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Followings

A friend of mine has a finely tuned sense of intuition.  It shapes the way she lives.  Whether it’s the solution to a maths problem, the conclusion of an essay, a decision or a process to be implemented, my friend has a glimmer, an inspired glimpse of how things should be.  She works out the steps needed to make that thing possible.  Then she moves towards it, aware of potential twists and turns and necessary re-tracings, being sure at each point to test the rightness of the path she is taking. 

I find this inspirational on so many levels: a model for life, for effective relationships, for work, play, and creativity. 

My own intuitive followings, when they happen, occur most frequently in the mornings.  It’s the time I feel closest to my unconscious self, on the threshold between sleep and wakefulness.   It’s no coincidence, I think, that in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advocates the use of freeform journal writing in the morning, first thing, before the conscious mind has woken up.   These ‘morning pages’ – or any regular journaling habit – establish discipline and routine.  But more importantly, this process enables us to listen to ourselves.  Containing, perhaps, exhilaration, pain, surprise, the creative engagement speaks our emotional journey.  But the writing itself – the fact that we do it – can also provide us with a map, a way of testing our route, of assessing how far we’ve come from that vision of ourselves or our creative project.  The writing helps us see, at each twist and turn, whether we’re following the power of the initial intention that set us off on the journey in the first place.  

And, of course, the writing can foster awareness of what the journey needs to be. 

When it comes to fiction, I try to listen for those followings by entering the dream world of the story.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this process easier when in motion or on an actual journey: running, walking, musing on a train.  Then I plan each scene quickly, measuring the framework against my first impulse, usually having a sense of where it should end.  As I write, I return often to that intuitive following, but always remaining open to how things might need to be altered, changes in direction, a new design.  In this sense I’m more architect than journeyman, more builder than traveller.  For me, writing is a spirit level.  The key is to be true to the bubble that floats in the small, clear window in the centre – the absolute rightness of the original idea. 

What tools, for you, are most effective in life and creativity?  I’d love to hear.

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Gift

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For my birthday this year, my partner gave me this painting.  It’s an image of where we live – a hilltop village in the Pennines surrounded by a wooded valley – and he’d commissioned our artist friend Kate to paint it.  To receive something so beautifully crafted, and given with such thoughtful care, was deeply moving.  I thought of the time and effort my partner put into planning the gift; and of Kate working on the canvas in her studio, of the intention that went into her choice of colours that now add such richness to our home. 

 

Focusing on intention in a recent post, Joanna Young offers some wonderful reflections and practical tips for writers preparing to write: think of the journey; ‘think about what kind of state you want to evoke in your reader.’  And of course, the same can be said for a viewer of film, a spectator of art, a listener of music.  Think how you want to move them, affect them.  What, in short, you want to give them.  

           

In terms of my own writing, I find things flow best when I hold someone else in mind.  That person can sometimes be someone specific; but often – when I’m writing fiction – it’s no more than a ghostly kind of presence, a reader ‘warm and breathing on the other side of the page,’ to borrow from Virginia Woolf.  In a technical sense, I’m sure it makes for better writing.  I become more aware of the cadences of each sentence.   At a structural level, I’m thinking about the inner rhythm and resonances of the story, what motivates the reader to turn the page.  One of the most significant pieces of advice I’ve read about writing comes from Sol Stein, who says in Solutions for Novelists: ‘think of your fiction as a gift for a stranger.’  Now, when I’m devising a plot, I ask myself: what will make the reader’s journey more heightened or pleasurable?  What do I want them to be moved by? 

 

It hasn’t always been like that.  There’ve been times when I’ve been detached from the reader and so bound up with the words on the page that my ghostly ‘other’ was no more than that – a ghost.  But in recent months I’ve realised more fully the power of creativity: if we let it, it opens space beyond our own egos, enabling us to connect with others.  This can be terrifying, of course, threatening in all kinds of ways; it leads us into the unknown, allowing the potential to be hurt or ridiculed, or for our work to be considered worthless (or even worse, dull).  But if we’re focused on who we’re creating for, the critical inner voice – the one that is rooted in fear of inadequacy – is quietened.  

 

Creating with intention, being aware of that flow between self and other, mindfulness of what we are giving, means we move beyond our ownership of the words or images or music.  We still ourselves, and listen.  We play in dialogue with the listener, and with the silence.  And, as if in a circle of giving and return, the gift we give to the receiver gives back to us.  We give intention not just to others, but also to ourselves – employing a quality of listening that at its best is both energising and transformative.  

 

And this playfulness, this transformation is – I think – what creativity requires of us.  

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