Skip to content

Posts by ukpr

It’s time for morning pages…

Morning!  It’s time for morning pages!

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know how I start my days, clogging your timeline with #amwriting tweets and lovely cups of tea.  Every morning, it’s time for morning pages as soon as I can manage it, leaving bed for the kettle to wake myself up with words.  It is a practice, a ritual, and a habit, one I’ve done for years and years.  I flex my fingers; I empty my head.  It is the only form of meditation I actually commit to and do.  Without morning pages, I feel a bit scratchy, a bit foggy and shocked.  Like the proverbial tree falling, is it morning if I’ve not done pages?  My head isn’t so sure.

So, what are morning pages?  Do they have to happen in the morning?  How do they work and why do I, along with writers across the whole of the world, continue to do them, day after day?  Morning pages as a writing practice came into popularity with Julia Cameron’s creativity manifesto, The Artist’s Way, though the idea itself is first found in Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, published in 1934.  Here, Dorothea suggests:  “Just as soon as you can – without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before – begin to write.  Write anything that comes into your head:  last night’s dream; the activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience.  Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically.”  Simply write without direction, without hope or control of the outcome as a way to begin the day.  While Julia says the writing must be done by hand, Dorothea says, “If you can teach yourself to use the typewriter in this period, so much the better.”  Julia says to fill three blank pages, while Dorothea suggests we should write as long as we have free time, until you have “utterly written yourself out.”   So, even the gurus of morning pages can’t quite agree on how they should be done – only that they should be done – and that they should be done in the morning.

I’m all for the following of rules, but only when they suit me.  As both Julia and Dorothea agree morning pages must be done in the morning, so do I.  “End of the day pages” would be a diary or gratitude journal.  You want to write while you’re still a bit fuzzy, before the day has had a chance to get you into its rhythms, its demands.  Julia says longhand matters, because, “There is an energy to the hand that leads our thoughts to a deeper and more connected place than writing on the keys does.”  That may be true for Julia, but longhand hurts my hand and is all but unreadable, should I wish to read it.  If a typewriter is acceptable to Dorothea, I choose the laptop, whose keys are quieter and whose heft is less in the lap.  And while Julia would most certainly not approve, I do my morning pages online at the excellent (and free) site 750words.com, which sends me an email every morning, reminding me to write, just in case.  They also track your moods through looking at your keywords, if you want them to.  This is me, today, as most mornings:

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 11.41.21

Typing away, I’m unaware that I’m feeling anxious or that I’m concerned mostly about death.  Is it true? Does it matter?  I’m not conscious of doing or trying to do or say anything.  I’m only letting my head noodle though my fingers and following my thoughts where they go.  Sometimes, my morning pages read like to-do lists or laundry lists of concerns and worries, mistakes and hopes, plans and dreams.  Sometimes, my morning pages are filled with self-pity, so that I can rid myself of it and move on.  My morning pages can be first stabs at new thoughts – new ideas, things I’m thinking about writing – and sometimes the earliest writing of new projects happens here with morning pages that look like monologues from characters or snatches of dialogue, things I or my characters might say or think.  Sometimes, I write about what I wish I were writing about – and I find that I am writing about it, simply because my ego and my inner critic are still waiting for the tea to kick in.  Morning pages can be whiny or inspirational, they can be true or false, they can be bursts of newness or relentless churning returns to old slights and digs and memories.  In short, morning pages are a place to dump the contents of our messy heads to make some room, for whatever will come.  It is meditation in action, through fingers, and also a frame for thoughts, feelings, and imaginations.

