A year ago, on a cold January weekend, I attended an Artist’s Way workshop with Julia Cameron. I can’t believe one year has flown by already. At the time I was so low on energy that I hesitated to go at all. But I’m so glad I did. Those 2 days were a whirlwind of interactive exercises and small group discussions. Julia was intense, inspiring and very funny. I connected with amazing people from all walks of life. I laughed a lot, cried a little, and was reminded over and over again how we humans are all so alike and struggle with the same things. Since then I’ve been writing morning pages practically daily (which adds up to over 1000 pages of long-hand writing in lots of lovely journals!).
It took a while but I have now incorporated this practice into my routine, and I miss it if I don’t have time. I write my Morning Pages, mostly on the sofa before leaving the house or on my way to work in the tram, but I also scribble them while sitting in trains, cafés or waiting rooms, a couple of times I’ve written them in the silent room at the office, and sometimes I do them in the evening if I didn’t get around to them in the day.
I’m intentionally making time to do Morning Pages because I see that they are key to my mental health and have been crucial to recovering from burn-out. It really helps me to dump my thoughts on the page. I can better observe what is bothering me and find alternative solutions faster. Taking time to reflect also helps me process what’s going on around me and capture my learnings. Also, I find inspiration for creative projects bubbling up, and when I write about plans I have, they seem to happen quicker.
I’d love to hear if any readers are doing Morning Pages or forms of journaling, and what effect these practices have had on you.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a one-day flash fiction writing workshop, a wonderful experience gift from Paolo for my birthday. It was the perfect way to spend a dark, rainy Saturday, very challenging but also fun and interactive. The great thing about flash fiction is the pieces are so short, so we could read several examples in the class and discuss them. I enjoyed noticing what speaks to me and what doesn’t touch me at all. We also worked with prompts and writing with paper and pencil on very short deadlines that left no space to the inner-critic.
For the final assignment, we had just 30 minutes to write a 325 words piece (in the end we did get an extra 15 minutes;). It was incredibly encouraging to see what you can come up with in such a short time: a raw first draft. I learned a lot from reading the other people’s pieces and from the feedback I received on my piece (my favorite was from a participant who said he creates trailers for video games and my story would have made a great video game trailer! I love how random ideas and sectors can be associated:) Now I want to take that raw draft and move it forward! I’m curious to see what will come of it.
Do you ever have that feeling when you are talking with strangers or people you know, and you are mildly bored? You go through the merry-go-round of basic questions, make small talk and are left feeling kind of bland. I realised lately that the conversations I enjoy most are the ones about people’s stories and dreams, their ‘crazy’ ideas or the creative projects they mention in passing with a sheepish grin, things that may seem random or unimportant on the surface.
I love seeing how people’s faces light up when asked a follow-up question about it, and feeling how my curiosity is piqued, like I’ve landed on a precious nugget of information, a vein of gold leading me to a more interesting aspect of the person. One of the reasons I enjoy these chats so much is that they open up the door of possibility for everyone listening. They are a powerful reminder of the importance of doing things just to feed our soul, sometimes with no specific reason other than to feel ourselves come alive, out of pure curiosity to see what it would be like and where it might lead…
So I want to explore the inner workings of these types of endeavours with people around me, who, when an idea tugs at their sleeve, decide to show up and simply give it a go, despite the unknown and the fear that may lurk. This new series will be called WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? and I’m excited to share my first interview next week!
Last Friday, another of my texts from a writing exercise was featured on the Facebook page of the International Writer’s Collective. You can read it on this link if you are curious and let me know what you think:) I’m really grateful that it was featured and to see people’s reactions, as had a lot of fun writing this piece. After reading a quite rambling first draft out loud to Paolo, he gave me pointed feedback to improve it which I incorporated to a certain extent (yes, I know, I could have put more dialogue!).
Hearing the feedback from my class mates about the second version was really great because they understood what I was going for and put it very beautifully in words, as well as pointing out more improvement suggestions. It’s a beautiful reminder of how I don’t write alone, even if I am by myself at the keyboard. People’s reactions and comments really help to see if I’m on the right track and get new ideas, as well as be encouraged to continue. Several people have also asked what happens next or made suggestions on what they think will happen… so I need to take some time to move it forward some time soon;)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #130
Some days all you really need is to hang out with a friend, unrushed, just catching up while taking a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood and supporting a small business (and enjoying delicious vegan cakes in the process;).
Then taking a further stroll through the park even if the weather is grey, watching the birds and marveling at the fresh green of spring leaves, while having inspiring talks about upcoming creative plans and ideas for the next months, and plotting how to keep each other accountable…
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128
In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me. I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.
However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.
Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:
- a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
- a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
- delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition
Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!
