A creative journal

SAMSUNG CSCA diary is hope, measured in blank pages.  It is all the possibilities of the year, waiting to be recorded.  Whether the most exquisite notebook or the simplest planner, it is all the anniversaries yet to be celebrated, all the friends to be met, the meals to be eaten, the holidays to be taken.  It is all the things that might happen as well as the things that must.

SAMSUNG CSC

My reading this year has been illuminated by the minutiae of other women’s days.  Susan Wittig Albert’s explorations of writing, place and climate change; Alice Walker’s memories of The Color Purple; Valerie Davies’ sensual descriptions of life and landscape; Joyce Carol Oates’ philosophical musings on writing.  Through their journals, I have peered into their lives, if only for a moment.  I have always loved reading diaries, generally those of women and preferably accounts, not of great achievement (though the women may be highly accomplished), but of the more prosaic events of their lives.  Through fiction, we can experience a thousand imaginary lives, but through journals, we can glimpse the truths of those lives.

SAMSUNG CSCWhile a new diary is full of hope, a completed diary is life with all its joys and disappointments.  It is a snapshot of who we are at that time, because we don’t know any better.  Whereas memoir has the benefit of hindsight, a diary just is.  There may still be an element of self-censorship or invention, particularly in those that go on to be published.  But a journal is perhaps the truest of our writing about ourselves.  It lays bare our darkest thoughts, our bitterest comments, our silliest fantasies.

SAMSUNG CSC

I have kept a diary for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes diligently, sometimes sporadically.  There have been times, in recent years, where I have made only a handful of entries.  I love buying that new notebook for the year, love the potential of those blank pages.  My younger diaries faithfully recorded the events of each day, as well as hopes and dreams and lists of things I wanted to do in the future.  My more recent journals are less concerned with transcribing events, and more about my view of life as it happens.

SAMSUNG CSC

Sometimes, I find my journals disappointing.  Filled with uneventful days and things not achieved.  Sometimes, they delight me, with the quality of the writing or memories I had forgotten.  Diaries are a record of life, so whether they disappoint or delight is dependent on how that year was lived.  Recently, I tried to re-read my teenage diaries but had to give up, because I cringed at the things I had documented.  Yet the person who wrote those diaries is the person I used to be.  If I wrote my life story, I could edit out the bits I no longer wanted to read.  With a diary, I can’t do that – I must accept myself as I was.  In this past year, blogging has become a journal of sorts.  There must be a temptation for some to publish online all the thoughts they might once have written in a diary – I’m glad that temptation didn’t exist when I recorded the immature concerns of my younger self.

SAMSUNG CSC

There are as many kinds of journals as there are reasons for writing them.  This year, I have taken a different approach to journaling.  I began just after Halloween, at the turn of the ancient year.  This year, I am not diarising my life, but my creativity, focussing on the cycles of nature and how these influence the way I create.  The events of my life will come into it, of course, like the times of stress that curtail inspiration, or those joyful creative maelstroms.  Already, I am more aware of the patterns of my creativity and am clearer about my creative goals.  The pages of this diary are not filled with hope, but with certainty that the stories not yet written and the pictures not yet painted will be born before another journal is complete.

Blogging reflections

SAMSUNG CSC

A year ago today, I finally found the courage to press the button and publish my first blog post.  When I talked about courage, in that first post, I meant the courage to proclaim myself as a writer and expose my writing to the world.  Back then, I knew almost nothing about blogging.  I knew that it was something writers were encouraged to do, but very little more than that.  I also had those worries that any writer has: do I have anything to say, will anyone be interested, will I be laughed at, criticised or simply ignored?   Who did I think I was, sending my writing out into the world assuming my words were worth reading?  I’ll always be grateful to those first few bloggers who ‘liked’ and commented on that post and therefore gave me a little impetus to continue.

SAMSUNG CSC

A year on, I’ve published 44 posts and out of all the creative decisions I’ve made in my life, blogging has been one of the best.  Since I began, my creativity has flourished.  I’ve never had more ideas than I’ve had in this past year.  Although I’ve been writing since I was a child, I’ve never produced the same volume of new writing as I’ve done since I became a blogger.  I’ve never been more disciplined in my creativity – knowing that I have to post every week and meeting those deadlines.  In that first post, I said I was finally confident enough to call myself a writer.  But blogging makes me feel like a writer, because now I do write, all the time, and I share what I write with others.

