Friday, 11 January 2013
What Shall I Write for a Story –and When? Or Using Other People’s Pictures, Things and Ideas for Inspiration in Writing; and How to Spend Less Time ‘Writing’ and Get More Done, by Juliet Clare Bell.
Happy New Year!
This year, I’m clearing space (physically and mentally) to be surrounded by things and people I love and appreciate everything around me. In this post, I want to share things that inspire me, in case they spark any ideas for your own stories, too. There will be lots of children’s pictures, which I’ve scanned during a massive clear-out, and magnetic words on whiteboards, and word games. Things that I often encourage other people to do (especially children in school visits) but don’t use enough myself. Or didn’t. This year I will.
And then, I’m going to 'fess up and talk about some changes I’ve made to my everyday life and writing life which will help me get more done –in writing (and everything associated with it) and in life. But first...
New Year, New Ideas...
I’ve always enjoyed seeing children’s pictures online. They can spark ideas for stories in so many ways –a new character, a story line, a feeling... Perhaps some of them will get you thinking about your current story ideas or possible new ones, so here goes (with huge thanks to my lovely children).
(I love this hedgehog one so much, I've had to do a close up of it -and I am currently revising a story with a hedgehog in it...)
I also had to remove one when previewing this blogpost as it gave me such a good idea for a story with a title and everything...
Some pictures are more unusual and have got me thinking about stories quite different from what I’d normally write (with some, frankly, quite scary)...
(If you're having trouble reading, this one says [Alien]: Squeeze my eyes then they'll turn around; [Girl]: No I won't; [Boy]: He's a silly alien)
And some just make me really, really happy...
(This one was left around so that when I'd finally lost my annoying ear worms, I'd read this and they'd start again...)
And then there’s playing around with magnetic words. Here are a few that my nine-year-old made the other night before bed (her bedroom and the office now share a room so she keeps playing with all my school visit stuff). They’re great –I think that magnetic poetry was actually devised by a guy who wrote song lyrics and had writer’s block so made some to help himself...
And then children’s word games... again, my nine-year-old’s been reading her new Tracy Beaker and Jacqueline Wilson annuals...
In them are ideas for creating silly stories by rolling dice and reading the beginning of a sentence followed by one of six silly scenarios (depending on the roll of the dice), then reading the next sentence starter, followed by one of another six silly scenarios etc.. After trying this out, she decided to have a go at making her own up:
I’m going to have a go at doing some myself and see if I come up with anything I can turn into something... (I had lots of fun doing something a little similar at a workshop run by illustrator John Shelley once, but with incongruous characters/places that we drew, too. I always thought I’d have another go at it but didn’t. Until now...).
But what to do with all these potential new ideas? After all, we’ve just had PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Ideas Month, which happens every November thanks to picture book author Tara Lazar) so I’ve got loads of ideas already. Well, I’ve been having a big clear out and shake up and I’m finally, for the first time in my life, getting...
ORGANISED! (cue scary music)
How to spend less time ‘writing’ and get more done.
I remember as a child thinking that the phrase: ‘If you want something doing, ask a busy person’ was a silly one. I’m still not a fan of the phrase (because of the tone in which it’s usually said), but there’s a lot more truth to it than I gave it credit for.
When I had all the time in the world, pre-children, I did long working hours in my job at a university, and felt that I absolutely had to work that long in order to get the job done. There was always so much more to do.
Then I had my first baby, who cried lots and didn’t like to sleep. I’d left my paid job to be a stay at home mother, the job I’d always most wanted to do. Very soon (when my daughter was about eight weeks old) I got the picture book bug and started writing. It was in short snippets –often really short snippets of ten minutes or so, a few times a week. But I let things play around in my head so that when I did get the chance to sit and write, I was focused. Having very little time, made me way more productive with writing than I’d ever been in my previous job.
More than eight years later and the youngest of my three started school full-time, back in September. What an incredible opportunity. I thought it would give me loads more time to write and everything associated with it (doing school visits/generating work etc) and, more important, get the house sorted. And yet it didn’t. I found myself slipping back into my pre-child work pattern of losing focus because I had more time to. I found myself being more distracted by FaceBook and other writers’ lives... and I wasn’t sorting out the house any more than I ever had. Ever.
So I’ve recreated some of the lack of time that seemed to have made me more productive when I was sleep-deprived. I now spend far less time writing every day than I (THOUGHT I) was doing last term when I was at home during the day without the children. And do you know what? So far (ok, it’s only been a week), it’s really worked. I’m way more focused. I’ve done what loads of people do all the time without having to talk about it and think about it: got myself more organised. I now have a diary, a calendar...
(See, I have an actual calendar -and a diary- and I'm not afraid to use them.)
... and most important, a PLAN. It’s a daily plan (Monday to Friday), telling me what I’m doing and when. Lots of people would laugh but for someone who is naturally disorganised, it feels revolutionary (and like a massive weight’s been taken off –thank you, Fly Lady!). I can just do as I’m told:
I write when I’m scheduled to -6-7am three times a week for brainstorming new picture book ideas, and 9.30-11.30 for writing my current work in progress. Crucially, I’m not online during that time. That’s proper writing time, when I don’t do anything else -as opposed to last term when I thought I was writing all day every day, but clearly wasn't. The rest of the day? I do what I’m told, when I’m told -so sorting out school visits, or working on my website, or doing SCBWI things etc., and, again, crucially, which part of the house I'm sorting out, each one scheduled at the same time on the same day each week.
I’d read about how to get organised/be more efficient lots of times but it’s only now that I’ve actually really believed I can do it. So I can. (If there’s anyone else out there who really struggles to be organised, especially in the home, then try Fly Lady –for me, it’s brilliant.)
So bring on 2013. This is the year for surrounding myself with love instead of junk. (I always have had lovely people and things around me but this year I’ll be able to see more of them without having to remove the boxes and bags of junk in their way. I’ll probably find some extra children I didn’t even know I had, and there’s definitely a husband hidden somewhere...).
And my writing environment? I can’t even show you what it was (too terrifying) but I’ve moved up into the attic which is now the office and my nine year old’s bedroom (“On one condition: that you keep it tidy”. That was her to me, not the other way around –and, for the first time in my life, I WILL). This is my desk now:
And a close up of my happy pin-board:
Are you planning on looking for inspiration from anywhere different this year? And have you made any resolutions about your writing life/ getting organised? Please feel free to share them, below.
Have a truly inspirational and extremely happy new year, filled with love, writing, reading and lots and lots of children’s pictures.
Juliet Clare Bell is a children's author (Don't Panic, Annika! illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, Piccadilly Books, 2011; Pirate Picnic, an early reader, illustrated by Mirella Minelli, Franklin Watts, 2012; The Kite Princess, illustrated by Laura-Kate Chapman, narrated by Imelda Staunton, Barefoot Books, 2012) who used to live in a very disorganised house, but doesn't any more (as of the beginning of January). She is very interested to see if this makes a scrap of difference to her writing output.