Make Good Art: Neil Gaiman’s Advice on the Creative Life

“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.”

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Among the greatest commencement addresses of all time is an extraordinary speech beloved author Neil Gaiman delivered in May of 2012 at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

So potent and enlivening was his advice on courage and the creative life that the speech was adapted into Make Good Art  a gem of a book. Here is his advice:

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

A wise woman once said, “If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.” Gaiman articulates the same sentiment with his own brand of exquisite eloquence:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

***

Via: https://www.brainpickings.org/make-good-art-neil-gaiman-chip-kidd/

Sarah Perry on her struggle to become a writer

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A fantastic and inspiring article for any struggling writer – read this and keep the faith!

Enjoy x


My first book was published when I was 34. I was at that time a copywriter, earning a living by removing errant apostrophes from clothing catalogues, and drafting news reports for legal journals. Before then, I had been a civil servant (a job to which I was ill-suited in every respect), a minimum-wage shop worker, a nanny, an office temp and a legal administrator. Often I am asked what possessed me to join the civil service straight after graduation, and the frank answer is that I had supported myself financially since I was 18, and needed to earn a living: writing, my long-held ambition, would have to wait.

When it became intolerable to me that I was not doing the one thing I had ever felt would give my life purpose, I applied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing (funded by a tax rebate and a scholarship respectively). I began a novel, and abandoned it, and wrote a series of earnest and trite short stories; I took up the novel again, and wrote a thesis on the gothic, and all the while carried out my full-time work as a secretary to a committee of barristers.

It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living from writing fiction, and I did not in the least resent my day job, though naturally I occasionally imagined finding a hoard of Saxon gold in the back garden. I knew that Philip Larkin had been a librarian in Hull, that TS Eliot had worked in a bank, that Harper Lee had worked for an airline. I knew that some books achieved vast advances, but that these were both rare and potentially something of a poisoned chalice. In due course my first novel was sold for an advance entirely in keeping with a strange book already turned down by upward of a dozen publishers, which is to say, roughly a month’s wages.

I continued to write copy for lawyers’ websites, pausing sometimes to look out of the window and think about the legend I’d recently heard of an ancient serpent menacing Essex. Debts were large; money was tight; my laptop – which I’d once inadvertently set on fire while cleaning the keyboard with a canister of compressed air – did not work unless plugged in, and was too heavy to carry for long without backache. The prospect of writing a second novel – destined for an indifferent readership, likely to earn little money – while working late into the night transcribing interminable interviews with businessmen was daunting. But my agent and publisher were warmly supportive, and at any rate I had nothing better to do with my life.

Then, in 2014 I won the East Anglian book of the year award [for After Me Comes the Flood]. The effect of the prize was twofold. First, it conferred the sense of legitimacy that I’d never quite been able to summon up: a group of writers had admired my work, and they wanted me to write more. I was by then already at work on my second novel, The Essex Serpent, but always dogged by a curious sense of foolishness. I was poor, and getting poorer: what was I thinking, staring at the wall making things up, when I could do something both more useful and more remunerative? Ought I to have been a barrister? Should I perhaps teach? Writing felt, obscurely, like a moral failing. Then I was handed a glass trophy and a cheque at a ceremony in a Norwich department store, and felt suddenly at ease.

Most practically, the prize enabled me to replace my laptop with a slender one light enough to carry on trains, and able to retain its charge. I did not need it, precisely – one can write novels in mud with a pointed stick – but I felt like an apprentice carpenter given the tools of the trade by a benevolent guild. I bought stickers reading THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS and DON’T PANIC in nods to Woody Guthrie and Douglas Adams, fixed them to the lid, and set about my writing with vigour vastly renewed. On my laptop, I have written two novels, two short stories, and innumerable essays and articles. It now contains a document tentatively labelled book4.doc, and following a period of immense good fortune I am free to choose what I write, when I write it, and for whom.

This year I am chair of judges for the Desmond Elliott prize, an award for the best first novel of the year. It was set up in memory of the late literary agent, who arrived in London from Ireland with two pounds in his pocket, and went on to represent Jilly Cooper and Penny Vincenzi. But it is perhaps more accurately an award in support of the second novel, since its £10,000 prize is explicitly intended to nurture the winner’s next work, and offer stability and support as they continue to develop their practice.

