Monthly Archives: March 2018

Who are you? Writing virtues into the writing life

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‘Virtue’ is a word we don’t hear a great deal. There’s an anachronistic ring to it. It can also sound smug. A problem with over-focussing on self-improvement is that it can make us seem remote, self-satisfied and self-centred. An irony if we’re setting out to be kinder or more patient. We become rather like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby:

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

In Cultivating Virtue, philosopher Christine Swanton suggests that instead of cultivating ourselves, we concentrate on doing virtuous actions. The first step toward virtue is to act as if you have that quality. We then hope that through feedback and reflection, growth follows without self-obsessing. Or as Aristotle puts it:

(Wo)men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.

Who we are is fluid. We don’t come written in stone. Humans are adaptable. The environment we live in makes a huge difference, as do the choices we make. There are things we have little or no influence over in life, but we have the capacity to change, to become the person we want to be.

One of the joys of being a storyteller is that it’s not only about fiction. I can also write myself. But it has to go further than narrativising — my journal is a good place to plan and reflect, but it also has to translate into action. …

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With this in mind, at New Year I invested in a tiny book. And I set about a long journalling exercise around what 13 virtues or qualities I should action this year. Why thirteen?

Because I’d read an article about Benjamin Franklin who chose 13 virtues and focussed on one each week. Choosing 13 meant that each quality would get four weeks of attention over the year. That seemed feasible. And I like the idea of revisiting each quality whilst not obsessing about one or two things constantly.

A ‘year’ of course can start at any point, so if it appeals, you can begin at any time.

Thirteen qualities for the year

These are the 13 virtues or qualities that emerged for me over several journalling sessions:

I hope you’ll read on on Medium and clap the article there if you enjoy it …

 

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How to map your awesome creativity

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Recently, reading Wild Women, Wild Writing by Judy Reeves, I came across a brilliant writing exercise. The aim was to draw a map of your creativity. The instructions were simple — use a bunch of coloured pens to jot down all the ways you remember being creative, from childhood onwards.

Remembering forgotten creativity

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I hope you’ll continue reading on Medium and clap the post there … it’s a wonderful exercise for reminding yourself that you are more creative than you might sometimes realise … Thank you for reading!

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All you have to do is write one true sentence

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One of the things I’m involved in as an editor at an indie press is adjudicating fiction in our competitions. This year we’ve amalgamated the fiction prizes into one so that people can submit across prose genres — short stories, novels and novellas.

Every year there are pieces of fiction that jump out as strong contenders but trip themselves up along the way. What is it that Cinnamon Press is looking for in a story? a young friend recently asked me. What makes a good story?

Don’t tell me…

It’s often easier to start from what doesn’t work.

The stories that tell me what is happening (sometimes several times to make sure I get it) but which don’t ‘show’ me anything so I am never drawn in rarely work. Telling has its place in bridging passages, in some forms of first person narrative, but for the most part I’m with Chekhov on this:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Other stories fail because they drown in adjectives or (even worse) adverbs. Descriptive passages can sing off the page, sometimes with a rich seasoning of adjectives thrown in, but only if every word has earned its place. And some words never earn a place — really, just, suddenly, somehow… As says Ursula Le Guin in her invaluable guide to prose writing, Sailing the Craft:

Nothing happens somehow

Please read on on Medium – this is a post particularly for writers and if you have a novel or short stories that would be eligible for our fiction prize, take a look at that too – thank you for reading.

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How to harness the audacious magic of saying no

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For some of us, saying no is hard, even anathema. I’ve been a people-pleaser for over five decades, but the seeds of saying no were sown when I left a vocation. Not only was I assaulted three times at work, but those I worked for were anything but sympathetic and it was time to say ‘no more’.

But as a publisher and editor I soon slid back into my old people-pleasing ways. This may not sound like much of a problem, but it is.

Why always saying yes isn’t healthy

1. If you always say yes, what’s it’s worth?

When we agree to give time or skills or resources to something it should be of some import.

If you say yes to everything then nothing is more important or valuable in your life than anything else. The creative project that is your dream and passion, quality time with your family and friends — are these of no more weight than random requests or unreasonable calls to work more hours than a week contains?

2. If you always say yes you’ll end up in difficult situations…

Please read on here. And if you enjoy the article you can clap on Medium – thank you!

 

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14 excellent reasons that compel writers to write

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Why do we do it? The reasons for writing are as various as writers, but among them are common threads that unite us.

1. For the trance

I can lose a whole day writing. I forget to eat or drink. I come round hours after beginning and discover I’m cold. Writing takes us into an inner world that is endless and extraordinary.

In Our Faces, Our Hearts, Brief as Photos, John Berger describes one of those luminous moments when an ordinary place takes on luminous, otherworldly quality:

Everything was shifting. The three pear trees, their hillock, the other side of the valley, the harvested fields, the forests. The mountains were higher, every tree and field nearer. Everything visible approached me. Rather, everything approached the place where I had been, for I was no longer in that place. I was everywhere, as much in the forest across the valley as in the dead pear tree, as much on the face of the mountain as in the field where I was raking hay.

When we write, we’re opening ourselves up. Writing takes us into another space. As Virginia Woolf described it:

I walk making up phrases; sit, contriving scenes; am in short in the thick of the greatest rapture known to me.

I hope you would like to read on – the rest of the article is on Medium and if you enjoy the post, please clap there 🙂 – thank you.

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8 ways to replace overwhelm with positive growth

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The best advice we give is usually the advice we most need to listen to. This is the case for me when it comes to getting overwhelmed. I’m far too good at saying yes. My to do list usually contains at least 5 miracles to perform before breakfast. And every time I eliminate a task that isn’t important or essential, I have a tendency to think of two things I should do in its place.

Recently I’ve been making a much more concerted effort to stop this cycle of wild optimism followed by overwhelm. It’s so easy to overestimate what we can do in a short period but the converse is also true: we can underestimate the amount of change we can accomplish in a longer time. Getting the flow right is the trick.

How?

I hope you’d like to read on here

Very grateful for claps on Medium 🙂 Thank you!

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How to be a giver, not a sacrificer

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Being someone who makes sacrifices is often held up as a virtue. But whether we’re trying to form creative, autonomy-respecting relationships with your children or relating to adults in different areas of life, ‘giving in’ is not a solution. Giving and ‘giving in’ are not the same thing.

This year in my journalling, each week I’ve been focussing on a different quality that I’d like to encourage in myself. I’ve got thirteen to think about over the year, so each quality will get four weeks of attention.

But the quality I return to most often and which seems to me to be the most fundamental is generosity. I’m not talking about having pots of money to give away, though that might be a factor for some, but something deeper. We can be generous whether we are wealthy or in financial poverty. The point is that giving, whether it’s of time, skills or resources is a key virtue.

But if we’re always giving, doesn’t this lead to always self-sacrificing? …

Please continue to read on Medium There, you can clap for posts (up to 50 times – it’s really quick :)) – just log in using Twitter, Facebook or an email account 🙂 Thank you!

 

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How to choose meaningful words: why language matters

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One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.

Ursula K Le Guin

Narrative and meaning go hand in hand. We all need stories that make sense of experience, particular and universal. But if the language functions to exclude our experience then how do we find this meaning?

Language is an urgent question not only for writers, but for anyone who engages in any kind of meaningful exchange — take a look at the rest of the post on Medium and please clap there if you’d like to support the writing. Thank you.

 

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