Caroline’s complaint-free world

A complaint-free world? Surely that’s not possible?

Tell you what, I’m giving it a good go in mine!

And so, apparently, are another 10, 121, 812 others across the world. (Yeah, we love unverifiable statistics!)

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With thanks to the lovely Leisa Brown, a Brighton friend, who got me interested in creating a complaint-free existence.

I’ve been watching her progress on Facebook, noticing her posts are quite different, more cheerful, COMPLAINT-FREE! (There used to be a lot of moans about spiders…)

So, the idea, which comes from a motivational speaker chappie called Will Bowen, is to wear a bracelet on one wrist and keep it there until you notice you’re complaining.

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…Then swap it to the other wrist until your mind is clear again. The target is to have twenty-one complaint-free days. The difficult bit is, that each time you catch yourself complaining, you have to start again with the 21 days… I fear this is going to take me A Very Long Time.

I don’t think legitimate complaints count – for instance, if you receive a meal alive with maggots at a restaurant. It’s possible to complain without whining, I suppose, to be factual and lose the emotional charge.

So – things were going very well for a couple of days until I had a riding lesson on Alfie.

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Alfie had other ideas. He wouldn’t budge. Or at least, he would budge, but only at the expense of me kicking and slapping and puffing and panting and expending so much effort that by the time he took a few steps forward I was so exhausted I crumpled into a collapsed heap on his neck in desperate need of oxygen.

I caught myself complaining! I swapped my bracelet on to my left wrist.

When I’d recovered my composure, and a right-wristed bracelet, things were going very well UNTIL…today.

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I was telling some girlfriends about the complaint-free thing. At the end of my lively and cheerful description, I said the immortal words: “The only thing is, I wish the bracelet were a bit smaller because it’s driving me INSANE!”

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We all started laughing at the same moment.

Hello, twenty-one days!

AGAIN!

 

 

Writing inspired by art

Well, I was just going to describe a recent piece of work as, ‘inspired by art’ – but then, don’t I go and discover it has a name all of its own, this sort of creative writing?

Ekphrasis.

Silly me.

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“Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.”

Let’s just stick to ‘inspired by art,’ shall we?

Take John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, for example.

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Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape

       Of deities or mortals, or of both…

Then, Walter Pater wrote so lyrically about Mona Lisa

“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.”

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And apparently, William Blake said that poetry and art are ‘ways to converse with paradise.’ 

Hope so.

And I WAS inspired by art – another exercise for my creative writing class. Tutor, Roddie Phillips‘ wife, who also attends, is the stellar artist Catriona Millar. (It was through Catriona’s work that I met them both…and cajolled Peter into buying one of Catriona’s paintings for my birthday.)

Here it is. I love it so very much.

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Little Wing by Catriona Millar

Homework – to write a piece inspired by art. What else could I choose? (Though I had to step over the idea that it appeared to be very sucky-uppy to write about the work of an artist who would be THERE and also, possibly, fraught with danger. Say she hated what I wrote? What a difficult position she’d be in. And me. And Roddy too.)

Still. It came off.

Little Wing by Catriona Millar by Caroline Coxon

She.
Dressed chestnut for autumn
Fallen angel
Floats in the air, between stillness and motion
Swept sideways, hair, nose, and shoulders
Insubstantial and substantial, both.
Dream of inception,
Dream of annihilation

The bird.
Lurks
Vicious and comforting
Brooding black, pretty pastel-winged,
Needle-beaked
Thought of aggression
Thought of protection

They.
Together.
Want for nothing.

 

Inspired by art.

Ekphrasis

Writing tired

Tired? Gelatinous with fatigue, is me, in the best 1984 tradition – but still working.

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by Topspinthefuzzy from DeviantArt

 

No explanation – simply that, for various reasons too unremarkable to bother mentioning – for the past two nights I’ve only had about three hours sleep. Seriously. Not one of those exaggerations.

Today, up at 5 a.m. for a breakfast meeting. Home feeling so tired I could have wept.

BUT

I had two pieces of work needed urgently by valued clients. (Well, ALL my clients are valued, she adds quickly!)

