Commission for Short Story – Northern Ireland Office Brussels

Delighted to hear this news from author Paul McVeigh and other NI writers. Check out more at http://www.paulmcveighwriter.com

The Good Son

The Quarter Hour Summer

I was commissioned bythe Northern Ireland office inBrussels towrite athreeminutestory for their Summer Postcard Series.There’s many other great stories from N Ireland’s finest writers.

You can watch me reading it by clicking here.

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Four strategies to tackle writer’s block (and crack time management too).

‘Getting started, keeping going, getting started again — in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival Seamus Heaney

Many bloggers hit a writing road block now and again. I can certainly identify with that. While I tend towards spontaneous, occasional bursts of inspiration to get a post underway, I have lately come to realise the value of a planned approach to blogging, to writing, and to content creation. This strategy can even be applied more broadly to work and life on a daily basis.

For my part, the origin of my writer’s block lies in the realm of cognitive freeze and a sense of overwhelm – those days when you have so much to do, or so many ideas clamouring for attention, that you don’t know where to start, so you distract yourself with anything and everything bar the task in hand. Or you sit and stare at the wall, out the window, or the blank screen or page, or bury your head in your hands.

As our sage poet Seamus Heaney reflects in his wise and wonderful words in the introduction, this is indeed a common challenge, where the key to it all is getting started, and re-started, over and over again. While procrastination is ubiquitous, and tends towards a self-feeding dynamic, it can be overcome, with a little self-training and an awareness of the need for balance between work and play.

So I’ve done some research on how to tackle procrastination, artists’, writers’, creative and general life action block, get the activity, the work, the words flowing again, and grow new momentum-building habits.

To get the work flowing again and overcome overwhelm, it’s a balancing act between time out to play, relax and recharge, interspersed with planned work stints or sprints.

Schedule, schedule, schedule, repeat.

Schedule in the play times as well as the work times.

Ensure there are some physical activities in the mix to burn the energy, boost the serotonin and grow the brain.

We often think ourselves into and out of taking action, so with this insight, I’ve cobbled together a few resources and motivators that are helping me beat the block and I want to share them.

Four strategies for getting started, keeping going, and getting started again

1. Freewriting

This technique is essentially a kind of raw, fast expressive outpouring of thoughts and feelings as they come to you. Sometimes the content isn’t even consciously thought until you see it written on the page and reading over these notes can be revealing as well as full of ideas for further writing. The practice of Freewriting  came to me by way of author and motivator Orna Ross whose website is a treasure trove of inspirational resources for writers.

2. Journaling prompts

The internet is awash with sites full of journaling ideas and prompts. Some are geared towards self-healing, anxiety management, health and fitness, all manner of life activities. For writers and artists, journaling is an all round source of motivation, idea generation and creativity sparkler. Here is just one site: called Develop Good Habits, I have found their posts helpful for habit growing tips, one of which is, of course, regular journaling. 

3. A walk in the woods (or any other natural space)

On the Creative Live blog, Hannah Brookes Olsen explains how nature refreshes the body-mind. It’s not just the time out, but the space and environment in which to idle, to induce an almost meditative state within the more natural tones and rhythms of nature. My experience is that you switch into a different mode and gain a calmness which allows ideas and memories to sift and sort themselves, with the most important or promising developing a clarity of focus that points the way forward. In addition, the physical restoration can only be good for the creativity muscle.

4. Time Management Tools

Since I started to produce strategic marketing plans and content for small businesses and freelancers, I quickly realised the necessity for forward planning to stay on top of a complex of work and personal responsibilities. My search for a workable solution led me to the website and resources of time management guru Laura Vanderkam. First and foremost, we must track what we are doing now with time, and only then can we hone in on spots and openings that can be developed into more fulfilling activity. Of course, planning ahead is crucial but again, remember to schedule in some R&R time too.

So Keep Going Guys, and Have Fun too!

NOTE: I have no affiliation with any sites mentioned or linked. These are just resources that I have found helpful going forward in my life and work. 

Citations:

Grammarist on writer’s block:

https://grammarist.com/usage/writers-block/

Image:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creation.jpg

Seamus Heaney quote:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/19/seamus-heaney-commencement/

Picking up on Poetry: My Workshop Experience

Book ID Parade

On Developing My Poetry Journey by Roberta McDonnell

I just spent ten weeks under the online tutelage of celebrated Irish poet Kevin Higgins and I cannot tell you how transformative it was. Not only did we receive tremendous weekly prompts and expert edits from Kevin, but we were able to read each other’s work and the group members were so encouraging and informative that I feel like I have just been through an intensive, high level tutorial.

There are more online courses to come and anyone interested can sign up at the Over The Edge website. Kevin runs face-to-face courses in Galway Arts Centre as well and produces the fantastic monthly Over The Edge poetry reading events. You can sample some of his work in the book Identity Parade (just click on the link below or the image above) and in numerous books, journals and newspapers, including his own published collections.