The debut novelist comes equipped with a certain glamour that swiftly fades. Each year the newspapers present, with an enthusiasm that I at any rate find infectious, the “new intake” of writers. There is always the possibility that among those unfamiliar voices will be one still speaking from the shelves in decades to come. Debuts only rarely constitute the best of a writer’s output but it is striking to note how frequently debut novelists are unable to fulfil their early promise, and how easily the roving spotlight of literary attention moves on to fresher faces.

I am particularly invested in the notion of a prize for debuts which frankly acknowledges the need to help authors into the next stage of their career, because I know how a prize can prove transformative both in terms of financial support and in conveying a sense of legitimacy. When I was first published, I confess I felt some anxiety about myself: about the Essex accent that makes itself known unless I concentrate, my lack of connections through family and friends, my polytechnic degree. Would I feel like Pip in Great Expectations, mocked by Estella: “He calls the knaves jacks, this boy”?

As it turned out, I discovered that organisations such as Arts Emergency and the Arts Council were working to correct a historical skew towards a certain kind of publishing culture (and I was delighted to find that my own publisher was the first to offer internships on a London living wage). Where inequalities in publishing persist, money is often at the heart of the matter. If you are able to devote yourself to writing from, say, your late teens – because you need not earn much, if at all; because you do not need to care for children, or family members; because a friend’s friend needs someone to house-sit their Edinburgh flat for six months – you are at liberty to write, and write, and write. And writing, like playing the piano, or lathing a cabinet smooth, requires practice.

Awards such as the Desmond Elliott prize can help to put a spirit level over the playing field. Any entrant can find themselves suddenly in possession of a sum that is not life-changing, but which will buy a degree of freedom to write, or a necessary research trip, or – as in my case – sharper tools. Writers are not owed a living any more than other artists, and financial prizes are not precisely necessary. Put your mind to it, and you can write a slender volume of verse on the back of till receipts with a stolen Argos biro. But writing is difficult for everyone, and more difficult for some than for others. And in a society in which some communities are significantly more likely to lack financial privilege those difficulties can stultify and narrow the culture. There are many voices going unheard, and it’s both a duty and a pleasure to help pass on the amplifier.

***

Via: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/27/sarah-perry-novelist-literary-award-prize-winning-debut-writer?CMP=share_btn_tw

Why Comparing Yourself to Other Writers is Killing Your Creativity

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I’m going to be honest with you. I have this problem (which is a fairly common one) where I compare myself to other people. I’ll spare you the mushy, self-esteem-issues stuff because day-to-day it doesn’t bother me that much.

But when it comes to my creativity, comparing myself to other writers is really not okay. I’ve come to realise this in the last few months, and want you to know why (even though we all do it from time to time) we need to stop. It’s a matter of taking pride in yourself and your own writing rather than trying to find ‘the answer’ in other people.

Common complaints of the chronic comparer

Ever finished an incredible book, one that had a profound effect on you, and wanted to know more about the author? Of course you have. Flick to the author bio, do a quick Google search. You find out they started submitting to publishers when they were 15, they had a book deal by 20 and they’re making tonnes of money, or even worse, they never wanted to be a writer, they just sort of ‘fell into it’ and got extremely lucky – suddenly it’s like someone’s let the air out of you. Here you are in your 30s bumming around still trying to write that first novel and wishing your MS was even half as amazing. This is your life. And look at theirs. Tragic.

Stop. Stop right there.

You’re no doubt familiar with the scenario above, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an acceptable way to judge yourself as a writer. The more you compare yourself to others this way, the more you devalue yourself.

Such thoughts might go along these lines:

They’ve written so many amazing things / I haven’t written anything good

They’ve been published so many times / I’m not even good enough to get a response

They write every single day / I can’t even write once a week

These sort of thoughts are neither productive nor helpful to your development as a writer, so banish them from your mind the second they start to creep in.

Making yourself depressed over what other people are doing only wastes time that you could be being productive, that you could be making a change toward the things you’re complaining about. If you’re feeling low because Ray Bradbury wrote an early draft of Fahrenheit 451 in just nine days and you’ve been sitting on your book draft for over a year (yes, this is my life) then stop pouting and get a wriggle on. Instead of getting depressed about it, use it as motivation to get your head down.

Pep talk: you are awesome

Okay. Here’s the sentimental, motivational part: every artist is different, and just because your methods or techniques aren’t the same as everyone elses’ doesn’t mean they’re any less valid. Emily Dickinson shut herself up to write, but that doesn’t mean we all need to become hermits. Hunter S. Thompson was a gonzo journalist who did tonnes of drugs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to report a story.