A case of weighing up my options:

  1. Let clients down by abandoning the idea of any work at all today
  2. Have a sleep and do the work later
  3. Generate something, do the work and THEN rest

Choose 1 or 2. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You know it makes sense. Clients can wait. The sky won’t fall down.

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Choose 3, Caroline! You know you can do it. Create something extraordinary. Don’t believe the little voice in your head telling you that your work will be sub-standard if you attempt it when you’re too tired. Remember that you work well when you’re hungry so…

I chose 3.

Generated vitality.

Completed the two pieces of work without even the application of extra caffeine. (Slightly helped by loud listening to Lana Del Ray).

Checked the work over. Hmmmm – seemed okay to me, but was I hallucinating?

Sent the work off.

Re-checked the work I’d just sent off, in case I really WAS hallucinating.

STILL seemed okay to me.

Received the best ever thank you from one of the clients, which I’m tempted to frame:

Is there a ‘good writer pill’ that I can take to write like you? You’re amazing, thank you.

All I can say is…

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It IS possible.

Can write well when hungry. Can write well when tired.

Next?

(I don’t need any more challenges, thank you!)

 

“Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

Thank you, Ambrose Bierce. I DO try to be accurate, however!

I love a good quotation, as I expect you’ll have noticed since they are very often the inspiration for my blogs.

Just for my information, lest I forget…

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To be strictly accurate about my blogging process, I think of a subject, usually when I’m walking the dogs or exercising the horses early in the morning, then I look for a quotation or two, and images which might fit.

This morning, since yesterday was spent decorating the house – the front hall to be precise – I thought I’d write about that. Googled decorating quotes…

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NO!

Okay then, I tried house quotes, fully expecting missives from estate agents. But no.

Hello, sick people and their loved ones! In the interest of saving time and avoiding a lot of boring chitchat later, I’m Doctor Gregory House; you can call me “Greg.”

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FAILED!

So then I got side-tracked (again!) and wondered if there were quotations about quotations.

This time, Mr. Google didn’t let me down. (And there was me imagining he was always psychic).

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business,” said A.A. Milne.

That made me blush slightly.

Ah, this is better…

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I’m pleased to offer you that opportunity!

The blogs do work

Randomly as ever, my title about blogs was inspired by this wonderful (well, I think so!)  song by The Verve.

If you’re not now ready to throw yourself off the mantelpiece or drown yourself in a cup of cocoa – I’m pleased to report something. About blogs. One in particular.

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It’s received wisdom that blogs make a difference to your business. That’s if the content isn’t copied from another site, you update it regularly and whatever you write is engaging, fresh and relevant.

I blog every day, but I’m not selling anything – except, I suppose – me.  My blog is like Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way, morning pages. Or, in this case, evening ones.

It gets me writing. People like it. I don’t obsess about how many, how often and all that. I used to, but that was a slippery slope to insanity. The most important thing to me is that…

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Writing business blogs is slightly different. With a different outcome in mind, at least.

First the Great Google God loves the revived content. It can be an effective – and cost-effective – word of mouth marketing tool. (Perhaps it would be described more accurately as word of finger marketing?)

Blogs are the perfect opportunity to talk about products and services, share news and hype anything at all. It’s definitely handy for creating a buzz at a moment’s notice without the need for expensive mailing. Just keep it current…

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I write a monthly blog for a food and wine importer. I’m being a bit secret squirrel about it, on the grounds of client confidentiality, since I write it as though it’s from the mouth (fingers?) of the company owner.

Since I started, in November last year, visits to the site have grown steadily, as have on-line orders. (Don’t ask me for the Google analytics, I’m just reporting what I’ve been told!)

In January, I wrote a piece about a particularly fine bottle of wine. Of course, I had to taste it. Quite a few times. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

To our delight, the blog was picked up by an award-winning magazine – and the wine, and concomitantly the company, was selected as Discovery Of The Month for May. Imagine the interest and the sales figures NOW

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See…as I said earlier…

The drugs don’t work. The blogs do.

