Finding inspiration

I am currently in the Cotswolds on a long-awaited writing retreat (I know, right!). I first heard about this retreat, led by the amazing Kate Forsyth, a couple of years ago when Kate was first planning the retreat. It sounded amazing and something that I would really like to do for a couple of reasons. Firstly, for the writing element having done a writing retreat a couple of years ago, and secondly for the location. Seriously, the Cotswolds – the beautiful, quaint, literary Cotswolds!

Stanton

Fox on a thatched roof…

The first retreat ran last year but I was unable to attend (I may have cried, I’m not telling) so I spent the remainder of the year anxiously awaiting the announcement of dates for this year. Finally, as a ‘Merry Christmas’ they were announced and I was able to book myself on this trip. I cannot tell you how excited I was when that email came through – truly, I don’t think you would believe a grown woman could be as giddy as I was (and in a public place).

So, long story long, here I am sitting in my room at the Lygon Arms in Broadway on Day Three of the retreat feeling thoroughly inspired for so many reasons.

Lygon Arms

My room at the Lygon Arms

One of those reasons is this location – we arrived in Oxford on Day One and had the most amazing tour with our guide, Roger (patience of a Saint, has our Roger). We saw the Aslan door that inspired C.S. Lewis and sat at the table of The Inklings at the Eagle and Child. We have driven through picturesque villages where cottages have thatched rooves and churchyards have statues so old the ivy has consumed it. The gardens here are so pretty I would not be at all surprised to see fairies dancing underneath the flowers.

Stanton Churchyard

Another reason for my inspiration is my companions. It is such a wonderful group with everyone keen to absorb the atmosphere of the place and the lessons of the day. We are also a small group – only six students – which has made it much easier to get to know each other quite quickly and helps make both writing sessions and tours much more intimate and personal. They have all been so warm and welcoming that I look forward to learning more about each of them and their stories.

Of course, the Number One reason would have to be the course itself and our fabulous teacher – Kate. This is the third class I have taken with her and I am never disappointed as she is a great teacher – so generous with her time and is able to deconstruct the writing processes and conventions so that even I can understand them. You can hear her passion for writing in her voice and see it in her face as she talks to us and that passion is contagious.

Holly and Kate - Aslan's Door

Holly and Kate in front of the Aslan Door

We have been in the Cotswolds for three days now and have had two classes with Kate but the inspiration is already coursing through my body. I had the most brilliant moment this morning as Kate was explaining ‘eucatastrophe’ to us and I realised what was missing from my first story, which has been sitting on the backburner for about a year now.

A-ha!

Walking into Meme-dor

As you will have worked out about me by now, dear readers, I like a good Google Image Search. They can prove inspirational and entertaining, often at the same time. I also like a good meme – I’m partial to a lolcat myself, but demotivationals are also fun when done well. And so it was that this evening I was searching for inspiration on the word ‘walk’. Seeing as I’m not partial to an evening constitutional these days I couldn’t exactly fill you in on the exciting or fascinating neighbourhood scenery so I had to think of another way to tick this off my neglected list of themes.

I thought about some serious topics like walking the walk or walking the line, but frankly I’m just too tired for seriousness today. So I went to my trusty friend Google Image Search and, after a few search strings, found what I was looking for – the inspiring memes.

And the one phrase to link them all…

‘One does not simply walk in to Mordor’

Seriously, do a google image search of that phrase – it is the meme to end all memes. Some are brilliantly clever while some are painfully lame. My personal favourite was the Christopher Walken one:

Walken into Mordor

because let’s face it, Christopher Walken is cool. Dude could so walk in to Mordor – strike that – he’d fly, Fatboy Slim style!

Why don't we just walk into Mordor?

I guess the reason this particular phrase and all the memes resonated so well with me is that I have been spending a bit of time over the past few weeks researching and plotting for one of my stories and the whole narrative premise behind ‘one does not simply walk in to Mordor’ is actually quite fitting. I’ve also been researching underground cities for it and, as a result, images of Moria from the first Lord of the Rings movie have been filling my head.

It’s all food for thought and helping to keep my creative juices flowing. Like I say, Google Image Search is not just entertaining but also inspiring! And before I walk away from this post – one last meme for you all…

Frodo walked into Mordor

Adventures in Nothingness

During a recent trip to the doctor it came out that I suffered on and off from insomnia and was constantly tired. It’s not something I usually bring up with doctors anymore because a) I’ve got used to it and b) they usually just reach for the prescription pad. So I hadn’t brought it up this time either.

But when it came up I was most surprised by the doctor’s reaction. Instead of instantly reaching for her prescription pad she started asking me questions. Actually conversing with me about the problem and then she started explaining to me about melatonin production and the circadian rhythm and how we needed to look at getting mine back on track.

Etsy - Bamboo Sleeping Fox Clock

It was quite an interesting concept in these modern times because most of us aren’t really in to these sorts of concepts. So, while part of me thought it was rather cool that my doctor was taking a holistic approach rather than just reaching straight for the prescription pad, a part of me was trying very hard not to burst out laughing.

