even their nearest and dearest.
Sharing writing with friends or family pushes this coming out as a writer a little further, but reading to strangers in a workshop situation is another whole layer of boldness.
So how wonderful is it for me to hear from a workshop participant that she’s plucked up the courage to press send on a travel article, and again on a competition piece?
Her article, she tells me, has been accepted for a travel website with a membership of 40,000; her story will be published in an anthology of competition winners.
But as she says in her emails, it isn’t about payment or recognition – though that would be nice, of course. The real buzz is having had the courage to be heard.
I had a crisis point in my coming out as a writer. You can read about it here.
What about you? Have you come out as a writer? How hard was it for you?
I guess for a lot of writers, maybe the dream week would include standing up in front of a major festival crowd, receiving a huge royalty payment and being interviewed for a Sunday supplement.
But for a writer like me, who has experienced two of those and wouldn’t really want to again, the things that make a great week are comparatively humble. (I wouldn’t mind experiencing the massive royalty payment at some stage, of course – just to check whether I like it or not).
Here are five things that have happened in the last few days, and made my week:
Working on a new book. That’s got to be the first and best of everything for a writer like me, and it’s even sweeter now, after a year of not really writing at all.
A cheque for my fee of 50 guineas (more or less – the bank can’t exactly do that) and a lovely letter from Liskeard Poetry Group, for helping them select the poems for their upcoming anthology.
A new 5* amazon review for my children’s book, Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends.
Having an intriguing dream to write down in my diary.
Word from my agent that the Turkish publisher of Peony Pinker wants to renew the rights for the first two books. We’re talking 800 euros altogether, and after agents’ fees and income tax I’ll be lucky to see half of that, but still – they’ve sold enough books to want to do a new print run… in Turkey!
An email from someone who was on my last workshop, telling me she’d felt emboldened to press send on an article she wrote for a holiday publication (circulation 40,000) and it’s been accepted.
Another email from a different person who’s come to workshops to say she’s got a gig writing restaurant reviews.
Discussions about book covers with my lovely designer and her assistant, Moriarty, who has excellent emailing skills for a cat.
As the old year comes to a close, it’s time to take stock and think about what you’d like the new one to bring. Intention is a powerful magnetic force, and focusing on what you want greatly increases your chances of achieving it.
The sharper the focus, the better the chance; having a vague notion of something you might like to achieve is like throwing a dart in the general direction of the darts board and hoping it’ll hit the bullseye. It could happen, but it it’s not very likely.
Once you’ve set a goal, you need to think of practical steps you can take to work towards it. As you’re reading this blog, I guess you’re interested in dreams, so here are my suggestions for anyone who’d like to get more from their dream life in 2017.
Make dreams part of the conversation. Talk about dreams generally, with your family and friends, and share specific ones you happen to remember. Talking about dreams, whether you have regular recall or not, increases dream awareness even for experienced dreamers. The secret of happy dream talk is to treat your dreams like the experiences of waking life; keep it brief, keep it interesting, leave out any long-winded boring bits and, most important of all, don’t try to interpret, either your own or other people’s. One of the reasons we can feel reticent about sharing dreams is because we think they might reveal something about us, and focusing on finding meaning takes our attention away from the actual experience of the dream. Besides, as Alfred Adler wrote, The realm of meanings is the realm of mistakes.
Let go of psychological interpretation generally. If we value dreams only as a source of information about our waking life, that puts an automatic filter on our recall. We will tend to remember and write down only the dream material that we identify as important or relevant, and miss the good stuff that takes us outside our waking understanding and into the complete unknown. Letting go of trying to interpret dreams could be interesting for more experienced dreamers as well as beginners; try it for a few months, and see if your dream life changes.
Keep a dream diary. I’ve put this one last because it’s what everyone says and I didn’t want you to roll your eyes and abandon me mid-post! But everyone says it for a reason; it works. It’s the power of intention again. By buying a lovely notebook and placing it beside your bed, you’re setting the intention to record something when you wake. At first, you may not have many narrative dreams, but just fragments or single images – however random, uninteresting or irrelevant they feel, write them down. Draw them. Value them. From these little scraps, dream recall will gradually develop. Have faith and stick at it. I recommend you set the intention for a manageable amount of time initially, say 6 weeks, to record something every day. You will need to set your alarm 15 minutes before you have to get up, so that you’ll have time to wake slowly and enjoy that gradual surfacing from sleep.
You can read more about creative dreaming – that is to say, experiencing dreams rather than trying to interpret them psychologically – in Patricia Garfield’s classic book, Creative Dreaming, or in my own Writing in the House of Dreams.
I’ll also be running my Writing in the House of Dreams course in Cornwall later in the year, so sign up for my newsletter if you’d like a heads-up when I set the dates, or contact me, without obligation, to discuss a one-day or residential workshop for your writing group further afield.
That’s one of my New Year intentions in place – to include creative dreaming in my 2017 workshops programme – now time to ponder some more.
Do you set intentions at New Year? Could one of them be to get more from your dream life?
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.
it’s much quicker – I can bring the book out in September this year
I can create a brand look with Writing in the House of Dreams
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!