Creativity – software and apps for writers

Writing apps? Dedicated writing software? Some people swear by them, some people treat them with utter contempt. I’m somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

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Yesterday, I was listening to Open Book, on Radio 4, where authors Stella Duffy and Julian Gough discussed whether the new apps for writers can really get the creative juices flowing, while A L Kennedy bravely road-tested a few of the most popular.

As a screenplay writer, I’ve been a long time fan of Final Draft – especially since yesterday when I discovered it has a profanity report facility to log the number of swear words you use!  Here’s an example – not mine, I hasten to add:

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Made me laugh!

I reckon I use about 10% of all the fine facilities the software has to offer. It’s a time thing, I tell myself. But does Final Draft  get the creative juices flowing?

Not at all.

What it does do is allow you to concentrate on the creative side of writing a screenplay without having to think about formatting it correctly. That happens automatically. Not having to worry about the technicalities really helps me not to get stuck. (And yes, I know there are other bits of kit like this, but Final Draft is the only one I can talk about through experience. )

The writers on Open Book both raved enthusiastically about Scrivener, advertised as a manuscript and script-writing tool. Techie Tim has also been badgering me about this. It’s the same old story for me – I get confronted by the thought of having to devote a lot of time to learning new technology and navigating my way through a whole different program. I can appreciate that, in the long run, it would probably be super-duper but, just at the moment…

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I’m an old-fashioned girl…

What about apps for writers?

The trending one of the moment is called Write or Die 2, created by someone called Dr. Wicked. Of course it is.

This app “aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment…Instead of just writing to avoid annoying sounds and alarm warning colours you can now customise your stimulus. If you like to see a cute puppy after you’ve reached a certain number of words, you can. If you’d like to write in fear of a jiggling spider, you can do that too.”

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Fun, yes! I imagine so. Helpful? Maybe. Julian Gough described how it made him churn out material with less inhibition, sometimes a surprise even to himself, which he could then edit. Stella Duffy said it was great when she was stuck, as a way of getting started.

Maybe I’ll try it.

In the meantime, here’s a clip of AL Kennedy, doing just that!

On the other hand…apps for writers? Maybe not.

Copywriting games – part 2

Yes, I’m still at it -playing copywriting games while working on a long and somewhat repetitive task, love ’em.

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Yes please.  Writing this blog counts as one of those games – me having a break from writing house descriptions for a few minutes. I guess that could be called Game Three?

Following my request of yesterday I had a couple of suggestions for copywriting games, which I would like to share with you.

Game Four: (from actress friend, Libby Wattis) “Mild exercise programme – e.g two roll downs and 5 sit ups (or whatever other exercise floats your boat) after every five descriptions.”

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I’ve been running up and down the stairs. Sometimes carrying laundry. Other times, a fresh supply of chocolate buttons.

Game Five: (from Mark Garland – yes YOU!)  “Bombay Sapphire! It’s a 4:1 ratio – four words = one G&T. It hapmerss acurissy butt iz gr8 4 cre8ivenessezzzz….zzzzz… ;p xx”

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(Perhaps this explains why he needs a copywriter?)

Thank you, Libby and Mark!

Here are my other copywriting games of today:

Game Six: Set a timer. See how many descriptions I can do in a set number of minutes. Try to do better next time.

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( My actual timer. I can’t tell you how bloody annoying it is with its tick-tick-tick…)

Game Seven: Use a stop-watch to time each description. Try to smash my personal best (of course, without compromising quality.)

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Oh, the pressure!

Well, enough of this Game Three. I have twenty three house descriptions to write.

My self-publishing journey – Part 4

And  it IS a journey, this self-publishing lark.

Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 if you’d like to see them.

I was going to say –  ‘a  journey like a hurdle race’ – but that’s a poor analogy because in hurdling, the hurdles are all the same size and evenly spaced.

I’m thinking more of a quest!

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By Sam Del Russi

Rainer Maria Rilke said, ‘The only journey is the one within.’

‘I disagree,’ said Caroline Coxon, always adversarial.

However, I know that many of the obstacles I’m coming up against are in my head. They FEEL real but, essentially, I’ve made them up as handy devices to prevent self-publishing progress, because progress means…well, exposing myself, my writing, to the world, to possible derision.