Morning Pages certainly have their detractors, even when they begrudgingly join in, as does Oliver Burkeman in his Guardian article.  Yes, morning pages take time, though I manage my 750 words, most mornings, in 10 – 12 minutes.  Julia Cameron would say that’s too fast, but she can’t reach me from her ranch in New Mexico to where I am, laptop on my knees in bed, or sitting on the porch of the Blue House, angling my limbs toward the sun.  Sometimes I do morning pages standing up with a cup of tea at my elbow, typing away until the website tells me when I’ve hit the magic number and it’s time to stop.  The website keeps track of our days and words.  Apparently, I’ve written more than 3 novels worth of morning pages on the site already, unreadable, unusable words that will never be published and are of no value to anyone but me.  Only occasionally do I copy what I’ve written in morning pages to paste into a document, rare mornings when an insight comes into what I want or what a problematic character is really doing, and I know I’ve caught a snatch of something that I didn’t have access to, in my conscious mind, the one that’s concerned with deadlines and word counts and “is this working” and when can I have another cup of tea?  These bursts of words you didn’t intend, of thoughts and feelings you didn’t know you had, are gold.  While not the purpose of morning pages, they are a benefit, an added extra that can lead your writing – indeed, your life – in whole new directions.  And that’s all we want to do, by writing, isn’t it?  To understand ourselves and others, to see, for a few brief moments, how it is that the world works and where our place is in it, and how to word it?

Well, at least that’s what I found in morning pages this morning, thinking about why I do them.  Whether by hand or fingertip, standing or sitting, dressed or pyjama-ed, with tea or without, why don’t you give them a try, some morning and see what comes?

That certain smell of fire and explosives…

dba6a111097d5697a81f7ac67afb845fIt’s the 4th of July – which means fireworks and barbecues – but here in the UK, it’s just another day.  Well, would you want to celebrate losing a continent?  Here, we reserve setting things on fire for Guy Fawkes, which celebrates the day an Italian tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Today on the Prime Writers site, I’m here with some ex-pat writers, trying to remember what the 4th of July was like, which led to a big tumble down memory lane and a giant box of Red Devil firecrackers.  Light ’em up, Smoky Joe…

I love We Love This Book

IScreen Shot 2015-06-19 at 16.10.09f you love books, you’ll want to sign up to We Love This Book, a one-stop shop for great new reads – as well as some – ahem – older ones.  Up this month in a feature of “women on the run” is Amity & Sorrow, as recommended by Isabel Ashdown, whose third novel, Flight, is out now.  Back when my book was only a wish, We Love This Book was a paper magazine.  Now, it may be website and e-newsletter, but it’s still as great a read as ever.  Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 16.10.34

Who are you like?

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 09.10.00One of the hardest questions I faced when hoping to sell Amity & Sorrow was comparing my work and my writing to someone else’s.  Potential agents and publishers want to know:  who are you like?  But how can you know?  And, if you know, how can you possibly dare to utter the name of an idol?  Now that I’m out the other side of that, I can see the benefits.  Placing books alongside others helps readers to find new writers.  It isn’t about who we really think we write like, because the goal, of course, is to find our own voices and our own ways.  Today, on We Love This Book, I’m very happy to share a screen with Rebecca Wait, whose new second novel, The Followers, sits alongside Life After Life and Amity & Sorrow very nicely.  Do we three write the same?  Probably not.  But if it helps readers to take a chance on The Followers, which I found completely gripping, then it is all to the good!  And, you know, if any of Kate’s readers want to take on my little debut novel…

So, who are you like?  Can you dare to say it?

Alice & Me

It’s nice to share a cover with Alice Munro – but I’m sorry she didn’t get any fire with hers!

Riley_AmityandSorrow

9781784700881

 

 

 

 

Editing

paper-boatThis weekend, another writer pointed out to me that I hadn’t written a blog post in a long time.  A LONG time.  And my only excuse is that I’m editing.  And what can you say about editing that’s interesting?  People want news of ends and beginnings, “done’s” and “begun’s” and not so much about the middle.  Middles are process and not so newsworthy.  And sometimes the middles take a long, long time.

But, come to think of it, what is editing, anyway?  We bandy the term about, but what do we mean?  Sometimes we say we’re editing, because it’s a last draft and we’re looking at every word with a big red pen.  This is painful, picky editing, the last of the last of the drafts.  Sometimes we’re really rewriting, but saying editing sounds more “done”.  Edits can be structural, looking at the whole of the thing, or line-by-line, or sometimes it’s something in the middle, working through the elements of the novel one by one: character by character, plot, story arcs, details, time.  It can be very hard to edit everything all at once, but everything has to get edited, eventually.

