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)

(Almost as good as a picture book. Thank you, FlyLady.)


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:

Surrounded by love, inspiration and things that make me really happy: a picture of an olive tree, painted by my mum, Margaret Storr; another, by my illustrator friend, Jess Mikhail. Then there’s Quentin Blake’s new book, which I love knowing is there for me to see whenever I want to; a happy pin-board; a book of poems by Robert Frost; a fifteen-year-old dinosaur toy for a story I’m thinking about; and some photos, including, on the right, the person who makes all this possible, Mark. There’s even enough room for my computer and notebook...

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.
www.julietclarebell.com

27 comments:

  1. Wow! Clare, you have done wonders! I need to apply your organizing to my life! I need to schedule things out so that I'm not jumping from this to that. I need focus and you've inspired me. I love that about this post!
    But what I love the most is probably the drawings. They are so inspirational and, well, just plain cute. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Penny. I am determined to keep it going. AND I'm going to keep up with the scanning. This is my year to be focused and to focus on the right things... Happy 2013!

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  2. Lovely! I'm a sucker for collecting children's drawings too. Some of them are really dark and gory - way more than we picture book authors would be allowed to get away with. I love the alien one!

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    1. My middle daughter has always done lots of dark pictures. They're great -but you're right, way darker than you could get away with in most picture books (there were plenty that were too dark to put up!). Thanks, Abie.

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  3. They always say you'll have more time if you're organised but its finding the time to get organised first that is a struggle. Glad you're managing it! Loved the kids' artwork!

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    1. Thank you, Rebecca. I think I had to get to the point where not doing it wasn't an option any more. It's actually taking far less time now to do anything -and much more efficiently. But you're right about having to find the time. And I'm in the luxury position of being able to create that time now. Glad you like the pictures...

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  4. Lovely drawings! I feel all cuddly for hedgehogs now. And I loved the lighthouse drawing as well.

    Best of luck with your new organizational and time management systems!

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    1. Thank you, Cathy. I'm feeling all hedgehoggy now too (which is good since I'm revising a hedgehog manuscript next week). And the lighthouse drawing is my background on this computer.
      Thanks for the luck with the new systems. I actually believe that for the first time in my life they're going to work -they are so far.

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  5. Oh my, the first step is to organize, huh?!?!?!? Anyway, love the kids drawings. They are always inspiring.
    Great job with the post and with organizing...I'll think on it! (while I'm functioning!)

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    1. Thanks, Mona. Don't worry, there's no way you're anything like as in need of it as I was. Glad you like the pictures.

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  6. You have a great crew of artists, Clare. I've attempted Fly Lady before, too! (I do like writing/working with my shoes on and feel better when going to bed with a clean sink.) Thanks for sharing your wisdom and kids' art.

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    1. Thanks, Kristin. I love children's pictures! They're just brilliant. Happy writing. May this be your breakthrough year...

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  7. Adore the happy illustrations - they burst with life. But what are ear worms - I need to know more?! And what a tidy desk!

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    1. Ear worms are the songs that get inside your head and you can't stop singing. And my middle daughter (six) thought it would be a great idea to write them down just to make sure that if I managed to forget them for a while, I'd be sure to remember them every time I looked at the piece of paper that kept mysteriously ending up under my nose... The tidy desk is a very very new thing. But it feels fab.

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  8. You have some true artists there. It was so fun scrolling through all that fun artwork. I couldn't see your photos, probably some security settings my computer guy (husband)has set up for me. Never the less, I was still able to follow your message. Having said that, I will say "Go, Clare, go!" I attempted the Fly Lady years ago. She does have some good pointers. I'm so glad you are good to go. It sounds like you are feeling really good and positive. Keep believing!

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    1. Thank you, Alayne. I'm very lucky to be surrounded by lovely pictures but more so, the lovely people who made them. And thanks for willing me on. If I can do it, so can absolutely anyone.

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  9. It makes so much sense that pictures should inspire picture books - thanks for reminding us of that, Clare.

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    1. I love going through pictures, Pippa. Often, it's just a feeling that a picture gives off, especially if it's drawn by a child. They're so full of emotion. Thanks.

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  10. Are you getting up at 6am every day to think about ideas Clare? I'm impressed! I think I could do that for a little while...Probably once, if I'm really admitting it.....I'd like to, though. I think I'll give it a go.

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  11. It's Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and they're ideas that I've already come up with vaguely and then I flesh them out in an hour. I think I can tell pretty quickly (after that hour) whether they're worth pursuing. And 6-7 is a real quiet peaceful time for ideas I reckon (as long as you've not: read anything/listened to the radio/looked online (preferably, spoken to anyone) first. I've got loads of ideas from PiBoIdMo and it's a good way of getting through them and feeling like you've been creative right at the start of a day. Try it -I'd love to hear how it goes...

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  12. Thanks for an interesting and inspiring post (with wonderful pictures). I am also sitting at a newly tidied desk but I am finding that although my resolution is to be here between between 9 and 11am (because that is the time I am home alone) it isn't necessarily my most creative time. I'm wondering if that will change if I sit here every day at that time.
    Maybe I also need to consult the Fly Lady.......!


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    1. My picture of a 2000-yr-old olive tree! Shock, followed by lump-in-throat and prickly eyes!
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    2. Hello Anonymous M, who also happens to be my mother, and painter of the 2000-year-old olive tree! Your picture makes me very happy. Take a closer look at the happy pin board and you'll see an old photo of you as a child in India with your mother... (given to me, sneakily, by your big brother...). You can see it even closer up next time you stay! x

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    3. And Catherine, really good luck with your new resolution to be there from 9-11am. I always felt like I was a night owl and I started doing 6-7 because with staying up later, I was getting completely out of synch with my husband who is less of a night owl, and I was waking him up when I came to bed. So 6-7 worked because either he was getting up anyway or he just went straight back to sleep when I got up if he didn't have to be up. I wasn't sure I could manage that time, but actually, I love it, and it's become a really productive time for me. If you set yourself a simple goal and make it a bit shorter initially (like 9-9.45) it's less scary to think you have to write for that whole period of time, and then it might all start flowing. I felt nervous about starting this and didn't feel like writing the first day I sat down but I made myself and it did actually work. Good luck!

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  13. Thanks Clare, maybe some part of that time will turn out to be the creative time as I am definitely a morning person. I always felt creative time came as and when but with family commitments I just need to find a way of fitting writing in as part of the routine.

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