Find The Flow – Free Writing

I love writing. It is one of my favourite ways to spend my time, whether I be writing a blog post, a poem, adding to my novel, writing a short story, or working on a piece of freelance work. I love the feeling of creating something new, something that didn’t exist before. Writing is mostly a hobby for me – although I am slowly dipping my toe into the freelance world as well and do hope to one day publish a book – but a big part of my day job is teaching my students to write. To write analysis. To write creatively. To write persuasively. In reality, it’s all actually teaching them to write for an exam. There is not a huge amount of freedom in it. It can be a struggle to walk the line between encouraging them to be creative whilst also doing what the exam requires of them. Some of my colleagues and I joke about the creative writing section of the exam actually being ‘non-creative writing’. It’s not a terribly funny joke when we all really wish that it was true creative writing. But we persevere and try, as much as possible, to instil some passion for the craft.

One of the things that often seems to be a huge barrier for my students is actually coming up with the ideas to write about in the first place. So this is where I try to let creativity run a little bit wild. One of my favourite things to do is to get them free-writing. This can be a little daunting at first, as they are so used to having to meet certain criteria and expectations. I like to use The Writer’s Toolbox to help them overcome that fear and encourage them to just write – even if it’s nonsense – because that’s where we’ll then find those little gems of ideas that they can grow and craft into something usable.

I also write alongside my students. There’s a partnership and community in that which is encouraging, and when they see me make mistakes, cross things out, change my mind, or hear me read something completely ridiculous and imperfect of my own, it seems to give them permission to be ridiculous and imperfect too.

I did this exercise with one of my classes a little while ago and it was good fun to do so I though I would share it with you.

The idea is that you use the given opening and closing lines and you have to incorporate the items/sensory details/people also listed below. You write for a fixed amount of time (30-ish minutes) and you’re not supposed to stop writing or think about it too much, just write and see what happens.

  • Opening line: I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people.
  • Include: the smell of fresh mint, the sound of Marcie’s pacing
  • A line to include part way through: On the following Friday, we’d packed our bags and planned out escape.
  • Includeorange spray paint, a crooked umbrella, a ripe apple
  • A line to include part way through: Every time she gets on television.
  • Includea half eaten box of fig newtons
  • Closing line: the lemon sherbet that melted all over the counter.

(NB: When I did it with myself students they didn’t get all of them at once, they were given the opening and had to write for 10 minutes before I gave them the next thing to include, then they wrote for five minutes before the next etc, etc until they were given the closing line which they had five minutes to write towards.)

Why not have a go and see what you come up with? If you share what you’ve written, leave your link in the comments below – I’d love to see where the exercise takes you. You can read my free writing in response to these prompts below.

Free Writing Response:

I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people. No one ever suspected they were being manipulated. Not by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, butter-wouldn’t-melt-faced innocent they saw when they looked at me. But that was the game. It’s dog-eat-dog out there, even for children. You have to be ruthless to survive but you don’t have to wear that ruthlessness on your sleeve. I learnt to use everything to my advantage, including my baby-faced charm.

I carried my innocence with me like the smell of fresh mint and I watched as everyone I met relaxed in my presence. Fools. So much that is beautiful hides viciousness. And nothing in this world in pure. Not anymore. The lives that look so perfect on the outside are like mouldy oranges at the bottom of the fruit bowl. You don’t see the rot until you turn them over. When you do, your stomach turns and the smell lingers in your nostrils for days.

Sitting in the stairwell at the back of the old hospice, I waited. The sound of Marcie’s feet fading in and out as she paced the corridor beyond the fire door behind me. Not much longer now. The trap would be sprung soon. I thought back to that time, just a few weeks ago, when we discovered his betrayal. We had been together, the three of us, for so long. A well oiled, three-cog machine. It took a few days for the truth to sink in. To realise that one of our cogs was not only rusty but had dropped out altogether, leaving a gaping hole in our systems. In our hearts.

On the following Friday, we’d packed out bags and planned out escape. It was all in the timing. It had to be perfect or we were done for. If they caught us…it didn’t bear thinking about. We’d all heard the screams. We just didn’t talk about it.

I rolled the nearly empty can of orange spray paint back and forth in my palms. Every corner of the stairwell behind me bled the sunset colour. It had been easy really. All I had to do was reach round the corners with my rag-tag, crooked umbrella to nudge the lenses of the security cameras out of focus (old tech was a boon for once) before reaching up from behind to spray until they were blind.

The sudden, quick rapping on the fire door jolted me out of my reverie. Shoving the can deep into the inside pocket of my parka, I straightened up and opened the door, just wide enough for me to squeeze through. Marcie passed me as I emerged. She didn’t look at me but I felt her press something firm and smooth into my hand. A ripe apple. The teacher was in.

I held back a curse. The teacher was more astute than most of the mindless drones in this place. Every time she gets on television to rattle off the party spiel, I swear I can feel her gaze burning through the glass. It’s like she knows.

I hurried down the corridor towards her office, steeling myself for the performance of a lifetime. If I couldn’t convince her, if she wouldn’t leave, it would all be over.

