Tag Archives: creativity

The Long Winter

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It’s been a long Winter. Not just outwardly, in terms of cold temperatures, grey skies, wind, rain and occasional snow, but also inwardly too. I’ve felt myself stuck in a kind of inner Winter; physically, emotionally, creatively and professionally. Aside for commissioned work, I’ve struggled to write a single sentence. My third novel, which I initially had hoped might be completed and published this year, has stalled in the initial chapters. My two blogs have been frozen, with no new content in months. I engaged in a pre-scheduled blog tour to promote The Key of Alanar in January, and that was both fun and difficult. Fun because I love that book with all my heart, and I enjoyed sharing the process behind it, but also difficult because I really just felt like retreating from the world and hiding away.

I actually reached a point where I didn’t think I would ever write another word again. I just didn’t know if I could. The Key of Alanar totally exhausted me. I’d put more into that book than anything in my life, ever. I actually didn’t know if there was anything more I had to say, or even, sadly, any great burning demand for more. I began to second guess myself creatively and even personally. There’s nothing more toxic to any writer or artist than the horrifying thought ‘what will they think?’ It paralyses and chokes the life out of genuine creative endeavour. It instils a certain level of fear and pressure that makes it very hard press forward. This fear is always there in artists; the fear of failure, or maybe even the fear of success; of criticism or even worse, being ignored altogether. It’s always there as a kind of low level background rumble. But the moment we give into it, it becomes a deafening wail. It disrupts and paralyses and, if we happen to give into it and lose our momentum, it can be very very hard to overcome. Creative block can last for not just days and weeks, but months and years. Some truly talented artists never recover from it. In some respects they lose a part of their soul. There are few creatures in life quite as miserable as a blocked artist!

Perhaps this Winter season is a necessary one, however. Everything in life flows in cycles. There is a time for flowers to bud and bloom, for the sun to shine and for life to flourish, and also a time for things to wind down as the life force retreats inward. There is most definitely a time for dormancy, and maybe creativity cannot flourish without that. It’s the space in which new visions begin to take shape and new ideas start to form.

The last few days I’ve felt the first stirrings of Spring; not only outwardly in terms of seeing flowers bloom and small buds on certain trees, but also inwardly in terms of my own creativity. I think I’m ready to start writing again. In fact, I’m determined that I’m ready to start writing again. Every day I will sit and type words. I have no idea how those words will turn out, but at least I’ll begin to create a momentum once more. I have something to share with the world again, and now is the time to do it. Here’s to the Spring!

An author in the spotlight: Rory Mackay answers 4 questions!

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Nothing beats the power of a good question. Questions make us think, reflect and explore things in different ways. I’m all for questions, and I always endeavour to give good answers! So here I am taking part in a challenge I saw online several months back, in which an author answers four simple questions. Well, I’m an author, and without any further ado, here are the questions…

When did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. Creativity was an innate and essential part of my nature as far back as I can remember. When I was younger I was more visually focused, as I loved drawing and painting. What I did was always connected with storytelling, however. I created characters, worlds and adventures and made my own comic books from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. My longest running series was called King Croc, a quirky and comical fantasy series about a reptilian anti-hero whose job was to conquer the galaxy but who really couldn’t be bothered. He would rather sit at home eating doughnuts that conquer planets. Who wouldn’t? I still have some of those comics in a drawer.

When I was in my teens I began work on a very different project; laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the novel I am about to publish, The Key of Alanar! This was originally intended as a serialised television series or series of movies, but not knowing how to even begin with such a lofty project, I decided to make it a series of novels instead. Having worked on this for the best part of my life, and invested so much time, energy and love in it, I’m truly excited that I am finally able to share this creative vision with the world. (The Key of Alanar is already available to preorder on Amazon for a 14 September release!)

What inspired me to write my first books?

