Category Archives: stephen pellow

Pancakes and Possession

Our latest story prompt was a bit of a mixture, with a few stories based on the theme of pancakes and others focusing on the theme of possession. We even had a poem to add to the mix this time. Regardless of theme, all of the stories were a great success with the rest of the group and we hope that you enjoy reading them!

Yours, by Michael Bailey

Gwen walked along the woodland path here and somewhere else. It was cool in the leafy shade, a relief from the searing sun outside on the lake. The path wound up the hillside between birch trees. A strong breeze shook the branches and made the leaves shiver. The birdsong died away as the temperature seemed to drop and Gwen felt the skin on her arms rise in goose-bumps. She looked behind her, there was nothing to be seen and yet a shadow moved at the corner of her vision. She stopped and looked again, the shadow didn’t move but hung like a dark area out of focus close to the path. “Get away from me. You have no place here, go back to where you belong,”, Gwen commanded. The shadow dissolved but Gwen didn’t feel reassured. She hurried on, turning down the hill and back into the sunlight at the lakeside.

She was still agitated when she met up with her partner, Rob. She told him what had happened and he asked if she was sure. She nodded. They went back up the path she had taken but all was peaceful and untroubled. They returned to the lake and sat on a bench looking left across the lake to the cleared track through the woods underneath the descent of a winter ski lift.

Rob lifted his binoculars and studied the vertical trackway. The supports of the lift cast black shadows that lay parallel at intervals like railway sleepers. He had thought he might spot a deer but instead he saw nothing. He couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t see anything to focus on but he got the impression of something outside his field of view moving from shadow to shadow towards them. Finally it disappeared behind the brick building that housed the end of the ski lift fifty yards away from where they sat. Now it was Rob who felt the hairs on his neck rise. He could sense something there, hidden behind the wall he was staring at. Gwen suggested they go into the hotel.

They talked about what might or might not be out there and drank a beer each, encouraging one another to put the incidents aside as the products of overactive imagination in this slightly spooky out-of-season ski resort. The shadows softened and the colours intensified into the golden hour of evening as they stayed at their table by the window and ate supper.

Upstairs in their room Rob was relaxing when Gwen burst sobbing from the shower. She said she was frightened, her eyes were wide and the suntan on her face had blanched where her skin was drawn and pale. Rob tried to put his arms around her but she pushed him away clutching her towel tighter around her shoulders. No, she said, I’m frightened of you. “Who are you?” she asked, staring hard at him. “I’m Rob and you are Gwen and we are the same as ever”, he told her. He suggested they go back into the bathroom and look in the mirror.

As she stood in front of the mirror over the sink with Rob standing behind her Gwen couldn’t bring herself to look. Rob gently raised her chin with his hand.

Look, he said, there is nothing to be frightened of. He put his hands on her shoulders and massaged them and her neck which was stiff with tension. As she relaxed she let her towel slip to the floor and he looked over her shoulder to admire her nakedness. Come on into bed he said, it’s all over, nothing to be frightened any more. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom.

Gwen kissed Rob tentatively at first and then with a desperation that went beyond their usual passion. She clung to him as he kissed her. She moaned and wrapped her legs around him pushing herself against him, pulling his buttocks with her hands, digging her fingernails into his skin.

Rob’s face was above Gwen’s as he entered her. In that familiar moment when intense feelings of love and oneness usually overcame him he suddenly saw Gwen’s face transformed into the mask of a wild beast, lips drawn back in a snarl that bunched under the merciless eyes staring at him. The long sharp white teeth were daggers bared in a grimace of savagery that would surely rip his throat open in an instant. Rob’s eyes popped as he thrust harder and heard his own voice “I love you, I don’t care, do what you want, I’ll never stop loving you.”

He blinked and Gwen’s face had the look of sublime and far away calm it always had when they made love. The terrifying mask had gone. Rob had no doubt that he had seen it and that he had somehow passed a test by reacting as he had. Accepting his fate without bargaining, without relinquishing his love for Gwen whoever or whatever she was.

In the morning Gwen was her old self, chatting about the history of the resort and of the region they had travelled through to get there. She said nothing of the strange apparition they might have imagined in the afternoon or of the terror they felt in the night. Rob didn’t want to upset her so he kept quiet as well.

Weeks later Gwen started crying one evening. Words tumbled from her as she told Rob she was afraid of what she was inside. Rob let her talk until she ran dry then gradually tried to comfort and reassure her that he loved her.