I knocked on the worn oak door, paint chips flaking at the tap of my knuckle. This place could do with some TLC.

No answer.

I frowned and knocked again.

No answer.

I tried to ignore the twisting feeling of foreboding that unfurled in my stomach. With rising trepidation, I pushed open the door. The first thing I noticed was the half-eaten box of fig newtons on the desk. A silly detail to remember, I know, but it was so incongruous with the machine I was coming to face. Such a human thing. It almost distracted me from the blood pooled on the carpet. And the body of the teacher sprawled behind the desk.

He raised the gun as I turned to flee – not fast enough. As I fell, I noticed another tiny detail: the bowl of sweets shattered on the sideboard, and the lemon sherbet that melted all over the counter.

A Moment In Time

I have done a few of these ‘Moment in Time’ posts now and I always really enjoy them. It’s a lovely way to pause, take a step back from the chaos of everyday life, reflect on what’s going on, exercise some gratitude and think forward. I invite (and encourage) you to create your own moment in time post. If you do, please leave a link in the comments – I’d love to see what your moment in time looks like.

Outside my window… it is dark and there is a chill in the air. January’s lethargy settles over everything as the world (and I) tries to stay awake.

I am thinking… about the future and how to build the one I want. I can see where I am aiming now but how I get from A to B is foggy.

I am thankful… to have some of our evenings and weekends back, now the work has finished on the house, to just spend some quiet time together.

In the kitchen… it is calm and clean and finally a space to enjoy being in. And my lovely husband is preparing this evening’s meal.

I am wearing… leggings and leotard under a longline cardigan and cosy socks, as I take a break between dance classes.

I am creating… draft two of my first novel (!), a blog post, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content, some snippets of creative writing and dances for our upcoming show.

I am going… to start taking vitamins to try and ward off the colds and various ailments I keep seeming to attract!

I am wondering… how to effectively build mindfulness into my day in a way that I will consistently stick to. I feel like mindfulness practice is something that I could benefit from hugely but I really seem to struggle to stick to any form of daily mindful practice.

I am reading… Muse Of Nightmares, Hollow City, The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes, Thinking Reading.

I am praying for… health, wellbeing and family.

I am hoping… for the courage, commitment and confidence I know it’s going to take to pursue my dreams.

I am looking forward to… the weekend.

I am learning… about effective copywriting and the processes through which we learn to read and acquire vocabulary.

Around the house… it is pleasantly orderly. We’re slowly clearing out the bits and pieces we no longer want around the house (watching Marie Kondo is having and effect on us…) and we’re enjoying taking pleasure in our home after a few months of madness.

I am pondering… the next steps in my career.

A favourite quote for today…

A life’s made of hope like a house is of bricks.
Matt Haig – The Truth Pixie

One of my favourite things… is to have a period of time when there is nothing I need to do. Time I can fill with reading or writing or watching something or listening to music or just simply taking time to be.

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Start editing the novel

Draft some blog posts

Have dinner with my dad

Submit expression of interest and example work for a freelance opportunity

A peek into my day…

A brief pause between dance classes:

NaNoWriMo Check In – Days 3 & 4

Day 3 of #NaNoWriMo and #wrimohero’s prompt was #calltoadventure – how do you generate ideas? I get a lot of my ideas from the environment around me. Places, found objects, the weather – my imagination spots the most random and insignificant things as I’m going about my day and runs riot with them! I collect these scraps of ideas, along with words, quotes, and anything else that takes my fancy, in my commonplace book. When the ideas are ready to become part of my story, they worm their way back out of the pages and into my writing.

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo is behind us and the prompt for #wrimohero was NaNoCheckIn – 6,668 words? The answer is yes! And more! I’ve had the best start to my first ever NaNo and have managed to bash out over 11,000 words so far! I’m glad to be getting ahead of the word count goal because, by all accounts, things get tough in weeks 2 and 3! So far, though, I am truly enjoying getting this story out onto the page. I was worried that I didn’t know where it was going to go but really, the story is writing itself, I’m just tapping the keys. I’m super excited to see where it goes.

Fellow NaNo-ers, how’s it going?

#NaNoWriMo Check In – Day 2

Day 2 of NaNoWriMo is here and the prompt for #wrimohero is ‘Ordinary World: What’s your setting like?’ This is the beautiful building that inspired the first seed of my story: it’s the incredible John Rylands Library in Manchester. A key part of my setting is a stunning gothic library. I’m also going to be sneaking in a few of my other favourite Manchester places and Peak District haunts, all alongside and mysterious other-world where ideas manifest and thrive with none of the restrictions of our human world.

NaNo Word Count: 5,448

Taking The Plunge

I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t going to do this. Why would I? November is ALWAYS one of the busiest months in my year. Extra intervention programmes to run at work means increased workload and longer working hours. My birthday (Yay!) means fun outings with friends and family. Drawing closer to the big C the following month means there’s shopping to be done and family to be visited. It’s entering theatre season for us which means we have tickets booked for multiple shows. And on top of all that, this year we’re still at the tail end of our DIY/home renovation adventures, which we want to have finished before Christmas. Plus, we now have a dog who needs walking and playing with, and even if she didn’t NEED those things I’d do them anyway because she’s far too cute to ignore.

