Category Archives: general

Making words happen

 

My puppy has decided he's a better writer than me.
My puppy has decided he’s a better writer than me.

It’s been a while. I’m sorry for such heinous blog neglect. Here’s a little update.

I’ve been working hard on my next novel, which is an extensive rewrite of a book I first drafted some years ago, called The Key of Alanar. I’ve already shared a little bit about this particular journey here. It’s a story that’s been with me since I was only about sixteen, and one that’s very close to my heart. I consider the version I wrote before to be a kind of skeleton version. I’m a better a writer now so it’s been interesting going back to revisit and resurrect it. While it’s the still same story with the same characters, I’ve added bits, taken bits away and endeavoured to make the prose tidier and the characterisation punchier.

I’ve found that it’s actually harder to go back and rewrite something from the past than it is to write something new from scratch. In many ways I’m a different person now and if I was to create it from scratch it would probably reflect that. It’s nevertheless something I’m very pleased with. It’s a real journey, a journey of the human spirit — from loss and lack through darkness and despair, to eventual redemption and wholeness. Sadistic as it sounds, I take my central character and torture him relentlessly, stripping everything away from him and putting him at the mercy of all kinds of demons, both inner and outer. I feel the ending is going to need some substantial adjustment to reflect changes in my own understanding since I first wrote it. It’ll be interesting. I’m looking forward to being able to share the book with the world, hopefully by the end of the year. It’s pretty epic in every regard.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my head down, studying, living and practising the teaching of vedanta, which is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever found in my life. Neither philosophy nor religion but a pramana, systematic and very logical means of self knowledge, vedanta has been leading people for thousands of years from the suffering to wholeness, simply by reorienting one’s point of self-identification from body/mind/emotions/ego/intellect (which are all objects perceivable to us) to awareness (that which perceives; the eternal subject). The moment I stumbled across vedanta, I realised I’d found what I’d been looking for for the best part of a lifetime. I knew instinctively that if this didn’t work for me, nothing would. And, assuming certain psychological qualifications are in place and one is committed to putting in the time and energy to make it work, it does actually work! I’ve seen it work on myself and others. It is the closest I’ve ever found to a science of consciousness and self realisation — and I speak as someone who studied psychology at degree level. It’s the greatest of gifts and I’m going to share some of my journey and what I’ve learned on this blog as and when I get the chance.

Until then I have a guest post to share on the nature of karma, and I will follow it up with my own post to clarify certain points and demystify something that just about every has heard of but which few understand properly, even in the world of spirituality. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. It’s beautiful here. Every day is a gift.

 

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Writing, Drawing & Making Music! An Interview With Rory Mackay!

blogtour

Really loved doing this interview with Rohan from the awesome Rohan7Things blog! One of my favourites. Hope you enjoy reading it too 🙂

The solution to writer’s block

The past couple of months I’ve felt a little burnt-out creatively. Isn’t that weird? It’s been an amazing year creatively, I got a publisher for my novel Eladria, which should be released at the end of the year and I self-published my first short story (‘Artan’s Night’, now available as a free download) which has received some really good feedback. It’s also such a kick to be able to search for my name on Amazon and iBooks and actually find my work on there! That’s nothing short of a dream come true, and whatever else happens, I’m really proud of that.

So I’m not sure what happened when I started to my second short story. I had it all planned out and I knew exactly what I was writing, but somehow I was struggling to get the words out. The flow just wasn’t there. I was having to force words onto the screen, and even then was rather unsatisfied with them.

I realised I’d been struck by the dreaded writer’s block! I think virtually all writers experience this affliction at one time or another. It’s something I encounter now and again and I’ve thus far managed to uncover two main causes.

The first cause of writer’s block, for me, is that I’m trying to write something I’m simply not ready to write. Rushing into a project too soon can be a mistake. Before clothing them in words, sentences and paragraphs, I like to let the ideas percolate in my mind for a while. This is almost an unconscious process, for even when I’m not consciously working on the story or essay and playing around with ideas and structure, I often feel there’s something taking shape on an unconscious level, as though the piece is forming itself. All I need to do is wait until I feel it’s ready and then get into a clear-minded state and allow it to emerge and reveal itself. It’s a kind of passive approach to writing, but that’s how I’ve done my best writing. Once I ease myself into the creative flow, the words pretty much write themselves and it’s a marvellous process too, one that feels invigorating and exciting.