She was not convinced. “How can you love me when you don’t know who or what I am inside?” she asked. Rob smiled sadly and shook his head. “Gwen my love, I have already seen what you are and I know one day you may bite my head off, quite literally. But loving you makes me what I am and I am yours.

 

The Embassy Ball, by Alex Chase

Our eyes met

Across a crowded room

Kindred spirits shared a spark

A single thought

Your eyes shone

Brighter than the diamonds round your neck

And then we’re off

Our twin circles

Never quite align

Mutually exclusive gatherings

At the Embassy Shrove Tuesday Ball

As lackeys and toadies

Each more demanding than the last

Beg for favours

“Not me, it’s for a friend”.

I found out who you were

Married

Children

A duchess, in another life

The endless social swirl

Spins us ever further.

Apart we drift.

I saw you later on that night

But you were occupied

In quartering a crepe

Lemon and sugar

Simple tastes for one so glamorous

The music plays

I hesitate

“Ask her to dance”

A voice behind me says

I turn but no one’s there

Perhaps an angel

I turn again

Too late

You and your partner

Spin

Twin dervishes

Never pausing for breath

Much less a chance for other men

To tear you from his grip.

And then the evening’s done

The serving staff

Return to tidy up

The debris of the night’s soiree

And back to work

Though sore of head and heart.

What’s this?

Another function to attend

Perhaps this time

We can communicate

In words

And not just looks.

But then I read

Divorce

Society was not for you

And so the country girl went home

To her cows

And sheep.

And stable lads.

The life less gilded.

And I was left

Once more alone

Amid the spires and steeples

Of the urban wilderness

And so I go

Through endless parties

Conferences

And balls

Until I reach the end of term

And finally

Recalled to home

I look

At that great sea of toil and strife

And shines out just this

One moment full of happiness and bliss.

 

I’m So Lucky to be Alive, by Cuca Vega

‘I’m not a pancake!’ I kept repeating again and again to Jimmy, Joey and Tommy.

They wouldn’t believe me.

‘Seriously, I’m just a kind of flat donut, that’s all.’

Jimmy has been a rye bread all his life and the wisdom that comes from such a nutritious way of being prompt him to reflect. ‘Rather a flat donut, then?’

I jumped at the opportunity. ‘Yes! yes! A very flat donut without any jam inside.’

Joey wasn’t convinced and nodded his disbelieve to Tommy.

‘Look.’ I said. ‘Have a try. Just take a little piece of me and tell me I’m not a donut but a pancake.’

Tommy liked the idea and being a mini chocolate roll it was easy to move my way and have a taste.

‘What do you say Tommy?’ the square, sliced white bread Joey shouted from his shelf.

‘Uhmmm… I think Fenny is right; he does taste more “donuty” than pancake-like.’

Jimmy was satisfied and with that he decided: ‘Right then, you can be spared during breakfast time but you are gone in the afternoon tea.’

There!

That was all I wanted – a few more hours of glorious, vibrant life.

I was so happy I could have jiggled if I was not so flat. I did manage to ‘slop-slop’ my edges to show my delight.

It was already 5.30 in the morning. We were all freshly baked and ready for the day ahead. Jimmy and Joye would be eaten up first at breakfast time. Tommy and I, it was certain now, would be gobbled up during the afternoon tea.

Life is great!

I can sit here and savour another 12 hours or so of perfect joy.

I am so lucky to be alive.

 

Nothing Keeps, by Stephen Pellow

Every evening it’s the same. Home from work and it’s been a long day, I know, but there’s never a plan. No organisation. No structure. One by one each and every cupboard is opened and I peer inside to see if there is something – anything – that takes my fancy. Something different. We can’t keep having the same stuff week in, week out. Times are hard and the budget is tight, yes, but a bit of variety wouldn’t hurt.

Right, let’s start again from the beginning. I was looking but not seeing before perhaps. There has to be something more here. Could this be something promising? Store in a cool, dry place. That hasn’t really been an option. Cool is a phrase rarely attributed to this place. The expiry date has long passed. Nothing lasts forever no matter how many preservatives you inject into it. Never say forever. Nothing keeps.

And this? This has been here longer than I have and would probably kill me given half the opportunity. Can’t bin it really though, can I? It’s not part of the diet anymore… shouldn’t really need any physical reminder. In the bin it goes.