Edits happen by standing back as well as by zooming in.  Edits happen, sometimes, with editors who help you see your book with fresh eyes.  Too many drafts and you can’t see the story for the words.  Editor-less, there are lots of books on self-editing.  I have quite a number on my shelves that I flip through, now and again, sure that I’m forgetting something crucial, something simple, some key that will turn the whole of the thing around in a snap.  Am I showing more than telling in the right places?  Is Chapter 1 the story’s beginning?  Are all the elements there and in the right place, in the right order?  Have I got to grips with this story I want to tell?

I’ve lost count of drafts I’ve done now, but it is a healthy stack.  I’m a messy writer, slapping rough drafts together, draft after draft.  I trained as a playwright and I still look at writing as if I’m building a chair or a boat.  At first, I only want it to hold together, to keep the water out.  I don’t worry about sanding or polishing it for a long time.  That’s just my process.  So, when I say editing I mean I’m very near the end.  Now, I’m looking at the whole of the thing, the boat that’s ready to leave the port.  And I’m also picking away at it with sandpaper, smoothing away bits I don’t need anymore or sanding away at transitions, easing it toward being a better read.  I’m now at the point when I’m checking the winds and the weather at sea.  Soon, I’ll set sail.  Soon. But until then, I’m editing.  If you’d like to talk more about editing, why not join me at the WhitLit Writers Day?

 

WhitWord

WhitWord Oct-Dec 2014 01_crp.img_assist_custom-320x213Did you know I have an author page on Facebook?  I’m more a Twitter girl, but for some things, only Facebook will do.  Here’s today’s link to my upcoming event with WhitWord, a brand new group for writers of Whitstable – and beyond!  We’ll be talking about writing, sure, but mostly about what makes a real difference.  Where to submit, who to talk to, how to get the help and support you need when you need it most.  No book is an island and no writer needs to feel alone.  Why not make a late new year writing resolution and join a writing group?

This new year…

IMG_4656This new year finds me getting over a head cold and gearing up to work on last year’s books.  (That’s so last year!)  It would be nice to have everything brand new with a brand new year, but lives aren’t like towels.  You can’t just buy new ones in the sale.  Some books take a long time to get right, as this stack of old drafts attests.  Last year was spent rewriting my second book – and some of this year will be spent the same.  That’s my lot.  But last year, I also finished the first draft of a new book – so many I’ll get two right this year.  Anything is possible.  Really.
I’m no resolution maker.  I like my life the way it is and I don’t need a new calendar or fancy app to tell me to get my patoot out of the chair and lace the trainers on.  Today, in particular, I need to tell myself to knuckle down, but I figure it’s part of the transitioning out of illness and crazy-making holidays and back to whatever normal is.  That’s my excuse, anyway.  It’s all I’ve got on a rainy January with my tepid cup of tea and to-do list.
There is something about January that makes us want to start new things – even when we know the work is to finish what’s already before us.  I’m going to be sitting in this chair and working on these pages until May, I reckon.  But once we get to May, I do predict a few changes.  And just like that, with a new deadline and the first marks made in a brand new calendar, the year begins to take shape.  Every day, a cup of tea and a fresh idea can change the world – well, our world, anyway:  our moods, our outlooks, our hopes, our dreams.  And with that, I’d better switch that kettle on.

Happy Holidays to you…

photoChestnuts roasting on my open Calor gas heater, fairy lights strung across a stack of old drafts.  Time to boil the kettle again and to wish you a Merry Christmas from the Blue House!

See you in the shiny New Year,

Peggy

Great Reads

safe_image.php2014 was a great year for readers.  In today’s Huffington Post, author Hannah Beckerman asked 20 fellow writers – including me – for their favourite books of the year.  It’s quite a list – and my to-read list just skyrocketed! How about yours?

Authors Pick the Best Books of 2014:  Huffington Post

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: