Writerly resolutions for 2018

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyAs we edge into the greyest month of the year, I thought it might be a good time to see whether you’ve got any writerly new year’s resolutions, or set any goals for 2018.

Did you make any? Have you successfully kept any you made? Does that seem like an impertinent question?

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are three that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever I can find the time

Several years ago (2012 in fact – can’t believe that was six years ago!) I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until last year. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action 🙂

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier. It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. It sustains me in a way I never previously understood.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge was flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month, other months I’ll find I’ve submitted six or eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It also helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big dreams. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated.

4. and 5. This year, as I’ve said, I haven’t made any resolutions other than to keep writing, keep submitting and keep hoping. Actually, I do have two new pledges to stick to (or should that be polish?) – simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish writing for its own purpose. Lovely.

How about you?

Exercise your creativity

Arnos Vale sky by Judy DarleyIn today’s guest post, writer Nina Wells urges us to get up off our backsides and dash out into the world to beat writer’s block.

Every author from Stephen King to Dan Brown has come nose-to-nose with writer’s block at some point in their career. Even casual writers know the frustration all too well; staring at a blank computer screen, feeling hopeless in progressing their work…

Susan Reynolds from Psychology Today explains that writer’s block is only a phenomenon that has existed since the early 19th century, where it was described by English Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “indefinite indescribable horror.” Writers at the time believed it to be a reflection of a poor relationship with their deities. They literally felt cursed to struggle in their work.

While that explanation might be a bit outdated, people still struggle with writer’s block today. What’s an aspiring author to do? Sure, we could become caricatures of historical writers by turning to drugs and alcohol for encouragement, but what if you could get your fix of chemical-inspiration without the theatrics?

Reynolds explains that writer’s block is a result of mental exertion because of the immense amount of focus required to write for long periods of time, and that even simple activities like mowing the lawn or showering can help give writers’ a much-needed breakthrough. So, taking breaks to relax can help clear up writer’s block, but what else can be done to stimulate ideas?

Arnos Vale path by Judy Darley

For years, experts around the world have praised exercise as a means of mental stimulation, but just how much can your noggin benefit from working up a sweat?

When you exercise, your brain produces chemicals called endorphins, which provide relief from pain and boost a sense of contentment- colloquially referred to as the “runner’s high.” WebMD reports that regular exercise has been proven to: reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve self-esteem, and make you healthier all-around.

But what does this have to do with writer’s block?

A study from the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has shown that regular exercise boosts creativity by improving “convergent” and “divergent” thought processes, which are responsible for creative thinking. Convergent thinking can be defined as thinking of a single, “correct” solution for a proposed issue, while divergent thinking is the ability to think of multiple solutions for a single problem.

In their study, researchers tested the convergent and divergent task-completing abilities of two groups of people; 48 being athletes, and another forty-eight being non-athletes. Both groups were subject to “intense physical exercise,” which yielded some interesting information.

As it turns out, the non-athlete group showed convergent impairment with exercise, while the athletic group showed “a benefit that approached significance.” According to the researchers, this is because the less-active group experienced a greater amount of “ego-depletion”, or in other words, they used up all of their will-power on the exertion. Meanwhile, the athletic group can capitalise on the cognitive benefits because their bodies are already accustomed to the exercise.

Arnos Vale leafy path by Judy Darley

Chapter four of the book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write by Alice Weaver Flaherty goes into detail discussing the neuroscientific reasons that people struggle with their writing. Flaherty breaks writer’s block into two groups: low-energy and high-energy. The former is pronounced by symptoms of depression and lethargy, while the latter is likened to anxiety.

According to Flaherty, depressed, low-energy writers who become sedentary to save energy, or anxious, high-energy writers turn to caffeine or other stimulants to stay on-task are both exacerbating their problems.

Both of these groups, however, benefit from regular physical activity. The endorphins that are released don’t only have an effect on your current mood, but also have the potential to treat long-term issues that can affect your entire outlook on life.

In short:

  • Writer’s block can emerge for a few reasons (all of which relate to your brain’s chemical processes)
  • Exercise and creative (convergent and divergent) thinking go hand-in-hand.
  • Writer’s block can be divided into two groups: high-energy and low-energy (anxious and depressed)
  • Regular exercise will help in both the short and the long term by activating endorphins, sparking creative thought processes, and giving relief from the paralyzing symptoms of depression and anxiety

Whether you write novels or blog posts, regular exercise will not only help you conquer writer’s block when it appears, but will also help you stay happier and healthier in general. Maybe now’s a good time to start running with a notepad, eh?

About the author

Nina WellsThis article was written by Nina Wells from Clearwells. She has more than 10 years of experience in writing health related topics and specializes in the health benefits of saunas and hydrotherapy.

I welcome guest posts. If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me on Twitter @JudyDarley, or send me an email at judy(at)SocketCreative.com

Searching for sea glass

Sea glass at beach cr Glenda YoungThere’s something magical about sea glass – glimmering works of art washed up by the tide. Reshaped by the mouths of ocean currents,  smoothed and sent ashore.

Artist and writer Glenda Young is equally entranced, and spends at least part of each day searching for these tiny treasures before utilising them in her own creations.

Blue sea and sky glass cr Glenda Young

“Sea glass has such a unique quality to it,” Glenda says. “I was keeping my finds in a bowl in the living room and although it looked pretty it wasn’t doing justice to the individual pieces of sea glass, the really beautiful pieces, so I decided to make things.”

Only one concern stood in her way. “I’m not an arty person at all and I really can’t do crafts well. I’m not under-selling myself here – I’m a writer and I work with words, not objects.”

To overcome this she bought a book of sea glass crafting online. “However, the book is American and some of the ideas don’t really translate to UK style. But it did give me some ideas and I started making small framed pictures of funny looking birds sitting on driftwood trees. I then went on to make hanging decorations, Christmas cards, and I have some of my ‘jewel’ pieces of sea glass, the multi-coloured pieces, displayed in bowl-shaped stones that I find on the beach.”

Bird art by Glenda Young

Living in Seaburn, Sunderland, close to Seaham Beach in County Durham makes beach combing a daily activity.

“Having been brought up by the sea, it’s part of my life. I love the solitude and peace when walking on the beach. Finding things is just a bonus!”

Sea glass found at at Seaham Beach

Even as a child, Glenda always loved sea glass. “ I used to find lots of red, purple, orange. They’re very rare these days so are prized finds. Each piece of sea glass is unique, unlike anything else, every single piece is different. It has a light to it that you don’t get from anything else.”

Green sea glass

Glenda takes along a carrier bag to fill with washed up plastic to drop into the recycling “as part of the #2minutebeachclean (on twitter). I hate plastic and feel passionate about getting rid of it from the ocean. Did you know there’s more plastic floating in the world’s seas than fish? Greenpace announced that just last month.”

Plastic toys washed up after a storm cr Glenda Young

Being in the areas of a beach where plastic washes up, means other items can be found too. “With the recent floods I’ve found a lot of strange stuff being washed down rivers onto the beach. These include a wonderful intact beer bottle with its stopper from a brewery which closed down in 1972.  And for some reason, lots of childrens’ plastic toys have been washing up too. I usually take photos of my finds and put them on my blog at flamingnora.blogspot.com and my Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/30922768@N07/.”

Glenda devotes some time to sorting the sea glass she’s collected. “The ‘ordinary’ pieces go in a bowl in my living room on display. The ‘multicoloured jewels’ go on display in beach stones I find.  I don’t sort by colour or size until I need to do some crafting and then I’ll have a good sort through for the exact shapes and sizes I need for whatever I’m making.”

Post-medieval rosary beadThe best piece she ever found was a small red pebble on Scarborough beach.  “When I took a photo of it and enlarged the photo I could see a small cross on both sides of the pebble. The local finds officer from the British Museum  confirmed it was a post-mediaeval rosary bead. I’ve since had it made into a necklace and I love wearing it.”

She’s adamant that the pieces she makes aren’t true works of art (though I disagree!).

“I just plod my way through things. I did make some lovely little sea glass heart pictures and framed them and sold them on Etsy, they were very popular and I made and sold 12, all clear seaglass on coloured backgrounds so the sea glass took on the colour of the backgrounds. It was really effective.”

Green heart art by Glenda Young

Glenda is drawn to anything “that shows off the light, luminosity and beauty of individual pieces of sea-glass. Hence, the decorations I made are now hanging in my conservatory where they capture the sun and have sunlight shining through them.”

Light Catcher heart cr Glenda Young

As a writer, she also crafts stories inspired by her sea glass finds.  “One of them – The Seaglass Collector – will be appearing in The People’s Friend this month, and I’ve submitted a different, much darker, story of the same name to The Northern Writers Awards 2016.”

Sea glass at the shore by Glenda Young

Living so close to the shore makes the sea a constant companion.

“I love that weird sense of living on the edge – of the country, the land. I love hearing the sea roar when it’s warm enough to leave the bedroom window open at night.”

Find Glenda Young at flamingnora.blogspot.comwww.flickr.com/photos/30922768@N07/ and glendayoungbooks.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Welcome to SkyLightRain

Writing room2

Hi. I’m Judy Darley, a fiction writer and journalist specialising in writing about travel, the arts and anything that catches my eye and fires my imagination.

Inspired by the sound of rain falling on the skylight just outside my writing room as well as the look the sky takes on at certain times of day at certain times of year, I’m hoping this website will provide inspiration, information, advice and a bit of company for writers, and aspiring writers, like myself.

Unless otherwise stated, all words and imagery on this website is copyrighted to me.

If you’ve made a resolution to have your writing read more widely this year, you might be interested to know that SkyLightRain.com welcomes input from other writers. I’m always happy to receive suggestions for reviews and features, as well as creative pieces produced in response to the midweek writing prompts.

Every piece published includes an author pic and bio, with links so that people can find out more about you.

Book, film, art or magazine reviews

Get in touch and let me know what you would like to review, and why. In the case of art reviews, images are a must, but in the other cases a few stills or the book cover will do. I can contact publishers on your behalf to request review copies to be sent to your home. The word-count should be between 300 and 600 words.

Writing genres or writing tools

I welcome guest posts. This is a great opportunity to share your skills, and talk up recent projects such as novels. Contact me to let me know what you would like to write about, and why. The word-count should be between 600 and 1000 words. Previous examples have included author-in-progress Maithreyi Nandakumar exploring the question ‘When is your novel finished?’ and Nina Milton sharing her tips on thriller writing.

Creative writing

I’m always happy to receive short pieces of prose or poetry inspired by the midweek writing prompts. These are posted each Wednesday and provide story ideas, hints and potential plot lines. No need to send a query first – just email me your creative work as soon as you feel it is ready to be seen by the world!

I also accept ideas for this slot, so please get in touch if you’re happy to share your own prompts for firing up a new creative work. What inspires your writing?

Feel free to spread the word about these opportunities.

To get in touch about any of these slots or just get in touch, you can find me on Twitter @JudyDarley, or send me an email at judy(at)skylightrain.com.