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Posts Tagged ‘my writing life’

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.

 

Coffee and Ritual

As most of you know, I recently spent a week in Croatia, in Zagreb. I used to live there a hundred years ago. It was there that I learned to love coffee, strong, thick Turkish coffee with the grounds at the bottom of the cup. It’s still my favorite. I can’t go to Croatia and not think of coffee, and not take every opportunity to partake. Since that time, coffee has always been much more to me than just a caffeine fix. Coffee is a ritual, a symbol of hospitality, friendship, creativity, laughter and all that makes our connection with each other such an important part of our lives. For in introvert, that’s sometimes a difficult connection to make. Coffee definitely makes it easier.

 

 

When I was in Zagreb this time, I was reminded once again of just how much of a ritual sharing coffee still is. Croats can linger over coffee for ages. It’s an art form. It’s a national treasure. It’s a way of making time for what matters in a world that doesn’t do that nearly often enough. That ritual was one of the first things I learned when I came to Zagreb all those years ago, long before I learned my way around, long before I learned the language. A part of being welcomed into anyone’s home was always the serving of coffee poured from a jezma into demitasse cups. To this day it just feels wrong to drink coffee from a paper cup.

 

 

Sitting in the sun on the terrace of a coffee shop near St. Catherine Square taking in the city below, I found myself listening to people chatting over coffee. I felt a sense of continuity, something unbroken that connects me to the girl I was, the girl who came here so many years ago. When I met friends and made new friends it was over coffee, coffee that we lingered over, coffee made all the better for the laughter and the good company.

 

 

There are many things that connect me to those years in Zagreb. There are some memories that hurt bone deep even now. But there are so many more that make me smile, make me so glad for my time there. That coffee tradition is one that I took with me, a ritual that evolved and changed became my own wherever I’ve lived since.

 

I dated my husband over coffee in Croatia – long lingering cups of strong coffee with whipped cream. We still have quality time over coffee – cold brew now, or Italian mocha. My early mornings are always best with coffee in hand before I set down to write. I equate coffee with opening the creative gateways inside me. I equate coffee with preparation for amazing things.

 

 

On the long cross-country walks Raymond and I have done, no matter the weather, we always carried a flask of coffee. I equate coffee with sitting on the top of a high fell admiring the breathtaking view below with a biscuit and a shared cuppa.

 

I equate coffee with quality time spent with my sister, who has always loved coffee. Even when we Skype, I make sure to have coffee at the ready so we can share that experience, even if we are half a world apart. Come to think of it, I equate coffee with quality time spent with many of my good friends. The two seem to go hand in hand.

 

 

I equate coffee with quality reading time stolen in quiet coffee shops. In those times I make it a point to embrace the Croatian practice of lingering, making my Americano last as long as possible so I can steal just a few more minutes lost in a good book.

 

Friends, laughter, conversation, creativity, love, adventure – coffee has come to be associated with all of those things in my life. For me there are no coffees to go, no coffees gulped mindlessly. There are other drinks for that, but never coffee. It’s not a drink to be rushed. It’s an experience to be savored, an experience rooted in memory at the heart of me. A week in Zagreb brought it all home to me again – something that is so much a part of my life, something that is one of the best gift I took away from those years in Croatia – not the coffee itself, but the depth and the vibrancy of what it represents to an entire culture and what it has come to represent in my every day life.

 

 

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.

 

Exercising my Demons

I wrote this post originally for the Brit Babe’s blog, but it felt like I should share it again as I get ready for the launch of
Blindsided, coming up on the 29th. It’s available for pre-order now, BTW. One of the key players in Blindsided, as most of you have guessed if you’ve read In The Flesh, happens to be a demon. And since I’m off on holiday walking in Snowdonia at the moment, this seemed like the perfect post to share with you while I walk and exercise my demons. Enjoy!

 

I don’t know if any other writers notice recurring themes in their novels and stories and wonder about the psychology of those themes, but I do. I’m pretty sure that the enormous navel-gazing tomes of journals I used to write now work themselves out in my stories, and so much the better, I think. Certainly it’s more creative and more fun. Speaking of recurring themes, it hit me just recently that I seem to write a lot about demons. Almost all of my paranormal erotica has to do with demons in one way or another and, as I finished up my online serial, In The Flesh, in which a demon plays a prominent role as said demon will do also in the sequel, Blind-Sided, I found myself wondering just what my writing so much about demons says about me. Some of my stories are about exorcising the demon, getting rid of it completely, but most are about embracing the demon, or at least finding a way to live with it. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the latter is by far the most practical method of dealing with demons in real life. In real-life, unlike in fiction, they’re not that easy to exorcise.

 

We all have them, and demons come in as many varieties as there are people. We writers have more than most, I think, though I’m sure in my case a lot of my demons are linked very tightly to the fact that I’m just flat out, majorly, neurotic. Oh I’ve definitely tried exorcising them, but I’ve actually found that exercising them works better. No … seriously, I sort of take the old adage ‘working out my demons,’ literally. I take mine out for a nice long walk or invite them to be my guests at the gym to sweat it out with the kettle bells, and it seems to suit them down to the ground. I guess maybe it wear them out enough that they forget to torture me. Or maybe after the endorphins have kicked in and we’re all well sweated and relaxing with a good protein shake, I just don’t notice their torment so much. But the truth is, they can often be quite useful — my demons.

