100 days of writing? Hell, why not?

I spent the weekend in London with a good friend, who also happens to be a writer. To me, she is a writer in the truest sense, because she shows up, time and again, whether she feels like it or not. Such discipline is the very thing that I have struggled with for years. That’s why I admire it so much when I see it. I still don’t have it, maybe never will. But I won’t stop trying to achieve it, because I know from those around me that it can be achieved, in spite of life’s voracious attempts to get in the way. And if they can achieve it then so, in theory, can I.

Just now I saw another friend – also a writer – mention a 100 day writing challenge that she has agreed to take part in: “No word targets – just a promise to turn up every day for 100 days however I feel and whatever happens.” I am drawn to this, and so, without further thought or over-analysis, I will commit to it. I don’t know what I will write, but it will be something, and it will be every day. Some of it I will post on this blog, some of it I may not. I will surrender myself to the universe and see what happens. Because, why not?

Every story starts somewhere. So, once again, let’s begin…

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Why Life Can’t Always Be Fun

Discipline is not my friend. She never was. When the class was lining up against the wall at the end of break time (clap, clap, clap went the teacher’s hands), I was knee down in the dirt digging up sticks to light my imaginary witch’s cauldron (I’m not a witch, to clarify, that was just a phase – one of many).

Imagination was my friend. She painted rainbows in my mind every day. She was both distraction and muse. Sometimes she shone so bright a light upon me that it radiated out of my pores, rendering me translucent. Other times she disappeared like in a game of hide and seek that only she was playing.

Years passed. Despite our differences, Discipline held onto my coat tails as Imagination danced around me. Both persevered, in their own inimitable way. But there was a new player in the game.

Fun was shiny and bouncy and new. She knew exactly what she wanted, and would stop at nothing to get it. She laughed in the face of Discipline, who was always far too serious. She toyed with Imagination, in the way a cat will play with a fly – until it deems it time to eat it.

At some point Discipline gave up. Imagination, too, became tired of playing games that didn’t go anywhere. Fun took the wheel and drove. And for a while, things were just fine.

Now Fun is getting bored of driving, and Discipline and Imagination are nowhere to be found. I’m going to look them up on Friends Reunited. It’s time to make amends.

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Riding the Hamster Wheel

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After the success of my sitcom writing course (writing a 15 minute script and having it acted out by a Game of Thrones actress does count as success, right?) with the City Academy I have once again grasped the nettle and signed up for a 7 week summer course in crime writing, this time with the City Lit. This will run concurrently with the screenplay idea I’m working on with my amazing writing mentor, so I’ll have lots to keep me busy!

You see, what I’m coming to realise is that being busy is always best – or at least that’s the case with people like me, who are creatively minded and enthusiastic but tend towards laziness and phases of paranoid inactivity. Deadlines are key to productivity, and without concrete plans (submit essay by x, write plot outline by y) it’s all too easy to drift out with the tide, never to return to shore. So whilst I will quite often bitch and moan about not having enough hours in the day, I know deep down without these goals and targets I would lack the momentum to achieve anything at all.

Discipline, however, is a different beast entirely, and one that’s far more difficult to tame. You can set all the goals and targets that you like, but if you don’t ‘show up’ regularly, as a good friend recently said to me, the game is lost. And the fact remains that whilst I’m full of good intentions and prone to bursts of fervour, showing up regularly is still something I struggle with. That, and the idea that you don’t have to be in the ‘right’ mood to ‘write,’ nor even must you know where the writing will take you. You just have to sit down and do it. No but-I-have-to-hang-out-the-washing-then-go-to-the-gym-and-make-dinner excuses.

And on that note, I’m just off to the gym and to make dinner before I sit down with my laptop for the evening…..

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Nurturing the garden of the soul

Discipline with writing (amongst other things) is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life, which is the very reason for my setting up this daily blog nine months ago. I’ll admit the quality of the posts has varied wildly depending on my state of mind and situation but, irrespective of that and in spite of some close calls, I’m proud to be more than two thirds of the way through the year and to have, thus far at least, fulfilled my challenge of posting something every day.

Whilst I can’t say I feel all that different, per se, as a result of my writing challenge to date, I am starting to notice a quiet confidence building inside me, a sense of inevitability as, dare I say it, I inch closer to fulfilling my writing ambition. I’m not sure I can even now surmise what the depths of that ‘ambition’ might be. All I know is that the need to write is as much a part of me as my limbs, my synapses and my brain cells, and even if I never reach the heady heights of success as a published author I will at least have always stayed true to what I am.

I still have moments of gross and almost paralysing self-doubt, and I still kick myself daily for not trying harder, writing smarter, being better. But the fact is this: I DO write every day, and that’s more than many self-proclaimed writers can claim. And, slowly but surely, I’m beginning to understand the importance of nurturing the seed of potential with self-belief, rather than letting it wither and die among the weeds of doubt and disappointment.

Inspiration underload

There are days when words flow like wine, ideas are like buses and the air is pregnant with inspiration. In contrast, there are days when the very process of sentence construction feels like the literary equivalent of wading through quicksand, and brain activity is so non-existent a doctor might well switch off the monitor were it not for the fact of the walking and talking aspects of the person still being intact. On those latter days of which I speak, the air is no so much pregnant with inspiration as thick with the cloying unease of guilt, one of the less conducive emotions to successful writing endeavours.

