Sophie Lives – Exercise 1.13

Here are two sentences taken randomly from The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013, p97) :

“In life there are milestones. Events that mark out certain days as being special from the other days.” 

Write these at the top of the page then fill the rest of the page with your own writing. Use Filer’s words to kick start the process of writing about your own milestones. 

In life there are milestones. Events that mark out certain days as being special from the other days.

It was August or September 2018. I woke up dizzy and found myself struggling to move. Visiting London was a positive experience in many ways, and I was due to change my Airbnb accommodation. I headed to King’s Cross with both of my back packs to catch the train towards where I would be staying for the next few days. As I got off the tube I felt sick, light headed and light heades. Taking my back packs off I leaned against the wall, almost in tears I felt hopeless. My thoughts were flickering between going home or staying on my holiday.

As I looked up I could see a young woman, who I presumed was homeless, going up to passers by and asking for money. As she approached me I figured that she was going to ask me for money. She looked at me in a kindly way and said “you look ill, is there something wrong? can I help you?”

This act of concern and kindness was just what I needed on that particular day. A thought crystallised in my mind “If this young woman who is so vulnerable and in desperate need herself, who didn’t ask me for money and wants to help me, then I need to accept that I’m ill, my Anorexia has me beat.” With that thought I decided that I would go home and accept treatment for my anorexia. That women’s generosity was my turning point and helped me to move into recovery from my eating disorder. It’s been a long journey and my life has changed in many ways. I still struggle with my eating disorder, and it has morphed into compulsive over-eating, but my eating disorder has improved and so has the quality of my life. Whoever you were I thank you and wish you the kindest of blessings which the universe can bestow.

Now try this with a book of your choice. Open it at a random page and read the first sentence that catches your eye. Once again, write it down at the top of the page and fill the rest of the page with your own writing. Make the page your own, although it doesn’t matter whether you write with that authors style, or in a style of your own.

Make notes in your writing diary about how well this went. Did you find the first part of the exercise easier because you hadn’t read the book?

There are two levels of social welfare protection – trusteeship and guardianship.” (Larsson; 2008; p209)

Sophie was horrified with the reality that she was in A and E and having to wait for a psychiatric assessment, she felt ashamed of herself and guilty for wasting so much of the doctors and nurses time. She had thoughts that other people were seriously ill and that they needed the medical attention that she had taken away from them. Waiting for the psychiatrist was daunting, seconds seemed to drag by. All she could do was think. She had never tried to end her life before, despite thoughts of this being a constant companion for many years. How could she explain what she had done, or the harm that she had suffered at the hands of Mark. Initially she hadn’t considered it to be domestic abuse, like thousands of other women she had always believed Mark’s words about how useless and pathetic she was, and how he had to put up with her failings. Deep in her core she knew he was right, and these beliefs were so intense tonight. Only a failure of a human being would try to end their own life. She knew the psychiatrist would judge her and believe it was all her fault. 

Make notes in your writing diary about how well this went. Did you find the first part of the exercise easier because you hadn’t read the book?

You can repeat this exercise countless times, using all your favourite books.

Rather than write my reflections in my writing diary I am going to add them here.

Two prompts, two pieces of writing and both of them felt easy. The prompt from Filer took me straight back to that fateful day in London during which I knew that my anorexia had taken over my life and left me unable to function. I’ve written a lot about my eating disorder over the past two years. I find it relatively straight forward to be authentic about this illness. I haven’t read The Shock of the Fall so I had no idea of Filers writing style, this gave me the freedom to write in my own authentic way. Auto-biography is most certainly therapeutic for me and has helped me to develop an online community, and readers who connect with and value what I have to say.

I have read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo previously, and was a book that I felt gripped by and the people and action was intense and believable.

There is less narration and more first person portrayal in Larsson’s writing style than there is in the buds of my potential novel Sophie Lives. I’m finding that I’m writing snippets of a book; ideas that can be built upon at a later date. Writing a novel is something completely new for me, and it’s hard to write more than little excerpts at the moment, but I’m sure that in time I will be able to take this further. I find the little passages are free-flowing and they come to me relatively easily, and I guess that’s because Sophie and I have had similar experiences; Sophie as an adult and me as a child. I’m really enjoying the process. What will help is for me to conduct research and read about domestic abuse and recovering from it; survivor stories. Although I’ve experienced many psychiatric assessments I don’t know how to describe these for the novel, nor how to write them in ‘first person’ speech rather than narration. I found the exercise to be quite enjoyable though.