Here are a few of my self-created obstacles and how they were resolved:

1. I’m never in a million years going to be able to find a suitable image on Shutterstock for the cover, as suggested by the production team. I’m going to be so disappointed. I had such a vision for this.  Aaaaargh – I’ll just fly into a panic of indecision and do nothing instead.

OR – I could contact my lovely artist friend Daria and ask her if she would paint me a design.

She’s looking at it.

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2. I have absolutely NO idea how to write a blurb. Aaaaargh – I’ll just fly into a panic of indecision and do nothing instead. (See the pattern here?)

OR

I could look in my documents file only to discover I’ve already written the blurb, which was one of the requirements for a submission to a publisher. (And I DO know how to write a blurb!)

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3. I haven’t checked my manuscript for ages. What if it’s a pile of rubbish? I’m scared even to look at it. I must check it before I send it off. Aaaaargh – I’ll just fly into a panic etc. etc.

OR

I could read it and be prepared to edit if I don’t like what I see. There’s no deadline here.

So I’ve started.

AND

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Even the kitten’s smiling.

Okay then, Rilke. Self-publishing journeys are mostly within. I’ll give you that.

My self-publishing journey – Part 2

The self-publishing cliff-hanger.

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Why did I decide to do it? What was the tipping point? What was Malcolm Gladwell’s “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Meanie me left you wondering yesterday. Read Part 1 here

There wasn’t one single factor. It was definitely an accumulation of small factors. (Some of which weren’t that small!)

Here’s a breakdown.

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Wrong sort of breakdown.

HERE’S another breakdown:

  • I’d reached saturation point with the process of sending my work off, interminable waits, then eventual passes.  Or interminable waits which never ended because the company didn’t get back to me at all (I HATE that!)
  • I’d had a kind of wake-up call when one publisher said Of Night And Light was too unusual, so she wouldn’t know where to place it…then the next publisher said it was too much like other books and what he was really looking for was something unusual.

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  • I’d managed, FINALLY, to step over the idea that rejections from publishing houses mean my work is rubbish. (My work MAY be rubbish but getting a rejection from a publishing house  isn’t proof of this.)

So…I’ve developed, over time,  a great deal more self-belief – added to which, one of my poems and a short story are going to be published soon. That’s such a delight for me that my passion’s truly been ignited. I have a sense of urgency about going for it, not saying ‘some day, one day’ any more. I don’t want the inscription on my headstone to read, ‘She tried…but then she gave up.’

  • I’ve had a paradigm shift about self-publishing, seeing it as an opportunity rather than an act of desperation or defeat. I’m not alone in thinking this. (Here’s Damien Walter, from The Guardian, February 14th, 2014 –  “In genre fiction, going it alone is beginning to look a much more dependable route to success.”)
  • Since October last year, I’ve been in communication with a UK-based self-publishing company who will support me through the process – at a cost, needless to say, but I believe it’s going to be money very well spent.  I’ve become increasingly impressed with the way they operate and feel comfortable collaborating with them. And, yes, it does feel like a collaboration.

There was one final thing that made me take the leap…

I guess THIS was the deal clincher in my mind.

It was a general email from the self-publishing company, offering a special promotion of shelf-space for any books published at two award-winning independent bookshops – The Bookshop at Kibworth  and Dulwich Books

Great piece of marketing? For sure.

Dream come true for Caroline? Definitely.

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Imagination – Sam Whitehouse

 

 

 

 

The experience of sunshine

“Even trained for years as we all had been in precision of language, what words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine.”
― Lois Lowry

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Oh, woah-oh…today is a sunny day. The first sunny day in a long line of rainy and windy days when sometimes it’s been hard to remain sunny ourselves.

No getting away from it, sunshine gladdens the heart. The dogs love it. The horses love it. The chickens love it. And so do I. If I were a chicken I’d be having a dust bath and flapping my wings with glee.

Here’s the mood of the day:

Walking on sunshine.

I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
I’m walking on sunshine (whoa oh)
And don’t it feel good (HEY!) All right now
And don’t it feel good (HEY!) All right now
All right now yeah! (HEY!)