Today, you may already have guessed, is one of those days, in part because I’ve once again lacked the discipline to work to office hours – having spent the morning running and procrastinating before a friend popped over for lunch and we both spent a considerable portion of the afternoon nattering and sunbathing. Though, in my defence, she is a very old friend whom I have not seen in a very long time – and in part because I’ve just not been feeling the inspiration in the way I did last week. You could argue that I’ve hardly given myself the chance to find inspiration in the first place, having spent less than two hours actually sitting at my desk today, and your argument would indeed be valid. But I would nonetheless pig-headedly argue that sometimes days like this are required in order to find inspiration again. And also that spending time with friends and in the sunshine is beneficial to one’s health, if not one’s bank account or future as a celebrated author.

I’m going to blame the heat, though as I type these words I am mentally flagellating myself for making so many excuses for something that, as my inner critic is telling me at this very moment, is really very simple: If you want to be a writer, the voice says, pull up a chair, switch on your laptop, switch off your phone, switch off the internet, sit down, and write. Write until your fingers go numb, until it has got dark outside and you hadn’t even noticed. Write until every last seed of an idea has tumbled from your brain onto the page and taken root. Write as if your life depended on it. Just write. Because isn’t that what you profess to want to do? I have to admit the voice has got a point. Perhaps I’ll be more productive once the heat wave has abated…

Thinking about it, maybe best that I don't live in a hot country after all...

Past Post: Montessori nursery article

I recently stumbled across some articles I wrote as part of my Freelance and Feature Writing course with the London School of Journalism a few years back, and thought I’d share this one about Montessori teaching today:

The truth about Montessori teaching

Maria Montessori’s work with special needs children in the last century led to the development of a new and unique approach to teaching, with the learning environment being carefully planned from a practical standpoint to better equip children for adult life. In recent years it has come under criticism for impressing discipline at too young an age, but few people have a true understanding of what Montessori teaching actually involves.

Nicola Greer is the co-owner of the One World Montessori Nursery in Brook Green, West London. She explains: “Two fundamental aspects of Montessori teaching are cleanliness and order, with order being particularly important. Montessori is all about teaching the child to be self-sufficient – an important part of which is learning to take care of their environment. But it is also a child-centred philosophy that allows the child to progress at his or her own rate. They are given choices and are not pushed beyond their readiness. If you push a child it is counter-productive, but it is equally important not to hold a child back.  They should progress at the rate they need.”

Montessori nurseries differ from mainstream nurseries in that children are able to choose what they want to do.  Practical life tasks involve such activities as learning to dress and clean using scaled down versions of adult materials.  Sensorial tasks involve the use of geometric blocks, fabrics and smelling bottles to name but a few.  Cultural tasks utilise globes and science materials, and mathematical tasks incorporate number rods and counting beads.

But surely, if given a choice of activity, most children will persistently gravitate towards their favourite activities, ignoring all of the others? “Without guidance they might,” admits Nicola, “but children don’t have a long attention span and are therefore unlikely to spend too long on any one activity.  If they do, the teacher will introduce something else.  Practical life activities are generally very popular.”

So what would Nicola say to the critics of Montessori, who feel that children are encouraged to learn discipline unnecessarily early?  “It does work,” she says, after a moment’s hesitation, “that’s what I’d say.  Generally speaking, children at Montessori nurseries tend to do well.” But why is it so important for children to learn practical tasks like cleaning at such a young age?  “It teaches them the accomplishment of performing a task with a beginning, middle and end,” she says, “and children love to imitate adults, for example by pretending to cook with a toy kitchen.”  Wasn’t Maria Montessori very grounded in reality though? “Toy kitchens aren’t entirely in keeping with the Montessori philosophy, in the sense that Maria Montessori was opposed to anything fantasy based,” Nicola concedes. “But I feel that as the nursery is open from 8am to 4pm it is too long a day for a child not to have any fantasy at all.”

Nicola agrees that not all Montessori schools follow the original teachings exactly.  “The majority do,” she says, “although you can’t be too rigid because Maria Montessori lived a hundred years ago and we must move with the times and adapt accordingly, as well as complying with Ofsted regulations.  We are not a ‘pure’ Montessori nursery as such, because we have had to adapt to the requirements of the Foundation Stage where there is a greater emphasis on creative play. Montessori would say that children learn through doing.  The generally accepted modern philosophy is that children learn through play, and I think it is essential to encourage role-play to some extent.”

So to what extent does the One World Montessori Nursery follow traditional Montessori teachings?  “Well,” smiles Nicola, “essentially we are a pure Montessori nursery, but we also have a role-play corner which is definitely based in fantasy.”  The wizard costume just visible through the door of the tiny wardrobe beside us bears testament to this.  But as I leave the nursery, I can’t help feeling that Nicola has interpreted the original philosophy very well, and despite my own initial misgivings about Montessori methods I find myself wishing her all the best.

Remember these? I used to love mine more than anything (and yes, I did try to put the plastic tray in the REAL oven like the girl in the advert)