References

Filer, N; 2013; The Shock of the fall; New York; Harper Collins Publishers; p97)

Larsson, S; 2008; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; london; MacLehose Press; p209

 

What Would I Like To Read – Exercise 1.12

Are there any books you haven’t read but which you would like to read? They don’t have to be classics, just anything you’ve been thinking about reading and haven’t got round to yet, whether it’s the latest bestseller or something that’s been on your shelf for years. Make a note of some titles in your writing diary and then read one over the next couple of weeks.

If you struggle with this exercise, go to your local library or bookshop and browse the shelves for inspiration. Join the library if you’re not already a member – librarians are very helpful and will be happy to assist you with both joining and selecting material to take home. Pick a book and read it over the next couple of weeks.

I like the idea of joining the library, I have some free time today, so I’ll go ahead and do this whilst it’s fresh in my mind.

You know, there isn’t any particular book that I would like to read, and without this piece of coursework I would just go onto to the fiction trilogy that I have. But this had got me thinking. I like Yuval Noah Harari, I enjoy history and quantum physics floats my boat, so I’ll see what I can find.

I also want to say that I don’t like reading poetry. I don’t know why, somehow it doesn’t do that much for me. There’s the occasional poem which I enjoy, but the thought of reading an anthology fills me with the dread of the boredom and frustration. I know that’s bad to say, especially as I like to write poems, but it’s true I’m afraid.

The Kind Of Writer I Would Like To Be – Exercise 1.11

In your writing diary make a few notes about what you’ve read in the last six months. Your reading matter might include fiction (thrillers, horror, romance, literary fiction, etc.) poetry, drama and non-fiction (history, travel writing psychology, etc.) as well as newspapers and magazines.

Think about what kind of writer you would like to be. Perhaps you’re not sure yet, or perhaps there are several avenues you’d like to explore? Record this in your writing diary where it can be kept private. Writers can be very secretive about their hopes and dreams.

Firstly, I’m tired of this snowflake attitude to secrecy. We are students at the moment, and we should not be singled out as being special and different to other students. We should all be expected to complete our studies on a blog. Photographers, painters, film makers, textiles are expected to do so, along with their understanding of their processes, and these are just as personal to them as our writing is to us. That’s not to say that everything should be published, excerpts from novels we are writing, pieces of unfished journalism, poems we need to review and rework and personal projects are private until ready to publish. But not putting our coursework on a blog is patronising and being treated like anxious kids. Yuch. Rant over.

There are many genres of writing that I would like to develop, especially poetry, auto-biography, and academic style photo essays (I particularly enjoy), and I’d also like to write a short story or a novel.

My reading over the last six months has been limited to fiction and journalism to be honest. I read the Guardian online everyday,  and I have read The Maze Runner trilogy and Lord of the Rings, and I’m currently reading Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont (a hard book to read, and I’ll write a book review once I have finished). I’m aware I have read one other book and written a review of it on my blog, but have forgotten what it was. Ah ha, my memory returns, it was the Shephards Crown by Terry Pratchet. I have another trilogy to read once I’ve finished Thirteen. After that I’m going to try and broaden my scope of reading. I’m also currently reading through a book about anorexia and bulimia, which would fit into the genre of psychology.

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Exercise 1.10

This exercise combines three aspects we’ve covered in Part One: freewriting, the writing diary and reflective commentary.

  • Freewriting. Consider this quote, which is said to come from the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg: “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” Think about this quote for a minute or two, then complete a five-minute free write about these thoughts.

My passion is where my source, light and strengths will come as a writer. I’m very open about my life and experiences, both positive and negative. This authentic writing style has helped me to develop an online community and to build relationships. I do not hide my madness. I can also see that this authenticity will be a huge bonus in writing short stories or a novel. Writing about what I know. My opening idea for Sophie Lives comes from my experience of being abused and from my understanding of domestic violence and the tragedy that in the UK 2 women are murdered every week by their current or ex partner. This is something that I feel angry about. Writing from Sophie’s perspective of abuse and recovery is something that has the potential to be powerful.

  • Writing Diary. Read your freewrite through and think about your writing journey – the good and the difficult parts to this exercise. Make notes in your writing diary about the experience. Be as open as you like – only you will read this account.

Firstly, other people will read through my account. I don’t mind this. My community matters to me and I welcome feedback and interaction with others. However, there are some pieces of writing that will remain behind closed doors until they are complete and ready to be seen. For example, I will only reveal one more small passage from Sophie Lives, and then I’ll develop the rest of the novel in private.

