I’m so grateful to my long-time friend Lesley Cookman for revealing some of the secrets of a bestselling novelist‘s life. Read today’s guest blog to see what you have in common with her, and get a sneak preview of the cover of her next book (which won’t be published for months yet).
Lesley is the author of the Libby Serjeant series of murder mysteries, with the eighteenth recently published – Murder by the barrel. Each new book whizzes to the top of its category on the Amazon bestseller charts, but despite Lesley’s success, the writing life is still not easy. But it is rewarding… Read Lesley’s guest blog here – and do ask questions in the ‘comments’ bit!
…illustrated children’s book. This is a great insight into some of the challenges and solutions for writers itching to get their story told: a piece by Michael Gallant for the BookBaby blog. Read, then get writing!
It’s St Valentine’s Day tomorrow – 14th February – the day which has been colonised and commercialised by the hazy notion of romance. If you don’t spend, you don’t care, and if you’re not in a couple you’re nowhere and nothing. If you feel alone – even if you’re at the centre of a busy family – then the fuss around this one winter’s day can be overwhelming, making you feel worse than ever.
BUT…. turn it to your advantage! Make imagination your friend instead of your enemy, and write yourself out of those lonely feelings. Leap out of the round-and-round whirlpool of miserable feelings and leap into the limitless worlds of possibility in your imagination. Spend the day (which is, rather conveniently, a Sunday this year) writing furiously, inventing, exploring, what-iffing.
Use Valentine’s Day as a prompt, if you like. Write Mr Right… or Mr Wrong. Write your perfect romance, or the nightmare romance. Not everything that happens on 14th February is lovely – remember the St Valentine’s Day Massacre – Chicago 1929. How could murder happen on this most loving of days?
Use your feelings, feed them into your powerful imagination, and create something great with the force of love behind it. Wherever that takes you.
It’s always there. We all have it, in bucketloads. Getting at it is not always easy, as the previous posts showed.
I get too many ideas to handle, but when I try, or think about it, my imagination is shoved aside by the enemy to creativity – the rational left brain. The bit of our brain that thinks and analyses and keeps tight control.
How to free your imagination
Shutting up the left brain isn’t easy. It helps enormously to have someone else lock it out for you. Handing over control to them for a few minutes at a time, the left brain has nothing to do and your right brain can let loose and the damned-up torrent of creative imagination can flow straight from your unconscious mind – a deep ocean of rich inner life inside every human being.
Are you aware of what education is about?
We are taught from the cradle to control our bodies and our minds, to think and learn, to conform and perform to expectations. School, university and employment reinforces the importance of left-brain control. No wonder most of us end up thinking we have no imagination, or are not the creative type!
You can choose now
You’re grown up and out in the world. You can choose how to use your mind. I want you to realise that you’re not going to run amok and cause chaos if you let your imagination loose… And I’m sure you understand how good it is for your mental and emotional well-being to give your left brain a rest and exercise your right brain now and then.
Take a brain holiday
A change is as good as a rest… so change your mind (at least change sides) and get all you’d have from a holiday – fun, novelty, relaxation, stimulation, new sensual experiences. You come back refreshed and ready for new challenges. Fresh ideas, new directions, new possibilities, new opportunities.
How did you do? Did ideas flood into your writer’s mind, or did you get stuck?
I’ll time myself and see how I do in 60 seconds – I have no idea…
1. er… blank brain.
1. 20 secs gone…
1. 35 secs…
1. 45 secs…
1. Next door neighbours, boy and girl both called Valentine
2. too late…
It’s not easy. I’m usually full of them, but under pressure, when you’re challenged to think of ideas then and there, the mind goes blank. My mind goes blank.
The only idea I produced was a true fact – a couple who lived in our village were both called Valentine. They were married for ever, so something worked. But as an idea for a novel, it’s weaker than my will in the face of cheesecake.
Ideas don’t usually come to order, at least when the thinking brain is in control. When the left (thinking) brain is distracted or ignored, the right (creative) brain lets loose. I’ll see what pops up as the day goes on, when I’m cooking lunch or booking my flight home.
I need someone to do my thinking for me, so my imagination can run away with itself.
A woman I met in Escondido – a smart, clued-in, driven business woman – told me this, with conviction. Made me want to cry, seeing her belief, and the sadness behind it.
She’s not alone – I’ve heard variations on this theme everywhere from Manchester to Malibu – and it’s absolutely not true. And, you’ll understand, a serious loss to individuals, to business, to the economy and the world in general. Creativity is a given – a gift we all have – but often the gift we never unwrap.
Are you aware that creativity is hard-wired into humans? It’s the gift of our evolved brains to compensate for the loss of physical and subtle mental capacities of other mammals. What we call talent, or flair, or special gift is just the blatant, early demonstration of one particular ability. Mozart, Byron, Mendelssohn, Boris Becker, Leonardo (da Vinci, and possibly de Caprio), Shirley Temple, Usain Bolt, Pavarotti, John Lennon…
Do you realize, though, that each of us can find the talent lurking inside us, even if it’s not of world-stunning levels. I’m no Matisse, but I discovered that I had the potential to draw well… when I was almost forty. If I’d studied and practised, maybe I’d have reached some kind of standard: a very long way short of the French master, but competent and pleasing. I had a passable singing voice when I was a child, but became too afraid of singing after a decade of being told to shut up, and that was that. More fool me for listening, of course, but perhaps you recognize the scenario? My sister had great promise as a writer (I discovered school notebooks full of stories), but her dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed till she was nearly 50 and she grew up believing she was thick.
How many people do you know have lost or abandoned an early promise because their teachers or parents or circumstances demanded a focus on “a proper job”?
Do you want to unwrap your gift now? Better late than never – and it’s never too late. Mary Wesley wasn’t published till she was 70, and she had a long string of best-selling novels through her last two decades. I was 40 when I wrote my first bit of fiction (since I was 12, anyway), and I won a best-business-journalist award with it. You will know of other examples, I have no doubt.
Make 2013 the year you discover your talent for creativity. Make 2013 the year you start your novel, your screenplay, your opera, your art. Make the time to unwrap your gift, at long last, and understand how rich a gift you have.
There are workshops coming up in Brasov (Romania) and various venues in the UK in March, too. Details here.
Are you anxious about not having much imagination?
Do you worry?
Do you daydream?
Do you plan holidays?
Do you plan ahead for the weekend?
If you’ve said yes to any of those questions, you have a perfectly good imagination. In fact, if you’re human and reading this, you have a perfectly good imagination. Without it, you couldn’t worry, think about the future, daydream, write a shopping list, plan a holiday, or decide what to have for supper. Let alone run a household or fall in love or fantasise or buy Christmas presents…
You may not realise it, but you have to imagine everything you want to do before you do it. Think about it. First the idea, then the reality.
Are you aware that you’ve been trained to think? And that thinking is different to imagining?
The education process – a dozen years at school, at least – is all geared to teaching us to think. To analyse, to be logical, to manage, organise, filter, file, memorise… We are not taught to be inventors or innovators; original thinking is discouraged. Art lessons are about technique and art history; English lessons are about structure and syntax and organizing facts and subtext and other writers’ stuff.
School is designed to make us focus on the path to employment, vocation, career. We have to think about getting a proper job as soon as we get to high school. Before we even hit puberty, we have to stop daydreaming and playing, and be serious.
And what happens to our imagination? You tell me.
So… the good news is that your imagination is there, in full working order.
The bad news is that with nothing else to do, it’s bubbling away, concocting nightmares and waking you up at 3am in a muck sweat, keeping you awake, worrying.
The better news is that you can use all that imaginative power to create beauty and delight in whatever way you choose.
The best news is that you can learn how to grab hold of your imagination and go for a wild ride…and you can learn how in one single day. Actually you’ll learn the big secret in less than 10 minutes. The rest of the day will show you just how amazing your imagination is, and reinforcing the good news.
Where? How? At the Where do you get your ideasone-day workshop – see dates and venues here.
No hard work. No experience needed. And here’s the best bit: No thinking...
I guarantee you will have a great time. I guarantee you will succeed. I guarantee you will go home with new characters and new stories. I guarantee you will have more confidence in your storytelling. I guarantee that you’ll be surprised and delighted with what your imagination produces.
Now… I dare you to have a go. I dare you to make the breakthrough and find the story that needs writing. Email me today and ask any questions you have. Sign up today and commit to becoming a storyteller: on the page, on the stage, on the screen.
It’s on the doorstep, howling to be let in. Forget about Hallowe’en tomorrow – it’s NaNoWriMoe’en…
Are you ready? Got your ideas lined up, got names for your characters and your setting? How about sub-plots and your supporting cast? Are your main characters rounded and complex, or do they feel like rice paper?
If you’re keyed up, your imagination might be locked up…
Some people are admitting to an excitement bordering on panic, which doesn’t help the flow of creativity we will all need in the next four weeks.
“Not only did I learn how to use a series of practical techniques to build convincing characters, but I found myself committed to write my first novel. That’s testament to the extraordinary transformational energy circulating around the group during the session.” – Julie Whyman