Are Distractions Igniting Your Creativity?

There’s a lot of bad press around being distracted at work. Whether that’s referring to the 9 til 5, your writing schedule or even the inability just to focus on your work. We’ve all been there – even me whilst I write this post – but perhaps it happens for a reason. Perhaps it’s your brain’s way of telling you that you need a time out.

More often than not a distraction tends to be something that is playful and spontaneous. It could be people watching, listening to a debate on the radio, or even something you spot in a shop window. We can’t deny that we do it but have we ever considered why we do it? Sometimes you can be aware that you need a distraction and other times you may not. If you don’t realise that you needed the distraction – more times than not – it’s because your brain could be overloaded. Whether that’s work or family life will differ to each of us and will affect us all differently.

I recently read an article about the benefits of play and how it can allow you to be rid of pressures and to be more present in a single activity. This in itself, allows the brain to think in different ways and can ultimately, allow your creativity to soar. Think that walk you took in the middle of writing your wip was an unwanted distraction? Probably not. In fact, you’ve probably went on that walk to clear your mind and let yourself think of something else for a while. While in this state, your subconscious will be mulling over your problem and by the time you get back to your writing, your mind may have conjured up a new scene, solved a plot hole or even allowed you to consider a possible plot twist. Whenever we do something that’s spontaneous and different to our working day, it surprises us and allows us to see it as a playful task or experience. As a result, your pressures gradually melt away, leaving you with a sense of play that really allows your creativity to come into full force.

Next time you go for a walk or are distracted by a game or puzzle, ask yourself once you’ve finished – Do you feel like you can be more creative? Do you feel refreshed and re-energised? Are you ready to tackle your problem?

The chances are, you might just feel ready for the new challenge ahead.

Winding down for Writers

Anyone else struggling with work life balance?

This beautiful balance is sometimes really tricky to achieve and has become even more difficult when working remotely.

Thankfully, I found something that works for me and hopefully it’ll work for you too!

Stick to your timings – whether you work 9-5 or you spend each morning on your writing, make the time for it. Then, once that time has hit, stop working and start living. Admittedly this seems a little cut throat at times BUT it can be effective.

Create a commute – once you’ve finished work, go for a walk around the block. This will be a way for your mind to wind down, reflect on the day and to prepare yourself for home life. This worked so well for me during lockdown, definitely worth trying!

Create a list! – After work we can sometimes have work preying on our minds. Oh I forgot to photocopy that, argh I meant to write 20 pages instead of ten! Writing a list will allow you to express these worries and begin to consider how to tackle them. Once you know how, you’ll find yourself at ease and will allow yourself to relax whilst enjoying your home life.

You’ve probably came across some of these ideas before, and that’s absolutely fine… but did you try any? If not then now’s the time, but don’t worry… it’s better to be late than never.

Give these ago for a full week and see if any of them significantly impact your work life balance.

If you have your work life balance down and you’re just being curious, don’t be selfish! Share your great ideas! Drop your comments below for any other work life hacks for others to use!

The First Line

First lines matter. Whether they are in a blog post, a newsletter or a novel, the first line is crucial.

Whilst you’re in the editing phase of your writing, it can be easily forgotten to revise your first line. The first line will have different purposes in various texts but there is one thing it needs to be. Good.

Your first line, if writing for a newsletter or a blog, must intrigue your reader and invite them to read more. Your purpose here is to keep them reading right until the very end. A great way to revise your first line is to read your writing as a reader. Would you be interested? Would it stop you scrolling? What could you add to the line to make it more gripping? If you’re still unsure, it could be worth letting someone read the first line to give you another point of view. They may even see something that you didn’t.

If however you are revising a first line of a novel, the aim and purpose of your writing may be different. Your goal, as a writer, is to lose your readers in your novel. Allow your readers to become invested in your characters and don’t settle for anything less. Although you still need to grip the reader with your opening lines, you have a variety of techniques open to you. Here are a few that you may wish to try:

Surprise the reader

This type of hook causes the reader to raise questions or surprises them by catching them off guard. A great example of this is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’. The concept that some would like the feeling of burning seems very unusual. The sentence itself could also suggest that someone likes the action of burning something. As your mind begins to question alternatives, it has sparked the interest of the reader to keep reading. 

