Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Can ET riding on a car inspire me to get on with my writing? Writing when you don't feel like it by Juliet Clare Bell

ET's head, riding on a car. And why not?

Writing is personal, whatever it's about. And that's a good thing -it's what gives the story or article or piece, voice.

There are times, though, when it's easier to get on with less personal work, like sorting out school visits, doing professional critiques, preparing SCBWI stuff for an upcoming conference...

Sometimes, it's easier not to pick up a pen and actually write, and now seems to be one of those times. But that's not always very convenient. So, what do you do when you're feeling more inclined to make your google calendar look really colourful and pretty?


Look at all those colours (but not at the chocolate wrapper)

or when those windows suddenly look in urgent need of a clean, even though you've been completely oblivious to the mini hand smears until now...?

How can I possibly write when my window looks like that?


I thought I'd better take a leaf out of my teaching book. I'm always telling students, adults and children alike, that ideas are all around you and that you just have to be receptive to them. I was reminded of this from a friend's recent blog post, written by her primary-aged children, last week. It was a list of all the things they'd seen on a walk

It's great. (I particularly like the two pigeons out on a romantic walk, and a mushroom looking like a curly wurly swirly poo, and falling leaves that we reached up to catch.)

I decided to try that, but the children were at school and I walked in a slightly different direction from my friends and felt less inspired...

and then I decided to clear out the loft.

Now that was more like it. I found loads of old photos (including ET, above), letters, postcards and best of all, old school books from when I was five and six.


My six-year-old reading my five- and six-year-old school books

But would it spark any ideas for stories?


Well, maybe not that story exactly, but it's reminded me of the incident and some things around it that might be worth playing around with (and it was certainly very funny).



"Someone else came and he is going tonight we think". Did he go? Is he still there? That got me thinking (though perhaps not for a picture book).


I'm not sure I'd get away with this kind of cheat any more...
("I wish that the queen was not dead. So she was not dead.") Would be nice...

and the goal might need to be a little harder for the protagonist to achieve than this

But there's something good about rediscovering an old preoccupation with magic pigs


and the dated work has an added excitement to it
I wrote this exactly 38 years and three days ago as I write...


It's been a good way of reconnecting with things a little, even if some of those things are pretty poignant
Letters and stories from my mum, who died last year

My mum as a young child (with a distinctly sinister-looking doll), out in India


And in the meantime, I'm trying to be more present, aware of what I'm doing -and open to how I could incorporate it into a story (ok, that kind of goes against the being present bit). At lunch, I started making a lentil soup and got half way through making it before discovering that I didn't have any lentils. After I'd added enough water for an ingredient that was now missing. What could I do to my watery soup? Well, I looked around and turned it into anything goes soup


which kind of got me thinking along the right lines for picture books (and tasted ok, in spite of the slightly unusual ingredients).

And it may not be relevant but I really enjoyed this recent picture by one of my children

and this spider who was stretched out along a light-coloured wall, possibly to make the most of the sun? There were three of them together and I'd never seen spiders do that before...


Unfortunately, what I REALLY need to be doing right now is editing various manuscripts. And all the fun idea-generating distractions in the world won't help me with that. So I need to get down to it and focus. And actually, that pretty google calendar is helping me prioritise, but maybe I should just change that green to purple...

What do you do to get yourself going again when you're feeling less than inspired to write or edit?

Juliet Clare Bell (always called Clare) is a children's author who's excited about PiBoIdMo, the upcoming SCBWI British Isles Annual Conference in Winchester (in which she's appearing as a panelist representing creative non-fiction picture books, and is overseeing the crazy but fun and useful Friday Night Critique) and the tasty preparation for her first creative nonfiction picture book (out in 2015) on the remarkable Cadbury Brothers. www.julietclarebell.com



26 comments:

  1. I didn't see the chocolate wrapper, sort of... I tend to go for a walk to the botanics and sit in my usual spot in the rock garden. It's usually raining but I don't mind. There's always the cafe to pack my face with cake and hot chocolate. It clears my mind somehow and then in the way home, the wee voices come back. Telling me it's alright and everything (may) be OK. Sometimes it doesn't work and I find myself looking at yet more boxes in the garage that hold my life. I just can't leave photograph albums alone.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I love photo albums and loose photos. But I do need to be a little more disciplined at the moment. Back to the ever reliable Fly Lady...

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  2. Hunting and gathering is what I would do too Clare, photographs, journals,diaries, favourite books and quotes. Sometimes fear is a great motivator too, there's nothing like the fear of missing a deadline. Happy hunting, I'm sure inspiration is just around the corner x

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    1. Thank you, Katy. I like the idea of hunting and gathering. I do have quite a lot of deadlines for the other bits associated with writing (events etc.) coming up. I need to create some for writing. I'm a simple soul and I can usually trick my brain into thinking that my own artificial deadlines are proper deadlines. Making yourself a bit more publicly accountable like this is a pretty good kick up the backside. Thank you!

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  3. I absolutely love this post! I really enjoyed the stories! I love the mysterious visitor and the fire alarm and the different coats. My only complaint is that I really want to write stories inspired by them now - so please write them so I don't give in to overwhelming desire to steal them! And I love the very very veryness of the writing, and the all powerful turning to good. There's something very satisfying about an overwhelmingly positive twist to a tale!

