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Instant Replay

When I lived in Croatia a hundred years ago, I spent three weeks every summer camping on the Adriatic near Pula. At the campsite where I stayed, there was a small store and a restaurant that had live music every night. There were several buildings with showers and toilets. That was the extent of the place.

 

One of the shower blocks not far, from where I set up my tent, was a narrow concrete pre-fab with a row of cubicles, each containing a shower, each with a door leading right out onto the main path through the camp. One year one of the six cubicles was missing a door. That meant more congestion for the remaining shower units, which were in high demand in August. There was almost always a queue.

 

Early one evening on my way back from the grocery store, I noticed two very fit German blokes I’d seen wind surfing earlier in the day queuing for the shower, but they got tired of waiting, so they stripped off their Speedos and waltzed right on in to the cubicle without the door.

 

I happened to be with a friend who was a bit more prudish than I, and she averted her eyes and dragged me away in a huff, me nearly breaking my neck for one last glance over my shoulder at naked, wet maleness. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted more than a minute. What I saw was fleeting. But what I imagined – over and over and over again – was most definitely not!

 

Sometimes it takes nothing more than an image to capture our imaginations, to inspire us. An image can inspire us because once we’ve seen it, processed it – especially if it’s a little scenario like mine with the shower and the naked wind surfers, our glorious, super-high-tech instant replay brains take over. Not only can we replay that image over and over again, but we can change it simply by imaging what might have happened IF … It’s were our fantasies come from, it’s where a writer’s story ideas come from, it’s built-in entertainment.

 

My voyeuristic encounter at the showers stands out to me as outrageously erotic, and yet nothing happened. Two blokes got tired of waiting in queue for the shower, probably anxious to get to dinner and a cold beer, so they chose to shower in full view of hundreds of people they didn’t know, hundreds of people who would never see them again. BUT, they were wrong, I’ve seen them countless times in my imagination – sometimes sun bleached and golden in the late afternoon light, sometimes dark, tattooed and dangerous just before dusk, beckoning me to come join them, speaking softly to me in German — words I don’t understand, though I completely get their meaning. I know exactly what those boys want, as they leer at me and I leer right back. Well, in my imagination at least.

 

In some of those instant replays, I meet them on the beach at midnight to share a bottle of wine and a naked swim in the warm moonlit waters. In some of those instant replays, I shoo my prudish friend back to her tent, then strip off shamelessly and join them, letting them soap me and rinse me and protect me with their naked, glistening bodies from gaping onlookers. In other versions, they come to the shower late at night when everyone else is asleep, and only I’m there to watch them lather and bathe each other, thorough in their efforts to get clean, more thorough in their efforts to relieve the tensions of the day.

 

Our delicious instant replay allows us to rewind, slo-mo, enhance, zoom in on any part of any experience or image that catches their fancy, and then enjoy it a second or even a 50th time around. We can take that experience and totally change it if we choose. We do it all the time; in our heads, we rewrite the ending of an interview that didn’t go so well or an argument with a lover so that we can take back what we wish we hadn’t said. Sometimes we imagine what would have happened next if things had been allowed to unfold to the end, if I had been allowed to linger a little longer in front of the showers. In fact, we can be really neurotic about it, playing the same scenes over and over and obsessing on them, for good or for ill.

 

Writers are especially adept at using this instant replay to inspire, to arouse, to tease out and focus on details we might otherwise have missed, details that might have totally intrigued us the first time around, even details that weren’t really there. Then we write those details into whole new scenarios, sometimes even whole novels.

I know, I know! It’s all a part of memory. Anyone can hit the ole instant replay button at any time and experience the

past all over again. We all do that. But there’s nothing ordinary about the ability to relive our experiences and imagine ourselves in a different life – perhaps even as different people who make a different decision; perhaps the decision to strip off and shower with the German wind-surfers. The creative process of a writer quite often depends on the exploitation of that instant replay button. I can’t think of anything I’ve written that isn’t grounded in some way, no matter how miniscule, in my recalling of an experience, my reimagining of a moment, or my reworking of an image that intrigues me. In a very real sense, we are what we write as we wind back the video in the editing room of our brain and hit replay, then hit slo-mo, then zoom in real nice and tight-like so that we can enhance and recreate every detail to tell a brand new story.