I grew up with a great love of science fiction and fantasy. Already something of a dreamer, it really stirred my imagination and I loved nothing more than to transport myself to other worlds, times and places. But for me the genre was far more than simple escapism. Even in my early teens I really loved that sci-fi and fantasy could be used as a means of exploring ideas, themes and human potential. I was always a bit of a deep thinker, and I loved when books, films and television had a little depth; a purpose behind telling a story.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by mythology and archetypal tales of heroic quests and journeys. Initially my first series of books was called ‘The Journey’, as a reflection of the journey we all take through life, in search of happiness and wholeness. I wanted to explore what makes us tick, and why we live as we do. I didn’t just want to entertain people, I wanted to make people think and say something about life. The development of my books ran parallel to my development as a person as I grew up, learned, experienced many things, and ultimately devoted myself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, truth and understanding the nature of life and who we are. I like telling fantastical stories that fire the imagination, stir the emotions and, above all, make people think. In my view, the greatest stories inspire, challenge and enlighten. They are stories that heal. They leave people the better for having read them; a kind of gift shared between author and reader. That is why I wanted to write and why I still keep writing.

How do you write?

I need to be clear about what I’m writing before I start the first sentence. I learned early on the necessity of starting with a blueprint, or at least a firm plan of how the novel will begin, develop and end. My stories are quite complex and multi-layered, so I need to make sure I’ve worked everything beforehand or else I would be liable to write myself into a sticky corner and waste significant time on something that just doesn’t work out. One day I’d actually like to just start writing with no idea in ind how it will end, but it certainly won’t be for my current series, which requires forward planning. There are simply too many balls to potentially drop otherwise!

So, I wait for the ideas to start flowing. It’s almost like my mind is working on the story even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. There comes a time when I can feel the creative energy flowing and I just sit down with paper and a pen and allow the ideas to spill out. I get them structured into a clear framework, and then, when I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, I start writing away. First drafts are usually best written as quickly as possible, to keep the creative momentum flowing smoothly. Then I’ll write three, four or more subsequent drafts and spend a long time editing. With my first published novel, Eladria, I spent one year writing the first few drafts and then another 18 months or so editing and polishing it. As Phyllis A Whitney said: “a good book isn’t written, it is rewritten.” The key is really in taking that mud-covered diamond and scraping and polishing it until it gleams.

Do you have any writing advice you would like to share?

Yes. Write because you love to write. Have no expectations. Follow your passion and pour your heart and soul into it. Don’t expect anything back; even if you write a complete masterpiece, there are so many books being written and published right now that it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Have no expectation, but stay true to your own unique creative vision. Write a story you feel needs to be told. Share ideas, share experiences and dreams and thoughts. Write a book that will make the world a better place for your having written it. Think of it as part of your legacy, which it is, and make it as wonderful as you can. Don’t rush it necessarily, take your time and let your heart guide you. Whether you then sell ten copies or ten thousand, you’ll have contributed something special to the world. And that why being a writer is one of the coolest things in the world.

Archetypes in Fiction and the Hero’s Journey

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My last post, ‘The Power of Storytelling and Mythology’, explored the work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell identified a distinct and cohesive pattern running through countless myths, legends and stories throughout time. He called this the hero’s journey–the “song of the universe” being sung by a thousand different peoples and cultures.

In addition to exploring the different stages of the hero’s journey, which is a metaphor for the human journey through life, Campbell, who was heavily influenced by the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, also identified several character archetypes that feature in these myths and stories.

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Archetypes are recurring human patterns or personality types that reside in what Jung called the collective unconscious. As universally occurring character traits, there are certain archetypes found in myth and all kinds of stories throughout time. Archetypes should be seen as flexible character functions rather than rigid character types. Characters might actually switch between archetypes as the story progresses.

Here are some of the main archetypes prevalent in storytelling throughout the ages.

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The hero

The hero is usually the central figure in stories. This archetype represents the human search for identity and wholeness. The hero is the audience’s window into the story; the person the reader or viewer wants to identify with, to share their adventure and experience their highs and lows. The hero typically starts off in a state of lack and incompleteness and as the story unfolds, ends up in a state of wholeness and completeness. All good stories are essentially about a journey of transformation.