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    1. Dear Anne, You are completely free to write something inspired from the stories (I'd love to see them when they're finished). Anything you wrote would be completely different from anything I wrote -and also, I remember the story and how it went down in 'news' at school, which will be different again from what you write. Steal ahead (I have had an idea about the soup, but help yourself to the children's stories). Everything was very very very back then. I have to remove some of them from my writing now, even. Wouldn't it be fun to write as black and white as we did when we were that age? Glad you enjoyed it! Clare.

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  4. If I am utterly stuck, I usually sit my child down and probe what's happening in the world of an 8 year old. After getting a response like "Today at school, the teacher said that we should look at that bouncy, thingy and then do something with it... And then whats her name, you know the one that always does that funny thing, mommy? Well, she was doing I don't know what and then she told us she likes carrots." After that conversation, I am a). glad that I'm not an 8 year old and b). my head is cleared of my own cobwebs and I can get to being creative again! Xx Teara

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    1. Thanks, Teara! I write down lots of what my children say. I'd love to be able to incorporate more of it, but it's usually too bizarre for picture books. It's extremely entertaining, though and often as intriguing as your child's.

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  5. We recently shared our childhood/teenage writing at our Southampton SCBWI group and it was brilliant to get inspiration from everyone's stories from many moons ago. I found a poem I did aged 7 which I would love to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt! Anyway, I am also in a bit of a slump right now and forcing things which aren't working, so I think I need to get out my sketchbook and pencils again. I am not the world's best artist but I sometimes find it easier to come up with new characters and their stories that way, and it feels less pressurised than putting words down on paper. Although I am also sorely tempted by Sarah's idea of café and a nice view over the gardens!

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    1. Thank you, Helen. What a great thing to do with a group! I might try that with our Central West SCBWI group some time. It's given me an idea for some exercises we could do as a group. If I try them out and they work, I'll let you know. Thanks again... Clare.

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  6. Great spiders! What WERE they doing? I love the idea of going on a walk - a wander - and collecting what you see in words. That's a good head challenge and I'm sure it will get your creative juices going, Claire. So I've just looked out of my office window to give it a try and I saw - a truck called 'rhino' (does it secretly behave like one?) an old lady in a very bright blue beret (was she once a famous daredevil) a window that is completely bricked up (hmm, portal to magic place?). Shame I'm writing a non-fiction book about the Stone Age today though..... : )

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    1. Thanks, Moira. Now how to incorporate that rhino into your stone age book...

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  7. Great post! I recently joined a group that decides to set a certain number of days, 2-3 at a time, to cheer each other on in revision. It can be risky when the chatting gets started, but I find it motivates to know we're in it together!

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    1. Thanks, Julie. I'd love to know more about your group. Is it online? Is it a local SCBWI group? We've done more things a little like that recently in our SCBWI group and it's so useful to hear about how other people are doing it. If you have time, could you explain how it works? Thanks lots and happy cheering of each other! Clare.

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  8. Normally a very tight deadline gets me writing whether I want to or not.

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    1. Very true, Lynne. I'm going to set me some of them... next week!

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  9. Love the six year old you's books! I have just one of mine from when I was that age and it's so like yours in the look of the writing and pictures, except mine has 'see me' written on it quite a lot. Was my teacher from Glasgow or something? ;-) I love children's logic, your eight year old should write a book of daily thoughts. I'd buy it ;-)

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    1. Oh no! See me at the tender age of six! My children's logic is fab. People used to say I should hire out my now-eight-year-old to come up with her crazy thoughts that they could then use for stories. She currently wants to be an author-illustrator (Wendy Meddour's Mina May has a lot to answer for!) so she'll probably do it herself. She's already made two books at school this week in wet play that she's brought home. Totally bonkers but very funny with great pictures...

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  10. I love this post and how the seeming randomness of everyday objects and personal memorabilia can be the springboard for story ideas in creatives like us. When I am stuck or don't have much time to work on my writing due to other commitments, I fix upon these objects, characters, titbits of story ideas and ask them questions as I'm drifting off to sleep. I find that half-asleep state of mind is great for working out plot problems or conjuring up new stories. Sometimes I even wake up with an a-ha moment and then I can't wait to find a notebook or random piece of paper to capture it before it vanishes.

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    1. Thanks, Natascha. I'm going to try asking some questions of strange things as I go to sleep tonight...

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  11. Great blog, Clare. There's a book called How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith that you might like - it encourages the reader to explore and catalogue their daily life and is great for generating random ideas.

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    1. Thanks, Nick. I'm going to try and get hold of a copy. Great to see you, albeit briefly, at the conference this weekend.

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  12. Oh I loved seeing your old stuff Clare. Like you, I sometimes wonder if I should just write down everything my kid says and publish that, he's so...so...in touch with what kids think. I enjoyed cleaning out my Mom's attic 2 years ago: it's when I found my forgotten manuscript (written in 2004) and that started me on the road that led me to write to Debi Gliori who introduced me to SCBWI. So a productive trip to the attic all-round that time, for me!

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    1. Thanks, Sheila. Cool story about Debi Gliori and attics. She's fab. And do write down what your children say. It's lovely to look back on later...

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  13. Thanks Clare - I really enjoyed reading your juvenilia!
    Especially the one about Sally Green who sounds important and the mysterious 'someone else' who's 'going tonight' you think .

    Also love these post that inspire such interesting comments!

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    1. Thanks, Jan. I always love reading the comments, too...

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