 

Procrastination for Fun and Order

I sat in a coffee shop for over an hour yesterday, and I wasn’t writing. I was reading a novel and eating raspberry lemon
drizzle cake. I had only two items to pick up at the supermarket, but I wandered up and down every isle. I took a long walk in the crisp November sunshine. We don’t get a lot of sunshine in the UK in November. I vacuumed the living room carpet … I mean really vacuumed the living room carpet — you know what I mean – even behind the furniture. I dusted too. I lingered in a decadent bubbly bath until I was I was waterlogged and wrinkled. I drank more coffee and read more novel. The one thing I didn’t do yesterday was anything writing related.

 

The whole drawn-out process of not doing what I’m supposed to be doing got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, there are times when not doing what I should is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the weight of what needs to be done. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago feeling that sense of panic, tossing and turning with my heart racing. And then it hit me, a Eureka moment. While all those things may need to be done – writing related and otherwise – I’m not going to get any of them done at two o’clock in the morning lying in bed angsting over them.

 

There’s no magic formula to ordering our world, though there certainly are enough books, websites, Facebook and Pinterest pages that would lead us to believe otherwise. While it is possible I might be just saying that because my life is messy and not well ordered, the truth is that all I have, all any of us has is this moment. And I would be the last person to say planning isn’t important, Believe me, I’m majorly anal about a lot of things. But I am slowly and painfully coming to the conclusion that what happens in the moment, what that moment leads to, where it might take me is far more important than a well-ordered world. I know, I know … spoken like a person whose world isn’t in any kind of order, right?

 

In the roller coaster ride that’s been my writing career so far, I’ve noticed something very important, though it certainly took me awhile. The times I’ve been most controlling, most tunnel-visioned about my work, the times when deadlines have kept me tossing and turning at night, the times when the need to produce has kept me from seeing the November sunshine right outside my window, are far less productive than the grinding joyless amount of effort I put into them would suggest. I don’t get those moments back – ever. Creativity should never be mistaken for productivity, and productivity is so very often a misnomer. Can I really call work accomplished “being productive” if it’s cheerless, drudgery?

 

It seems to me that if I am to be both productive and creative, if I am to sleep soundly at night and avoid those two am panic attacks, then I’ve got to find balance. Sometimes that balance involves doing nothing in particular. Sometimes that balance involves just being. And guess what I’ve discovered? Stuff gets done, even when I’m procrastinating. Stuff gets done. My living room looks great! And time for reading, well that’s always a treasure. Today I write. Today my head is clear and my inside world feels very well ordered indeed. All because of a little procrastination.

 

Writing Retreat

It’s hard to believe that my first novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly, has been out seven years. I remember well that first
decent royalty check and the decision I made to celebrate with my own private writer’s retreat. I did the research, decided I didn’t want to travel too far or spend too much, and I didn’t want to go to a place like the Lake District, where I would rather walk than write. I chose the lovely Portland Cottage in Lyme Regis down on the Jurassic Coast. For those of you who don’t know, the place has a rich literary history, being the setting for John Fowles’ book, and the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, and others.

 

The flat at Portland Cottage had gorgeous views and room for me to spread out, write, read, sprawl, pace and oh yes, the best part, a lovely tub for inspirational bubble baths. And the town itself was a total delight. I could walk on the beach, explore the village and let my Muse guide me until late afternoon, then it was back to Portland Cottage to write until I got too sleepy to continue. I’d sleep in a room with a sea view and listen to the tawny owls call, then wake up to the sun rising over Golden Cap, and start all over again.

 

I managed 35,000 words that first year, and even more important, I learned that a writer’s retreat – a private one — not one where it’s more about workshopping and socializing, but one with just me and space to write and think, was an invaluable tool worth every single pound I spent.

