Guest post: Louise Tondeur with top tips and thoughts on writing in crazy times

When writer Louise Tondeur and I arranged to swap blog posts a couple of months ago we had no idea of the way the world was changing. 

Louise has added a preamble to the top tips she originally sent me and a caveat to one of her ‘don’ts’, to take account of the times in which we now find ourselves. I’m grateful to her for sharing this. 

 

How to write

You don’t need me to tell you that these are crazy times. Some people have more time to devote to writing right now, others have much less time or a much higher mental load and therefore less thinking space. My writing time has been cut in half, for instance, and I haven’t been able to think about it at all over the last week, but I’m extremely fortunate that my family are currently well and I do get some writing time as my wife and I can share the home-schooling. We’re all thinking about key workers at the moment and people are worried about loved ones, of course. So is now a good time to be writing at all? There are at least three answers to that. Firstly people need books, stories, poetry and screenplays more than ever right now. Secondly, writing can be a great way to express how you’re feeling about what’s going on. For example, by doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages. https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/ Thirdly, if you don’t have time to write during the current crisis, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to add ‘worry about not writing’ to your metal load.

10 top tips

  1. Turn up regularly – make a commitment and schedule it. Why? Because the only real way you learn to write is by doing it. To me, ‘turning up’ includes making lists, simply noticing things, reading, morning pages, and scribbling down ideas or snatches of dialogue.
  2. Read, watch, listen – make time for it, especially in the genre you want to write in. Why? Nobody would try to design a chair without ever sitting down. It’s the same with writing. It’s possible you have more time for this at the moment, possibly not. My wife and I have been trying to watch silly funny programmes to take our mind off the crisis for half an hour or so. This is perfect for me as I would love to write for TV. I am absolutely considering this as ‘research’!
  3. Notice the world around you – use mindfulness to help you write. Why? Because that way you ‘make things new’ for your readers. I think this is one technique we can all practise while the world is going topsy-turvy. I have rediscovered Tara Brach’s meditations over the last few days, which has been incredibly helpful, but even without meditations, you could try to pause for five minutes to notice a plant outside or the things in the room around you. This is a powerful life skill anyway and when you write you can use these observations to make your work more authentic.
  4. Use all of the senses available to you – don’t always default to the visual. Why? Because you’re much more likely to go deeper – and therefore write something more touching or unusual. Again, even if you are unable to find time to write at the moment, use all of your senses when you’re observing the world around you, because that’s going to help you when you sit down to write.
  5. Get in touch with the small detail – don’t simply look at a tree, look at the veins on a leaf. Why? Because, to borrow Susan Sontag’s words, writers are ‘observers of the world’. This is probably my favourite tip of all and you don’t have to be able to go out into the world to do it.
  6. Put yourself in the way of inspiration – theatre, poetry readings, art galleries, and museums. Julia Cameron calls this technique ‘filling the well.’ You can’t do this in person at the moment of course but there are many ways to do it virtually. One good thing about this crisis is the way in which people have pooled resources so these virtual worlds are more accessible than ever. (Plus, one thing that has helped me a lot over the last few weeks is imagining the things I’ll do and the places I’ll go when the danger is over!) Why? Because there are no lightning bolts of inspiration – you’ve got to find it. Waiting around for inspiration is a big mistake.
  7. A combination of 1 – 6: be open to life. Get in the way of the universe. Say ‘yes’. Try new things. Why? See the answers to ‘why?’ under 1 – 6!
  8. Move. Dance, walk, swim, do yoga. Whatever it is, get outside your own head. Why? Because it gives the creative mind a chance to mull over whatever you’re writing and because moving gives us a new (and usually better) perspective on the world. As before, most of these things aren’t possible at the moment outside of the home but you can find dance and yoga classes (for example) on YouTube.
  9. Get to know other writers – join a writers’ group or start one, and check out your local writing centre’s website. Why? For motivation and accountability and for tacit knowledge about your local writing scene. My writing group is using Zoom to stay in touch. It’s easy to use once it’s up and running and a good way to chat to several people virtually.
  10. Try submitting something – or get hold of an opportunity from a writing magazine or online and work to the word count and deadline even if you don’t ultimately send it in. Why? Understanding the process of submission makes it a whole lot less scary and having a practice go makes it easier when you come to do it ‘for real’.

5 things NOT to do:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. We tend only to hear about successes, which warps the picture. Behind every success story you’ll find multiple ‘failures’ that were simply stepping stones.
  2. Don’t read / talk / think about writing without actually doing it. See tip number one above!
  3. Don’t give up after facing hurdles (for some people this means ‘the middle’ of whatever they are writing!). See these as opportunities to look for a solution. Believe me, this is where the fun starts.
  4. Don’t write only one draft. Real writing is redrafting – multiple times.
  5. Don’t write one thing. It’s easy to get fixated on ‘the Novel’ – I know that from experience. Have a go at writing a short story or a monologue or a poem. Give yourself a break from your main project.