Own your habits and your quirky creative identity. Find your own voice. Write by your own rules, and don’t let anyone else dictate how you should do it.”

Yes, there are writers who’ve been published young, or who mingle with big names, or who got a crazy-lucky break into the industry (Evie Wyld, I’m thinking of you). But the thing about those amazing writers is that they didn’t get where they are now by being someone else, they did it by being the writer they were meant to be; by being themselves and putting in a lot of hard work. You might not be where they are, but if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t even get close. As the saying goes:

Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

How to compare constructively

While comparing yourself to other writers in a negative way can be damaging to your creative self-esteem, you can turn the experience into a positive. Instead of wallowing and feeling crummy, think about your achievements and inspire yourself to keep creating. The worst thing you can do is give up because you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Think about those writers that simultaneously excite and revolt you with how amazing they are. They’re amazing because they tried, because they put in the effort, and in the end they made it.

Find the positives

Maybe your stories and poems have been rejected a lot, and you haven’t won any competitions, but at least you’re submitting them which is a massive dedication in itself.

Maybe you haven’t been writing much lately, but maybe you’ve been pursuing other creative tasks like reading your favourite books. Or researching some important plot points. These are also valuable uses of your time.

Turn your self talk on its head. Find a plus amidst the minuses. Give yourself permission to be awesome, stroke your ego a little. It’s absolutely acceptable, I promise.

Vent to a friend

Sometimes the only thing you can do is text a buddy or meet up for a drink after work and let loose. Chances are, they totally understand where you’re coming from (especially if they’re a writer too) and can balance out your frustration with a fresh perspective.

Talk to writer friends, or find a Twitter or blog post about it. I guarantee you will find others in the same boat. It certainly helps to hear that you’re not alone in the way you feel about your writing idols (and trust me, we’re all right there with you on this one).

Take action

If you’re unhappy with where you are in your creative journey, make a change. Don’t waste another minute. You can twist those negative feelings towards other writers back around and set yourself some achievable goals. Want to write more or even finish that novel? Set deadlines and cover your walls in post-its. In love with the technique or style of a particular author? Give it a go in your own writing and see how it works. Challenge yourself by saying, ‘yes, I can do that too’ or ‘I’m going to do it even better’. You might just surprise yourself!

Happy writing x

***

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/why-comparing-yourself-to-other-writers-is-killing-your-creativity/

Simple Ways For A Writer To Stay Inspired

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It’s a contradiction we writers know all too well: wanting to write with every fibre of our being, but lacking the necessary inspiration to get started and/or keep going.

So what are we to do when creative motivation is lacking? Simply waiting around for inspiration to strike isn’t a viable option, but neither is forcing something onto the page just for the sake of writing. We’re left with no choice: we have to take inspiration into our own hands and seek it out ourselves.

This is definitely easier said than done, so to help my fellow writers out of any creative ruts, here are six simple tips for becoming and staying inspired as a writer.

1. Gain experience

It’s hard to write something truly good, something that profoundly connects with readers, if there’s no experience behind the writing. Now, when we say ‘experience’, we’re referring to both writing experience and general life experience. Let’s look at the difference between the two.

Writing experience

‘Wait a minute,’ you may be thinking. ‘Isn’t this a bit of a catch-22? If I’m having trouble finding inspiration to write, how can the solution be…to gain more writing experience?!’

We know it sounds tricky – and, truthfully, it can be. But there’s no getting around the facts: the main thing that makes your writing better is doing more of it. Writing and inspiration go hand-in-hand as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: often, the more you get stuck into writing, the more you’ll be inspired to continue writing, and so on.

Likewise, the more you write, the better you’ll get, and the more chance you have at success through publication or recognition. Oftentimes, a bit of encouragement and the reassurance that you’re doing something well can provide you with all the inspiration you need to keep going.

To get to that stage, though, you do need to face one of the most common problems for writers: getting started. But there are a few helpful hints in that vein, so read on…

Life experience

It may sound clichéd, but the truth about literature is that when it comes down to it, all writing is about life. Every writer, whether consciously or subconsciously, draws on their own knowledge and experiences to inspire them and breathe life into their work.

