Writing One Day at a Time

I wonder if you have an idea for a story that you’ll write One Day?

Or maybe several stories?

Are you writing them already, or waiting until you have the time?

Three years ago, writing kept me going through a life-threatening illness, taking it one day at a time.

As I recovered I thought about how long I’d wanted to write Children’s Books as well as illustrate them (answer: many years).

I had two characters swirling around in my head. I didn’t know who had the strongest voice, but I knew where they started and what they were trying to do.

As my ideas spilled out into notebooks over the next year I saw that I had a long way to go before I could transform them into a story that I loved. A really long way.

I realised how much I had to learn.

I felt that it was time now to do something about it.

What would you do, at this point? Or what have you done, if you came to this crossroads?

* * * * * * *

At first I fantasised about doing an MA in Writing for Young People, at Bath Spa University, and I went to an Open Day, although I knew I couldn’t afford the fees.

Or couldn’t afford them yet, whispered a tiny voice, as I wandered the grounds. (It was my inner optimist, not a wish-granting sprite).

But I’d acknowledged my need to do something.

I drew up a plan.

I searched out courses, workshops, talks, coaches, societies I wanted to join and books I wanted to read – and I applied to the Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice Fund.

This grant is for cultural and creative practitioners who want to make a step change in their career, and take time to focus on their creative development.

I needed to be very clear about what my aims were, so applying helped me to focus on what I really wanted:

To learn to write Children’s Books so that I can have a sustainable writing/illustrating practice that I love and feel proud of, one that gives me a sense of purpose.

It was a glorious moment when I opened the email telling me I’d got the grant!

Suddenly everything seemed possible – like that joyful anticipation at the beginning of the long summer holidays when you’re about 7 or 8.

Some of my ideas were as scary as they were exciting – like a week long residential Arvon writing course – but I was looking forward to the challenge and couldn’t wait to begin.

* * * * * * *

Of course, none of us knew quite how challenging 2020 was going to be.

Working around home schooling during lockdown was hard, but nothing compared to the hard times that so many people were having world wide.

I’m looking back now over a year of experimenting, learning, playing, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone – it’s been at times wonderful and intense, and at other times frustrating. Although my funded period has finished, I intend to carry on in the same vein, slightly more slowly.

At the end of the year, these are the points I’m reminding myself of:

  • Keep coming back to the story, even if it’s only short bursts – it needs to be regular. Persevere – one day at a time. Weekly deep dives if possible.
  • Keep on learning – search out affordable and free events online. Book Festivals, Ted Talks, blogs, tutorials.
  • Connect to the writing community. I’ve met and been inspired by loads of lovely writers online over the past year. Their generosity in sharing advice is so heartening.
  • Don’t be afraid to write badly. I’m happy to make truly terrible drawings before I come up with something I like – I need to do the same with writing.

“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out, the better.”

Walt Stanchfield (American animator, writer and teacher)

There’s no neat ending to this involving book deals and a new life! I’m still writing my Middle Grade story, alongside Picture Books and younger fiction.

I feel clearer about what I’m doing, and much braver.

I’m writing this partly to set my intentions, partly as a Thank You Letter to the Arts Council, and maybe in the hope that it might spark off an idea for someone – to take a step towards something you’re dreaming of!

Thank you Arts Council England, for supporting me and so many other artists, especially during this strange time.

I’ll be writing more over the next few weeks about the process of immersing myself in the world of Children’s Books.

What challenges would you choose, if you identified something you wanted to work at, and how would you encourage yourself to leave your comfort zone?

Maybe you already have?

Drawing Dogs

A few years ago I started doodling scenes from my family life. I wanted to capture moments that I might forget, things that made me laugh or stop and think.

I meant the sketches to be very quick and silly, but I was getting caught up in whether they looked enough like my children.

I tried drawing them as little dogs instead, and to my surprise the drawings began to flow much more easily.

When I tried out drawing them daily for #inktober on Twitter a few years ago, the characters began to develop a different shape.

Then on holiday in France we got caught in a thunderstorm while we were visiting an amphitheatre. We made a dash for the car under a tarpaulin that didn’t quite cover us all, and as we ran though the streets of Orange laughing and getting soaked, I knew that it was a scene I wanted to draw. I sketched it that day, then did an ink drawing back home in England. I wanted to capture the exhilaration and the holiday feeling, and it was the first time that the dogs seemed like a family.

There have been loads of dog drawings over the past few years. There have been stories that didn’t really get anywhere, and lots of dioramas.

Last year I was very ill and was lucky enough to be able to take the time to really rest and recover. Throughout my treatment and as I grew stronger I drew, wrote and collaged a lot, and found I didn’t want to draw dogs at all. Because I was drawing in a journal just for myself, and not thinking about posting anything, it didn’t matter if my characters looked ‘right’ or not. For the first time in years I could draw without thinking about an audience. Despite the circumstances, it was liberating. I began to realise that I wanted to do more than little inky dog doodles.

I didn’t know if I would go back to drawing dogs, but alongside experimenting with printmaking, painting on canvas, writing and paper cutting I started working with an iPad and Ipencil for the first time, and the dogs have found a new lease of life there. So I think the dogs characters may still be around for a while…

… but in amongst lots of other things.