Monthly Archives: February 2014

How important is it to listen

The human experience is so rich that we writers could write stories until the end of time about what makes us human tick or grate. On this Valentine week-end, I am pondering on how important relationships are to humans and how difficult they are. Seemingly perfect relationship are rarely what they seemed. The reality of every day life is: it’s hard to live with someone for a long time without facing some kind of conflict or friction. As writers, it’s important we educate ourselves about psychology to be able to build realistic characters and situations that readers can relate to.

When I trained as a hypnotherapist, I bumped into a fellow student who was an achieved screenplay writer. I wondered what he was doing there. I knew who he was because a few years before I had done his creative writing summer class, so you could imagine my surprise to find him at the hypnotherapy school. Seven years down the line, I understand much better how clever he was. Exploring the depth of human nature is gold for writers and what better way than to be paid to listen to people’s stories.

So if you are a therapist of some kind, it looks like your skills are precious for your writing. Keep up the good work. For other writers, I would highly recommend doing a listening skills course. Listening skills – deep listening – is so valuable for writers. I thought I was a good listener until I did a one year long training course focused only on listening skills. It made me realise how we human beings always interrupt others when they speak to chip in. Most of our conversations are not true conversations, they are parallel monologues. I found through this experience that if you really listen to people and refrain from asking questions, you will alway hear everything you need to know.

Similarly, I believe that if you learn to get into a meditative state and visualise your characters, and listen deeply, you will learn all you need to know about them. They will tell you their story. And when you put two of them together in your mental room, all you need to do is eavesdrop on their conversation. It will make your work so much easier as a writer. Yet, most of us are incapable of doing this because our minds are over active and full of thoughts. Most of us don’t realise how packed solid our mind is with thoughts. There is a voice in there that yaks yaks yaks. And it is only when we become aware of it that we can start to master it.

I liken the mind to a beautiful horse. Mine is pure white. I know very little about horses but I know this: if we let the horse into our lives with no training, it will wreck it. In order to keep our sanity as writers, we need to master the mind. There are many ways to do this but meditation and the practice of quieting our minds are paramount. I use to teach meditation and there are a lot of myths around it. You don’t have to isolate yourself in a room, sit in a lotus position and chant mantras whilst burning incense. Meditation comes from mindfulness and mindfulness can be found in every day tasks. Personally I find cooking, washing the dishes, ironing, hovering and painting (artistically) very good to practice mindfulness. All you need to do is to be totally in the moment and refrain from thinking about other things. You will, inevitably. The work is to bring yourself back to the task. It can take a lot of practice to even begin to be able to do these things mindfully without wanting to run away. That’s normal. We humans love to distract ourselves from what is essential. And when you quiet the mind, you start hearing that little voice that tells you what you really need. Most people are scared to hear that little voice. Yet, if they did, they would never have to ask advice from other people.

To your creativity

Ange de. Lumiere

Feng shui for writers

Feng shui is the art of placement and keeping the energy flowing in a home for optimum living. I was a skeptic, as with everything, when something made me change my mind. I was at a massive crisis point in my life where my job was stale, my marriage on the rocks and my health seriously compromised. At that time, my stress was so high that my GP suggested that I go see a shiatsu masseuse. She was also a yoga teacher. Fabulous woman.

The masseuse was an ex zen nun who had lived in a monastery in Japan. She was training in Feng Shui with a Vietnamese master. She was so enthusiastic about it that I became curious. I hired the guy for a consultation. I was so desperate that I was willing to try anything. By the way that is when you usually make fabulous discoveries and open your mind. Most of my clients as a clinical hypnotherapist and reiki therapist had exhausted all other options and came to me out of despair. They later said they wished they had started with me. It takes a desperate situation to open one’s strong mind sometimes.

My masseuse’s teacher came to my home a few weeks later and didn’t even let me open my mouth. He was such a character. Thick Vietnamese accent (we have a lot of Vietnamese refugees in France), bright button eyes and the traditional goaty that he kept on rubbing with an understood look as he marched through the rooms of my three bedroom Paris flat. As he marched, he would drop little rhetorical questions that hit home every time. “Does your husband spend hours at the office pretending to have lots of work? ” Then as he walked down the corridor “Have you reached a plateau at work and feel there is no possibility for improvement?” And the last one when he entered our bedroom “have you been suffering from poor health? ” As you can imagine, I was gobsmacked and believed he might turn into Merlin in a puff of smoke anytime. How could he have known?