As a writer seeking to be as prolific as possible, it can be easy to forget that actually living life is the best way to have things to write about! Spending all your time holed up, concentrating on putting words on the page, can actually be counterproductive. It’s impossible to write something that has real conviction, passion and impact if it’s not coming from a real place.

So, besides the natural course and events of your own life, what else about the world can inspire your writing?

Travel, of course, can be a wonderful muse; new cultures, new people and new adventures are all great catalysts for your creative spark. Getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in unfamiliar places can refresh you and provide new perspectives from which to consider life.

However, you don’t necessarily need to spend six months abroad to foster inspiration for your next story. Seeking inspiration can be as simple as sitting in a café or on a park bench, people-watching and listening to snatches of conversation, observing the flow of the world around you and allowing it to blossom into concepts and stories.

2. Read widely

This one is a given, and it’s probably something you’ve heard many times before, but the importance of reading can’t be stressed enough. All good writers are readers too. No matter how individual a style or how natural a talent you have, your writing will always be made better by the other work you read and absorb.

Obviously, you should read extensively within the genre or style you intend to write in, but don’t limit yourself to that alone. Whenever you’re not writing, try to devour a variety of genres and forms. Explore fiction and non-fiction, short-form and long-form, poetry and short stories, magazine and blog articles… Read everything, and read often!

Reading becomes especially crucial when you’re lacking inspiration. We don’t necessarily mean that you should go searching for new ideas within other people’s works; while a brainwave might indeed strike you while you’re in the middle of a new novel, it’s more likely that reading will simply remind you why you became a writer in the first place. Try to use the work of other writers as a constant source of encouragement, inspiration and motivation.

When it comes to non-fiction, books about the craft of writing can come in especially handy. There’s an incredible number of books about writing out there, so the titles you find most helpful and inspiring will depend on your individual writing aspirations. To get you started, though, there are a few recommended classic staples, as they will serve any writer well. These include:

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
  • The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

Here’s a great tip in today’s age of smartphones and social media: replace the time you’d usually spend aimlessly scrolling Facebook with some proper reading time. Whenever your hand automatically reaches for your phone during lunch breaks or before bed, redirect it towards a book instead! Your writing will thank you for it.

3. Be part of the writing community

Writing is something of a lonely pursuit. Solitary by nature and by necessity, the craft of writing demands that its pursuers spend a great deal of time inside their own heads. While this suits the majority of writers, there are times when it inevitably leads to frustration, a sense of isolation and a lack of inspiration.

When this is the case, it’s time to re-join the real world, and the best way to do so while also seeking inspiration is to connect with likeminded individuals in the writing community.

As we mentioned in point 2, the work of other writers is often a great source of inspiration – but what about writers themselves? Surely there’s no better way to motivate, reaffirm and refresh yourself than by reaching out to people who are just as passionate about writing as you are.

Obviously, this isn’t as easy as flicking Margaret Atwood an email to ask for a few tips. Instead, you’ll need to track down writers online or in your area – most of whom will be amateurs just like you – and start up a discussion, a joint project, or even just a new friendship.

A few good ways to immerse yourself in the writing community include:

  • Joining a local writer’s group;
  • Attending literary festivals, events, classes and workshops;
  • Participating in online forums, such as Facebook groups for writers;
  • Exchanging work with other writers for feedback and critiques.

The pleasure and benefit you’ll gain simply by talking to another writer is a gift in itself. To discuss your shared passion and craft, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be reminded that other people are having the same difficulties as you. There are few things more encouraging or inspiring to a struggling writer.

4. Keep things in perspective

Writing anything at all – whether it be a well-developed short story or (gulp) an actual full-length novel – can be extremely daunting. An insurmountable wall of possibilities and obstacles can loom up before you, and questions like ‘Where do I start?’ or ‘How can I ever finish?’ can haunt even the most confident wordsmith.

At times like these, it pays not only to remember that you aren’t alone (see point 3), but also to have a sense of perspective. Tackle things in terms of the bigger picture: remind yourself that all writers have been where you are, and that the only way you can truly fail is never to start at all.

To lessen the intimidation factor, keep in mind that writing just a few hundred words every day will add up in the long run. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to build and expand or refine and improve.

For every writer, crafting stories takes time and extensive effort, so don’t beat yourself up about the problems you can see with your manuscript or the length of time you’re taking to write it. Just take things one word at a time; after all, that’s the only way to get things done.