So why, oh, why, I hear myself ask, have I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo? Why have I decided to take on the, already ridiculous, challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, when I’m clearly too busy to do so? I can feel me giving myself accusatory glances and hear my brain muttering things like “always taking on too much!”…well maybe it will be too much, maybe I won’t manage it, but do you know what I realised? I am always going to be too busy to write a book. There will always be other priorities. I will always be busy with work and swamped with housework. But if writing a book is something I truly want to do (and it is) then one day I’m just going to have to sit down and make time to write the damn thing. And why shouldn’t ‘one day’ be now?

There is no reason why it shouldn’t be now. No real reason anyway. No reason that won’t still exist next month or next year or in a decade.

So, lovely readers, here I go. Plunging in at the deep end. I have set myself the traditional NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m going to do my damnedest to hit that goal. If I do, brilliant! If I don’t, I won’t beat myself up about it and will try again. And hopefully, in the meantime, I’ll have written more than I would have done normally.

I won’t be writing anything for the blog, aside from, potentially, the odd NaNo update to chronicle my progress (or lament my lack there-of…). I will be putting any writing energy I manage to muster into this mysterious and as yet unknown story.

Wish me luck! See you on the other side…

If you’re a NaNo-er and want to add me as a writing buddy, you can find me under the username Bookwormdancer.

Hello Jack Frost

Hello, Jack Frost

How have you been?

Back again

To make the world gleam

With glittering starlight

Brought to ground

I love it when

Your time comes round.

When what was breath

To clouds does turn

And icy fractals

Plate autumn’s burn.

The world goes quiet,

The earth stands still

And arms wrap selves

In hugs until

It’s time to retreat

Back to our beds

With glittering starlight

In our heads

And winter’s song

Upon our tongue,

We bear the chill

Of your belonging

Because, Jack Frost,

You playful rogue,

Though you might freeze

Our hand and nose,

We have a secret love

You see

For how you tame

The world, nightly:

Not with lies

And not with war

Not with thunder’s

Mighty roar

But with a scattering of stars

Brought from the heavens

To light our hearts

So hello, Jack Frost

How have you been?

It’s nice to have you

Back again

Ignore our grumbles

It’s just fine

To paint the world with

Your icy rime

And take our breath

For clouds instead

And let us walk

Your starry bed.

Autumn Mornings

Last September we got a puppy. She turned our lives upside down (mostly for the better – who can resist a happy puppy face in the morning and when you get home from work?) but probably the biggest change she made is that I now actually HAVE to get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. No more snoozing. No more lying awake but savouring the warmth of my duvet. I am not a morning person but I have actually found that, once I’m up and out, I genuinely enjoy my morning walks with the pup. Hubby and I alternate the morning walk so we both get alternate days where we can be a tad more lazy/slow to wake up. But on my walking days, even when it’s raining, it’s nice to start the day with some fresh air. I can listen to my audiobook or some season or mood appropriate music to set me up for the day. Sometimes I blog as I walk (like I am now) with breaks, of course, to throw a stick or chase my playful not-quite-a-pup-anymore, or just to watch her revel in the general joy of being a dog off the lead. It’s lovely.


Now we are getting into autumn proper and winter is creeping it’s way toward the northern hemisphere, our morning walks are happening in the pitch black. I’m not so much watching the pup playing as I I am watching a disembodied LED collar trace circles round the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year – the boots! The scarves! The autumnal food and music! It’s my favourite. And I still enjoy stepping out into the crisp morning air. But, this morning, as I walked, I couldn’t help but pen a realistic portrait of how I felt…

Ode to Another Week

Monday yawns and

Lifts a lazy head.

Time for coffee…

Or five more in bed?

Tuesday insists that

It’s Thursday already –

I’m work worn and

Emails just might overwhelm me.

Wednesday declares that

The worst is behind us

But lengthening to-do lists

Push next order of business.

Thursday is buzzing –

The weekend’s in sight –

But then, deadline looming,

Works late through the night.

Friday arrives with

Dishevelled relief.

Just sod the unfinished

Let’s dance! (Or let’s sleep…)

Saturday stretches

With languorous delight

And hours to fill

However they like.

Sunday awakes,

Good intentions so steady.

With a smile and frown

Sighs ‘Nearly Monday, already.’

Wild & Improbable Tales – Hope in Invisible Prisons

Suspended inside iridescence, she watches the world pass by. It is beautiful. But she cannot reach it.

Rainbows ripple across the surface of her invisible prison, distorting the view: the hopeful land morphing into looming, shadowed threats; the lilting sound of laughter and music ringing hollow in her ears. She knows those terrors are lies but still her heart races in fear. She knows there is wonder and joy to be felt, but her head echoes with emptiness.

Some shadows loom larger and nearer than others and occasionally their undulating forms resolve into something familiar. Comforting. Her heart contracts with hope and love blooms somewhere deep in the pit of her twisting stomach, as a hand reaches out and penetrates the walls she has bloodied her fists trying to break.

They do not shatter, even now, but still the hand is there, holding hers.

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.