Writing from a prompt has been easier than I have expected it to be. It’s a very good way to approach and develop writing. I can see why the notebook is so important, it will become a source of my own ideas and prompts, which are far better than the prompts from others. Having a starting point that comes from the heart will be the driving force of successful creative writing.

  • Reflective commentary. Read through the notes you’ve just made on the original exercise and start to think how much of this you’d want to share with your tutor. Also think why you’d want to share this. (Check the ‘two-fold purpose’ above.)

I have absolutely no problem with sharing anything I write with my tutor. I feel no shame about my writing, I don’t fear critique; the opposite is true, I value feedback from my tutor, she’s an experienced author and can guide me on my journey. Yes my reflection is self-critique and this is highly valuable in developing myself, I get that, it will be a source of strength, but I’m open to my tutor reading anything I write.

Freewriting will also be a source of overcoming writers block, which all writers experience from time to time. I had creative blocks while I was studying photography, and getting out and taking photos for enjoyment and developing personal practice helped me to move forward. It’s no different with writing. It troubles me that creative writers on the course are not expected to have a blog and are encouraged to secrecy. Why should creative writers be treated differently than other students? Yes we do need to keep personal projects behind closed doors until they are complete and ready to be published, but coursework doesn’t need secrecy.

Exercise 1.8

First, go to http://weareoca.com/creative_writing/how-many-notebooks-does-it-take-to/  to read more about keeping a writers notebook.

Now decide what kind of notebook works for you and get a supply in (or just make use of your phone or tablet or other device – whatever suits you). Go out for a walk near where you live, or in your lunch break at work. Jot down a few things in your notebook: It doesn’t matter what – descriptions of your surroundings, thoughts about any people you pass, or any other thoughts that pass through your mind.

Get in the habit of having a notebook with you as much as possible and try to use it every day for a week. 

When I set up the pages on my blog for creative writing I set up a page for my notebook. I’ve decided to keep my notebook online. It’s more practice for me as I take my phone with me everywhere. I used to be a paper and pen kind of person, but with my studies over the past couple of years I have embraced technology. There are some things that I write down in a physical notebook, perhaps the occasional idea that I want to build upon before it goes on my blog, but I may post them and password protect them at some point, so that I can keep my writing in one place. What’s more, digitising my notebook means that I can upload photos as I go along, such as my exploration of spring.

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I’ve also decided that it’s probably for the best if I stick to having one post that I add to so that all of my ideas are in the same place.

 

Exercise 1.7

Try doing Morning Pages every day for a week. Consider whether you find this easier than doing freewriting at other times of the day. If you find it helpful, build Morning Pages into your regular routine. There will be more about writing routines in Part Three.

Freewriting has become an important part of my morning routine, and I’m pleased that it has. I have my coffee and talk to my trees first, and then I write. I’ve set a reminder on my phone so that I don’t forget to do it. I haven’t tried it at other times I don’t think. Although a previous brief said to set a timer and work up to 20 minutes, I haven’t been doing so. I’ve gone with the flow and just allowed myself to write. But I think most of the time I’m around the 20 minute mark. I will try doing it with a timer soon.

Winter Is A Bastard – Exercise 1.6

Spring is most definitely in the air despite the periods of relentless rain. Crocus and daffodils are pushing their necks out of the ground, and they are adding glorious pockets of colour to my days. Such joy. My mood is improving slowly but surely, I’m isolating less, and I’m having more clarity of thought. Gratitude is what I’m feeling as I write this short piece of freewriting (I adore freewriting, it’s shown me that I do have lots to write).

But winter is a bastard, an effing c of a nightmare that I often struggle to get through!

This year my mood dropped at the end of December, and my thoughts darkened. I began to obsess about suicide, and I researched methods on the Internet, and purchased some pills which I believed would end my life.

Motivation and pleasure from activities deserted me and I felt hopeless. Situations which involved close contact with others was a struggle and I avoided people. Ultimately I was overwhelmed and tried yet again to take my life. Disappointed that I didn’t succeed, but the disappointment that I tried to end my life pushed me into accepting help. I’m now attending a therapeutic day unit. It’s a short term program for a few weeks, enough to get me through until I am able to keep myself occupied and productive.

My energy always improves in the spring. If only I could hold back the self destruction long enough to get me through to the lighter, brighter and warmer days.

My thoughts are much clearer now, and I am enjoying my studies. I had my coursework for over a month before I could even open the folder. Eventually I realised I had to just begin the first exercise, I couldn’t wait until my motivation returned, I had to simply take action without expectation. I’m so grateful that I did because I find it has brought joy and satisfaction into my daily life.