For the next six years, I made that yearly pilgrimage in late September or early October to Lyme Regis and Portland Cottage, and every year I managed massive word counts, fantastic walks, glorious inspiration, and came back home feeling refreshed. The lion share of seven of my novels has been written at my writer’s retreats, and they have become a non-negotiable part of my writing year.

 

I’m writing this before I leave for my 2017 writer’s retreat, because I will have my head down writing hard by the time you read this. Sadly I won’t be doing it at Portland Cottage this year. The flat has been sold on as a private residence. Happily, I’m doing it from a lovely flat in Zagreb Croatia just off Maksimir Park. You’ll hear all about that when I get back home.

 

For me going to Zagreb for my sacrosanct writing week is not only a new beginning, but a reclaiming of a place I lived in long ago, a place I loved. The story of why it has taken me so long to reclaim this wonderful place is one for another time, but let’s just say even though I write this before I’m actually there, I fully expect to accomplish a lot and to be totally inspired. I have a sneaking suspicion I might meet old friend there and maybe make some new ones too.

 

For me, it’s a time of new beginnings, and as difficult as it is to let go of the old familiar, as frightening as it can be to
move forward, it’s essential for growth. Certainly it’s crucial for creativity. As I write this post, I’m anticipating what this next week will bring. As you read this post, I will be embracing another new beginning and moving forward in my own creative journey. I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back home.

 

P.S. Be sure to check Facebook. I might just pop a few piccies on from time to time.

 

Permission to Write Badly

 

(From the Archives)

I’ve done NaNoWriMo often enough now and finished it that I know the value of giving myself permission to write badly. Permission to write badly is permission to FINISH a project and not get bogged down in the first four chapters. Right now I’m working on the rewrite of Piloting Fury, last November’s NaNoWriMo project, and my first ever scifi. I don’t mind saying I’m rather proud of it, but I wouldn’t have finished the first draft if I hadn’t given myself permission to just loosen my collar and let the words flow. Below is a post I wrote several years ago that seems very relevant every time I begin a final draft. Permission to write badly is always the reason I have a final draft to finish.

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing lately and what makes it work. Why is it that sometimes it flows and other times it just doesn’t? The first time I realised I might be able to exert some control over that flow, that I might be able to do more than sit in front of a keyboard and hope the Muse would take pity on me, was when I read Natalie Goldberg’s classic book, Writing Down the Bones. There I discovered the timed writing. It’s simple really. You write non-stop for a given amount of time. You write against the clock, and you don’t stop writing until time runs out. No matter what! You write whatever comes without fretting over whether it’ll be good. And when you’re done, some of the end result – even a good bit of the end result – might be crap. But mixed in with that crap might just be the seeds of something wonderful.

At the time I felt like I’d been asked to write with my left hand. Even writing for five minutes seemed like a daunting task when I made my first attempts. But Natalie Goldberg knew what she was talking about. I was amazed at what came out of the abyss between my ears! It was only after I read Writing Down the Bones that I began to write real stories. So why did one book make such a difference?

I finally had something I lacked in the past, something very important. I had permission to write badly. Every writer needs permission to write badly. Later Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist Way, called those off-the-cuff, devil-may-care writings morning pages, and she prescribed three morning pages every day – written without forethought; written in haste. From a fiction writer’s perspective, she didn’t give them the weight that Natalie Goldberg did. They were only a part of a plan to open the reader to the artist within. To her, they were more about venting, sort of a daily house-cleaning for the brain. In addition to morning pages, Cameron insisted that every creative person should give themselves what she called an artist date once a week. An artist date was a date with oneself away from writing.

I can’t count the number of times I stood myself up for my artist dates. I would have broken up with me long ago if I were actually dating me. But then I realised that an artist date didn’t have to be dinner and dancing or shopping or even visiting a museum. An artist date was a change of pace. It could even be ironing or weeding the garden. In fact the whole point of the artist date was to create space in which I could disengage the internal editor and give myself permission to write badly.

 

 

So many of us are under the impression that every word we write must be precious and worth its weight in gold. What I’ve learned since I discovered the pleasure of writing badly is that on the first draft, every word is most definitely not precious. On the first draft, every word is a crazy frivolous experiment. Every word is a chance to test the waters, to play in the mud, to let my hair loose and run dancing and screaming through the literary streets. Every word is a game and an adventure. Every word is eating ice cream with sprinkles for the main course. Every word is shit; every word is compost, and every word is the ground out of which the next draft will grow. I never know what’ll work until I try it. I never know what my unconscious will come up with while I’m writing like a wild crazy person, grabbing words and cramming them in and rushing on to the next ones – just after I’ve pulled the weeds in the garden. Without that bold and daring first draft, without opening the floodgates and letting the words spill onto the page, there’s nothing to work with when the next draft comes. And when the next draft comes, the words do get precious. Every single one becomes weighty and irritable and reluctant to fit anywhere but the place it belongs, the place where I feel it just below my sternum like the point of an accusing finger.

But by the time I get to the second draft, by the time I get to that place where every word has to be perfect, I’m up for it. I’m ready to slow down and feel what every word means. I’m ready to find all the nuance and all the cracks and crevices of meaning in between the words. I’m ready for it because I’ve been playing up until now, and I’ve been allowing the words to play. And now, recess is over!

The longer I write, the more I realise what else, besides Natalie Goldberg’s timed writings and Julia Cameron’s reluctant artist dates, get me there. And what gets me there is often totally being somewhere else, somewhere other than writing. Sometimes it’s playing the piano badly, or sweating at the gym, or weeding the veg patch. Sometimes it’s walking through the woodland not thinking about anything, Sometimes it’s reading something frivolous. Sometimes it’s reading something profound. All the space that taking time not to write opens up inside me makes room for that wild ride of the first draft. And when that first draft is finished, I have what I need to pick and choose, to sort through and sift, to change and rearrange until I find the best way to tell my tale. But up until then, it’s child’s play. It’s dancing naked. It’s shameless abandon and multiple verbal orgasms.

Writing badly? Permission granted.

 

Insights from the Changing Room

(Some parts of this post were first posted on the ERWA blog Oct 2014)

 

Tuesday morning. 8:00. I just finished a brutal kettle bell workout. I’ve gone up in weight, and I’m seriously feeling the
love. I won’t even tell you what I look like as I walk into the shower room. Suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t see much in my state of exhaustion. I fumble through my locker for my shower things and fresh clothes then stumble to the stall, where I strip off adjust the water and lean against the wall, wondering how I’m going to lift my arms to wash my hair.

 

I linger there because I can, because I work at home and home’s not going anywhere. All around me the changing room is a beehive of activity and my sense of smell is overwhelmed by myriad scents of deodorant, shower gel and various other olfactory efforts to disguise the scent of humans. Most of my fellow gym-goers have stopped in for an early workout before they head to work.

 

Once I’m clean, I join the ranks of the frantic in the changing room. While I admire the women of all shapes and sizes who seem completely comfortable being naked in front of everyone, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not one of them. I’m fit. I’m strong, and I look good enough that people can tell I work out. But my body shows the wear and tear of being my vessel for a lot of years. It has served me well through the abuse of the youth I thought would be endless. Better still, it has (and still does) allowed me to experience some truly marvelous adventures and some amazing loving. At some point I’ve come to accept that I’ll never look like I’m twenty again. And the sad truth is that I was far less satisfied with my body when I was twenty than I am now.

 

The gym I go to is unpretentious, and it has a great mix of all ages and of people who are fit and people who are brave enough to thrust themselves into an environment where they can become fit. Most, like me, will know the joy of what becoming fit does to all other avenues of life. I’ve not come to that knowledge late in life, I’ve always felt more myself when I’m strong and healthy. BUT fitness and health rarely translate to the washboard abed, bulging biceped males we see posed on the covers of erotic novels nor the high, firm breasted, rounded bottomed women who frolic on the pages in between those covers.