When I began blogging, I was just beginning to write again, after a difficult period in my life.  Blogging helped me to enjoy writing again.  It helped me to fulfil that compulsion to write that had been lying dormant.  When I began blogging, I was also just beginning to really live again.  And strangely, since I’ve begun to write about the world and the simple pleasures within it, blogging has made me appreciate them more.  I can’t claim that blogging changed my life, but it certainly enhanced it.

SAMSUNG CSC

I know a little more about blogging now than when I began, though I’m by no means an expert.  If you’re thinking about starting a blog – do it!  Have the courage to press that button.  And perhaps these lessons I’ve learned in my first year as a blogger will help you.

Know your purpose – I began with the premise that my blog would be about creativity. I didn’t want to write a ‘how to’ blog, or a blow by blow account of my writing.  I wanted to explore themes of creativity to help me on my creative journey.  I also knew that I wanted to write about some of the things that inspire me, like nature and magic.  Knowing my purpose from the start has helped me to develop ideas for posts.   It helped me to focus and grow more confident, so that I now feel more certain of my identity as a blogger.

SAMSUNG CSC

Allow yourself to evolve – Although the core purpose of my blog has remained the same throughout the year, how I approach it has evolved.  I didn’t realise that I would enjoy writing about the seasons and the natural world so much – or, given that I live in an urban environment, that I would find so much to say about it.  I’m sometimes tempted to write about current affairs, or random events, but so far, I’ve always resisted.  To me, that wouldn’t be evolution, it would be a move away from what my purpose is.  I’ve dabbled in other subjects – my dog, camping, family history – but in most cases, I’ve found a link to inspiration, to creativity….because that’s my core purpose.  I feel that I’ve found a place now, where the natural world and natural cycles inform what I write about.  This evolution happened without me noticing it at first and I have sometimes wondered if I focus on it too much, but it feels right so I’ll continue for as long as that’s true.

SAMSUNG CSC

Consider how you want to present yourself to the world – For me, blogging is presenting myself to the world as a writer.  It’s the only online platform I use to display my writing, so my aim is for it to be a quality experience.  I approach each post as I would any piece of writing.  I draft it, edit it, polish it, illustrate it, just as if it were a story I was planning to submit.  I’ll always be more satisfied with some posts than others, but I know that every post I’ve published has had thought and effort invested in it.  And so, now that I’ve reached my first milestone, I have no regrets about the writing I’ve produced.

Have a realistic timetable – When I began blogging, I thought weekly posts seemed achievable.  I had no scientific reason for this or experience to draw on.  And though I have achieved it, almost without fail, what I didn’t know then, was that blogging is about connecting with people.  I thought I would write a post and hopefully, magically, someone would find it and read it (I was very unclear about how this would happen or how I would know).  I didn’t understand that the feedback was personal, that I’d be able to really interact with other people all around the world.  So, I didn’t know that I’d be spending time reading and replying to comments, reading so many other blogs and commenting on those, so that weekly timetable isn’t quite as realistic as it first appeared.  But –

SAMSUNG CSC

Blogging can be addictive. – I completely understand why some bloggers post once a day or even more.  I love writing and I find that producing a blog post is easier than working on my novel or writing a new story.  I’m in control of my work: I can work on something until I’m happy with it, press a button and it’s published.  I don’t have to wait for approval or a response.  And then there is the instant gratification factor – that immediate feedback and connection with readers.  But in practice, this has meant that I’ve neglected my other writing more than I should.  So, I’ve made the decision to reduce my posting frequency to once a fortnight.  I’m already finding it difficult – the two weeks since my last post have felt strangely barren.

Blogging stimulates creativity – Blogging is a great writing exercise.  I’ve tried morning pages and writing prompts, but they’ve never given me the same stimulation as blogging.  I’ve never had so many ideas or been so creative as I’ve been since I began to blog.  Ideas are all around me – they always have been, but because I’m in that actively receptive state, I seem to find them more easily.  One idea leads to another, and on and on.  I think it helps that what I write about in my blog is different to what I write outside of it, but because my blog is about creativity, it helps to stimulate ideas for fiction and paintings.  It helps me to pay more attention to the world, so I see ideas where I wouldn’t notice them before.

SAMSUNG CSC

Blogging needs focus – I knew that I couldn’t jump into blogging without a safety net.  I didn’t want to publish a post or two and then dry up.  So, before I began, I listed subjects weeks ahead in case I ran out of ideas.  I use a calendar to plan potential posts, sometimes linking in to specific dates, and then filling in the gaps.  Never has my writers notebook been more useful – to record ideas and begin blog posts.  I also take my camera with me more than I ever would before, to record suitable images that might come in handy for blog posts.

