Yes 2016 is upon us and it’s the time of year we all reflect on what has past and plan for the year ahead. It’s quite a cathartic process and one I find satisfying. I have to have a map. And to aid me, I’ve pulled off post-it notes from my study wall containing favourite quotes which not only motivate me generally, but ones I often apply to my writing. As I hadn’t blogged for a while, I thought they would be nice to share and, you may be interested to know where some of my inspiration comes from. Here’s the first from Author Tony Robbins:
The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call LUCK!
LUCK! Really! I mean really! This really speaks loud and clear, but so often, especially with time constraints we become defeated. We don’t always see that it is necessary to have to go that extra mile and push those boundaries and squeeze in all in that extra work required to make things happen. Ha ha, yes I finally got the hang of this one in 2012 when I made that decision to get my novel written; these words sung even louder. I needed to get organised and see this dream through, and guess what? Yes, it worked! It is now a habit.
But what about every day? What about the smaller projects? I was recently invited along by the lovely headmistress to the local village primary school to give a talk about my job as an author. I was truly amazed at the interest and enthusiasm the children displayed as I nervously stammered through. I took along examples of notes, preparation items such as time-lines and research folders with notes, cuttings and pictures. They looked on quietly. Then one by one hands went up asking questions. One little girl of about eight asked me ‘Do you do that for every story?’
‘Yes.’ I replied. The headmistress, who was also present, and a keen reader herself, intervened, admitting that it wasn’t something the children usually did in creative writing but she thought it a great process to help them plan and structure their own stories and creative work, and she would implement it and looked forward to reading the results. I can’t wait to hear how much progress has been made, and how many will keep writing. This leads me nicely to the next from Robert Frost:
No tears in the writer
No tears in the reader
No surprise in the writer
No surprise in the reader
Working and planning as a story writer, it makes so much sense. I think it captures why we write. We want readers to feel our character’s journey. Emotion plays such a significant part and although a child may at first find it rather abstract, it’s a wonderful tool to equip them with once grasped so they engage and entertain their reader. It is also a reminder that characters will step in and surprise us, whether with humour or tragedy, however much we have planned. Anton Chekov then aids me to add further richness to writing with his quote:
‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; SHOW me the glint of light on broken glass.’
I love this prompt. We rely on our characters’ experience within the story and this little post-it reminds me to bring in the five senses to each scene; to think about the depth of feeling, what he or she sees, touches and how it affects him, the memories evoked etc. Their thoughts and reactions help us truly empathise with them. Sometimes, they can have that surprised, reverse reaction which invites the next quote given to me by my daughter on a beautiful postcard:
I would rather have a mind opened by WONDER than one closed by BELIEF!
Naturally, we differ, characters differ, one mind prejudice, the other quite lateral and diverse in its thinking, most somewhere in-between but it prods me to try other ways, especially when a plot or scene, or character isn’t working. I brainstorm or listen to others’ ideas or opinions rather that fixing my mind on what I think and, step out of my thinking. And, be prepared to change some things. It can take you into a new sphere, which is why I love this Latin proverb:
‘Fortune favours the brave’
There are a few versions of this quotation, but essentially this quotation has been, and is one I hold dear. It’s not a natural part of our make-up to reach out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, we have to be prepared to squirm, gawp aghast, cope with the unexpected, ask awkward questions, write about sex, open ourselves to scrutiny, to rejection and, inevitably, to swallow bad reviews. All the things which we dread will be thrown at us, especially as authors, and the only way to cope with it, is to face it head on. Forget nerves, forget feeling stupid, clumsy, facing the fear is the only way to overcome them and reap rewards. Skiing scared me witless when I first got up that mountain, but persisting has given me years of fun with the family. Speaking publicly, speaking to my idol authors or literary agents, terrifies me but I try to put things into perspective. It really won’t harm me. And anyway, what is most important? As long as I’m not putting my loved ones at risk and they are safe and well, what is there to worry about?
Again, these quotes only work if you act on them. I try to look forward and keep learning so they have been an integral part of my toolbox and as my plans for this year shape, I remember this one with fondness:
‘Strong people don’t put others down; they lift them up.’
I personally feel this is a great one to remember. I really don’t have the energy for silly gossip or bitching. Nobody enjoys or benefits from being put down. I believe most of us enjoy helping others and also love to be helped. So many people in the writing community must be strong because many are warm and very supportive. I remember when Elaine, my tutor at my writing class suggested I begin sending out the first three chapters and a synopsis to competitions and publishers. I didn’t feel ready but realised she had been teaching creative writing for several years and was unlikely to urge me or any of the class, to submit unless their work was of a standard. That tutor lifted me. My report from the RNA New Writers’ Scheme did the same. Again, a professional writer giving constructive support and, when I finally got the ‘call’ from the publisher, I knew I had met the right people to help me believe in myself and elevate me to where I wanted to be.
I could have held back, maybe done things a different way, but, what if I hadn’t recognised or grasped that opportunity to ‘seize the day’. What if I had sat and worried what readers would think, what my friends and family would think. Nelson Mandela summed up this concern with this quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate – our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’
This is one I recall as publication day edged close with my first novel, The Vineyard. I had put myself out to the world and there was no going back. Figuratively, I was baring my soul. I had to develop that tough shell and work with it. That ‘offspring’ we call LUCK had landed on my lap! Really???
After all, my publisher would never had offered me that two-book deal nor a further two-book deal if they didn’t have faith in me. Which takes me to one final reminder which is going back up on my wall:
‘WINNERS NEVER QUIT AND QUITTERS NEVER WIN’
I think that’s a fair reflection of how I plan to continue this New Year. I am working on new challenges.
Embrace 2016 – Use these quotes if they resonate with you – And good luck!
Love and Best Wishes for 2016