For anyone interested in poetry writing, particularly if distance and finances are challenging, Kevin’s affordable online course is a brilliant opportunity to push your own envelope, get some expert feedback and some fabulous peer support. All with a bit of a start to perhaps your first collection, who knows? I for one can testify to the value of this kind of tuition and will keep going, spurred on by the great community at Over The Edge.

Image Link

Three Poets and All That Jazz: Dylan (the Bob one), Bowie (the David one) and Philip Larkin’s Record Diary.

image of three books on Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Philip Larkin's essays on Jazz

Three books came my way this Christmas, each about a unique artist and all with very different styles and perspectives.

 

Poet #1

Before Bob Dylan became the 2016 Nobel Laureate for literature, one academic in particular had already been teaching his poetry students about Why Dylan Matters. Professor Richard Thomas has now gifted us with these insights in a highly engaging read that is impeccably researched and to be enjoyed by academic and pure listener-reader alike. The Guardian hailed it with Music Book of the Year 2017 and here is one reader in total agreement.

Growing up and attending school during the 1950s in a small Minnesota town, young Robert Zimmerman absorbed a  multitude of cultural influences that included Roman and Latin Classics amid other literary fodder. Later on, as he ventured forth into the wider American scene, Dylan explored modernist poets like Rimbaud and the writings of Beat authors like Jack Kerouac, all of whom helped shape the unique lyrics of the Bob Dylan canon. Yet the attachment of those words to a musical frame of increasingly sophisticated quality takes the singer-songwriter into a further dimension, one of musical virtuosity that draws from deep roots in American folk to begin with, then blues, country, rock and beyond. It is this intensity of musicianship combined with poetic lyricism that create the sheer enjoyment, intrigue and love of the Dylan canon for me personally and no doubt for many other lovers of Dylan’s work.

Throughout Martin Scorcese’s documentary film, No Direction Home, Dylan describes himself as a musical expeditionary and this is reflected in the ever-changing variety of styles and genres he has adopted to form his trailblazing career. Within that career as musician-lyricist, he is also no doubt a poet. His work, like poetry, exists as a multi-layered treasure, to be enjoyed anew with each listen.

 

Poet #2

In David Bowie: A LifeDylan Jones adopts a chronological-biographical frame, populated by personal interviews and anecdotes from many of David Bowie‘s friends and contemporaries. In a clear avant garde tradition, Bowie songs seem to me to come from a symbolistic origin, whereas Dylan’s, at least early on, were more of a social commentary. Bowie’s abstract style is also a commentary of sorts, more focused on the inner life or inner space, as well as, paradoxically, the vast cosmological context of life – outer space – and on how that can be articulated through the media of the body, clothes, words and music. Bowie articulates alienation like no other.

Jones’s book is a ‘warts and all’ description of David Bowie’s life, especially the earlier ‘rock star’ years, yet it is also a fond and adoring one. We encounter the artist, driven by a creative instinct that was compelled to manifest in a continually renewing vortex of personas, music, lyrics, visual art and styles, with bodily appearance acting as a blank canvas and the stage as pure theater. As I have argued before, Bowie is a shapeshifter par excellence, a hurricane of creativity in relation to the forming and transforming self.

I found this book fascinating and an enriching addition to my indulgence in all things Bowie, especially the way in which the author brings us behind the scenes of the world in which he moved. Many individuals were involved in the ever-changing Bowie project, all of whom fed into what we know and love as the Bowie classics. Read the book.

 

Poet #3

My final consideration in this triad of Christmas gift books is the collection of essays and reviews of contemporary Jazz, written for the Telegraph newspaper from 1961-1971 by the Hull based poet Philip Larkin. Reading this book is like a safari into Jazz history, describing artists like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as their recordings filtered in from the United States and Europe, as well as some well known band leaders within Britain itself, like Kenny Ball and Chris Barber.

While the merits and demerits of Larkin’s life and work are topics of considerable debate at the moment, there is no doubt that he loved Jazz and the people who created it and that, in his own words, in the final analysis, ‘what will survive of us is love’ (An Arundel Tomb).

Another Hull poet, Andrew Motion, has written extensively on Larkin’s life and work and presented a captivating portrait of him on the Sky Arts ‘Passions’ series. The following snippets are from the program and summarise Larkin’s offering as ‘glittering verse that spoke directly to, and about, post-war Britain’ and the uncertainty of life. It is this directness and connectedness with everyday life that forms Larkin’s appeal, welded to an ability to ‘create beauty from despair’. As Shane Rhodes contends, ‘He was incredibly accessible for an academic poet’.

In All What JazzI find the articles informative and fun. They have sent me off on a new pilgrimage into jazz music and songs, some reminiscent of growing up with my Dad watching Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen on TV, others complete revelations, especially the voice of a lady singing with the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She’s called Ottilie Patterson and she hails from Comber in Northern Ireland, just up the road from my home in Carryduff. Here she is; what a voice?!

 

 

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