I’m looking out for signs of spring now. I’m not waiting for motivation I’m acting as if I’m motivated, and I’m finding signs of spring right now. Recovery is action. Hope is important but I can’t hope my way into feeling better, I have to put the effort into hunting for joy and gratitude.

If I Didn’t Have Paranoia – Exercise 1.6 – Freewriting

If I Didn’t have paranoia… I would aim to live in the female role again, and would save up for laser hair removal on my face. I find it interesting that I hate my legs when in the male role, but in female clothing and tights I find I have lovely legs that are slender and feminine, although my belly is still fat. I’d like to live in the female role, but I’m scared that I would be attacked. It wS hard to revert back to living in the male role, but I’ve become used to it now. I’ve learned to consider myself as being gender fluid, although deep down I consider myself as a trans woman. It would be nice to be Helen again.

If I didn’t have paranoia I would feel safe and secure, not have images of me and my home being attacked and feel safe in my home. I would like to be able to live freely and not live in fear for my life. I’d like to recover from ptsd, but I don’t know how to do so. Life would be more fun, and I wouldn’t have all my little measures to feel in control. Currently I feel the need to avoid the number 6. I have to have my TV volume set on 17 or 22, I finish the day by having either 4 or 8 puffs on my e cig and I have to get my clothes ready for the next day in the evening. I also feel the need to continously pray throughout the day and have my medication boxes with all of the labels facing the same way. It’s ocd, but my ocd doesn’t come out in hand Wasing and tidying and cleaning kind of way. If I don’t do these things then I get anxious and scared that me and my home will be attacked. It’s exhausting and frightening to live like this.

If I didn’t have paranoia I wouldn’t become anxious when I hear the sounds of my neighbours talking, and I wouldn’t thin that they are talking about me. I wouldn’t need to either turn up the TV or wear ear plugs so that I can’t hear them; and I wouldn’t think that when they talk they are talking about me.

My paranoia is self centred and self obsession, but I can’t help it at the moment. Maybe one day I will feel safe and secure but I don’t hold out much hope. My paranoia, when it becomes severe, leads to suicidal ideation , and I make attempts to end my life. I get so scared that I am going to be harmed. I get a strong fear of pain, and I would like to die peacefully. That’s why I overdose rather than jump off a building or poison myself or jump in front of a train.

Trafalgar Square – Exercise 1.6

Now try this using a topic of your own choosing (e.g. childhood, ambition, favourite places).

I wrote the following by hand and am now typing it up.

 

Trafalgar Square means so much to me, especially after last summer. I had a relapse with my eating disorder and my mental health in general. I became paranoid and suicidal, and I believed that all of my neighbours were plotting to kill me. I was terrified of being in my home, and whenever I was I would wear ear plugs so that I couldn’t hear their muffled voices. I had to get out as soon as I could in the mornings, and not come back until the evening. I visited many places, a wildlife park near to Canada Water, Woodbery Wetland, a Wetlands near Tottenham Hale, Alexander Palace and many other places beside. However, my favourite place was Trafalgar Square. I would take a book and buy some carbonated fruit water from the tesco metro nearby. Some of the time I would sit and sunbathe while watching people, other times I would sit and read. Trafalgar Square was my refuge. I look forward to the return of the warmth so I can si there again.

 

Mother Nature – Exercise 1.6

1) Sit somewhere that is comfortable for writing and where you won’t be interrupted. Even if your usually a ‘straight on to the computer’ kind of writer, try this exercise by hand first if you can. Make sure you have plenty of paper to write on and a way of telling the time – a clock or watch is best. Don’t use your phone to time yourself or you might be interrupted by texts and calls.

Put your pen to paper, start writing and don’t stop – don’t let your hand stop moving at all – for five minutes. It doesn’t matter what you write. If you can’t think of anything, write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over until another thought occurs to you. 

Remember that no one will ever see your freewriting, so you can be completely uninhibited. 

I wrote the following by hand and am now typing it up.

Daylight; Thankyou Mother Nature

I don’t believe there is a god. Evolution has so much going for it, so much evidence, its impossible for me to deny, so I have no concept of God. I’ve tried to force my myself to believe, but to confirm, but the concept makes no sense to be. However, I do pray to mother nature. My day begins with routine, and addressing the issues I may face this day and for the strength to overcome my weaknesses. It’s really hard to write without structure as I go along. I can’t help it this morning, it’s coming to me naturally. I’m really enjoying this creative writing course, and I’m loving that I’m studying again. Creative writing is no longer second best. Thankyou Mother Nature.