Attempting it the other way — trying to wrestle with ideas and words and force them onto the page — is often an uphill struggle and one that leaves me frustrated and drained. So in order to stay in the creative flow, I find I have to remain in the mode of ‘passive writing’, which is almost a kind of listening; listening to and observing the ideas, stories and characters as they take shape, allowing them to emerge fully formed, and then dictating what I see and hear in my mind.

The second possible cause of creative block is perfectionism. I’ve always been a terrible perfectionist, rarely satisfied and prone to editing a piece of work to within an inch of its life. No matter how many times I’ve chopped and changed a sentence I still think it could be improved. That perhaps makes me a good editor, but it’s not so great when I’m trying to create a new piece of work.

I learned a long time ago that in order to create a good first draft I have to switch off the internal editor and write first, edit later. If I can’t do that, I never tend to get anything written, as I’m still stuck on trying to fix and perfect that first sentence.

I believe perfectionism stems from a kind of performance anxiety. Obviously you want your work to be as good as it can possibly be so other people will like it. I think this is at the root of my recent bout of writer’s block. My short stories are being written and immediately published and there’s part of me that’s immensely freaked out by that because, quite simply, if they’re not up to scratch people won’t like them and won’t want to read more. The idea of publishing some free short stories prior to the release of my novel was as a means to get people interested and compelled to read more. In the back of my mind I was concerned that my stories might not be up to the standard of the novel and might in fact put people off buying the novel.

That hasn’t happened though, so I need to get over that. And what’s more, I need to get back to enjoying the process of writing. The best way to get over debilitating perfectionism is to let go of all concern about what others might think and remember why you write in the first place: namely because it’s your passion and you love doing it. When you lose the love and enjoyment and get crippled by fears and doubts, you sabotage yourself: the process of writing becomes an arduous struggle and the quality of the output suffers as well.

So, the solutions I’ve found to writer’s block are pretty simple. First of all, make sure you’re actually ready to start writing. At the risk of sounding ridiculously touchy-feely, the gestation period of any creative project requires a degree of sensitivity and intuition. You have to be alert to know whether the project is cooked and ready to serve up or whether you need to let it simmer a while longer. There’s nothing worse than trying to force out undercooked ideas. Indigestion is inevitable.

The second and most important key is to let go of the inner critic for a while. Send it on a paid vacation, get it to take all of its fears and anxieties with it, and simply ENJOY what you’re doing. Keep it fun and exciting. If you lose the enjoyment, you’ll eventually lose your passion and this will be reflected in the quality of the work. Write (or paint, sculpt, or compose) as if you’re just doing it for yourself and your own enjoyment. Do it freely, without inhibition and without concern for what other people might think. It’ll get edited and polished up at a later stage and the rest will take care of itself. Until then, don’t lose the enjoyment. And I suppose that’s a great rule, not just for creative work, but for life as a whole.

Candle flame

I’ve learned over the years that creativity is like a candle-flame. It’s delicate and it flickers from time to time, and sometimes it even looks as though it might go out altogether. Yet it’s powerful. A single flame has the ability to ignite the mightiest of fires.

It’s important that we take care of that little flame. There have been times in my life when it had apparently been snuffed out altogether. It’s very easy to get despondent at such times, for it’s accompanied by a great sense of frustration and loss. But thankfully it’s never died for very long. Eventually something would happen to spark it back into life and before I knew it there was a blazing fire of creative inspiration.

It can be helpful to know when the creative flame is in danger of being extinguished, so we can prevent that from happening.

I’ve found the following factors can have a bearing on creative wellbeing:

  • Stressful life events and situations, including family problems and poor health (it’s all-too easy to get caught up in these and to lose our connection to our muse)
  • trying to exercise too much control over things — either the work itself, or the outcome or success of the work (ie, head overruling heart. It’s actually best to simply let go and surrender to the flow of creativity and life)
  • comparing oneself to others (a form of self-flagellation — most the time wholly unfair, misguided, not to mention hugely unproductive)
  • self-doubt. Probably the most lethal of all! Self-doubt can easily become the cancer of creative wellbeing.