The role of the hero can vary wildly. They can be almost anyone from any walk of life. They might be a willing or an unwilling hero, they might be a group-oriented hero or more of a loner. Sometimes the protagonist is a tragic hero or an anti-hero–perhaps an outlaw or villain of some kind, but with whom the audience develops sympathy.

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The shadow

The shadow is represented by the villains and antagonists, or perhaps an internal enemy such as the hero’s inner demons–the darker aspects of their psyche–qualities they’ve perhaps tried to repress or renounce, but which still lurk within; such as anger, hatred or violence. The function of the shadow in drama is to challenge, threaten and oppose the hero; to create conflict and force the hero to find and bring out the best in him or herself and to become all they are capable of being.

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Mentor

The archetype of the mentor is found in many myths and stories. The mentor is usually a guide to the hero; someone who aids or even trains the hero. The mentor is related to the image of a parent. Often heroes seek out a mentor because their own parents are inadequate role models.

The mentor helps train the hero for the adventure/ordeal ahead of them. They might provide the voice of the hero’s conscience, offer motivation or share important information. The mentor might be a ghostly figure, or may be someone with a dark secret or nefarious past–a fallen mentor, someone who’s been broken in some way but who still has wisdom they can impart to the hero.

The Herald

The herald is the character or event that initiates the call to adventure. They issue a challenge or announce the coming of significant change. The herald is usually the element that gets the story rolling. It might be a new character, a change of circumstances, or a piece of crucial information that changes the hero’s life, forcing them to embrace the adventure that lies before them. Any character can adopt the herald archetype at any time. The herald might be a positive, negative or neutral character. It might simply be someone with vital news or information, or someone who challenges the hero in some way, forcing them to get involved in a situation.

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Threshold Guardian

Threshold guardians are the forces that stand in the way at important turning points, opposing the hero and trying to prevent him or her from moving forward. They’re usually not the main villain but might be the villain’s henchmen, guards, gatekeepers or mercenaries. They might even be creatures of some kind–wild animals, monsters or even a force of nature that has to be overcome. They might even take the form of the hero’s internal demons: their fears, doubts, emotional scars or self-limiting beliefs. Any time the hero encounters a threshold guardian, they face a puzzle, test or obstacle that must be overcome in order to move forward. Their function is to temporarily block the hero’s way and force them to test their powers.

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Trickster

The trickster is a clown and mischief-maker…perhaps a comic relief sidekick. They inject an element of unpredictability into the story, cutting egos down to size, and bringing the hero and audiences back down to earth. The trickster might be a loveable rogue, or someone whose motives and allegiances are unclear. The trickster might be allies of the hero, or perhaps servants of the villain. As with the other archetypes, any character can embody the role of trickster–including the hero and villain. “Spreading strife is my greatest joy” said one trickster god in an old Nigerian story.

There are many more archetypes that can be found in stories and myths. Understanding the use and application of archetypes in storytelling can be very helpful. Archetypes reflect core human personality types and social roles and can help us understand how character dynamics drive the plot forward.

They are not rigid and set in stone, for at any point in the story a character might embody the archetype of trickster, herald or threshold guardian, or perhaps even mentor or shadow.  In my new novel, The Key of Alanar, my protagonist, David, actually moves between hero and shadow archetype! It can be fun to push the boundaries of storytelling and mix things up. If nothing else it keeps life interesting.

For more information on archetypes and storytelling, I highly recommend investigating the work of Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler and Carl Jung.

Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing From the Start, Part 1: In Order to Write Well, You Have to Write a Lot

Hi everyone! This is the first in a series of short blogs in which I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a writer.

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My journey to being a published author wasn’t always an easy one. In retrospect a lot of that was down to the fact I wasn’t approaching things with the right mindset. I’m naturally quite an idealistic and romantic person and looking back I can see how this, coupled with an unrealistic perception of the writing industry, a streak of crippling perfectionism and self-doubt, sabotaged my writing career for at least a decade. If I knew then what I now know, it would all have been so much easier!

