June 2019 archive

I’ve Got No Talent!

I MET PAULA JEFFERY SEVERAL YEARS AGO in an online art group. The other day, we had a chat about how investing time (consistently) and effort (persistently) in any art form will eventually bear fruit—and she pointed me to this post, which she wrote for her own blog, but is graciously allowing me to share in an edited-for-length version with you. (And, yes, it’s about drawing, but really it’s about anything to which you’d like to apply yourself!)

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I’ve Got No Talent
Paula Jeffery

Not long ago, I read THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle. In it, he tells about a group of children who were monitored before and during the time they took music lessons. After a couple of months, as you would expect, some were doing really well, some not so well, and most were in the middle of that bell curve. The researchers looked closely for common factors between those who were excelling. They looked at things like the amount of practice they did, home environment, anything they could think of that might influence the children’s musical ability. They could find nothing. None of the factors they anticipated had any effect at all.

Until … bingo! Before they started lessons, all the children were asked, “How long do you see yourself playing music?” Their answers ranged from “until the end of term” to “a couple of years” to “forever.”  The researchers were amazed to find those answers sat perfectly aligned on the bell curve! The kids who saw themselves as musicians playing forever were head and shoulders above the rest, sometimes by as much as 400 percent—even if they practiced less! The kids who decided their music career would only last until the end of term were the same kids who were falling behind. The only common factor was their attitude to learning music before they even picked up an instrument.

This is not some mysterious, ethereal thing: It’s attitude!

Every now and again, someone on social media will say, “You’re so talented,” which is kind and lovely, but sometimes what’s unspoken is: “You’re lucky. You can just do this stuff. You were born with this ‘gift,’ and I wasn’t.” But I wasn’t a talented kid! I took art at school because I was lazy and it seemed an easy option. I wasn’t even allowed to take the art exams because my work was so bad. My adult life was spent happily stating I couldn’t draw a straight line.

Fast forward to 2014. I was 59 years old. Going off-piste one day on a visit to YouTube Land, I discovered art journaling. It looked like fun. You didn’t have to actually draw or paint anything recognizable, you could splash paint about and glue pictures from magazines. From there, I did a couple of courses (shoutouts to Tamara Laporte and Effy Wild), and I painted figures and faces. Then I did ICAD (the index card a day challenge: shoutout to Daisy Yellow). One of the daily prompts was “eye.” I hunted on YouTube for How to draw an eye and found a step-by-step tutorial. I followed along and, OMG, I drew a recognizable, not-bad-looking eye.

This was an aha moment. These techniques could be learned! Next, I drew an elephant, again from instructions! I was so excited. I thought, “I could learn to draw,” and there was no stopping me. I joined groups. Someone recommended Danny Gregory, and I joined Sketchbook Skool, founded by Danny and Koojse, and amazing tutors from all over the world opened my eyes and freed up my pen. I joined drawing memes and drew 100 faces, one each day, to see if it improved my technique. And guess what? It did! Now, I’m taking part in Imagining, the latest Sketchbook Skool Kourse (where our last tutor was the amazing Stefan G. Bucher).

For the last three years, I’ve drawn nearly every day. I’ve worked at it and studied hard. I try not to compare myself to others, and I absolutely LOVE what I’m doing.

Here are three sketches of my husband, Graham. I did the first in 2014 as part of my 100 Faces project. It was a massive improvement on previous portraits. The second I did in 2017, and I really pleased with it. The final portrait I just completed.

2014

2017

2019

 

So, when someone tells me I’m talented, with an undertone that suggests they couldn’t do it, I am tempted to sit them down and gently tell them that “Yes, yes, really, you can.” Their next line is usually “I’m too busy.” So busy there is not time in the day to take five minutes to draw something, anything? I learnt a lot about “busy” when I studied for my Open University degree with women who had three kids under school age and wrote their essays at the kitchen table in the early hours of the morning. And got their degrees. If you really want to do something, you will find the time.

Then the argument can shift to this: “Well, I’m too busy doing other things I prefer.” That’s fine. That’s an “I don’t want to,” rather than an “I can’t.” (Occasionally, I hear an “I’m too busy” that really means “What I do is so much more important than your little scribblings.” But, hey, for those, I just nod and smile, nod and smile.)

Apart from my immediate (and very lovely) family and friends, social media has been the biggest catalyst for my artistic achievements. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have continued without the support of Facebook friends and groups. Inspirational, supportive, and non-judgmental art groups are amazing and always offer the message Yes, you can!

Now, I’m not afraid to say, “I’m an artist,” with no apologies (and no “amateur” in the mix).

Paula is an artist, writer, and self-publisher, who lives in the middle of England. Visit her site, PaulaJeffery.com or on her Amazon author page.

It’s About Time

THE FIGURE IN RED is doling out alms, and he’s doing it judiciously, measuring out equal amounts to each of the recipients. He’s also holding enough aside for his own needs. His scales help him keep his giving in balance.

As writers, we could do with a pair of scales. Not for measuring the cash we’re handing out, but for noticing how much of our precious time we dedicate to others and how much we conserve for our own use.

You see, writing takes time—and not just time that’s packed in around the corners of other obligations. Writing requires time that’s set aside as preciously as if the hours were so many gold coins.

Today, the Six of Pentacles, asks you to take charge of your time. It suggests you weigh out your minutes, hours, and days and allocate them consciously. Give generously, of course. But at the end of the day, make sure you haven’t broken the bank and left your writing to go begging at someone else’s feet.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Six of Pentacles from the RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

A Tarot Writing Prompt Without the Prompt (Sorry!)