He offered remedies that were equally as mind boggling. But again, I had paid his fees and had nothing to lose. When I placed a little glass fish in a tank above our drinks cabinet and started changing the water every day, my husband rolled on the floor laughing. I was also asked to place a chime hanging between two doors and mirrors inside a cupboard. And then I waited. Within three weeks I had a fabulous job offer, which enabled me to move across the channel and leave hubby not-so-laughing on the floor. My health improved, although I suspect it had more to do with leaving a toxic relationship. The fact that he pretended to have lots of work in the office was no longer my concern.

I became a big fan of feng shui. I am a pragmatic girl. If it works I will do it again. When I arrived at my fabulous London flat overlooking Harley Street with two young children in tow, I faxed my Vietnamese master a plan of the flat so he could check it out. When I called, he only had one thing to say “House of Happiness, Miss de Lumiere.” He laughed softly “Good house to live in” he added in his thick Vietnamese accent.

There are several schools of Feng Shui but my preferred one is intuitive. You use a bagua map which divides your home into nine sections and map out the different areas that match different areas of your life. The idea is that you keep your house organised to allow free flow of energy and health in your life. I would encourage you to focus on the areas around career and creativity. You find bagua maps easily on google. To help you find the energy to de clutter your house, I highly recommend a small book by Karen Kingston called “Clear your clutter with feng shui”. Maybe you could just start with your desk. The golden rule with decluttering is to only focus on a small area at a time and only commit to twenty minutes at a time. You would probably never dream that tidying up one drawer on your house can shift things in your life but why don’t you humour me? For one thing, I know that every time to declutter, my energy levels increase. Clutter is an energy drainer. It will make you feel tired and dull.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere

How to write the best valentine card ever

I made this valentine card in mosaics

I made this valentine card in mosaics

It might be a bit too late to write a book for your sweetheart this Valentine. If you would like to, why not sign up for my next writers workshop so that gives you plenty of time for next year. These things have to be thought of well in advance. Personally I love the idea. You could use my friend Liz Harwood’s books to capture the moments.

In the meantime, here are some tips for writing the best valentine message this year. You still have time to personalise a card. This is always 300 times better than buying a card from a shop and so much more fun. Here we go step by step:

  • get into the creative zone and write a message (more on this below)
  • select a beautiful photo from your old shots or take one with your phone (there are lots of hearts to capture in window shops at the moment, flowers in flower shops… And rainbows)
  • in something like PowerPoint, import the photo and write your words
  • save it as a JPEG on a memory stick
  • run to your local photo shop (unless you have a photo printer at hand – you lucky thing)
  • get a print and
  • stick it on a piece of card.

The question remains: how to get inspiration? To get inspiration, you need to get in the zone. Here is how you do it: Sit in a comfortable seat and start to day dream. Maybe you want to think about the first time you met your significant other. Or perhaps something they did recently that really moved you. If so, try to capture those images in your heart and write down what they were. Don’t worry about the words at this point. Just write down what you see. Take a deep breath and let it all out. It could be that another memory comes in your mind. Take your time. Don’t rush. You are in your creative space. Allow the images to evolve if necessary.

Once you have a first “draft” of what you want to write. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. Relax some more and read it again. Leave at least an hour before you do so. This time, you want to tighten up your text a little. Maybe there are some repetitions. Maybe some unfortunate use of words. That’s ok. That’s what second drafts are for. See it as the pruning of an overgrown tree. Give it another hour or more (if you can) before you work on your third draft.

The third time you work on your message, you are fine tuning. You might want yo get your thesaurus out at this point so you can use clever words. Personally I like to keep it simple. This is the precision work. That’s when you can unleash the word nerd that you are. You are working on your finish product.

One more thing before you print it: read it out loud.

If it’s really good, you might want to sell it to card companies… They are always looking for good texts for valentine cards.

And if you are “single” and happy to be, why not write a loving message to yourself? The only way to truly encounter meaningful love is to love yourself first, genuinely and wholeheartedly. Don’t expect someone to do the dirty work. A meaningful relationship complements the self love that you already have. It does not work if it comes as a crutch. So start loving yourself today. Totally. Radically. Write that love note to you. You won’t regret it.

And if you really love that message to self: why not sell it to a card company. To my knowledge, no one had designed a valentine card to self yet, but it think it’s a great idea.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere

The word trap

I am continuing to explore what can stop you from getting that first draft on paper. My last blog explored the dangers of correctness. Today I want to talk about the word trap.

Most writers make the mistake of coming to writing from a word perspective. It’s funny isn’t it? Let me explain. They look for words in their minds and try to string them together, but it makes the process bitty and clumsy. It’s hard work.