Something from somewhere I can’t even pronounce. There wasn’t any harm in experimenting, I suppose, but nothing good came of it either.

Well this is may be worth further investigation. A tin with no labels. Keeps things interesting. But after this long you need labels. Even if you ultimately aren’t going to enjoy what’s inside the can and especially if what’s inside has expired after leaving it so long. Without putting a label on it. Don’t even. Just sweep it off the shelf and straight into the bin. If it’s not good enough for me, I don’t want anyone else having it either.

Maybe check the fridge.

Ah, fruit. Strawberries no less. Their seeds are on the outside. They’re exposed to everything. I’d rather be the seeds of its neighbour in here, the tomato. Cushy and protected inside, shielded from the elements. From feeling.

I fear I may end up popcorn. It’s like I’ve been this little hard kernel. Small and insignificant, in a bag with hundreds of others just like me. Then I have my moment. I finally reach temperature. Maybe I even get there first and I pop and suddenly I’m twice or three times my size, and oh, so sweet. But then so is everyone else. They have their moments too and we are all the same again. The playing field levelled. Most likely I’m the one piece of popcorn that’s stuck to the bottom of the bag, going stale, or ends up on the floor and gets eaten by the dog. Worse still, I remain a kernel. I never had my moment. I never popped.

Or an egg yolk. It would be better to be one of those. A yolk rests within the membrane of the egg, that itself surrounded by a shell. But not a hard shell. It is fragile. It can be cracked all too easily, spilling the gold and the white out and mixing with milk and flour to make a perfect batter.

These cupboards depress me. Pancakes for tea again and then I really must go shopping. Never any bloody food in this house.

 

The Greatest Possession, by Becky Bye

He sat and stared fixedly at the woman talking in front of him, watching the red curves of her lips warp into different positions. He heard sounds, but the words wafted over him like a dream.

Sit still. DON’T panic.

He shifted his position slightly, feigning interest as best he could, crossing his left leg over his right knee, then swapping them over.

He felt his foot begin tapping uncontrollably and he focussed all of his energy onto it, willing it to stop. He linked his hands on his lap and squeezed until his knuckles bleached white. He bit his lip until he could taste metal.

Sit. Still.

The woman behind the desk was handing out a sheet of paper to him. He smiled, reaching out a trembling hand to take it from her and peered down at the paper. It fluttered in his grasp and he squinted, trying to stop the words from bleeding into one on the page.

Focus. You’re absolutely fine.

He realised that the woman had stopped talking and he looked up at her quickly, nodding his head and making noises in the affirmative, hoping that it was the right response. She stretched out her hands in front of her, the painted nails shiny on the pockmarked desk top.

He swallowed hard and placed the paper onto the desk as the woman resumed talking. He scratched his chin, though it didn’t itch.

Deep breaths.

He uncrossed his legs and shifted slightly on the chair, rubbing his palms down his thighs to remove some of the moisture that he could feel seeping through his pores.

Nothing is going to happen, just pay attention.

After a moment, the woman stood up, straightening out her pencil skirt over her thighs and extending her hand.

“Well, that will be all, thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

As their palms met, he felt the woman’s hand tense within his clammy fingers and she hastily withdrew her arm.  His lips trembled at the corners as he contorted them into something of a smile.

As he left the room his ears buzzed, his legs and feet clumsy as he tripped out of the woman’s office and into the hallway. The clinical smell of office equipment made him feel sick and he bustled outside.

The coolness of the air outside calmed him and he inhaled deeply. He sighed, knowing that they wouldn’t be in touch.

Messed that up didn’t you.

Panic attack 1, interview 0.

 

 

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Progress Report: The Resolution Revolution

I haven’t followed up on one of my previous blog posts before, but I felt that one month on a little bit of a progress report seemed like a good idea. Shortly before writing that last post I was in a place where, for various reasons, things with me needed to change and action needed to be taken.

But I have never been one for too much change, so I started with two areas I could affect immediately – writing and fitness. I had already started with this when I discovered #writeandrun21 was going on (a big thank you to Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete) so tying the two activities together made a lot of sense.

That was the vow – to get healthier and write more. So far, so good.

The continuing support of the #1k1hr writing sprint circle I have found myself a part of at the tail end of last year only gave me the extra encouragement to keep at it. Even when I’m writing and they aren’t around (due to all being online at different hours, spread across multiple time zones) the idea of that group is still behind me, spurring me on.

Back in my “Writing to White Noise” post I said I found it nigh on impossible to write under the circumstances of being in a public place and surrounded by fellow writers working on their stories, but without those guys and gals actually being physically present and being sat in comfort in my own home, the pressure I felt of the writing circle was gone. I find myself able to write more freely and naturally than I ever could have if we were all sat around a table across from one another.

It has now been a little over three years since I came back to writing, after almost a decade of being away from it. I found that while my creativity was still there, albeit a little different to how I remembered, I wasn’t producing anywhere near the amount of writing that I used to be able to in my late teenage years and early twenties.

While I understand that everyone else in that excellent little writing sprint circle is working on full manuscripts to their novels, for me I have been using those hours to not only work on chapters of my own novel but also on short stories as well as writing up notes and journals. At this stage it doesn’t matter what the particular project is, only that I am getting the words out. Several hundred of them a day, flowing out of me for at least one hour. Not all of it is going to be gold, but it’s all worthwhile. I’m hoping that through the word sprints it will eventually become habit for me to write like this on a daily basis unaided. Second nature. The intention is for me to ultimately be writing more, and so far that has been the case.

By the way, the walking/fitness thing is also going very well and also ongoing.

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

New Year – Write More! The alternative resolutions list.

Historically I’ve used the calendar milestone of my birthday to note and keep track of my accomplishments, and failures, from year to year. Me getting older (progressing in both age and wisdom?) seemed a more obvious reference point to me, rather than the last digits of the year changing on paperwork I have to fill out.

But still it can be a time for some to evaluate what has been done over the last twelve months, and take steps of how to improve upon that for the forthcoming year. This last year I feel I’ve written possibly the same amount as the year before, but I’ve definitely shared a lot more of my writing than ever before and has expressed myself to more people than I have previously.

WRITE MORE

I’ve written a couple of posts for this blog that have been fairly well received and through them have got in contact with some remarkable people, all of whom showed interest and asking questions of my writing and sharing with me their own creativity.

I will still procrastinate as much as I ever have. There will always be that one e-mail I am going to want to respond to before I start writing when the laptop goes on.

WRITE MORE

Housekeeping – and I don’t mean dusting the shelves or vacuuming the carpets! “I’ll write better if I had a tidier, sparser, desk or writing area”. What I have said before about my writing space was that I probably should have one but don’t.

From part of a blog post in 2012 :

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room, at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something nothing happens.

IMG_7844 (Small)

I still don’t have a desk. I have a little table that is barely wide enough for my laptop that slides up rather nicely to my comfiest armchair.

WRITE MORE

Fitness – another area that’s generally pondered at this time of year, when we realise how much food has been consumed in tandem with being fairly sedentary over a few days. Maybe becoming fitter, healthier and more energised will also focus the mind and inspiration and creativity will pour over you. While I have bought some new gym clothes already, I’m taking part in #writeandrun31 which is being organised by Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete. Walking is more my speed though so I won’t be running – it’s a lovely idea and everyone who takes part I will hold in high regard.  http://writeandrun31.strikingly.com/

WRITE MORE

 The setting of  specific targets and goals, with regards to my writing, will never seem to work out for me (NaNoWriMo? No thank you, not yet!) and I find the added self-imposed pressure to counter my creativity. So no X number of words per day or X number of hours per day. I simply vow to WRITE MORE – wherever and however I can, whenever I feel I can.

WRITE MORE

and Happy New Year to you all!

Has your writing ever upset someone important to you?

Have you ever produced something that has had a negative effect on someone you know, or your relationship with them?

You can’t please everyone in writing; it is an impossibility. Any subject that we as writers choose of our own volition to explore in our work has the potential to upset somebody somewhere. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and this is something that we can’t really dwell on too much.

But I am not talking about generalities where making a comment and taking a stance (accidental or otherwise) in terms of sexism, racism, politics or another subject where whole groups can be offended – instead I am asking if you have ever written a story that you personally have been happy with and have shared with others, and have had good feedback on, only to find that one person close to you was upset with it to the point that it altered your relationship with them?

Last year, taking a prompt from the Storyslingers writing group, I wrote a flash fiction piece that I was extremely satisfied with. I felt it was some of the strongest writing at that time I had produced and was keen to send it to trusted groups of people for their comments. This included a friend who while not a writer herself had been supportive of my writing and always wanted to read my work.

So I sent it to her without taking the content of the story into account. I hadn’t thought of her while I had been writing the story and it never occurred to me that there was anything in it that anyone could find overly upsetting. I didn’t think when I sent it about things that she had experienced in the past. Things that my story would be taking her back to and that she would sooner forget.

We are still in touch from time to time, wishing each other well with polite platitudes, but our relationship has been damaged and there is now a distance between us. I should have known better and not sent her the story but I just didn’t think at the time. As a result I went through many months of doubt regarding the things I wrote about. What if one of my stories was to upset someone else I am close to, even a family member? I came to the point where I realised I can all self-censor within reason but if I spent too much time worrying about causing offence I would end up not writing anything at all.

To an extent this sort of internal discussion is always off to the back of your head, relying on your own moral compass telling you “that might upset some people” and making the decision to make alterations on the fly.

Has your writing ever upset you?

I don’t mean through frustration; through it not meeting the standards you want it to – but the actual content. Have you ever written something that has made you question what on earth you had inside you that could result in something that you find intolerable? Last week, during a quick writing session before heading out to work, I turned out something that I found to be the most demoralising and pessimistic 300 or so words I have ever produced and I vowed it would never ever see the light of day. It left me with such an uncomfortable feeling for most of that morning but ultimately I’m grateful that I’ve purged that from my system and hopeful that it’s going to open the way to some more constructive and redeeming writing. Something more along the lines of what I want to be producing.

No feelings were hurt in the writing of this blog post – hopefully none will be made from reading it.

 

To what end? Does being a writer mean you have to have an endgame?

If I were a sculptor… but then again no, that’s not a good way to start off this post. Let me try this again for you.

Doing something you love but not getting paid for it generally makes you a “hobbyist”. If I set up an easel in my garage and painted, or I strapped a camera around my neck and traversed hilltops and valleys to take picturesque landscapes… or even if I took pride in a small corner of the garden and made a whimsical little area for fairies and goblins… Heck, if I made something with LEGO that wasn’t to the manufacturer’s design and displayed it on my mantle I would mostly likely be greeted with comments on what a wonderfully creative little hobby I had.

My occupation in retail is not something I want to define me to others, and writing is too much a part of who I am for me to really label it a hobby, but if you tell someone you’re a writer, invariably they’ll ask you; “are you published?” There has to be an endgame for writers in the eyes of non-writers it seems. I didn’t tell people I was a writer because to answer their go to question in the negative resulted in me having to go on the defensive, and to avoid feeling like a failure. We aren’t allowed to just be able to write for ourselves for the pure creativity in it. For the pleasure and the incredible sense of wellbeing we get from it alone.

I should at this point state that when I say I am not published, that is to say I have not attempted to get any of my creative writing published. In the late nineties I did contribute to a weekly e-mail newsletter reviewing episodes of US television shows. I also had an article on a now defunct US-based sports website in the early noughties on the subject of professional wrestling, and currently have reviews of CDs and DVDs printed in Trucking magazine (available monthly from all good newsagents).

“You play an instrument but you aren’t in a band? Do you have a record deal yet?” It just doesn’t get asked.

I can’t draw, paint, sing, dance, act, play an instrument – writing is my own personal creative outlet. I write because I love to write. Truly love it.

So, to what end? Can “for the sake of it” not be enough? That’s not to say that at some point down the road my aspirations will change, but that shouldn’t invalidate or belittle my desires now to just be able to express myself through writing for pleasure, to want to get better and better at it, as anyone practising anything would wish to do. To have a fun with it.

I’m only a hobbyist by definition. In my heart, I am a writer.

Writing to White Noise

A little over a week ago a few members of our illustrious group of Storyslingers met up at the local public house with the intention of hammering out some words on our respective stories in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by like-minded and creatively inspiring support.

I’ve never been one to write on command, it’s always had to be when the mood and inspiration have taken hold of me, but I didn’t go there with a lack of ideas. I had things I knew I could write, that I had to write, and yet nothing was happening. It was frustrating to be sat there, nursing my orange juice and lemonade and staring at the open Word document on my laptop all the while my fellow ‘slingers tapping away at their keyboards and talking of a 1000 words noted.

So what was happening that was preventing me from writing? I believe it was the pub itself, and the distraction it was providing. For me, it was the wrong type of background noise.