The first thing I wish I knew back then was simply this: no one is born a good writer. Sure, some people do exhibit greater natural skill at writing that others. In school I was always praised for my creative stories, essays and writing ability. But when it comes to the craft of writing, it’s highly unrealistic to assume that our earliest efforts are going to be publish-worthy. Writing is a skill like any other and it takes time, effort and practise to develop and refine it. 

One thing I did do right was to take time to study the craft. I realised it wasn’t enough to have a great idea for a book and then just dive headfirst into the writing of it. It’s first necessary to learn how novels are structured, how to tell a cohesive story and how to develop satisfying character arcs.

Yes, writing is an art, but there’s also a science to it as well. Stories are structured a certain way and although we may have an intuitive understanding of how that works from having read a great many books, it’s still essential to understand the dynamics of effective storytelling. Taking some time at the beginning to learn the craft will save an enormous amount of time and wasted effort down the line.

As writers, our first efforts probably won’t be that great. They might even stink to high heaven. This doesn’t mean that we’re hopeless as writers and should immediately give up. It simply means that we are human. Our skill in the craft is developed by spending many, many hours practising it. In order to become competent writers, we have to keep, keep writing.

Writing two novels, short stories and countless blogs, articles and essays has not only helped me develop my voice as a writer, it’s also helped me become a better writer to build confidence in my abilities. It’s clear to me that each book I write is better than the last because my skill as a writer continues to develop. And that, I believe, is really the only way to do it.

While I’m generally a proponent of quality over quantity, here’s the funny thing: as long as we take care of the quantity, the quality tends to develop by itself. In order to be good writers, we simply need to write–and write…and then write some more! The skill and confidence comes with time and practise. Happy writing!

The 3 Steps to Writing Anything

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Whether you’re writing an essay, an article, sales copy or the great American novel, there’s a basic three-step process that, if understood and applied, can make it a whole lot easier for you.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get the words out, or unable to get beyond the first couple of sentences, it’s probably because you’re trying to do the wrong step in the wrong order. Once you’re clear on how to apply this universal three-step method, you’re certain to find the process of writing easier, more effortless and hopefully more enjoyable too.

The three steps of writing are:

1. Planning
2. Writing
3. Polishing

That may appear to be pretty much common sense! Yet you’d be surprised at how often we tend to get these steps muddled up, resulting in all kinds of problems. Each stage needs to be understood and done in sequence before moving onto the next.

Here’s a rundown of each step.

1. PLANNING

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Planting a seed

Any creative endeavour begins with the planting of a seed. You get, wait for or are given an initial idea about what to write. Perhaps you have an idea for a story, or have received a brief for an essay or article.

Allowing it to grow
Once you have a starting point, you need to give yourself time to brainstorm and play with ideas. If you started out with a fairly broad focus, then you have to gradually narrow and refine it. If you’re writing fiction, this is the time to explore your story, theme and characters, to run with your imagination and allow the story to unfold and take shape.

If you’re writing nonfiction, perhaps you need to do some research and gather information and then arrange and structure it. The initial seed you planted begins to germinate and grow. It’s best to keep this stage as organic as you can, allowing it to unfold naturally. Trying to force it can restrict your creativity and obscure insights, inspiration and fresh ways of looking at things.

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Creating a blueprint
Once you have a fairly clear idea what you want to write, it’s time to take things up a notch and create a blueprint. Whereas the first part of the planning stage should be quite free-flowing, it’s now time to arrange things into a cohesive structure. Some people skip the blueprint stage altogether, and that’s a matter of personal preference and also depends on what you’re writing and why. But I find rushing ahead to write before I have a clear idea what I’m writing about often leads to dead-ends and a lot of frustration and wasted time. I like to have a blueprint for what I’m writing — or at the very least a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end. Then I can simply relax into the next step and be confident that there’s an underlying structure in place to keep me right.