 

Even now, as I watch woman unselfconsciously flitting around the changing room with pert tits and exquisite arses naked or in sexy underwear as they blow-dry their lush long manes and make themselves up to perfection, my stubborn brain is green with envy. This morning there seems to be a larger than normal bevy of pert breasts, tight bottoms and flowing locks as I slink to my locker and dress as quickly as I can so no one will notice that my tits are not that perky. As for my arse, well, do to a genetic trait in my family, I don’t actually HAVE an arse. I’ve spent my entire life tugging up my trousers and sitting on bone and gristle.

But I digress. As I shove into my clothes and run a quick comb through wet hair, not lingering for a good coiffing nor to put on the make-up I seldom wear, I can’t help feel that I should apologize for being neither coiffed nor pert. The nasty voice in the back of my head, says ‘at your age, who cares?’  And I protest that I look pretty damned good for my age. In truth, no one in the changing room notices anyone else, and no one judges in the frantic effort to get to work on time. My only judge is me, and sadly, I’m a bit harsh at times.

 

God! I battle those internal voices all the time. You’d think I’d get past them at some point. But I don’t. You’d think that writing characters who are less pert and less wash-boardy would be my way of shaking my fist at heaven, of cursing the fact that at my age – god how I despise that phrase! It feels like a “get out of jail free” card for every shortcoming that I had no excuse for when I was younger because I have now reached that magical age – whatever the hell that might be. BUT I digress again! Here’s the shocking truth. I don’t look twenty-five anymore. You’d think I’d make sure my characters don’t look it either. But nooooo! I constantly toy in my imagination with characters who may not exactly look like they live in a gym, but on the other hand, seeing them naked would be close enough to chocolate for the eyes to make my mouth water.

 

All good characters need a life beyond looking hot, otherwise they’re boring, and the only thing worse than a character with flabby abs and a flat arse is a character whose biceps or tits are the most interesting thing about them. I confess, I write what I wish was so. I write what I’m convinced readers wish was so. I write who we wish we could be, and who we wish would be so attracted to us that they’d lose sleep obsessing about shagging us senseless. I write charactersthat look like youth has decided to linger awhile longer with them than it does with most of us. Of course I’m happy to throw in some good genetics for nicely rounded bottoms and a proper amount of pertness. I write nice bodies, AND do my best to make them interesting too. I WANT IT ALL!

 

I live vicariously through the characters I write. Through them my tits are perfect and my arse is magnificent.

Through them, I am the obsession of the wounded hero who is both intelligent and a fine specimen of manliness. Are all these a sign of my neurotic shallowness? Or are they, perhaps a sign that I’m old enough to recognize what I’ve lost, what I’ve left behind. I’m old enough to understand the price everyone pays for living in a body long enough to experience enough life with all of its joys and sorrows and bashings about to look a little worse for the wear. I’m old enough to know that what I don’t reveal in the changing room at the gym says enough about the wounded character that I am, says enough about my numerous and openly admitted neuroses to remind me again that the sweetest things aren’t pert nor washboarded, nor nicely rounded. The sweetest things are all the experiences in between the best my body was when I was twenty and the best my body is now. Am I making excuses? Perhaps. Would I still like to be pert and properly rounded? Hell yes! Is my reality and the fantasies I create as a writer any less textured and rich because of the lack? The truth is, that it’s probably richer for my flat butt and semi-pert tits. But perhaps I only say that as a way of compensating for my envy of youth and beauty.

 

On the other hand the place inside me that lives to fantasize, to create, the place inside me that lives for story isn’t subject to the passing of years. And what comes out of that part of me is, more often than not, a way of dealing with my darkness, my self-doubts, my occasional tango with self-loathing. It’s my way of reconstructing them into something that feels better against the raw places, the places that are afraid and uncertain. It’s a way of being less cowardly in the knowing that I, like everyone, must deal with my own mortality as best I can. And sometimes the best way is writing stories with heroes who have nice abs and even nicer pecs and heroines who are round and tight in all the right places. Strange that I never actually see those characters, those fine specimens of physicality, in my mind’s eye, though I know that some writers do. But I feel them from the inside out. That way I know that they’re, in some ways, a testament to my irrational need to be forever young and yet at the same time to cling to the experiences that seldom happen in youth, but are always required to make us more than a collection of body parts that are pert today and sagging tomorrow.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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