Begin with dialogue

This can also have a similar effect on the reader as it can catch the reader off guard. An example of this can be seen in the opening lines of Rose Macauley’s, The Towers of Trezibond: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. The animal itself may surprise the reader in this sentence, as well as Aunt Dot’s previous actions. Using dialogue in your first line brings your readers straight into the action and provides them with wanting to figure out what is happening and why.

Setting the Mood and Atmosphere

Although this technique may seem simple, it can be really effective when used correctly. Louise Erdrich does this beautifully in Tracks: ‘We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.’ In this first sentence Louise Erdrich has managed to set the sombre mood perfectly by using the setting to help set the tone and atmosphere. This technique can work really well with the show don’t tell principle, as the sentence has given its readers an insight to what is to come.

Another suggestion could also be to revise what you like to read yourself. If you love a particular author like Lee Child or John Grisham, look at how they start their first lines. How did they interest you? Why did you want to read on? This technique also works if you are wanting to write a blog post or newsletter. If you follow several blogs, which article did you really enjoy and how did it start?

Once you have tried a few of these techniques, reflect on your work and see if any of them work for you. Remember the best way to get your writing noticed is to make your writing the best it can possibly be.

Follow me on Instagram @cbarkerwriting for writing tips on a daily basis.

How To Navigate Your Thoughts Into Your Writing

How to Navigate your thoughts into your writing

It’s a great feeling wanting to write, yet finding somewhere to start can be tricky. Even if you know what you want to write, it can sometimes be difficult to start if a plot hasn’t occurred to you yet. This then begs the question: Can you write without an initial plot? This article will focus on the notion of wanting to write but not having a clue where to start. If this behaviour sounds familiar or is something that you know you struggle with, then read on for my top tips for overcoming the beginning of your writing.

Do I just begin writing and see where I go?

This is partially what I tend to do. I’ll have an idea or a style of writing I’m wanting to convey within my work and tend to work my way through it before several drafts of editing. However sometimes you may not know how to get to your destination and therefore become stuck at where to start. If this happens to you, try thinking about your characters’ journeys within the piece of writing too. Many characters tend to take their own route rather than allowing the writer to direct them. It is for this reason as to why I would encourage you to focus on character development, before you jump straight into a story.  Often by doing this a character will help you create a plot to drive your writing forward. So sit back and enjoy the ride!

Wouldn’t a really structured plot help?

This can be extremely useful for long writing projects, however I believe an over-structured plot can hinder a writer’s creativity if too rigid. So how structured is too structured you ask? This is ultimately down to you. Consider how free you are wanting your writing to be. Do you just want to know how to get from A to B or do you want to know every direction and service station that you’ll end up in? When writing, the phrase, ‘I never get lost, I just end up changing where I want to go,’ comes to mind. Sometimes not knowing where you are going, helps you to explore an area you have never been to before. This is similar when it comes to your writing and creativity. Try writing where your stay begins and ends. Now ask yourself, do you need anything else to help you start writing? If yes, include a middle twist and if not, start your engine.

I never get lost, I just end up changing where I want to go

It’s all good writing but how do I get ideas?

Ah, this old chestnut. Sometimes considering the day to day stuff that people get up to can be a great place to start. For example, just before lockdown I was made aware of TikTok (a social media platform that consists of various videos, currently a lot of dancing!). It might be that many teenagers use this platform but what about the elderly? Imagine an old man that uses it to interact with his family and he ends up going viral and there you have it – the beginning of an idea. Make a list of daily tasks that you, a friend or a family member does and try to consider a piece of writing including this daily  task or chore.

Ideas are around us all of the time, so pay close attention to your surroundings and you’ll never have to worry about finding an idea again.