But blogging also needs flexibility – I’ve quite often planned a post for a specific time but found another idea that fits the moment.  Sometimes an idea takes over and wants to be written about now.  So, I follow the muse and bump that week’s original idea to a future date.  But it’s the focus that gives me the flexibility.  I know I won’t forget any of my ideas.

SAMSUNG CSC

Connect – Blogging tips that I’ve read advise you to connect with others to increase your readership.  What I don’t think they say, is to connect just for the sake of connecting.  Yes, I’d love to think that one day thousands of people will read every post I write, but if that were to happen, what I’d lose would be the time to make closer connections to the people who read my blog.  I’d lose that feeling of support and exchange and warmth that I get now from the corner of the blogosphere that I hang out in.  This is the aspect of blogging that I didn’t know about when I began, but it’s one of the most rewarding.

Keep going – As creative people, I think we often have crises in confidence.  Sometimes, with blogging, as with my other creative projects, I have moments when I wonder what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and if there’s really any point.  But then I’ll remember how much I enjoy writing each post, how much pleasure I get from incubating and developing new ideas, the connections I’ve made and supportive comments I’ve had.  Ultimately, if I stopped blogging tomorrow, it would have been worth it, for all the benefits it’s brought me.  My first year as a blogger will always be the year I came of age as a writer.  So thank you to everyone who has read my posts and taken the time to comment on them, because you’ve helped me on that journey.

Validation

If you could travel to the future and know with certainty that you would never achieve success with your creative work, would you keep going?

SAMSUNG CSC

I’m celebrating being in print for the first time.  I won third prize in the 2012 International Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition and my story, ‘The End of Hope’, has been published in an anthology.  After having no independent recognition for my stories for years, two prizes came at once.  First, I won fourth prize in the National Association of Writer’s Groups 2012 Open Short Story Competition.  For that, I received a certificate, but the fact that one of my stories had won something was far more valuable to me than a physical prize.  The Rubery award came less than a month later, when I received a mysterious parcel containing a small cheque and a glass trophy.  Again, I was more excited at having won a prize than what it might be.  But the chance to see my work in print and know that someone might read it was what thrilled me most.

SAMSUNG CSC

I’d thought ‘The End of Hope’ was a good story when I wrote it, but when I read it again in the book, strangely, it seemed better than I remembered.  I had to wonder, did it seem better because I just hadn’t read it for a while, or because someone had actually put it into print.  It had won a prize and been published, so it had to be good, didn’t it?  And if this is true, does this mean my work is good only when someone else says so?

SAMSUNG CSC

Writing a blog has been interesting for me, because initially I was sending my writing into the world without any guarantee that it was good, or that anyone would read it.  As those of you who were with me from the beginning will know, my first post, The courage to press the button, was about having the courage to do just that.  And it turns out that real, living people do visit my blog.  They do read my posts and they press the like button or leave a comment.  It’s a small number of people, but they’re people that I’ve grown to feel affection for, by virtue of us visiting one another.  But it’s interesting to get that instant feedback after all those years of writing alone and not knowing what people thought.  And does it mean that the posts I write that don’t get many visits or likes or comments aren’t as good as the ones that do, or is it simply that people were too busy to stop by, or that another post just happened to be of more interest to them on a particular week?

SAMSUNG CSC

So does it matter?  I wonder, if I’d been posting blogs and nobody had visited, whether I would have kept going?  If I compare it to my other writing, I did that for years without any feedback and didn’t give up.  I’ve shown nobody my paintings, but despite not having anyone independent tell me they’re any good, I still keep painting them.  So, if I could take that trip into the future and know that I’d never win another prize, never have anything else published, would I still keep writing?  I’ve been considering my answer to this question without, yet, arriving at a clear answer.

SAMSUNG CSC

I love the process of creating, whether in words or in pictures.  I love the satisfaction I get from feeling I’ve told a story well, or captured something good in paint.  I tend not to write or paint with a potential audience in mind.  The ideas come and I love the feeling I get bringing them to life.  And yet, how much does the promise that one day someone will know and like my work contribute to my carrying on?  Perhaps the real answer is in the compulsion I feel to create and the fact that I can’t imagine ever not doing so.   And so, of course I’ll celebrate my successes, but know that in the true spirit of the journey of life, the value of what I’ve created is in the act of creation.

Why do you write?  Whatever your creative path is, why do you do it?  Is it a compulsion or a passion that you would do just for the love of it?  Does it matter if you never get paid and nobody ever sees your work?  I would love to know what keeps you going when feedback isn’t forthcoming and whether you feel better about your work when it’s been validated by someone else?