5. Know yourself as a writer

A writer, like any other professional, needs to know how to play to their strengths. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’re at the top of your game, producing the best work possible – and you’ll also nip a lot of insecurity and doubt in the bud.

Don’t dwell on your writing’s weaknesses or despair over the aspects of the process you find most difficult. By all means, work to improve these elements, but never allow pessimism to consume you – and, most importantly, never compare yourself negatively to other writers. Instead, focus on what you do best and what you’re most passionate about, and you’ll always find the inspiration and motivation you need.

For instance, if you have a knack for immersive, detailed description, try to build your story around this technique, painting a vivid and engaging portrait for your readers. If you’re more suited to writing snappy, compelling dialogue, use that as a focal point in your writing instead – or even try out a completely different medium that favours dialogue, such as scriptwriting.

As well as knowing your strengths as a writer, you should also make a point of structuring your writing process around your strengths as a worker. For example, if you find you’re most creative and productive first thing in the morning, get up early and dedicate AM hours to writing. Night owls, on the other hand, might choose to rise later so they can stay up writing into the night.

The bottom line is that no two writers will ever write – or work – in exactly the same way. Use this to your advantage by honing in on your individual strengths and allowing them to inspire and guide your writing.

6. Focus on writing first and editing later

At one stage or another, you’ve no doubt come across this sage piece of advice: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. (While it’s commonly attributed to Hemingway, there’s no evidence that he ever actually advised such a thing – but that’s another story for another day.) While we’re firm believers that you should do what works for you in order to be inspired, we’re not necessarily suggesting that you pop a bottle of red every time you want to write!

Rather, we’re saying that you shouldn’t hold yourself back in any way when creative inspiration strikes. Have you ever sat down to write and found the words flowing forth quickly, effortlessly, almost as if you couldn’t control them? Have you ever found yourself feeling suddenly compelled to scribble down a phrase, thought or idea, even though you’re not entirely sure of the direction it’s leading?

Our advice is to always embrace that feeling completely. Whenever you’re struck by pure inspiration like this, don’t interrupt its flow for anything – let alone to correct grammar, change a word or rearrange a sentence. Without overthinking it, allow yourself to write whatever comes naturally, and don’t stop until you’ve run out of words. Get everything out onto the page, even if it doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t as elegantly phrased as you’d like.

It’s easy to develop the habit of editing as you write, but the truth is, this is neither the most productive nor inspiring way to do things. The writing and editing sections of your brain are totally different. When you’re writing, you’re tapping a well of creativity; you’re giving your mind free rein and exploring any and every possibility. When you’re editing, however, you enter a much more critical mindset, applying judgement, logic and rules to strip your work back to its purest and most effective state.

Always remember that a first draft is just that. It can be sculpted and shaped to your liking a hundred times before it ever sees the light of day; what’s important is that you have some truly inspired raw material to work with in the first place.

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So, writers: after all that, are you feeling any more inspired? If not, don’t worry. It could just be one of those days – we all have them. Take a break and come back to your writing later; but in the meantime, perhaps try out one of the above suggestions and see if it stimulates your creativity. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Via: http://writersedit.com/6-simple-ways-to-stay-inspired-as-a-writer/

Does The Perfect ‘Writer’s Space’ Exist?

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Image credit: Green Chameleon

Have you ever wondered if the perfect writing environment exists? Ever thought about whether or not our writing environment affects the quality of our work? Are there common components that define the perfect place to write?

In this feature, I ask four writers about where they conduct their business of writing: author, journalist and editor of Verandah Magazine Candida Baker; author of 15 books Robert Drewe; freelance writer and author Allison Tait; and television producer, writer and journalist Pascal Adolphe.

How important is where you write?

Candida Baker says that after writing for so many years, where she writes is not as important as when she writes…

I can pretty much write anywhere, but when I like to write is very early in the morning, as early as 4am, when the world is quiet, and the universe is fresh and new again.”

Candida uses meditation to guide her before and during these productive hours of her day. A cup of Lady Grey tea is never far away and her sofa is her office in the wee hours.

Robert Drewe admits that ‘the worst place on earth to write is next to a house with a constantly barking dog’.

His prerequisites are a place that is quiet and has natural light, with a desk and a chair and a power outlet for his computer. He sometimes writes in longhand first when the environment dictates it.