What I learnt through my hypnotherapy practice and my reiki master experience is that you first need to get into trance: that state of relaxation where you enter the creative zone. This is not an intellectual state. In fact, in that state the mind is slightly numbed. This is important, because the mind is where the inner critic sits and lives. You need your inner critic asleep or at least groggy.

Once you reach that state, and this is going to be an instrumental part of the workshop coming soon, what you do is not look for words but look for images. If you have done your homework correctly, you will gave a set of characters, each will have a tensive potential with the other and/or the venue or setting, so now what you do is visualise yourself in the place and moment your story starts and observe. What do you see? What do you feel? Which angle on the set do you stand? Are there any specific smells? How are the character physically positioned ih relation to you? And to each other? You are not writing a story: you are watching your story unfold as if you were at the movies. If you are writing non fiction, the process is similar except you let the flow of ideas pour out and you don’t try to organise them at this stage, you just capture them, as you would capture dreams.

This is the way most great creative geniuses describe their creative process. Musicians often say they sit, relax and literally hear the music and write it down. If they came from an intellectual perspective, it would be ruined.

This is the process I was gifted with on 2008 and which has transformed my writing journey from hard work to sheer pleasure. There is really a pre and post-2008 writing experience in my life and frankly I never want to go back.

If you want to transform your creative process, why not join us at one of our workshops? I have three spaces left at the early bird price for the one coming up on 15th March 2014. The next three people who sign up will benefit from a 25% discount. Book yourself here.

Hope to see you there.

Blessings

Ange de Lumiere

Grammar nerds beware

Are you a grammar nerd?

Are you a grammar nerd?

Are you a grammar nerd? I don’t quite fit the criteria, but I am not far. Only since I started writing in English (which is not my native language), my standards have loosened a bit. My grasp of the English grammar is not as good as my grasp on French grammar. My grasp on French grammar was never that brilliant but I have the excuse that French grammar is one notch more difficult than the English one.

But today’s post is not about grammar. Yes, good grammar is important to writers and if yours is appalling, I suggest you refresh your skills. It is never too late to learn. There is no shame in admitting to lacking in this department. Only imbeciles never learn.

No, what I want to write about is the fact that I believe being a grammar nerd is detrimental to your career as a writer and might have actually stopped you from finishing any pieces of work. I would hazard a guess that true grammar nerds would stop at page twenty of any of their drafts. And here is why. They can’t stop correcting themselves and as a consequence, they start revising their first draft before they finish it. And so the more they progress, the less they progress.

Here is the news: a first draft is supposed to be poorly written. It should be finished before any revisions are made. In fact, this is so important that it is an instrumental part of my teaching in my one day workshop for beginners. Do not revise a first draft should be one of the Ten Commandments of writers. In fact grammar should probably not come into the second draft either. I can hear the grammar nerds growling. How is it possible to let any grammatically incorrect writing remain in any piece of written work? If you are serious about writing, listen to my advice. You will have ample opportunities to revise at a later stage, but paying too much attention to detail at this stage might waste precious time and energy on something that is likely to be changed dramatically over the coming drafts.

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald did 200 drafts of “The Great Gatsby” before it was finished? Imagine making sure all the dots and the commas are perfect on 200 drafts? Personally, I can’t. It would drive me up the wall.

To your creativity,

Ange de Lumiere

Writing is a lonely business sometimes

I just had an experience that I want to share as it seems to be quite typical of the writer’s journey. I wrote a post that I thought was really good, got all excited about it, expected some lovely feedback and…. Nothing. I fell flat on my face. Well, my ego did. In comedies, when the main character falls flat in his or her face it’s funny. In real life, it hurts.

Writing can be a lonely business sometimes. People don’t realise. It’s not like those office jobs where you have colleagues, a coffee machine, a boss, a structure, a plan, an annual review and a pay check. For a writer none of this exists. You have to self motivate yourself. You have to build your own plan. And very often it’s wiser to have a day job or at least a part time job so that you don’t find yourself in a state of desperately needing money as it usually repels opportunities when you approach them in that emotional state. Believe me, I learnt the lesson first hand.

So how do you keep that motivation? How do you build self belief? Very often, friends and family, as well meaning as they are, have no clue what it is like to fend for yourself. They have jobs. They don’t take risk. And writing is a very risky business. You risk making a fool of yourself. You risk spending years “trying” with no obvious result. Writers circles can be good, as long as you come across one that is supportive. I admit not having ever been to one myself so I can’t comment. I would love for you to share your experience I’m your circle if you go to one.

