Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
Have you ever read a book, only to lose your place because you haven’t got a decent bookmark? Well, perhaps if you’d had one of these unique page markers, you’d be more inclined to continue your quest for knowledge or adventure.
A bleeding bookmark for a thriller? Perhaps a shark’s fin for a nautical tale? If knowledge does indeed sprout from the hallowed pages of a book, then perhaps a leaf bookmark would take your fancy?
Themed bookmarks that represent a motif from the story are a fantastic way to get get children to read. For example, the arrow from Robin Hood’s bow helps bring Sherwood Forest to life. Or imagine chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland after being tantalised by his pink ears!
Here is a whole collection of creative bookmarks to brighten your day.
A little while ago, I published the article On Depression and Writing by Derek Haines on Writer’s Blog, as I found it quite an interesting piece and thought others might like it too.
Since publishing it though it has played on my mind – how this writer has found depression so enabling with his writing process – and I have been thinking: lucky him.
Now, before I get in to this I need to say I love talking about writing, and books, stories, the writing process, etc etc, but I do not talk publicly about my own struggles. However, in order to discuss my thoughts on this topic I have to open up about myself – so here goes:
I have struggled with depression for years. I don’t talk about it, most people don’t know about it, in fact, some of my friends and acquaintances reading this will be shocked to find out about it, because when I’m out and about I plaster on a smile and be as helpful and as enthusiastic as I can possibly be. But behind closed doors I am in a lot of pain. I don’t want to burden people with it or bring them down, so I generally keep it all completely to myself. Posting this is therefore the most un-like-me thing to do. But, I want to talk about depression and writing, of which I have an awful amount of experience, so I can hardly discuss it and not mention my own experiences.
For me, depression is completely debilitating. Amongst other things, I have been writing a novel now for some time. The thing that stops me finishing it – apart from the editor living in my head who won’t allow me to just “write a crap first draft” – is depression. It’s not just “feeling a little bit low” and something I can easily “snap out-of”, like turning off a lightbulb, it is a constant everyday battle with myself.
Every writer goes through that “I’m shit and no one will want to read this trollop” stage. But with depression, that stage takes on a whole new life of its own. It becomes “I’m shit, and worthless, and useless, and maybe I should just kill myself” and “no-one is going to want to read this trollop because who am I kidding, I should just give up right now!”.
Depression has been the one biggest obstacle to my writing above anything and everything else. Money is an issue, of course, but you can always do a bit of extra work or beg and borrow it from somewhere. No one else can save you from the games your mind plays on you when you are depressed. I can sit in a room with nothing to do but write, and depression will pop up its head, and I will just sit there and cry, or procrastinate by doing anything else to distract myself from myself that I can – music, TV, social media – you name it, but can I manage to write a single word: no.
And then what happens? I feel even worse because I’ve done nothing, achieved nothing. And so the downward spiral continues. I have endless amounts of both respect and awe for the writer Matt Haig, who has famously and openly suffered with depression for a long time and still been a successful published author. I just wish I knew how he did it. I’m guessing sheer determination and resilience, because I know personally that it takes a massive amount of inner strength to battle depression everyday and still keep writing.
It is my hope that one day I will make it, both as a writer and as a happy individual. But for now, I will keep on struggling forward a day at a time. If any of you reading this are saying – yes, this is me too, she gets it – then I hope this post encourages you to keep writing too, and to know that although it feels like it, you are not alone.
If you have ever been to a writing class, group, retreat or similar, you will most likely have heard the term “freewriting”.
In freewriting, you write just fast enough so that your hand moves faster than your brain can defend itself. The results are sometimes unpredictable, but the most surprising images, characters, memories and stories can pour out onto the page.
How to Freewrite
What exactly is freewriting?
- Freewriting is a practice that helps to liberate your writer’s voice and connects you to the vibrant stream of creativity that lies just under the surface of our ordinary thinking.
- Freewriting can be used to launch you over a writer’s block, to explore painful emotional memories, and to work out problems in a longer work. It can be used for making contact with one’s own unconscious.
- Freewriting is a simple, structured practice that is flexible and forgiving. It can be used as the base of a writing practice, or spontaneously whenever you want to go deeper into a subject.
A good way to learn freewriting is through a 10-minute timed write.
When we freewrite, we try as much as possible to suspend judgment about what we are writing. It is an exercise in getting out of our own way. You may notice you are writing in a way that is unacceptable or foreign to what you are accustomed to. Try to simply observe the process rather than interrupt it.
Here are some freewriting guidelines, although in the spirit of freewriting freedom, feel free to not follow any that don’t feel right.
- Use a prompt. If you run out of ideas before the time is up, start writing the prompt and see if a new thought arises. Go with it.
- Set a timer. Having a reliable timer will free you from being drawn away from what you are writing. If you are moved to, feel free to continue writing after the time has expired until you complete your thought.
- Keep your pen moving. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off.
- Write quickly. Write a little bit faster than your thought formation, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. Messy handwriting is welcome.
- Use the first word. Don’t try to think of the perfect word, just use the first word that comes to mind and go with it. Don’t worry about paragraphing, subject-verb agreement or even if what you are writing makes sense. Just write.
- Write crap. Give yourself permission to write a really bad first draft. You can always edit it later, but this permission allows you to do something new. Try to avoid any thoughts about what you are writing. You are just there to propel the pen. Telling yourself it’s okay to write crappy first drafts is incredibly liberating. Try it.
- Go for it. If the first thing that pops into your mind is ridiculous, go for it. If it’s violent, see where it goes. Be open to the unexpected. After all, you didn’t create these thoughts, did you? Our job is to honour them, allow them to come to light.
Going Longer With Your Freewrites
You can also use a meta-freewrite technique to explore longer works. Look at what you’ve written. If a question is generated when you read it, or you are looking for a solution to a problem you see, use it as a prompt for your freewrite. Keep using it, and the questions it generates, to ask yourself to go deeper into the subject. Be open to what comes up.
Crafting prompts can be good fun, and the simplest prompts sometimes reveal the deepest veins of meaning in our stories. If you’ve written something you would like to explore, use a prompt like “What does this story really mean…” or “What I really want to say is…” to get at a deeper meaning.
For instance: A prompt from Natalie Goldberg that can help with your personal history explorations is “I remember…” Continue to write what comes to your memory and every time you hesitate, write again “I remember …” and start again.
Prospect for stories using prompts like “The most scared I ever got was when…” or “The first time I met…” or “The most momentous trip of my life was…” or “When I was a kid we…”
If you want to develop something you’re writing, look for prompts within the writing itself. What jumps out at you? What has “juice” for you when you read it? There’s your next prompt. Put it at the top of your page and go for it.
Is there a connection between depression and writing?
Some years ago now, I clearly recall my doctor telling me that there was a definitive link between depression and writing. The only problem with his link was that he had no idea at all if writers became depressed through writing, or if depression miraculously manufactured writers.
So why was I at my doctor at that time talking about depression and writing? Well, to cut a long story short, within the space of six short months I had lost my parents, both very suddenly, my very best friend died due to a long-term disease, another friend was killed on a pedestrian crossing, oh, and just add some spice, my business failed, and I was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, it was a very busy six months.
During my regular consultations with my doctor at that time, he also discovered from a blood test that I had suffered from an undiagnosed case of glandular fever, or mononucleosis, during the same six months.
So, all things considered, I had a good solid list of reasons to be feeling a bit under the weather at that time.
I hate the word depression
I dislike the word depression intensely, as, from my experience, when you have this affliction, the symptoms don’t relate at all well with the word. Constant joint pain, muscle cramps, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, waking up feeling exhausted, difficulty with concentration, digestive problems and loss of appetite are some of the symptoms I suffered, but during my illness, I rarely felt sad, blue, morose and never once did I have suicidal feelings. I didn’t feel depressed. I just felt unwell.
When people around you know that you are being treated for this ill-described condition, they always ask the same pathetic question, which by itself can drive one crazy.
“Are you okay?”
The only logical reply becomes an auto-response.
“I’ll be okay.” (That’s what you want me to say, isn’t it?)
Back to the bit about writing
The only reason I mention all of this now is that during that tough time, and then over the following year or more of treatment for, well, let’s call it melancholia for want of a better word, I wrote like a crazy. I think I wrote six novels.
Productive? Well, I didn’t have much else to do, did I?
Except to prove that my doctor’s link between depression and writing was correct.
That was all many years ago now, and I can happily report that I am completely, totally and utterly normal and healthy. Um, ok, normal may be stretching the truth a little, as I have never been good at that, so I guess I should say that I have been back to my abnormal self again for quite a few years.
I am left with one small problem.
In that one year of being treated for the dreaded word, I wrote so damn well. Probably because I had little to do other than write. But now, I have a lot of trouble getting even close to writing as well as I did back then. Of all the books I have written, three that I wrote in that year are still my best sellers.
The only solution I can see to my new problem is to make an appointment with my doctor and ask him to put me back on those bloody pills right now. I want to write another great new book!
No! There’s no link at all between depression and writing, is there?
There are a huge number of ways you can go about making your input more extraordinary. Here is a by no means exhaustive list of 8 ways you can break out of your comfort zone and explore more of what life has to offer…