Allison Tait’s perspective has changed from a few years ago, now that her two small boys have grown. She admits to ‘wedging in words where I could’ and writing anywhere back then. She fantasises about being a writer who sits in cafes but says, ‘the truth is I get distracted. I need the quiet and the reminder that writing is work’.

She adds that the purpose of sitting at a desk also means work for her.

Pascal Adolphe believes that:

The physical environment and surroundings are largely immaterial to me as a writer. More important is the internal environment: that is, how I’m feeling. If I’m having a good day, I’m totally focused on the story and oblivious to my surroundings. In fact, I find that if you are in a place that’s romantically considered as the ideal place to write – such as a cottage by the sea or one with a view over some wondrous scene – it can be a distraction rather than an inspiration.”

Robert concurs: ‘You’re there to work. It’s not a holiday.’

What do you feel are the necessary components for a happy writing environment?

All four writers have had their share of chaotic newsrooms early on in their careers. Allison recalls ‘a fair bit of shrieking’ during her 14 years working in open-plan magazine offices.

It taught me great focus and how to work ‘inside my head’, which is to say that the entire outside environment fades away when I write. This has been particularly helpful as a freelance writer working around my children whilst trying to write fiction in any spare time available.”

These days Robert needs to have minimal interruptions and distractions. He also adds: ‘it’s a great help to have a partner who is sympathetic to these conditions and doesn’t feel threatened by your absorption in your writing, especially towards the end of a book’.

Pascal and Candida find that when there is a deadline they are happy writing anywhere. Pascal adds that writing under pressure in a busy, noisy environment is the most creatively fertile place for him. When Candida is not under pressure to deliver she can ‘get a bit prima donna-ish and decide I need absolute quiet’.

Allison tends to write quite late into the night. ‘As long as the lights are on, the room is quiet and I have my computer in front of me, I’m good to go.’ She has a messy desk and her walls are covered with her sons’ drawings.

Where have you written your best work?

‘I haven’t yet written my best work’ claims Candida. She continues, 

At least I hope I haven’t! But I hope that the novel I’m working on will be my best work, and that is my early-morning-on-the-sofa novel. Every now and then I experience complete aloneness and quietude, and the work that comes from that is some of my best, I believe.”

Pascal also thinks his best work is ahead of him in the shape of the novel he is writing. To date his best work as a paid professional are his television scripts, particularly for The New Inventors, created in a busy office environment and ‘on the road’ – in hotel rooms or on planes.

I have written in so many assorted places I can barely recall them,” says Robert. “In the city, when I began writing, I wrote The Savage Crows on an Olivetti portable on the kitchen table at night. And now, in the country, I write on a MacBook Air in a converted garage.”

Allison has a ‘Pavlovian response to putting my fingers on my keyboard when I am at my desk, and that’s where I do my best work. I don’t need a view because all I am looking at is the screen. When I wrote The Mapmaker Chronicles, I spent hours and hours looking at the wall in my study – but in my head there was a full-colour movie playing out.’

Did the writing environment influence the creation of your best work and why?

Candida now lives far away from the chaos of capital cities and their newsrooms. ‘I’m surrounded by massive fig trees, and the emerald grass is luminescent underneath the dark olive green of the macadamia trees. The green soothes my soul. Living in the country definitely informs my writing in the way that I see landscape and how I can meditate myself into the universe around me.’

Robert doesn’t think the environment affects the writing per se, as long as the conditions suit the individual. ‘You don’t need a sea view, for example, to write about the ocean. I think the imagination even works better when the writing environment is far from your fictional backdrop.’

Allison spent six weeks drafting each of the three books in The Mapmaker Chronicles. She thinks that because she has an established routine and just ‘got down to work’, the environment she created informed the speed and productivity of her writing.

She adds,

There’s no perfect place, except in front of your computer or notebook or whatever your writing tool of choice may be. I think people place too much emphasis on looking for the perfect place to write their novel. I often hear them saying things like ‘when I move to the country, I’ll write my novel, or as soon as I get a study of my own, I’ll write my novel‘.”

Pascal’s ‘light bulb’ moments can happen anytime. ‘Ideas for my writing sometimes are formed in that moment when I’m emerging from a deep sleep, thinking about a story.’ Such as when he got the idea for his latest challenge: writing his first novel, a political farce based on his experience growing up in Mauritius.

Conclusion

So it would seem, as the panel has indicated, the perfect writing environment is actually in our heads.

We carry it around with us. To get to that place of creativity we just need to focus on the task at hand, and get down to the job of writing.