Recognising these factors and the way they can potentially affect you in an adverse manner is the crucial first step. Awareness is always half the battle. When we’re unaware, we’re unable to make conscious choices and the resultant train wreck is perhaps inevitable. But when we realise we’re veering into inhospitable terrain, we can make a necessary course-correction. We can either navigate around the approaching obstacle, or if that’s not possible, we can simply work around it,  being sure to take extra good care of that delicate inner flame.

It’s also helpful to identify the things and qualities that nourish and sustain our creativity — and use them to keep the flame burning. It’s when things get difficult, as they often do in life, that we must take the greatest care of ourselves and our creative wellbeing.

Creative reorientation!

Happy New Year everyone!

At this time of year, a lot of people create resolutions, many of which last all but two days. Almost inherent in a New Year’s resolution is the admission that, although you say you will, you know you’re not going to follow through with it for long. It’s like you’re acknowledging something you know you ought to do, and are willing to make a half-hearted attempt at, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that much if you do or don’t.

Because let’s face it, if something is truly important — something you absolutely have to do, because bad things would happen if you don’t — it wouldn’t simply be a New Year’s resolution. It’d be an imperative, a decisive goal, or something you just simply do without even having to think about it.

So, no New Year’s resolutions for me! Not because I think I’m perfect (ha!), but simply because that’s not the way I do things. Instead, I take this time to stop and reflect on what’s going on in this thing I call, for lack of a better term, ‘my life’. New Year is, for me, a time for reflection, reorientation and recalibration.

Some of the questions I ask myself are: What do I really want to do, be and achieve in the coming year? What do I feel my focus should be? What are my priorities?

I don’t let my mind answer these questions as much as my heart. I often think there’s a disconnect between mind and soul. The rational, logical answers — those things I think I ‘should’ want — are rarely the ones that genuinely excite me and give me that wonderful little ‘kick’ that arises when I just know something’s right. Instead, I ‘feel’ my way toward the answers. If it doesn’t feel great — and I mean really great — then there’s very little point pursuing it, because firstly I’ll probably struggle to muster the necessary motivation, and secondly because even if I do get it, it’s unlikely to provide that much satisfaction in the long-run. The heart has to lead the process; if the heart isn’t engaged, then there’s not much point going down that path and you might as well stick with ‘resolutions’.

My focus for 2012 is shifting from visual art to writing and publishing. I’ve now written two novels and a non-fiction book and it’s time to actually do something with them. I started work on my first book when I was only about 16. Just last night I took out the gigantic folder of notes, outlines, manuscript pages, drawings and sketches that’s amassed over the past 15 or so years. I felt myself on the verge of tears. I realised just how much of my life I’ve actually invested in this project — not just an enormous amount of time, but more energy, passion and love than can ever be measured. I often considered my first novel to be my “life’s work”. Maybe that sounds overblown and naff, but I don’t care, if I’m honest I still feel that way. Yet after all this time and the thousands upon thousands of hours I put into making this dream a reality, the books are just sitting on a shelf in my room, read by only a handful of people. That’s kind of sad. In fact, it’s very sad. I’m going to change that in 2012.

I’ve already sent samples from the first book to a number of agents and publishers, and among the standardised rejection slips I actually got some encouraging comments which truly helped when I started to doubt the work itself. Now the dust has settled a bit, I’m ready to move forward. ‘Key of Alanar’, my first book was a tough sell primarily because it’s hard to fit into a neat category. Frankly I’m still not entirely sure what genre best classifies it. If I started from scratch again with a mind to sales and marketing, I might be more careful to tailor it to fit a certain niche. Heck, I’d maybe even throw in a couple of horny teenage vampires — I’m sure that would immediately raise marketability! But no, I had a very clear vision and I never deviated from it. Although the second book was designed to be easier to categorise and sell, I remained very true to my muse. I wrote entirely what I felt inspired to write and simply trusted that the rest would fall into place at the other end of the process. Hopefully it will.