 

Having said that, I guess it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that I write about demons so much. If there’s anything my demons like more than to be exercised, it’s to be the center of attention in a novel or a story. Frankly, I don’t think it matters if I’m writing about demons in the literal sense or if I’m writing about the less paranormal, more concrete demons my characters battle. By writing the story, but exploring the things that frighten me, the things that make me uncomfortable, I think I’m finding a healthy way to live with those inner demons. As neurotic as writers tend to be, the truth is that the best place to write the most powerful stories is right smack dab in the middle of the neuroses – the
scarier, the more irrational, the more chaotic the better.

 

Telling a story is another way of exercising my demons. I make them work for me instead of against me. In truth, I don’t suppose I “make” them do anything. I think maybe they wanted to be put to the challenge all along. Don’t get me wrong, they seldom make it easy, and they’re often uncooperative. They often make it as difficult and as uncomfortable as possible for my characters and they often make the telling of my characters’ tale as squirmy and uneasy for me as they can. What the hell else is a demon supposed to do?

 

Writing with demons … there just might be a book in there somewhere. Oh, wait a minute, I just wrote one! Anyway, my point is that sometimes the things that cause us the most stress and make us the most fearful are the things that not only make for the best fiction, but the fact that we do write from the place of our discomfort makes the writing all the more powerful and the personal demon all the more bearable.

 

The other thing about demons is that they seem so much less terrifying when I’m writing my brains out with a story that won’t let me rest until it’s finished. It’s almost like there’s no room for demon intimidation when I’m in the grip of a tale needing to be told. For that bright and shining span of time it almost feels like instead of the demons possessing me, I possess them. Perhaps that’s the true story I was trying to tell with In The Flesh. Perhaps our demons don’t possess us so much as they drive us, and if we can just figure out how to buckle up and go along for the wild ride, then living with demons, writing with demons – paranormal or otherwise — can actually be useful.

 

 

 

Ironing is a Musing

What is it about ironing that’s so damned inspiring to me? I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. And yet, I always seem to get my best ideas while doing the very thing I dislike.

 

Me: I don’t wanna!

 

Muse: (Poking me in the ribs with her big stick) Stop winging and do it already. I don’t have all day.

 

Me: (Glaring at her over my shoulder as I set up the ironing board) I’m busy. I got stuff to do.

 

Muse: (A harder poke. This time in the stomach) Stop wasting my time. And get on with it. I’ve got places to go, people to inspire.

 

Me: (grabbing a very wrinkled shirt and slamming it down on the ironing board – after I catch my breath)

 

Muse: Now, about this story you’re trying to write. Just how does Michael become a fallen angel?

 

Me: (pouting) You tell me. You’re the muse.

 

Muse: (nodding at the sleeve of the shirt) You missed a spot.

 

Me: Right. ( ironing and thinking) Michael. He loses a bet. At Buried Pleasures. That’s how he does it.

 

Muse: Big deal. Lots of people lose bets. Most people lose bets. That’s gambling, that’s not a story. That’s boring. How does he lose? Who is he playing? What does he want?

 

Me: (carefully ironing the seam along a pair of trousers) He’s playing poker with Magda Gardener. He bets his wings.

 

Muse: (rolling eyes and giving me another poke) Cliché much? Pa-lease! Don’t waist my time. An angel losing his wings is the oldest ploy in the book. Tell me the story. Go over it again from the beginning. Out loud.

 

Me: (Starting another shirt) Well, what if he keeps winning, even though he wants to lose.

 

Muse: That’s better. That’s better. Tell me more.

 

Me: (Repeating more slowly the plot so far)

 

Muse: … Aaaaaand …

 

Me: (cramming a shirt on a hanger and grabbing for another – a little more violently than necessary) … And, I don’t know. I don’t know already! That’s my problem, isn’t it?

 

Muse: (Poking me hard in the ribs) Think! It’s what you have that brain for, isn’t it. You might try using it.

 

Me: (Grinding my teeth and rubbing my poor bruised ribs while offering up a few whispered curses to whatever writing god decided to send me the sadistic Muse from hell) Can’t I go for a walk to get inspired?

 

Muse: It’s raining, and you’ll just get distracted. Besides you have to do the ironing anyway. Focus. Focus! What’s more important to an angel than wings?

 

I iron another shirt. My head hurts from thinking. I drink some more tea. I iron another shirt and another, careful to get all the wrinkles out. All the while Muse simply watches me. At last she grabs a glass from the cupboard, pulls out the bottle of Glenmorangie and pours herself a generous amount. She sips and watches and taps the end of her stick on the floor.

 

I iron and iron and iron while I go over the plot so far out loud. I go over it again and again and again.

 

And suddenly it happens — that Eureka moment that, for some dumb-assed reason, comes only when I’m ironing.

 

Me: I have it! I know! (nearly burning my finger with the iron before setting it upright and pushing it away to pace the kitchen a couple of times) I have it! I know what’s more important to an angel than wings. I know exactly what Michael has to lose, and I know that once he loses it, he can never, ever get it back.

 

Muse: (Lifts her glass and salutes me, then downs the rest of the whisky) Good girl. (She never has to ask. She always
knows when I really do have it. She sets down her empty glass, pats my arm and smiles) Now finish up here and get busy. The story won’t write itself.

 

And just like that, she’s gone – off to poke someone else in the ribs and drink their whisky. My Muse may be sadistic, but she’s effective. And suddenly I don’t mind. I got exactly what I needed for the story and the ironing is done to boot.

 
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© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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