Admitting that it is a job, that it is a ‘hard slog’ and that there is no way around this fact is the most pragmatic approach to productivity. As is establishing a routine. There is nothing romantic about the job of writing!

Deep within us writers there is an insatiable need to tell our story, to get the words down. Perhaps that novel, article or poem would never be written if we thought about the effort too much.

It’s the deep satisfaction of the creative process – of building something and then letting it go, starting anew – which drives us.

***

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/perfect-writers-space-exist/

The Rejection Letters: How Publishers Snubbed 11 Great Authors

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After nine years of rejection from publishers, Eimear McBride’s debut, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, won the 2014 Bailey’s Prize. But the Irish writer won’t be the last to laugh in the face of those publishing houses who won’t take a punt on an experimental or challenging novel.

From Gertude Stein and William Burroughs to recent rags-to-riches writers such as J.K. Rowling and Cassandra Clare, there have been brutal rejection letters to accompany most bestselling novels. Here are extracts from some of them:

1. “Overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

Thankfully, for both Vladimir Nabokov and literature as a whole, Lolita wasn’t buried, but published in France after two years of rejections by New York publishers such as Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. When Graham Greene got hold of it, shortly after its French publication, he reviewed it in The Sunday Times, describing it as “one of the three best books of 1955”.

Despite this, the novel still wasn’t published in the UK until 1957, because the Home Office seized all imported copies and France banned it. When British publishing house Weidenfeld & Nicolson took it on, it was at the cost of Nigel Nicolson’s political career.

2. “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

One of the 15 publishers who didn’t think The Diary of Anne Frank was worth reading.

3. “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?

“While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

Herman Melville’s leviathan novel was rejected, as above, by Peter J Bentley. However, Richard Bentley, of the same London publishing house, eventually offered him a contract in 1851. Moby Dick was published 18 months later than Melville expected and at great personal expense, as he arranged for the typesetting and plating of his book himself to speed up the process. Young, voluptuous maidens never made the final edit.

4. “For your own sake, do not publish this book.”

One publisher turned down DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, first published in 1928. Perhaps they had predicted the furore that was unleashed when the full novel did hit the British bookshelves in 1960.

5. “Do you realise, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex”

This was what Anita Loos received before her novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was successfully published in 1925. It was part of a rejection note, although by today’s standards it sounds quite the accolade.

6. “Miss Play has a way with words and a sharp eye for unusual and vivid detail. But maybe now that this book is out of her system she will use her talent more effectively next time. I doubt if anyone over here will pick this novel up, so we might well have a second chance.”

An editor at Knopf in 1963 rejected Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar when it was submitted under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. After realising it had been written by Plath, who had already published a couple of poetry collections, the same editor read and rejected it again – and managed to spell her real name three different incorrect ways in the process. His assertion that “she will use her talent more effectively next time” is poignant, as Plath had committed suicide six weeks earlier.

7. “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”

A fantastically incorrect prediction by one publisher, sent to his colleague, upon turning down The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

8. “Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

The poet TS Eliot, editor of Faber & Faber, was one of the many publishers, including George Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz, who rejected Animal Farm. When it was published, in 1946, Orwell’s original title, Animal Farm: A Fairy Story was amended.

9. “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Stephen King received this letter about Carrie. His first published novel was rejected so many times that King collected the accompanying notes on a spike in his bedroom. It was finally published in 1974 with a print run of 30,000 copies. When the paperback version was released a year later, it sold over a million copies in 12 months.

10. “I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.”

So Arthur Fifield, founder of the British publishing house AC Fifield, wrote to Gertrude Stein after receiving one of her manuscripts in 1912.

11. “If I may be frank, Mr. Hemingway — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other.”

Mrs Moberley Luger, of Peacock & Peacock, didn’t realise how accurate she was in her 1925 rejection letter of Ernest Heminway’s The Sun Also Rises.

***

So if you’ve been rejected don’t be disheartened, it might be you one day who is able to look back and laugh at the publisher who didn’t want your bestseller!

Happy writing x

***

Via http://www.telegraph.co.uk/The-rejection-letters-how-publishers-snubbed-11-great-authors

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

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When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored one of my all-time favourite books, Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll (January 27, 1832 – January 14, 1898) was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.”

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.”

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!”

***

Via: https://www.brainpickings.org/lewis-carroll-creative-block-letter/