To create a blueprint, you simply arrange your ideas or information into the appropriate structure. If you’re writing a story or novel, try to put all the elements of your plot into place so you know roughly what happens when. What this does is enables you to get a sense for the structure, rhythm and balance of the story. It’s helpful to have this in place before you start writing, because it’s a whole lot easier to change elements at this stage than it is when you’ve written the whole thing and realised that the basic structure of the story doesn’t work (doh!).

This doesn’t mean the blueprint needs to be rigidly set in stone. It should be flexible enough to add, subtract or move around elements as you write. But it gives you a solid foundation and the confidence to start writing. If you’re writing an essay or article, your blueprint will set out your introduction, each key point in progression and end with clear summary or conclusion. Once you’re happy with your blueprint you can move onto the next step.

2. WRITING

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The mistake a lot of people make when writing is to assume that writing consists solely of — well, writing! But jumping straight into the process of writing without having a clear idea what you’re actually writing about is generally a recipe for muddle and frustration. So I’d generally advise people not to bypass the first step.

Once you have your blueprint in place, it’s time to get into the flow of writing. Make sure your first draft is just that: a first draft. It might be helpful to even think of it as a zero draft. At this stage it’s not about making it perfect; it’s simply about getting words down on the page. Now’s the time to write for your life and not look back!

Forget about formatting and editing and try not to read back over what you’ve written if you can help it. You may have a tendency to edit as you go along, trying to ‘perfect’ each sentence before moving onto the next, but it’s best to avoid that temptation. The next step is the editing stage; this is simply the writing stage. So make it easier on yourself: don’t skip ahead. You can edit and refine it when it’s finished, and not before.

The key to good writing is to get into that state where the words just flow with ease and effortlessness. There are different ways to reach that creative flow, and you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. One of the keys to entering the state of flow is to simply focus on the step you’re on; in this case, the writing. You’ve already got your blueprint in place so you don’t need to worry about that, and you don’t need to worry about editing what you’re writing — that’s the next step. Try to bypass your inner critic. Don’t judge the work before you’re finished, or you may never finish: you’ll simply end up in the sticky web of perfectionist paralysis!

Just let go, relax and write. It can be helpful to do a writing warm-up exercise before you start. For example, you might take a random word and do some free-flow association. Just write whatever comes to mind; complete stream-of-consciousness writing. Try that for five minutes and see if it loosens you up and gets you into the creative flow.

3. POLISHING

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The final step is the editing and polishing stage. Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break if you can and then go back read over it. It’s now time for the inner critic take the reins for a while — although do make sure that any criticism is constructive!

You’ll likely get a sense for the flow and structure of the text. How does it read? What areas need improving? What needs to be added and, more importantly, what bits can you take out? I naturally tend to overwrite, so my editing stage largely consists of pruning things back. Try to remove redundancies and be alert to repetition. A good mantra for the editing process (and perhaps life in general) is: “if in doubt, cut it out!”

Perhaps your piece only needs some minor modifications or it may need several successive drafts. Keep going until you’re happy with it. An excellent tip is to actually read the text aloud. This helps you get a feel for the rhythm of the words and sentence structure and is also helpful for spotting errors that may have otherwise slipped through the radar.

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And those are the three steps to writing pretty much anything! Even though it seems so simple and self-evident, it took me a number of years to figure out this three-step process and to apply it to my work. The difference it made was immeasurable.

The most important thing is to know which step you’re on and to stay on that step until you’re ready to move to the next. No premature skipping ahead! This is especially important when you’re in the writing stage. If you’re always slipping into editorial mode and trying to make each sentence ‘perfect’ before moving onto the next, you’re almost certainly going to struggle. Besides, the sobering (or perhaps liberating) truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect sentence. So just let go, relax–and write!

This article was originally posted on my other blog, Beyond The Dream, a couple of years ago and ezineArticles.com

The Creative Life: How to Overcome Self-doubt

I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!

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Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!

One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.

That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.

Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.

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“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”

Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!

The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.

First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.

Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.

I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.

I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.

The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:

Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.

Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).

Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.

Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.

This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.

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.