Just a few words today about the joy of some quiet time over the weekend, spent sitting on the sofa with a coffee and my laptop, conjuring up my next writing assignment. Starting with a blank page and an image in my mind of a beach scene, engrossed in the challenge of creating a patient third person narrator and some lyrical language, I was completely absorbed and in the flow, so much so that I nearly felt like I should brush the sand off my legs when I was done for the day:)
‘Improving my writing skills’ started popping up regularly on my dream lists last year, so in January I decided to treat myself and use these quiet winter months to follow an 8-week creative writing course.
It is a very fun and interactive class, and it works like this:
- We read in detail a 2 page extract from a published writer, analysing the type of narrator, tone, mood and techniques. Then our homework for the next class consists in writing a 2-page double-spaced piece inspired by the extract. The goal is to try out the techniques that made the extract successful. I love reading, but I hadn’t looked at a text in such detail since I was in high-school. It’s fascinating to see the craft used to have an effect on the reader and how words can take us into another world in no time.
- We critique the piece written by each student. Though this sounds daunting and it is definitely outside my confort zone, it is actually really interesting both when you are critiquing and being critiqued. It’s fascinating to see in real-time how people react to something I’ve written and get feedback from fellow students and the teacher. It helps to see what people liked or didn’t resonate with. I also really love reading what other students have come up with based on the same instructions, the outcomes are so wildly different and amazingly creative.
So each week lately I’ve been spending several hours on my assignment, and I’m enjoying the challenge so much, regularly finding myself in flow. Based on the guidelines, I start getting ideas, jot them down, improve the wording and then it is like a puzzle to manage to rearrange the parts, putting them together so the story flows somewhat logically.
Though it is challenging to stick to just two pages, it’s fun to see how in so little space it’s possible to create a small world, stretching myself to find solutions and iron out the creases as the idea becomes more concrete in my head. The great thing is that having only one week between classes, I just need to squeeze writing time into my schedule and get on with it. Of course my inner critic makes regular appearances but I reassure it that these are ‘just exercises’, so no need to worry;)
The set-up is constructive because it’s a great way just to get something on paper regularly, it doesn’t need to be perfect because with feedback from the others you leave the class with concrete points to improve your piece. This course is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done lately!
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #115
January has come and gone, with its short days and a bit of snow sprinkled here and there. It turned out to be a month for getting more grounded, with indoor activities like making mood boards, journaling, reading and writing. It feels like ‘maintenance’ on myself to recharge and set a good basis for the months to come.
A recurring theme has been creativity. I am grateful for Paolo and my friends’ encouragement as I take steps outside my comfort zone. I’m glad to be stretching myself and trying new things which I believe will help me to grow in unexpected ways.
Lately I’ve noticed how when I give creativity some more attention, it starts to infuse everything. Taking the tram to the office becomes a chance to observe people and become aware of how the city is changing, rather than just a boring commute. Sitting in meetings at work is like watching improv theater, unscripted human interaction in an ecosystem complete with its unwritten rules and often incongruous behaviours. Cleaning the bathroom becomes a quiet time to search for memories hidden deep in my brain as inspiration for my next writing assignment. I can’t wait to see where these creative paths will lead me…
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #101
Today I am grateful for the fact that as humans we have the capacity to imagine and create a better world. Since JOYFUL GRATITUDE 101 sounds like the name of an introduction course, I started to imagine over the last few days what the world might look like if practicing gratitude was taught as a class in schools and universities, rather than a topic we gleaned from self-help books later on in life.
Imagine if practicing gratitude was presented to young people as an important activity for mental health, just like doing regular sport is for physical health? What if a fraction of the time spent on advanced math, was dedicated instead to learning how it is beneficial to take time to appreciate everything we have?
Imagine if instead of fixating on what we were lacking, we learnt early on to shift our focus onto what we are blessed with. Imagine if we learnt from a young age the subversive act of mindfully resisting the feeling of scarcity and FOMO, and trained ourselves to zoom in more systematically to all that we do have going for us.
Maybe it could help turn tough periods into slightly easier times (particularly adolescence and being a young adult, but also later in life) and allow us to more readily reframe the messages we constantly receive from (social) media and advertising about how we are not enough. Maybe it would allow people to bring their precious creative gifts more freely into the world. Maybe it would create space to be aware of and help those who are not as privileged. Probably there are many other side effects I cannot even dream up.
At this stage I don’t have the keys to change the education system, so all I can do is ‘be the change I want to see’ at my own level. I’m loving writing weekly about the big and small things I am grateful for, and hope maybe it can inspire some readers out there:) Even so, to be honest I still easily get sucked into feelings of scarcity and comparison if I don’t watch my mind, so I’m trying my best to be mindful over and over again about looking out for the good things.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, how has practising gratitude impacted you?