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Right from the Heart

 From the heart

 Beauty rises

 At the 2019 Dublin Writers’ Conference, some speakers said it was important, from the point of view of sales, to write in a particular genre; others said it was vital to not follow a trend or write in a genre alien to you, that what mattered most was the ‘heart’ in what you had to say.

 I agree.  Apart from the fact that it’s impossible to sustain your motivation and write something in which you’ve no emotional investment, it’s not necessarily the case that a genre novel will succeed.  Fashions change, the zeitgeist shifts.

 Luck comes into it when you serendipitously find that you have written something that appeals at a particular moment in time, in the style which you are comfortable in.

 A writer I met recently said that she was so focused on making a living, it contaminated everything she wrote.  She couldn’t decipher what came from her authentic self and what was from the commercial ‘other side’.  Although she thought she was writing from her heart, it wasn’t clear to her if she’d got the balance right.  She asked me how she’d find out…

 Well, I was intrigued by her dilemma and wanted to help.  What came to mind was the photo I’d just shot: a hawthorn in full bloom.  Now, many gardeners take pride in showing the exotic trees they have in their garden, they can even tell you their (usually unpronounceable) Latin names and if they came across a hawthorn which had seeded itself amongst their prized possessions, it would be quickly dispatched to the compost heap as not ‘worthy’ enough, ‘too ordinary’, a ‘weed’ tree.

 I think you’ll agree, a hawthorn in full bloom is a joy to behold.  Bees love it and the honey made from its blossom is outstandingly delicious.  After the blossom, the bounty continues with berries in autumn and, when it dies, the heat from its wood is so intense you could cook a three course meal on one log alone.  Exotics cannot compare.

So, I suggested to the writer that she nourish the simple, the ordinary, the beauty on her doorstep; write (as Elizabeth Strout did with Olive Kitteridge) a book which you may doubt will find a publisher - and see what happens.



Achieving the Art of Flow - the Lilies of the Field vs the Wagging Finger

Ever notice, when you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – a little voice in your head wags its finger and says things like: ‘you should be doing something more useful, more lucrative’ or, if that doesn’t work, it carries on with: ‘you’re useless at characterisation’, ‘your dialogue doesn’t ring true’, ‘you’ve clearly got trouble with plot’, ‘grammar’, etcetera, etcetera.  I bet you can recall dozens of similar whisperings that plague you endlessly, as you try to get words on the page.

The impact on your writing can be paralysing.  At the very least, you tighten up, become anxious or, even worse, stop altogether.  As if that weren’t enough, these little criticisms often become self-fulfilling prophesies, as Timothy Gallwey points out in his inner game strategies for success at sport or business.  His principles and methodology could equally apply to writing; his insights into the process of overcoming blocks which prevent us from living/writing to our full potential, offer a roadmap to success.  Very helpful for those times when the wagging finger threatens to overwhelm.

Now, it may actually be true that you need to focus a little more on authentic dialogue, deepen your characterisation – what I would call the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing.  But paying too much attention to the wagging finger of writing when you’re writing your first draft can mess up the side you’re relying on to write the story – the creative you.

How to quieten the wagging finger:

• Make a list of what it says, be-friend it

• If you agree that your characterisation lacks depth, your dialogue is stilted, etc., work on these – but separately to your work-in-progress

• Don’t try to stop the wagging finger from speaking – say ‘I hear you, your time will come but not now’ - and continue to write.

• Each draft is, as T S Eliot put it, a ‘raid on the inarticulate’.  It’s not supposed to be perfect.

How to let the glory of the lily shine

• The lily doesn’t ‘toil’ or ‘spin’ – and, to stretch the analogy, neither does the creative you.  It simply expresses itself, without effort.  A journal is good practice to get this effortless effort or flow going so that, in time, you can sit before a blank page, anytime, anywhere and write.

• Just as the lily needs sun, water and soil to thrive, your writing self has its own needs, unique to you.  These could be anything from sitting, daydreaming for a few minutes/hours a day, to spending time doing something non-verbal.  A day at the art gallery works for some (me); simply walking worked for Charles Dickens – and we all know how productive he was.

• We also need to fill the creative well by reading and listening to good writing­, so that it’s there, in our sub-conscious, waiting till you put fingers to keyboard …

• Speaking of good writing, have a listen to this:

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Louise Couper