When I write, as infrequent as that may sometimes be, and I am producing a serious volume of output there is always some background noise. Some people make playlists of particularly inspiring pieces of music, or songs that are acting as a soundtrack to the stories they are writing.

I remember reading an interview with the late and great Iain M. Banks where he said he had once written with a James Bond movie on in the background because he was so familiar with it he didn’t have to pay it such attention. It became like a white noise that filled the air as he wrote but didn’t distract him.  While I would never dream of comparing myself to him, I feel very much the same way – only for me it’s not James Bond movies (as much as I am accustomed to them as well) but television. Most comedies, American sitcoms, either on DVD where there are up to 8 episodes on a disc or whatever is on Comedy Central during the day. Heavily edited episodes of Two and a Half Men usually.

For me it’s not about getting inspiration from these shows as I write, but about the ease and familiarity they provide that allow me to write without the feeling of frustration that I had felt at the pub.

So what is your white noise when you are writing, or do you like to be distracted and tested when you do?

Video game writing – interactive storytelling or grand world building design?

I have never made it a secret that I am an avid (if not particularly good) video game player, and I have noticed that storytelling in video games has evolved and become a lot more ambitious in the last few years. It’s come a long way from a lengthy backstory written up in the forward of an instruction manual to character customisation, choosing your path and having multiple outcomes. Yet the writing in video games is something that is dismissed by people who would still laud the plots and characters of movies and novels.

While interactive storytelling can be much more complex than linear storytelling, the fundamentals are the same. You have structure, characterisation, 3-5 acts and a climax, but time can pass dependant on the player and his or her interactions within the game. The script has to take into account a third dimension that is controlled by the player, and out of the writers hands completely. Working within the boundaries and constraints offered by the medium provide the biggest challenge to the writer of a game as opposed to, say, someone writing a novel.  Rhianna Pratchett had to write most of the backstory for Mirror’s Edge off screen in comic book format, so it didn’t exist for the majority of people who played the game, her original story chopped and edited to fit already existing level design and gameplay mechanics. A frustrating, but not totally uncommon, occurrence to video game writers.

But there are more games writers now than there were five years ago, and creators like Ken Levine of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are more becoming the norm. Neil Druckmann, writer of the PlayStation title “The Last of Us” would like to see a move away from mainstream pop culture references and to make the stories told in games to be as personal as possible. When you don’t approach things from a personal or emotional level, he feels the player doesn’t learn the message you are trying to convey.

To me, the writing in video games is beyond simply the narrative, the lines of dialogue and scripted cut scenes. Video game writing is at it’s best when you don’t notice it. It’s the experience of the story, a believable and immersive world built and presented that makes sense. This is why I personally find video games such as the Bioshock series, Gone Home, Portal and Mass Effect great inspiration for my own world building exercises, and encourage me to want to expand my own fictional universes.

On inspiration

“Inspiration comes to us slowly and quietly… prime it with a little solitude and idleness.” – Brenda Ueland

The irony doesn’t escape me. I have attempted to write a little something on the topic of inspiration now quite a few times, and each time I find myself struggling to find the very thing I’m trying to blog about. My first attempt was on a plane, some thirty thousand or so feet up in the sky. I felt that six hours in a confined space, while my fellow passengers lost themselves in a variety of interactive entertainment, would be the perfect opportunity to at least get the bare bones of the subject on paper to be later fleshed out when I was back on more solid ground. These thoughts evaporated quickly, like the small beverage the stewardess had handed to me just prior to the opening of my notebook, and I found myself instead jotting down observations of that day so far. Why do I always go looking for inspiration? Inspiration is the one who slowly creeps up on me, jumping out and grabbing hold when I am alone, isolated and not expecting it.
So it’s caught me, and more often than not it’s caught me with my pants down both metaphorically and physically. An idea has sparked and it has to circulate and brew in my head to stay alive until I’ve been able to make note of it. The response to a question of “what if?” or my mind working through an annoyance or situation I’ve experienced.  Guilt even. If I’m luckily it’s playing out in my head like the scene from a movie, which just leaves me the task of getting those images translated into words and onto paper.
And it’s not that I couldn’t find it on the plane because I was in among other people, nor is it true to say that all my ideas have come during moments of isolation. Like almost every other aspect of pure creativity there is no one answer as everyone is different. Whether alone or in a crowd, busy in thoughtful or physical activity, there is no predicting exactly when inspiration will strike. Just be sure to have a way of recording it when it does.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

The creativity thieves

There are several bad habits or factors we can develop in life that can block one’s creativity. Apparently there are eight, but many of them are so similar and can be dealt with in the same way that I feel the authors of those lists were just looking to make them more easily digestible. Thankfully when you are part of a group like Storyslingers where you are surrounded by informed, understanding and supportive people you don’t have to concern yourself with outside discouragement (ignore everyone else) and you can gain a deal of confidence in yourself and what you are capable of.  So that’s two factors down, but there are a few things left however that we can all struggle with.