I’m doing Sophie Hannah’s Dream Author coaching programme at the moment and she says that we should definitely compare ourselves to other writers – in detail not simply on social media – because then we will see how their writing lives have progressed, and understand the successes and challenges that got them to where they are. I’m adding that as a caveat to ‘don’t’ number 1, because if you do some detailed research it can be fascinating to compare yourself to other writers!

 

Louise Tondeur is a novelist and short story writer. She originally trained as a drama teacher, and currently tutors on the OU’s Creative Writing MA. She blogs at: http://www.louisetondeur.co.uk/blog and http://www.smallstepsguide.co.uk You can find her on Twitter here: @louisetondeur and on Facebook at: facebook.com/louisetondeurwriter

Author pic. Louise Tondeur
Louise Tondeur, credit Ana Bohane Photography

 

 

Dealing with uncertainty and anxiety

We all of us face this just now, writers as much as anyone else. How to deal with it? My small suggestions:

  • Bake breadSourdough. the cut and the rise
  • Walk the hillsWalking on the hills
  • Drink wineThe boys taste the local wine 2
  • And, finally, don’t give yourself any pressure to write anything. It can wait.

 

 

Coming next: Guest post with top does and don’ts for writers

Flash thoughts

I’ve been pondering on flash fiction. This month I’m writing some every day. Here are a few thoughts about the process:

– It’s a useful exercise to use a prompt just to get the creative brain firing. Simply setting words down.

– A strict word limit can produce unexpected juxapositions. As in this micro I wrote this morning using Meg Sefton‘s prompt crisp for 50 word fiction:

First frost and the white ground is calling to me to imprint it. I run alongside tracks of mice and vole, earlier risers. Breath of dogs fogs the air, the shouts of their people boom and retreat. The colours of this time of day are muted, waiting for sun stroking.

I don’t think I would have come up with ‘sun stroking’ if it hadn’t been for the constraint of the work limit.

– Collaging the fragments which float out from my brain in response to different prompts may show up connections.

-At this stage this is all raw material, which I will return to later, to cut, shape and stitch into finished stories.

 

And here’s a picture, which could also be a writing prompt…..

Cat on a writing book cover.jpg
Cat on the cover of a writing book

 

 

Coming next: Guest post

What are you writing this November?

Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo. That was fun and gave me lots of material to work on.

This year I’m back to FlashNano. Nancy Stohlman gives great prompts every day during November. You can use these as you like – for me they are so useful to get my writing brain going, and the little stories I start here may bear fruit later – who knows?!

I’m also using prompts from Meg Sefton to write a 50-word micro each day in November, posted on Twitter with the hashtoag #50FlashNov19. Another little brain workout.

Here are a couple of the micros I’ve written so far:

Day 1 – prompt #ripe

I scan the room. Grey suits, haggard faces, the smell of age. I should never have trusted the photograph. The line is so fine between fullness and the slide into the decay. There, he’s waving. I recognise the eyes. But the flesh is weak. Mine that is. I turn away.

Day 5 – prompt #cat

They said they had to keep us in for three weeks. My sister and I had no say in the matter. They said we were feral. I have no idea what that means in human, but when they finally let us out we climbed over the house. To show them.

Huge thanks to Nancy and Meg for sharing the prompts.

Who’s joining the party?

Doods 7-3-10 3.JPG
Crazy cat Doodle – photo copyright Cath Barton

 

Coming next: More about flash fiction

Friday story: Competition winner

Thanks to all who entered my story competition. The entries were anonymised before I judged them, so knowing me did not benefit or disbenefit anyone!

I enjoyed all the different ways you used the prompt. On another day, with a different judge, any of you might have won.

I chose Samuel Dodson’s story as the winner because of the way it goes beyond individuals. And it has a thought-provoking ending. Congratulations to Sam! Check him out on twitter at @instantidealism and find out what else he’s up to in the writing world.

I’ll run another competition before Christmas, so look out for that.

Here is the winning story:

The Gap

Samuel Dodson 

There is a gap that runs through the town. A bisecting line that divides the residents. It is small – smaller than you’d think; and almost un-noticeable. Yet it is impossible to cross.

The two tribes on either side inhabit separate worlds, though they all pretend not to. It only really becomes apparent when people from each side start to approach it. You can watch them – go on. See how they pause, look around; turn away. To cross the gap would be to acknowledge it.

There are, however, cracks. They spread out on either side. They started to appear not too long ago, when the mayor of the town forgot such a gap existed, and tried to ask the town-folk what he thought was a simple question:

“Are you content with where you are?”

The mayor thought the answer to this question was obvious. After all, he himself was exceedingly content. He lived in a big house in one half of town. He had a big garden with a stylish wooden hut where he could sit and write ideas he had. His wife wore expensive dresses and he never needed to worry. People even brought things to his house! There were fancy dinner parties. He never even needed to go into town – so forgot all about the gap that neither he nor anybody he knew would cross.

He couldn’t figure out what to do when the people in the town said they were not content. He hid in his little hut and didn’t come out.

The cracks in the streets are widening the gap.

Soon, the people will have to notice.

Some already have.

Every town has a gap like this.

 

Author pic. Sam Dodson
Author photo copyright Samuel Dodson

 

 

Coming next: FlashNano!