I’m about to send out some samples of my second novel to a shortlist of agencies. We’ll see how that pans out. ‘Eladria’ is easier to condense into a two sentence summary with a neat hook. Again, it’s a little hard to pigeon-hole it in terms of books that are currently out there, but maybe someone else will be able to do that for me. It’s possible I’ll just take these books and publish them myself. I feel strangely enticed by that idea, as well as a little terrified. I have a number of ideas how I can do this and make it interesting. Whatever happens, I know 2012 will be the year I take my babies, gently nudge them out of the nest and (hopefully) watch as they spread their wings and fly.

So watch this space!

Things that inspire me about this time of year

I love this time of the year and I don’t care who knows it!

The way I see it, life’s too short to be cynical. Now I know for many people the whole materialistic consumer craziness gets way out of hand — and that’s not what the season is about. As the world economy continues to flounder, and looks set to do so for the foreseeable future, maybe people will finally start to wake up to that. It’s not about what you give, or get, it’s about being a child again and regaining a little of that lost childhood innocence. Get out of the shopping mall and enjoy some of the following things that inspire me about Christmas-time:

I love snow. I don’t care what people say or how widely hated it is. I know it’s perilous for driving and whatnot, but it’s so damn beautiful! It brightens the darkness of winter and reflects light into the house.

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(Above: the view outside my window last Christmas).

Snow is fun, festive and it inspires me. I love paintings of snow scenes (my friend Polly has recently created some gorgeous snow scene pics) and winter light. Winter light — another thing I love about mid-winter. The quality of the light changes and sunlight becomes a buttery-yellow hue. It can be sunny outside but you still somehow know its icy cold. Blue skies and winter sunshine: sublime.

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Sparkly lights, tinsel, decorations, garlands, wreaths: I love it all. I adore Christmas trees (that’s my tree this year above). It totally brightens the winter gloom, and it can be VERY gloomy in this part of the world in the dead of Winter. Anything that brings a little brightness to the world is good in my book. I hate having to take trees and decorations down and getting back to humdrum ordinariness. Life isn’t meant to be ordinary. Every day should be a festivity. (Although yes, sometimes less is more!)

I really enjoy the traditions of Christmas that bring me right back to my childhood. Watching old Christmas films brings back a little of the joy of times gone by and creates joy in the here and now. Festive food – another big plus! I was on a strict elimination diet earlier in the year in which I could barely eat anything (I actually lost all interest in eating, which wasn’t good), but now that’s over I think I’ll enjoy my food even more this year.

Oh – one of the greatest things of all is when people actually endeavour to be a little kinder to their fellow human beings. We really shouldn’t need an excuse of course, for kindness ought to be our very nature, but anything that makes people a little more charitable, considerate and compassionate has to be good. As far as I’m concerned, kind is the new cool.

Whatever brings you joy this time of year, focus on that and forget the sticky web of consumer crap that most people get tangled in. As with life, Christmas is only what you make of it — nothing more, nothing less. Find something that brings you joy or inspires you and hold onto that. Make the moment special. Whatever you celebrate and whatever you get up to, have a great time and see you in the New year 🙂

Creativity comes in waves

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I think pretty much everything in life comes in waves. There are cycles governing everything from the rotation of planets, suns and galaxies, to the most minute atoms and sub-atomic particles in our bodies.

I’ve found that the creative tide rises and falls. There are times when I feel filled to bursting with new ideas and inspiration — and if I’m really lucky I’ll have the energy and time to explore and work with those ideas. Then there are other times when the tide is so far out it feels like a drought. These are the times when it’s important to realise that no matter how far out the tide might be, no matter how much you’re yearning to be back in the water, it will return again, as surely as the sun rises in the morning.

Expecting to feel inspired and creative at all times is a recipe for extreme and continual disappointment and frustration, because, simply, it’s impossible. A lot of the suffering in life comes from our own unrealistic expectations. Whether we want it to or not, the wheel of life always keeps turning. Each cycle has its high point and its low point, and it continues in unbroken succession. We can’t change that; we can only learn to live with it. Knowing where we are in the cycle can be very helpful, as can remembering that when we’re at our lowest ebb, things will soon start changing again. Indeed, things are constantly changing.

So when the tide’s out, instead of trying to force it back again (which is clearly a useless endeavour) why not stop, slow down, RELAX and enjoy the beach? Each part of the cycle has its advantages. Each moment has its own unique beauty.