Finding Inspiration at Home

Finding Inspiration at Home

With many of us working from home, it can sometimes be tricky to find inspiration in an area in which you have spent months living and working in. Some may even struggle facing their laptop, especially if they have been working on it all day. I have collated a few ideas that will provide you with a new insight into your home and how your daily routine can help you create new plots and develop characters.

Short on Time?

Many of us may be working full-time, home-schooling your children or have caring responsibilities, which can take a lot of time away from your writing. Whenever I am short on time (my teaching breaks are 15 minutes) I try to come up with a Haiku as a snapshot of how my day is going. A Haiku is a 3 line poem, with each line consisting of so many syllables. The structure is as follows:

Line 1 (5 syllables)

Line 2 ( 7 syllables)

Line 3 ( 5 syllables)

I don’t normally write poetry. However I do like puzzles and I feel like a Haiku poem is a mixture of puzzles and writing that fits really well into my short breaks. You may even prefer to write several Haikus to create a longer form of poetry.

Feeling Lonely?

Living on your own or being around the same type of people can be boring and will not be helping your creativity grow. Instead spark your creativity by inviting your characters over. Jot down every detail: How do they knock on the door/ring the bell? Their posture when you open the door – Do they barge past or ask politely to come in? Once they’re in the house/flat, consider which room they’ll go into. Will it be the study, the kitchen, or maybe even the bathroom? Consider all of their actions, from their fidgeting to their manners. This exercise can be a great way to get to know your characters, as their daily actions may impact their decisions within your story.

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Looking for New Ideas?

Consider some of the sacrifices and changes you’ve had to make over the last few months. It could be only seeing your friends via an online chat forum, wearing a mask on public transport or only leaving the house once a day. Once you have a list of these, consider a genre of your choice. This could be any or a mixture of both. When you have decided on the genre/genres you wish to write about, have a look at your changes/sacrifices and try to write a scene in that genre. For example:

If you were writing a crime/thriller novel, your friend might think they’ve left the online chatroom when they haven’t and a crime is committed for the reader to witness?

Perhaps a man in a drive-thru has fallen for the barista who gives him his coffee on a daily commute? Maybe it was the look in their eyes, beyond the mask…

Remember, the possibilities here are endless!

Have a go yourself and see what you come up with.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The Switch By Beth O’Leary, Hardback, 323 pages, £12.99, Waterstones

Beth O’Leary’s The Switch was released on 16th April and has had a whirlwind of reviews since. The Switch is based around two female characters, Leena and Eileen. After they both go through a difficult time, they decide to switch houses for a change of scenery and to reconnect with themselves. The novel itself is split over London and the Yorkshire Dales which gives the reader a sense of urban and country life. Although this is slightly different from her previous novel, The Flatshare, there are many good qualities that run through both of her books.

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Characterisation

One element that the reader really can acknowledge with The Switch is the fullness of O’Leary’s characters. There are so many characters used, each with their own distinct personality, that it is easy for the reader to relate these characters to people they may know. I’m pretty sure every reader will have lived next to the grumpy man next door or know of a friend who is gorgeous, but has a list down to her arm of qualities a man must have. The amount of depth that O’Leary goes into with her characters is admirable, especially as every single character is so distinctive. It is clearly evident that her characterisation within The Switch is what captivates the audience and propels them through the story.

Family

The concept of family and a sense of belonging is a recurring theme that allows the reader to join Leena and Eileen’s family along the way. At times you may find yourself comparing their family to your own, as you may have shared those many bumps along the road yourself. The family unit in The Switch interprets some areas that may be perceived as unconventional and representing them as the new modern family unit. The support and union can still be seen but feels as if it has almost had a fresh lick of paint to make it seem more realistic.

Reflection

Reflection is also a significant element to the book as so many decisions are left open at the beginning of the novel. It is up to you as a reader to pick up the pieces of this family and to reconnect the dots again. By doing this however, you will begin to reflect on your own life and consider what it is that you want yourself. Admittedly, this book was read during lockdown and time for reflection seems much easier to acquire. However The Switch does make the reader question their own choices and what they define as important to them.

