I’ve just finished reading Henry Handel (or as I like to call her Ettie) Richardson’s memoir, Myself When Young.
I’ve been a fussy reader recently, picking up the latest literary best sellers, then putting them down again, unfinished. This though, I read all the way to the end.
Even though H.H. died before she’d completed the manuscript, her notes and her husband’s jottings were used to flesh out the final section. I found it a fascinating read. Not only because it gave us a woman’s perspective of Australia in the late 19th century, but also because her writing is such a pleasure. Clean and clear. Her voice carried me through, even without a plot driving the story forward. Even though she was writing almost one hundred years ago.
Her life wasn’t easy. Her father died young and the family struggled, despite their middle-class privilege. But she knew this:
“To a writer, experience was the only thing that really mattered. Hard and bitter as it might seem, it was to be welcomed rather than shrunk from, reckoned as a gain and not a loss.”
H. H. Richardson
I’ve been telling myself and my writing students the same thing for a long time now. As creative artists, all the shitty stuff that happens to us has value. It is the gold we mine for our stories. And a wonderful way to begin to be grateful for the traumas in our life.
EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL!
Every experience is be relished. Treasured even. No matter how painful. Because everything we endure increases our depth of understanding of the human experience and that is what writers need, more than any fancy turn of phrase, or fast-paced plot. Because we write to make sense of what it is to live in the world, of what is is to live a human life.
The more we live, in all the pain and muck and glory, the better our writing will be.
Thank you, dear Ettie, for your words and for your wisdom.
Bjelke Blues has been going great guns and I’m thrilled about that. We even scored a review in The Weekend Australian!
Review of Bjelke Blues, Weekend Australian 9/10 November 2019
Thanks to everyone who’s been buying copies. It’s been a huge year’s work, collecting and editing the work of 44 other people, then promoting and marketing the book as well. On top of it all, I caught the dreaded lurgy which drained the very last of my own creative energy.
But I had a screenplay to write. Due at the end of the month. I sat down at the computer and searched my brain, my heart, but I had nothing left to give. I was done! An empty well without a drop of inspiration. I’d pumped myself dry.
Most creative people experience patches like this. Some call it writers block. Others, burn out or exhaustion. I run retreats helping other people to find their creative selves, but in the meantime I’d lost my own.
How was I going to find it again?
Luckily I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Hope they’ll work for you too.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron– regular readers of my site will know that this is the book that started me writing. It’s still the first place I turn when I need to reboot my writing mojo. Working my way through the exercises slowly but surely ideas started to flow again. My favourite affirmation this time around is “Through the use of a few simple tools my creativity will flourish.”
Take the pressure off. When I start thinking about my writing tasks as hard work then I know I’m in trouble. Writing is fun! I love it because I get to muck around in my imagination, make stuff up and play. So get that “life is a serious business” frown off your face and lighten up!
Put on your happy face!
Get into nature. Take your journal and a pen and just sit with your back against a tree or look out to the sea or listen to the birds a while, then write down everything you see, feel, hear, smell, taste. Free write for no other reason than to record that one moment in time.
The Reader Crowned with Flowers, or Virgil’s Muse, 1845 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Buy yourself a treat. It’s best of course if it’s something to do with your writing/art form like a new book on writing, a novel you’ve always wanted to read, a new set of colouring pencils or a recorder, but any treat will work just as well. I bought myself a mattress topper. I love it so much I think I’ll marry it!
I love my mattress topper!
Do something you don’t usually do. Paint a picture, climb a mountain, go for a swim. I played the piano. I had lessons for years as a child but these days I rarely play. The other day I sat down and learnt a new piece. It made me feel very happy.
Give yourself some proper time off to do NOTHING. Yes, I mean nothing. For some of us that’s really hard to do. Luckily for me, I was babysitting my brother’s kids in Dubbo and my internet wasn’t working so time off was forced upon me. I read. A lot. Talked to the kids. Went for walks. And guess what? Ideas for my screenplay started to flow in like magic.
Give yourself permission to write absolute crap (or do a shitty painting- whatever). Then sit down and get stuck in.
If you’ve completely pumped yourself dry it will take a bit of time to fill your well to a point where you’re ready to produce again. Be gentle with yourself. Gentle is my new favourite word – the world right now needs a whole lot of gentleness.