Created with Wordle

The main things I now have to focus on to try and get my rhythm back are essentially threefold:

  1. Evening exercise: this one kind of goes against a lot of what I know about insomnia. Most of the advice I’ve read warns against exercising too close to bedtime due to the resulting increased levels of adrenaline and/or endorphins or whatever in the body. My doctor’s idea seems to be in tiring myself out and helping to stretch out the leg muscles which twitch and cause me problems once I settle in for the night. I guess timing will be critical.
  2. Earlier bedtime routine: I always knew that I needed to try and get myself in to a better routine when it came to my bed time and it definitely aligns with all the advice I’ve read for insomnia and sleeplessness.
  3. Cognitive calming: this is the trickiest part, particularly in this age of technology. At its most basic it is the winding down before bedtime and relaxing of the brain – nothing that stimulates the mind. So, I’m not allowed to watch TV or use my computer, iPad or mobile phone in the couple of hours before bedtime because of the effect they can have on my brain’s ability to cognitively relax. Read up on blue lights and melatonin production.

Found on Google Images

So how am I going so far? Well, the exercise is not working out very well for me at all, no pun intended. I have only exercised once in the past week, not counting the night I did calf stretches, so I really need to work harder on that. The new, earlier bedtime routine, thankfully, has not caused me too much trouble. There has actually been only one night in the past week where I have not made it to bed on time. Next weekend may prove to be a challenge, though, when daylight savings ends and I have to start going to bed even earlier.

The cognitive calming is definitely proving to be a challenge. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to not watch TV or use a mobile phone or play on a computer or iPad of an evening? I’d never really thought about it before myself, but now that I can’t do any of the above, it’s kind of like being grounded and I’ve done nothing wrong. I have failed at it more than a couple of nights in a row and ended up watching TV or playing games on my iPad or sneakily tweeting the night away. Unfortunately, the truth is I have actually noticed a difference between the technology-free nights and the nights I broke my grounding so-to-speak. The nights I used the technology I found it much harder to switch off when I went to bed and I lay awake thinking about things for much longer than the nights I was technology free.

Mog reading

But the fact remains, what do you do when your usual routine is taken away from you? My first thought, as a bookworm, was ‘can I read instead?’ Because, honestly, that would be awesome and I have that many books on my To Be Read list it’s getting shameful. But my doctor’s advice was that reading would be a suitable alternative as long as the books weren’t too stimulating; i.e. it has to be a book I can easily put down – not a ‘page-turner’. That pretty much throws most of my reading list out the window! If a book doesn’t enthral me so much that I can’t put it down, I’m not sure I want to read it.

I am try to be a crafty person, so I have pulled out my crocheting and cross-stitching projects and figured I might finally make a dent in those. So far, I’ve finished one crochet square, which only had three rows left to go on it anyway…

My Notebooks

I’ve also pulled out a couple of my notebooks and taken up writing in my journal again. It was a little disheartening to realise the last time I wrote in my journal was two years ago. But perhaps, if I can’t use my computer before bedtime, I can start writing down ideas in my notebooks or do some free writing activities or something.

I’ve even contemplated doing housework of an evening. That would double as exercise after all, and then I wouldn’t feel quite so bad on the weekends when I spend an afternoon catching up on TV instead of doing the laundry or cleaning the kitchen…

The doctor thinks it will take about three months to notice if it’s made any sort of difference so, in the meantime, I guess I’ll be having all sorts of adventures in nothingness!

Way to nothingness by Shadulka (DeviantArt)

Just call me Muriel

Hi everyone. Long time no see. Or read. Write? Something.

So the last time we met I was preparing to go away on holidays. I hope you enjoyed the posts I wrote over on my travel blog, if you made it over that way. At some point I plan on adding some reviews and additional posts about some of my other experiences while I was away so stay tuned. I just have to get around to writing them.

I also wrote in one of my last posts about the realisation that I had lost my passion for creative writing. I wanted needed to take a proper mental break from it and stop pressuring myself to write.

I’m happy to report that I think it has worked because I am starting to think about my writing again on my own. Without forcing it. Every now and then one of my old stories will pop into my head with a question or suggestion for me. I haven’t acted on any of them, I’ve just left them to simmer, to fade in and out.

But then I think about my blogs and the unwritten or partially written travel posts. I get sparks of ideas, but when I sit down at the computer to write something I find myself looking at imdb or twitter or playing games instead. Tonight, when I sat down to write, I actually spent half an hour or so changing the header first. No, really. (Seriously, though, do you like it? I took the picture myself.)

Muriel

You’re terrible, Muriel.

Yes, yes I am. Just call me Muriel.

If I am perfectly honest, I think part of the reason I procrastinate is because I have lost some of my confidence in my creative writing abilities. I am afraid of failure. It’s much easier to ponder what might have been and to play the ‘what if’ game than it is to actually take a chance and run the risk of getting told you’re rubbish.