Overall I found this novel an uplifting read in a different way to The Flatshare. Admittedly I found the humour a lot stronger in The Flatshare, however I was looking for a laugh and I found it. The Switch on the other hand is still humorous, but has a more family focused approach. I found Eileen in this novel particularly amusing, especially through the contrast of livelihood and personalities.  I would argue that I felt like I received more closure towards the end of The Switch in comparison to O’Leary’s previous novel, as I felt that the ending was more uplifting and felt like the novel had a strong sense of purpose.

As cliché as this sounds, The Switch isn’t normally a novel I would go for but as I enjoyed The Flatshare so much, I had to give this a read. Since reading both of O’Leary’s books I feel like I have found a new author that I wouldn’t have even encountered, if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone a little. For that, Beth O’Leary, I thank you. I strongly encourage any other readers to step outside your comfort zone and do the same. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!

If anyone would like to purchase the book, I have included a link at the top of my page. Although I managed to buy this in Tesco (the closest I could get to a bookshop), I would strongly recommend purchasing the book at Waterstones through the link above. The link will locate you to a signed copy of this book. At the moment it’s the same price as a regular hardback version of The Switch (if I’d known about this, I would have totally bought this book first!).

Happy Reading!

How does reading benefit a writer?

How does reading benefit a writer?

We’ve all asked and heard the advice, haven’t we? How do I improve writing? Read more. The pure broadness of this answer really doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not saying it’s not correct but it’s not exactly useful either. This post will delve into this question with a little more focus on what type of reading to consider and how we will be able to use our reading to our writing advantage.

 

What do you like to write?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself. You might like to write a specific genre, ie. thriller, romance etc, or you may prefer to write for a particular audience. Are you writing for a male, female audience for example? Or do you perhaps like to write for a younger audience? Whatever your answer is to this question, this is the type of reading that will help you. If you would like to write romantic YA novel, then that is the genre you know you need to read more. By doing this, you will soon begin to acknowledge what you find gripping and therefore what your readers will find gripping. You might even discover a technique that you really despise and know definitely what NOT to do in your own work. 

 

Whether you like or dislike the book – learn from it.

Just because you did not enjoy reading a certain book, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from it. I once read a book that was given to me as a gift. At first I thought I would enjoy it but the author kept going off track to explain the characters backgrounds. It was really annoying but I persevered and realised afterwards that my books need to be more concise and fast paced. Quick task: Have a look through your books on your bookshelf and consider what you didn’t like about them. Was it plot, the way the characters were presented to you, or was it unrealistic? Once you have done this, consider what would have made it a better read. Whatever you think the improvements should be, take that advice and include it within your own writing. Remember you have been a reader here and have been disappointed with the outcome – only you as a reader can put that right by doing so in your own writing.

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Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Learn from your heroes.

If you have a favourite author you jump to when you pick up a new book, consider what you like about them. You might like the author because of how they grab your attention within the first few paragraphs, or you may find their dialogue really engaging. Here is were you can learn from them. If you struggle with dialogue for example, pick a scene that your author has created the demonstrates a great conversation. Now begin to analyse what makes their writing so engaging. Is it the word choice, the action that is placed in-between the conversation or perhaps it just seems effortless? Keep this scene in front of you and then have a go at mimicking this style in a scene of your own writing. You may find that this really helps you with your dialogue, you may even think that it doesn’t sound like you – and that’s okay. That just shows that you already know your own writing style.

 

Write a book review

Writing a book review can really help you understand the main themes of a book and help you consider how these can impact your own work. Sometimes when writing it can be easy to get lost in the genre you’re writing. However if you read a book in the genre you are wanting to write, you will be able to acknowledge any underlying themes that occur in this genre. Writing a review also helps you analyse plot, pacing and characterisation in greater detail. Sometimes the author can even write in such a way that the characters take over and drive the rest of the plot forward. However it is only with writing a book review that all of the authors hard labour of writing the book can be acknowledged.