I’M WRITING A BOOK that includes tarot writing prompts (out next year—stay tuned!). In the process, I’ve roped twenty-one writer friends into guinea-pigging some of the prompts. Which led me to BFF Jill’s kitchen table last night, where we each took a running leap at the Ace of Pentacles.

While I won’t spill the actual prompt, I am going to share my response. (Jill’s beautiful piece and the prompt that elicited it will both be in the book.) As you read what I wrote, though, see if you can reverse engineer it and find a prompt to play with yourself.

THE STORY

He told me this story 25 years ago, and maybe he’s past it now. But maybe not. Anyway, this is how I heard it …

He’d gone out for the evening, leaving his recovering-cocaine-addict ex-wife babysitting their eight-year-old son. When he returned, the kid was asleep and his ex was on the couch watching a movie.

He plopped down to join her. Suddenly, as the camera pulled in close on the lead actress, he found himself flushed, the sweat of attraction prickling. He was hooked, he said, the same way he’d been when he first met his ex—and the coke-head girlfriend before her.

When the credits finally rolled, his ex-wife gestured at the screen. “That woman,” she said, “had a raging coke habit when she made that movie.” Then she shrugged the whatcha gonna do? shrug of a former addict, gave him a hug, and let herself out the door.

That’s when he got it: No matter what, no matter how many meetings he attended, no matter how many hours he spent talking to his therapist, no matter how many years of sobriety he himself had, if there was an active cocaine user in any room, the beacon of her addiction would blind him to every other woman there. He would stumble towards her as if he were hypnotized. And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.

Except this: From that moment on, he could remind himself that if he was suddenly and heart-poundingly desperate to accept what a woman was holding out to him, for sure, that offer would eventually prove too good to be true.

Tarot writing prompt

So, that was my response to the prompt Jill and I tackled. And it surprised me. The memory of being told that story was buried deep. But it surfaced as I began to write.

As you probably know, timed writing to a prompt—committing ten, twenty, even thirty minutes to just letting our pen or fingers fly, not stopping to censor or reread—allows us access to parts of our mind we may not usually get to when we write more deliberately.

It can produce raw, rough, open-ended results. But that’s sort of the point. Either we just enjoy the process and appreciate the unpredictable product, or maybe we take what we’ve created and use it as a starting point for something else—fodder for a fresh direction we might not have accessed otherwise.

For me, sitting at Jill’s table, rain beating down, cats sacked out nearby, the prompt I’d created for the Ace of Pentacles triggered a long-held memory. I was happy just to get it out of my brain and onto the page.

Is it deathless prose? Not at all! It’s not even an entire story (although I could make the case that it has a character arc). Still, I wrote. And sometimes that is more than half the battle.

Now, you!

While you’ll have to wait until the book comes out to see the exact prompt we used Saturday night, here are two clues: The main thrust of it is contained somewhere in the final sentence—and it’s metaphorically illustrated by a major element of the accompanying tarot card.

But whether you want to play detective and puzzle out that prompt, or you want to read the story I wrote and let that—or the image of the Ace, or the idea of a rainy Saturday night spent sitting at a kitchen table with a friend—trigger a memory or story of your own, have at it! Let your flying pen or fingers provide a chute for your imagination to slip through onto the page.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Ace of Pentacles from the RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

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Summer Writing Contests and Other Calls for Submission (aka: In the Court of Editorial Opinion)

WE SAY JUSTICE IS BLIND, and we hope that’s true. We also hope justice is at play when we send our writing to an agent or contest or journal. But who the heck knows? The person who gets first crack at our query or short story may well be an intern, someone whose job it is to sort the wheat from the chaff—before passing along what they deem the good stuff to the editor in charge.

But even if our best work does make it to the editor’s desk (wheat! wheat! wheat!), there’s no telling what sort of mood she’ll be in when she sets eyes on it. Did she have coffee that morning? Is she worried about her kid’s stomach flu? Is her boss on her ass about readership numbers? Frustratingly, such things—things completely out of our control—can sway the delicate balance of the scales of editorial opinion.

But here’s a short list of things that are in our control which can tip the scales in our favor:

  • Do your research: Be sure you’re submitting work that matches what your potential agent, editor, or publisher is seeking.
  • Follow their guidelines to the letter.
  • Send squeaky-clean copy. Every writer needs a proofreader. Beg, borrow, barter or buy the services of a good one to make your work look its best!
  • Create a strong opening line, followed by a strong first paragraph, followed by the rest of a strong first page. Often that’s all you get to catch an editor’s interest.
  • Finally, read this article: What Editors Want,” by Lynne Barrett, for The Review Review. 

Summer writing contests and other calls for submission

Once you’ve nailed the stuff in the list above, you’ll be all set to dig in to these resources:

New Pages is news, information, and guides to literary magazines, independent publishers, creative writing programs, alternative periodicals, indie bookstores, writing contests, and more. Visit their calls for submissions page.

Writer Unboxed publishes empowering, positive, and provocative ideas about the craft and business of fiction. Their contributors include bestselling authors and industry professionals. They also have a list of fiction writing contests for summer 2019!

Freewrite’s 2019 Writing Contests: The Complete Guide compiles what they consider the best essay, poetry, novel, and short story writing competitions for fiction and non-fiction writers.

Okay, now GO! Get published!

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of Justice from the AQUARIAN TAROT.

Posted in News, Notes & Quotes | Comments Off on Summer Writing Contests and Other Calls for Submission (aka: In the Court of Editorial Opinion)
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