I’m middle aged. I’m 42. And this side of ‘40’ has thus far resulted in reading glasses, having to wash the grey from my hair more frequently and more trips to the doctor in the past year than I’ve had in the past 20 years. Once I’ve finally got my head together, it’s my body that goes all Pete Tong.
It is said that the closer the brain is to the sleeping state, the more creative it is. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write.
The resultant notes are called “morning pages”. Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will simply jot down the very first words that come to mind that day. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind from elsewhere.
Just as the waking moments are a bridge from the sleeping state into sober reality – the hour before you go to bed is often a creative time with the brain slipping into that semi conscious state. Hence there are plenty of writers who write late at night.
And just to show that there are no rules, there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day when all of life’s busyness is in full swing (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).
So, I guess the point is that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment. Find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write. Likewise, writers have very personal tastes regarding an environment conducive to writing. There are those who like music or TV buzz in the background and those who can only write in silence. Find whatever works for you.g
FEICIM, Irish language immersion courses on Inis Oirr
Few can argue with the fact that Ireland has contributed a wildly disproportionate number of towering literary works to the English language canon. Our writers have included James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, Sean O’Casey, C.S. Lewis, WB Yeats, Molly Keane, JM Synge, Elizabeth Bowen and Flann O’Brien,– to name but a few. And this is before considering contemporary writers such as William Trevor, Brian Friel, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Joseph O’Connor, Kevin Barry. How come a small island of around four million people has produced scribes who wield the English language (and therefore, a non-native tongue) with such aplomb?
It is often proposed that the Irish are simply far more playful and experimental with the English language than other Anglophone peoples. And the reason is because in Ireland, the Irish language remains a palimpsest underscoring the use of English in Ireland (a branch of the Anglophone tree known as Hiberno-English).
As an Irish writer who also speaks Hungarian and French, I would have to agree that multi-lingualism, or at least the existence of another language in proximity to the vernacular will have an impact, and usually that impact will be positive, playful and fruitful. Every language I have learned has taught me to regard another aspect of English in a fresh way.
Earlier this year, I had the honour of being Artist in Residence on Inis Oirr, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Irish is the first language on the island. Like all Irish people, I studied Irish for thirteen years as a schoolgirl. However, coming from the East of Ireland, my home language was English and since leaving school, I’ve had little opportunity to practice the ancient tongue. However, my time on Inis Oirr allowed the re-awakening of my dormant Irish and I was surprised at how quickly it came back – and I was struck at how it began to colour my writings, as they became more lyrical, poetic and playful.
Whilst on Inis Oirr, I had the fortune to meet Brid Ni Chualain, a native Irish speaker from the island. Brid is also a writer. Her love of the native language coupled with her easy-going, friendly approach to language tutoring has meant she’s gained quite a following as an Irish language tutor and now runs FEICIM, immersion courses on Inis Oirr for beginners through to advanced. Moreover, she’s willing to do skype lessons, so I might be taking her up on that score. You don’t have to learn Irish to be a great English language writer – but it does appear to help ; )
Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.
To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!
Here’s an example:
‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’
The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.
Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.
I wish I had said….
It was no use pretending….
A long time ago…
For the first time ever….
Johnny is third from left, beside his twin Brian and flanked by his uncles Alvin and Aiden.
My 25 year old cousin Johnny who died last week from an epilepsy seizure, is remembered by his aunt Denise in an interview on RTE’s Ryan Tubridy Show. Johnny is survived by his parents, identical twin Brian, his older brother Norman and his sister Gayle. Spare a thought for them today.
Listen here Starts at 01:22
Jokes! Jokes are a great source of plot ideas. An established writer gave me this tip years ago and it has served me well.
Jokes, you see, are plots in miniature. Stories sealed up and ready to go. You’ve got your beginning, middle, end, your conflict, your characters – flaws and all. All you’ve got to do is flesh it out. Expland on it. Change gender and setting if possible. And no, it doesn’t have to be funny because many jokes (indeed, stories) need an element of tragedy to make comedy (and vice vearsa) and you can just crank up the aspect you want to emphasize.
Here’s a joke that gave me an idea for a short story recently shortlisted for a competition:
“It was Ryan’s funeral and the pallbearers were carrying the casket out from the church. When they bumped into a pillar, one of them heard a moan from inside the coffin. They opened the lid and found Ryan alive. He lived for another ten years before he properly died. Another funeral was held for him and, as the pallbearers were carrying out the coffin, Mrs Ryan shouted “Now, watch out for that pillar!”
OK, it’s the way ya tell ‘em… But the point is that they don’t have to be the funniest jokes – just so long as there is a story in there, a universal truth with which your readers will react and engage. Wordplay/puns won’t work so well, go for the story…
Here’s another one you can chew on for a story idea (it goes down well in the creative writing classes I give in an English prison…)
The defendant knew he didn’t have a prayer of beating the murder rap, so he bribed one of the jurors to find him guilty of manslaughter. The jury was out for days before they finally returned a verdict of manslaughter. Afterward the defendant asked, ‘How come it took you so long?’ the juror said, ‘All the others wanted to acquit’.
In tribute to my young cousin Johnny Healy who died earlier today. Johnny, you were greatly loved and you’ll be very much missed. Rest in peace xoxo.
Apparently, a film-maker is interested in making a stand-alone short from one of my stories, Swan, for the THI project They’ve asked me to script. Sweet! So, a film short now added to list of radio play, stage play, novel and screen play. Got to get my ukelele workin!
I’ve got a brand new Ukulele. A purple one. I’ve acquired it because over the next five months I have to write a novel, a screen play and a radio play. So, rather than a) freak out or b) knuckle down, I’ve done what any self-respecting writer worth their displacement activity will do – I’ve decided to learn to play a musical instrument.
This makes no sense. Nor is it supposed to. I’m feeling over-whelmed, so my brain flails around for something to take my mind off the big task at hand… and I came up with Ukelele playing, of course.
This is not utter insanity (though it is probably closely related) I intend on working in some basic ukulele playing into my radio play. Though, more importantly, it is allowing me to be a child. I am an award winning writer, with a prestigious MA, who has published and has had work broadcast. I am also a former student of the visual arts. Therefore, when I write or paint or draw, there’s pressure to be good, to deliver to a professional standard – which bleeds some of the creative enjoyment from the activity. And I miss that.
I’m unmusical. I have a voice like a strangled cat crashing though a shattering window and early attempts at piano, well, they didn’t take. So, I’m rather confident that I’ll be rotten on the ukulele too. Hurrah! Thus, my purple ukulele will allow me to be a child again – and if I never progress past three chords, I won’t care. In fact, I’ll wallow in it and seek refuge in it when the pressure of what I must achieve over the coming months seems too much.
And if the book, screenplay and radio play don’t fly – I can always take up busking.
All together now, 1,2,3,4…