Tag Archives: creative potential

Become an outrageous rock star – or write a journal

Although a teen of the 80s I used to be really into David Bowie’s albums from the 70s – Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust – so last evening I was interested to see Cracked Actor, the BBC’s 1975 documentary about Bowie’s conquest of America.

Coincidentally I’d mentioned Bowie in the journaling workshop last week, and how as journal writers we might learn from part of his creative process – chopping up different words and phrases and randomly piecing them back together to generate lyrics. Sure enough there he was in the documentary carefully piecing together little strips of paper with snippets of sentences. I got excited. He then went on to mention how he’d taken this approach with old diaries he’d kept, chopping them up and rearranging them in ways he claimed actually seemed to predict the future. I got very excited.

Since Bowie hasn’t been much in the public eye for a while I’d forgotten how candidly he speaks, and how he takes care to describe his experiences in simile and analogy, likening his rise to fame to the sensation of accelerating really fast, when you’re not quite sure whether you’re enjoying it or not. He also referred to the precariousness of earthquake-prone Los Angeles, and how he always felt an underlying tension and unease about the place because of it. And when asked why he’d taken on so many Americanisms since he arrived in the US he likened himself to a fly floating around in his milk carton – a foreign body getting a whole lot of milk!

One of the American interviewers from the time got irate with Bowie’s seemingly evasive attitude, accusing him of speaking in riddles, but personally I love this metaphorical approach to reflection, and believe it can often reveal more truth than literal responses.

The other thing that excited me from a journaling perspective was Bowie’s explanation about the different characters he portrays in his music. He said he believes that we are all made up of so many different personality facets, and his character creations were his way of exploring his own make up. He then commented that if he’d encouraged other people to explore some of the different characters that make them up then that’s something.

So journal writers there are things to learn from the Thin White Duke. But if becoming a Bowie tribute act is not quite in your grasp, take up your journal instead.

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Beatrix Potter and the whale

Beatrix Potter was a big feature of my childhood, from the little books, an LP album of stories read by Wendy Craig, and numerous holidays to the Lake District. Miss Potter, and later Mrs Heelis, was a force to be reckoned with in regard to the conservation of one of our most beautiful landscapes, as well as a gifted artist, story-teller and botanist.

The Pie and the Patty Pan has to be my favourite Beatrix story – thanks to the restrained bitchiness of Duchess and Ribby, the confusion over the pie made of mouse, and the shameless greed of Doctor Maggoty.

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In the enchanting opening sequence of the film Miss Potter in which the title role is played by Renee Zellweger, Beatrix describes the magic of beginning a story, and never knowing where it will take you. Similarly when we write in our journals we rarely know where we’ll go, and this in particular is what happened to me last week.

I began with the kick-off phrase “I want to write about…” and the word that immediately sprang to the end of my pen was creativity. What followed was an incredible extended, and rather conceited, metaphor about not wanting to reinvent wheels, but make sure the right wheel is available for the vehicle. From there I went to realising that the vehicle I’m driving doesn’t have any wheels at all. Instead my vehicle floats and relies on the wind for propulsion. Of course I ‘m stuck if there is no wind, so I need to devise a way for my vehicle to be self-propelling when necessary.

And so it meandered on, a surreal meditation on what my vehicle really is. In the end I determined that I’m navigating upon a sleek, living craft – which somehow in the midst of all this metamorphosed into a giant whale.

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Oookayy. There wasn’t any waccy baccy at hand honest. Just a willingness to allow myself to follow creativity wherever it might lead. I spent an amazing hour expanding possibilities, planting new seeds in my mind, and the following day I outlined ideas for three new book titles, plus a novel.

So Miss Potter was right, writing takes us where we least expect. And gives us a whale of a time.

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In fear of false imaginings

My Facebook wall has been full recently of pithy aphorisms promoting wisdom, self-awareness and spirituality. They are invariably accompanied by an inspirational photograph depicting a lone tree clinging to a barren rock or dawn silhouettes of people doing yoga or tai chi, and I enjoy glancing at these messages and pondering whether or not they hold anything for me.

The other day I saw one whose entire text and picture I cannot recall, however I do remember the surprising phrase ‘false imaginings’ and it hit me hard. I took that phrase away with me and allowed it to percolate in my brain for a while. I felt the jabbing finger of my inner critic taunting me about the false imaginings of my journal, the place where I allow my creative mind to run riot and come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful dreams and schemes.

The fact is the very thought of false imaginings terrifies me. To me it means day-dreaming, egotistical fantasies unlikely to come to anything realistic, time-wasting, unfocussed dabbling, navel-gazing even. The very idea makes me go rigid with shame.

But false imaginings also means things we make up that don’t serve us. My inner critic’s conviction that day-dreaming is a waste of time is in itself a false imagining. Another is that the wilder the plan the less likely it is to ever come to anything. After all how can we adapt and change and try new and exciting things if we believe our inner critic and never let our minds wander and our creative imagination run loose?

Nevertheless I have a couple of ways of testing the ideas that my inner critic would have as false imaginings. The first is to blurt them out in public and see how they catch. Sometimes with a fair wind they have sailed high and far and continue to reward me still. The second is to allow the idea to sit in my head, and to see if it repeatedly shows itself to me over a period of time. Sometimes it will nag and nag until I figure out a way of making it real, and suddenly the falseness dissipates like summer clouds, revealing a beautiful and shining new thing.

So yes I do live in fear of false imaginings – but I’m also afraid of never having them at all. Our minds are endlessly creative and part of the fun is sifting out which bits are false – and which bits are the nuggets of gold.

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Making things up – journaling insight #3

We have such a fixation with right and wrong, truth and make-believe. We have a block around making stuff up. We learn that it is wrong to lie and thus we resist telling stories.

Now if you’re an accountant or a barrister or a doctor this is probably a good philosophy by which to practise your profession. But if you’re a writer, or a person who wishes to be more creative, or someone who wants to release themselves from a difficult episode in their past, then resistance to ‘making things up’ can cost you dear.

The realisation that as a writer I can make stuff up did not come easily to me. There were stories I wanted to tell about my ancestors, about the place I grew up, about things that had happened to my family. But I felt blocked. How could I tell a story if I didn’t know exactly how it started and finished, or exactly what happened in the middle?

As soon as I realised that I could make stuff up I experienced a huge sense of liberation. And this doesn’t just work for creative fiction writing, it also works in my journal too.

Paradoxically, since I’ve allowed myself to make things up in my journal I now get to truth quicker. This works because in my journal it is my truth, not an objective, universal truth than generally exists, although the more I journal the more universal my truth appears.

But what do I mean about making things up in my journal? Doesn’t that just defeat the object of journaling? How can I raise my self-awareness by lying?

These are all valid challenges. So let me explain. The things I don’t make up in my journal are how I’m feeling or the way I’m seeing a certain situation. These are things that require documenting as faithfully as possible.

But I might allow myself to make up that my grandmother is my guardian angel, or that the beloved piano my great aunt used to play has something to say about her passing. I might hold these things as my truth.

This being the case I can allow myself to take ‘dictation’ from my grandmother in my journal whenever I need some angelic guidance, or I can write as my auntie’s piano in order to help heal my grief. Bringing a question to my grandmother and allowing myself to write back as her is where much inspiration and comfort can emerge. (Although sometimes what she has to say to me is not too comfortable – she always had a great knack for rumbling me!)

I don’t need to wrack my brains to remember what she used to say to me in real life, nor do I need to analyse too deeply or think too hard about what an inanimate piano might have to say. I just need to allow the sense I have of these things to come through.

When we’re writing our journal, we’re in control and we can draw our inspiration from wherever our imagination allows us to go. One thing’s for certain though, by resisting rather than allowing ourselves to make things up and allow our inner resourcefulness to come through, we’re missing a trick.

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Use your journal to consciously create your perfect Christmas

The festive season is without doubt a time for lists – presents to buy, food to prepare, cards to write, recipes to follow, the last minute preparations before the big day arrives.

It’s funny how this festive frenzy of list-making often serves to put us into auto-pilot mode, so we can merrily tick through all our items, keeping panic at bay and helping us feel like we’re ready. But ready for what?

I propose that while we’re indulging in our seasonal lists we try a couple that are a bit more intentional, a bit more consciously aware and a bit less ‘auto-pilot’.  And as one of the most famous lists at this time of year appears in a song, make your list 12 items long to match!

For example:

The top twelve things I love about Christmas; my twelve favourite festive movies; twelve things that make me feel ‘Christmassy’; my twelve perfect festive ingredients; the top twelve songs on my perfect Christmas playlist.

It’s also a time to reflect back on all that the past year has brought us. So how about a list of your top twelve achievments; the twelve things you’re most grateful for; your top twelve lessons learned; your top twelve highlights of 2012… The list, as they say, goes on.

By naming the things we’ve accomplished, and the things we look forward to at this time of year, we can set our intention and consciously create our perfect holiday – and then have fun reflecting on it all afterwards.

(Excuse the split infinitive – I’m boldly going with this one.)

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Why journal writing is good for our brain

Journal writing is a physical act in that it requires we use our fine motor skills to wield a tool that marks the page. It is also a mental and intellectual act in that in order to be intelligible the marks we make must conform to the conventions of the language in which we operate. It is a creative and intuitive act as we give permission to our emotions and imagination to express themselves.

In this sense journal writing is a past-time that immediately and simultaneously engages all those parts of our brain that are responsible for physical coordination, verbal and logical reasoning and emotional response. It is an integrally holistic exercise in itself, firing activity across the whole of our cerebral hemispheres. Add to that the act of reflection, reading what we have written, and we become aware of new insights that our whole brain is  pointing us towards.

It occurs to me as I write that journaling might therefore be a form of dreaming. When we get really absorbed in our journaling session we have little control over what emerges at the end of our pen. Many writers of different genres report a similar experience once they get into the flow of their work, and the content of their writing seems to be directing itself, like our dreams. So it is with reflective writing. Once we let go of the stage directions of our conscious mind, our imaginations really do roam free and what we read invariably surprises us.

So why is this beneficial? In his seminal work on brain function The Master and his Emissary, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist highlights how a world which is run by too much left-brain thinking  is one which is mechanistic, virtual, fragmented, and with a greater tendency to manifest exploitative practices. This is because our left-brain is more utilitarian, governing rules, language, and logic. Whereas a world which respects human artistic endeavour, and which acknowledges the more emotional and intuitive aspect of humanity, is demonstrating a prevalence for right-brain thinking.

McGilchrist’s point is that overuse of one set of cerebral skills at the expense of the other results in a very lop-sided world. We need to strike a better balance between the characteristics of our mind, including using our brain in a more integrated way, and acknowledging that our physical bodies are also part of the equation. Journal writing is one way of training our brain to fire on all cylinders of its creative and logical potential, and if more people achieved this the world could become a different place.

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