One of the first things I have always seen when looking up advice for breaking out of the creative rut is to separate the creating from the editing, or the evaluating, and to not fall into the trap of starting to edit yourself while you are still nourishing and nurturing your ideas. Doing this too soon and too often may stop you discovering a really good concept before it’s developed fully.
Which leads nicely to fear, I think. Having a fear of making mistakes, of failure, could stop you before you’ve even begun. Having a fear of needing to make sense of those ideas, having everything squared away and all the loose ends tied up, can be harmful to. Life doesn’t make sense, it’s uncomfortable and untidy at times so don’t dismiss an idea if it works but you don’t know why. Chaos can be your friend!
Analysis paralysis is another term I often come across when searching for guidance. While researching is important and necessary you can become stuck over-thinking facts and situations that, like gorging on a vast meal, you become stuffed and are unable to act on anything.
For me personally writing has always been my creative outlet, with no real ambition to take it further than to please myself, but I did go through an extended period of time when I just didn’t feel creative at all. What we are today is a result of everything that has come before and everything we have experienced in our lives good or bad has informed us as writers, as creators, and as human beings. I found myself in a place where I just couldn’t do it anymore because of very negative experiences, and sometimes the only thing you need to get yourself out of that rut is time.
Finally, following anyone’s (including “expert’s”) advice blindly is unwise. Listen to your intuition – everyone’s journey is different, which includes your own.

Writing in Space (or, Creative Spaces), Part I

Where do you write? A while ago Book Chick City hosted a series of guest blogs called Where Stories Are Made, in which writers posted a short entry about their creative workspaces and their writing routines. These range from home offices to parks and coffee shops, and any other place writers feel inspired and comfortable, and most importantly—where they get stuff done.

Here at Storyslingers we thought we’d share a few of our own Creative Spaces on the blog.
Shaftesbury-based writer Becky Bye shares Old Wardour Castle:
Many people say that there is a time and a place for writing, and for me, no place is better than Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury in Wiltshire. A romantic ruin set in the Wiltshire landscape, the castle is a serene and beautiful spot in which my notebook has been filled on numerous occasions.

There is something intriguing and mysterious about writing in a location where so much history has taken place, and that I myself become part of history in those few moments; scribbling profusely in my notepad under a tree, or sat at the bottom of a spiral staircase. The mood of the castle shifts from day to day, which has a significant impact on my writing; some days the castle reveals its secrets, most of which I was never expecting to find, and which weave their way into my stories. On other days, the castle looks less inviting than usual, blending into the grey backdrop of a dreary English afternoon, and on such occasions the grandeur of the castle simply adds a unique elegance to my thoughts and ideas. No matter how bad a particular bout of writers block may be, there is no level of inspiration which cannot be released after just a few moments at Wardour Castle.
Dorchester-based author Gail Aldwin shares her study desktop:
I like writing somewhere quiet but I’m not sure what the best writing environment is, as I haven’t experimented with this. Normally I work in the family study, a small, untidy room with a window which has a fabulous view over the water meadows to the north of Dorchester.
 I share the space with everyone except my daughter who prefers doing homework in her bedroom.  My husband and son play games on the desktop and I write on a notebook.  Sometimes we sit alongside each other but that’s only possible when the headphones are in use. If I can’t stand the distraction, I relocate to the kitchen table and work there.
Writer-in-denial Stephen Pellow talks about inner creative spaces:
Writing about something that doesn’t exist is something people who write do all the time. Being asked to write about something that probably should exist but doesn’t is proving to be problematic, though.

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something – nothing happens. If I have to do it, I rarely want to.

So I always make sure I have ready access to a notepad and pen (or pencil) because I never know when, or where, I’m going to be pinched by creativeness!

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We will be posting more Creative Spaces over the coming weeks, so do check back for updates.