So, I’m starting small. I’m taking baby steps. I’m resurrecting the blog, but I make no promises about frequency of posting because I want it to be a natural process. I think I will also resurrect the 100 blog challenge as a motivator. I am also thinking of having a go at writing some short stories, whether just for myself or to publish on a blog or to save up for competitions or even to work towards self-publishing. I don’t know – I haven’t actually thought that far ahead. I just want to start writing again, but I need want to start small.

How about you? Are you guilty of procrastination? What do you procrastinate from doing and why?

Travellin’ Becs

It’s been a little while, hasn’t it dear readers. I can actually say I’ve been busy and mean it this time. My work has been crazy busy and then I got a new job and my old job got even busier as I had to juggle all the finalising and handover stuff on top of all my usual stuff which, as aforementioned, was crazy busy. I started my new job a little over a week ago and so far so good but it is also busy. I should add that busy is not necessarily a bad thing – I much prefer to be kept busy at work than to sit idle all day.

And then there’s my upcoming holiday for which planning has fallen a bit by the wayside. If you know me personally, or have read my travel blog, you’ll know I used to be a travel agent and so I absolutely loathe being disorganised for a trip. Panic mode is starting to set in. Something which hasn’t been helped by my recent clumsiness.

Last weekend, for example, I decided it would be a smashing idea to slam my finger in the car door. (Get it? ‘Smashing’… Get it? …Ah, forget it.) It hurt like a you-know-what. It bled like an I-don’t-know-what. I actually made one of those ‘can you come over, like now?’ calls to my parents and then sat down on the kitchen floor and sobbed into my lap until they arrived (my parents rock). But the moral of the story, conversation-starter though it may be in a new workplace, is that a sore and bandaged finger that hurts every time you nudge it does nothing to help when you’re trying to clean your house or pack bags prior to going away on holiday.

It helps even less when, thanks to your new medically restricted diet, you’ve lost about 10 kilos and you need to try on half your wardrobe to work out what, if anything, still fits you. Trust me, trying to get a throbbing index finger in and out of sleeves of any length is a painful and expletive-inducing experience not to be undertaken by the faint-hearted.

But what it does mean is that I have pulled out the old travel blog and given it a new coat of paint and will be posting to it over the next few weeks as internet access allows. So, please feel free to wander on over to Travellin’ Becs and check it out.

I can dream can’t I?

So back in April, you may remember I wrote a letter to the creative people of Supernatural in response to their ongoing cruelty to loyal viewers by taunting us with references to Bobby Singer’s ghost. If you need a refresher, here is a link to that post.

Interestingly enough, that letter has proven to be one of my most popular posts. I’ll admit that this gives me some pleasure as I quite enjoyed writing it. I also much prefer to see its title come up in my stats than my other most popular post, ‘Pessimistic’. Although admittedly, based on the search stats, I have a burning suspicion that it may in fact be the picture of Ruby that draws in the crowds than the subject matter itself, but whatevs.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the show you’ll know that our beloved Bobby Singer finally passed on at the end of the last season (sob).

But it was while watching the second episode of the current season of Supernatural that I reacted with some glee when I heard a security guard announce that the thief was one ‘Clem Smedley’. I giggled, I rewound, I listened again to my surname. I giggled some more.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not having delusions of grandeur. I do not for one minute think that, after reading my blog ‘letter’ the Supernatural creative people were so tickled pink that they decided to name a character in the show after me as an homage. I am a little more grounded in reality than that…

But, it is nice to dream, isn’t it?

Chasing rainbows

Why have I always been a failure?
What can the reason be?
I wonder if the world’s to blame?
I wonder if it could be me?
– I’m Always Chasing Rainbows

It’s happened. What I was afraid would happen eventually but kept trying to convince myself wouldn’t. I’ve lost my passion for my creative writing.

I don’t know how or when it happened but I can say that I haven’t written any actual words for several months. I haven’t had any new story ideas although I have made a few feeble attempts at outlining or brainstorming existing story ideas but nothing has taken shape.

I don’t quite know how to get it back, or even if that’s possible. I already follow the Twitter accounts and blogs of both experienced and aspiring writers whom I find inspiring and informative; people like Roz MorrisKM Weiland and Amy Weaver. I’ve done creative writing courses through the wonderfully supportive Sydney Writers’ Centre and I continue to read everything I can find on writing.

But despite all this, when it comes to my own writing, whenever I try to sit down and flesh out my outlines or write down a scene all I end up with is a blank page. I’ve tried forcing it and I’ve tried taking a break and coming back after awhile but still nothing comes. And now I’ve given up trying.

I still get that feeling when I watch a good movie or episode of a TV show of how cool it would be to write something that good and see it come to life. Or when I read a book and it’s bad I think I could write something better or if it’s really good, I get that tinge of jealousy. I still think it would be nice to be able to get some of my ideas on paper but I just don’t think that’s ever going to happen anymore.

Who knows, perhaps this is a phase I’m going through. Like the fact that I’ve only really been interested in scary movies for the last few months. I really hope so but I’m afraid it may have been too long.

So what do you do when you lose your passion for something? Do you just call it a day? Or do you have a sure-fire way of reigniting it?

Image from freeimageworks.com