By doing all of the above, the concept of ‘read more’ seems more solidified to me. Ultimately you can interpret the answer to the original question whichever you like. However I stand by that the concept of reading more was to be subjective to a writer’s own interpretation to their chosen genre. Feel free to have a go at my suggestions and let me know if they work for you. 

The Lying Game

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware, £7.99,  Amazon

The Lying Game begins with a text message, I need you. From this moment onwards the reader is propelled into Isa’s life and lies that entwine within. As the lies in The Lying Game  unfold, the truth about Isa’s friendships and relationships surface. With everyone playing the lying game, who should she trust?

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Best selling author Ruth Ware, also known for her novels In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, has yet again met the high expectations of her readers. Although I prefer In a Dark. Dark Wood (and that’s not just because I’m a northerner), The Lying Game demonstrates an element of childlike games that we can all relate to, to some extent. It is when Ruth Ware stretches and twists these concepts, that makes her novels so appealing to the 20s + market.

If you have read any of Ruth Ware’s other novels then you will enjoy The Lying Game as her style is clearly cemented in every page. If you enjoy novels such as Gone Girl, then this could be the book for you. The Lying Game is not as intense but that shouldn’t be seen as a negative.

I would suggest this novel to anyone who wants to read a thriller with elements of light heartedness. Not every thriller needs to be intense on every page and it’s for this reason that I would recommend The Lying Game as a good holiday read.

In a Dark Dark Wood

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, Paperback, Vintage, 338 pages, £7.99

Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood could be described as a gripping thriller that feels just light enough to pop in your hand luggage as a holiday read. Ware’s thriller is set in a rural Northumberland in the middle of a forest.  Picturesque it may seem but as night approaches, darkness is clearly lurking between both forest and friends. Nora receives an invitation for her friend, Clare’s, Hen party – only she hasn’t seen her in ten years. Although spending a weekend with an old friend could sound like bliss, with something going very wrong, Nora soon learns that she has to confront why she left so long ago.

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Ruth Ware is also known for The Woman in Cabin 10 and her latest novel The Lying game. Ruth used to be a teacher of English and a press officer. Having lived in Paris and London, this novel takes us away from the city life and into rural Northumberland. As her debut thriller it is to no wonder as to why her other novels just keep giving. After reading In a Dark Dark Wood I can only imagine that her other novels will be just as gripping and just as clever as her debut – if not better.

Whilst reading In a Dark Dark Wood, her style seemed to resemble Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The novel follows Nora’s story all the way up to a pivotal point in the novel, whilst showing the aftermath through every other chapter. This reminded me of the way Flynn would bounce between charaters within her novel. Although Ware’s novel jumps to the past and present it is done in a way that feels necessary to the exposure of the plot.

For anyone wanting to have a look at the first few pages, you can through either amazon.co.uk or Waterstones.

Happy reading!

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Sceptre Books, £7.99, 613 pages, paperback, 2014.

The Bone Clocks could be described as one of the most unique and original books I have read to date. The Bone Clocks takes its readers on a lifelong journey to show the ups and downs that life can offer. Mitchell’s novel changes perspective a few times to demonstrate how one person can impact so many other lives. Given the change of perspectives, it is evident at how much thought has gone into the creation of The Bone Clocks, as although the perspective may change, the main character does not.

Throughout the novel an undercurrent theme of science fiction can be seen through the main character’s, Holly Sykes’, potential of psychic ability. However this is no fortune telling, carrot reading or crystal ball kind of psychic. In fact this concept is brought up and discussed within the novel; providing its readers with answers throughout the Sykes’ journey.

At first I did find this book a bit difficult to read, purely because there are no chapters. Only sections and brief spaces between paragraphs give an indication as to where a good place to stop reading may occur. Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. As a reader I feel as if I have travelled through Sykes’ journey with her and have gotten to know her intricately. The understanding I now have of Holly is the equivalent to the understanding of a main character from a trilogy book-set.

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If you want to be whisked away by a character’s journey, then be prepared to be whisked away by The Bone Clocks.