I have however, shared my work with friends and family and although I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I don’t recommend it. For me, what has worked best, is make friends with like minded writers. I learnt over the years that just because you do the same thing does not mean you will be on the same page. We all have our insecurities, especially us creatives. In fact, I would hazard a guess that most of us walk through life feeling like frauds and hoping no one is going to expose us. I do. Our inner critics are vicious. We struggle to gather enough self belief to get started. The last thing we want is to share a piece of work with someone who has ulterior motives. Someone who has unresolved issues and who is going to trash our piece because it’s good and they are jealous. Someone who is going to only pretend to help us but does nothing to really improve our work because they believe in competition and it’s them or us. And believe me there are a LOT of those birds flying around.

If you are put in the position of Irving feedback on a fellow writer’s work, remember the compliment sandwich. Praise-feedback-praise. No one should ever give feedback in any other way.

Be extremely picky who you share work and make friends with. I know this does not sound very nice but at the first sign of a lash out, take your leave. Don’t put up with nasty behaviour. You want to be around people who genuinely want you to do well. They are rare, I know, but well worth the wait. And let’s be honest, it is hard for us too. If your best friend got a book deal before you, it would be hard to celebrate it, especially if you believed that your work is better than his or hers. This is human nature. But we can all rise above the fear, envy, jealousy, anger, resentment and all those dark feelings that we all experiment when we forget there is space for everyone. The best way to do this is to be honest. It is better to say to this friend “I find it really hard to be happy for you when I feel left behind, so please accept my apologies, let me sleep on it and hopefully I will be able to be genuinely happy for you tomorrow morning.” Rather than pretend you are happy but give her a fake smile.

We all have our insecurities, but if we are not willing to stick out for others and support each other, then there is no point. No one else can do it for us, because no one else understands the loneliness of the writer’s life. So in a way, I see this as a necessity.

I don’t believe in competition. I don’t believe competition is doing any of us any good. I much prefer collaboration. So what! the world as we know is competitive? Maybe we can invent a new world for writers where encouragement, support and space for everyone could be created.

At “I can make you write” I want to create such a space.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere

How to deal with your inner critic or the dangers of positive thinking

I used to be a very positive person. With time, I realised that It wasn’t such a good thing. In fact, I believe it stopped my emotional progress. If you try to be positive when you are facing challenges or negative thoughts, you will as a consequence be in denial of your negative emotions. You will be thinking, as I did, “I am a positive person” and as a consequence you will deny your negative thoughts and feelings. The first danger is that you will become passive aggressive and project your negative feelings onto others. This is what happens to people who have issues with anger and who are by “coincidence” surrounded by angry people: their boss, father, boyfriend, husband, or their friends. But no, not them. They never have issues with anger. As a writer, you want to know about this process which is called mirroring. It will bring great depth to your characters.

Positive thinking is only helpful if practiced AFTER you have dealt properly with your emotions. There is no shortcut: Negative emotions have to be processed, experienced and embraced. Truly positive people tend to do that as quickly as possible. Negative people will dwell in the process and often enjoy the attention they get from complaining. They moght even manipulate you into doing what they want through making you feel bad about them. Very different. They make beautiful characters.

But being too positive also stopped my progress as a writer. Let me explain. If you deny your negative thoughts, you won’t hear them when they pop in your head. It doesn’t mean however that they won’t exist. It will just mean that they will live at the level of your subconscious and what they will do there is feed your inner critic who will be given a golden opportunity to get in the driver’s seat and create havoc in your life.

The best way to manage your inner critic (you know that little voice that is constantly nagging at you and putting you down) is not to ignore it, nor to silence it. The best strategy is to listen to it and become aware of its voice. Why? Because then it surfaces into your awareness, which drags it out of the driver’s seat of your life. For those who don’t know it yet, the subconscious is driving your car, always. And it always overrides your consciousness. It always sits in your blind spot. Believe me, you don’t want your inner critic there.

So what is the best way to deal with your inner critic? My suggestion is to engage with it after you acknowledge it for what it really is: a phantom that feeds on your fears and every single negative comment or remark anyone has ever made to you. Fears are only thoughts. Beliefs are only thoughts that you think are true. Recognise that you are not your thoughts. Recognise that your mind is full of junk and good thoughts, but probably a lot of junk. You are not your mind either. Talk to your inner critic. It is the part of you that is scared and that believed everything everyone said, but mostly the negative.

So when your inner critic tells you that you can’t write: realise that it is only trying to help you not make a fool of yourself. It is there to protect you (it really believes it does anyway). Only it has the emotional maturity of a toddler. So engage with it as if it was a toddler. Listen to it with compassion when it is having a tantrum. Hold it. Comfort it. And set boundaries: your inner critic needs to be given a time frame to complain or criticise. I would suggest ten minutes per day. After that, thank it for its voice and get on with your writing.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere