The importance of choosing your word(s)

As a writer, I’ve always loved to collect words. The ones that ring with a unique sound, tingle the tip of your tongue, make you smile as they form. I’ve also learnt the power of affirmations during challenging yoga practice, intention setting to bring focus whilst building my portfolio career; the right words create a special kind of magic for goals, new habits, ambitions and future achievements.

These spells are so important but until last year, I hadn’t really considered how I could use them to look ahead after such a difficult couple of years.

For 2021, I chose the word ‘novel’. I decided on this because I wanted to “finish” writing my novel, and I wanted the year to be full of new things. It must be noted now, deciding on your word for next year won’t always work in the way that you think it should.

I’ve already made the joke enough times that I’m sick of it, but for quite a while it felt that the only new thing I experienced was broken bones. I’ve managed to break my wrist and fracture my ankle in the last 7 months, and it’s not something I’d like to repeat. However, if I take the bigger picture view, there has been a lot about this year that has been novel.

I’ve worked with people who have been kind, and generous, and understanding. Who have helped me find my feet whilst they’re still finding theirs, in a business that does exactly that for so many. If you don’t know The Portfolio Collective, and you want a career that’s built to suit you – check it out. Being understood, supported, directed when needed, celebrated no matter what, was incredibly novel.

Understanding how resilient I am, where the limitations are and how boundaries can help me, has also been novel – especially given that I’ve tried to keep working as much as possible whilst dealing with physical pain, isolation/limitations, and the knock-on both had to my mental health.

The novel hasn’t been completely forgotten either. I started working with creativity coach, Paul Macauley in the autumn and with his help I’ve started to see the wood for the trees. I’d made some progress myself, helped by conversations with incredible writers I get to call friends but I didn’t actually get to the writing. Now the writing has started, albeit slowly. Whilst I continue to work on forming new habits, making the most of the fallow time of winter, I have been challenged to write for just two minutes a day on the novel. Mostly it’s musing on ideas but I’m half way through the challenge and spending more time in addition to these tiny blocks every day.

So, how to choose a word for 2022?

When I heard about this process in 2020, it was a combination of two sources that I found invaluable. Firstly, Susannah Conway provides a free workbook to ‘Find Your Word’ – read the accompanying article to see how her words have guided her and been more useful that New Year’s resolutions!

Once I had my word for 2021, I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t forget it. Stacey from Darwin & Grey creates beautiful hand-painted banners, and this will be the third year she has created them. Her post on choosing is so wonderful, I had to copy it here:

My Word: Fearless, 2022 ✨ What’s yours?

Forget setting any resolutions this year. Nine times out of ten, we ditch them a month in anyways! Instead choose a word, just a single word to take with you into 2022.

Give it some thought, opt for one that can be your focal point, a simplified anchor to use as something to help you recenter when you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed or lost.

My word of the year is Fearless. I was toying with all kinds of bold, enthusiastic and positive words to do with starting new chapters and growing up and realised more so than anything, next year is my year to just bloody go for it so Fearless fits the bill perfectly!

Stacey Gray – Darwin & Gray

If you’d like to have your own banner created, you can order up until 2nd January 2022.

This year, I’ve got another source to help me choose my word. Saori at Mogami 最上 Wellness generously shares her Japanese roots to empower individuals to achieve a sustainable wellness life, and her recent posts on Japanese calligraphy (shodo 書道) and Kaki-zome (書き初め) have led me to think on how I can create my own physical manifestation of my 2022 word.

Kaki-zome (書き初め) is one of the most important traditions in Japanese calligraphy – and translates to “first writing (of the year)”. The yearly intention is set during this tradition by choosing to write a character (ji・字) piece. Saori is running an intention setting event on 15th January if you’d like to learn more.

My word for 2022 is going to be “meraki”. It’s Greek, and encompasses more than English words like, love, soul, devotion, embodiment, essence, can do. It’s what’s been missing from my work, particularly my writing, and it’s what makes my writing in particular “good”. I’m all the better for showing up, sharing my experiences, and learning from them, and this is what I need more of next year.

This gorgeous embroidered art is by Natalie Gaynor and I’m so glad this word found me via her this year!

If you’re still searching for your own word, do take a look at the workbook that Susannah has generously supplied again, and in the meantime, here’s some inspiration from Keeley Shaw!

A place to retreat to

This is not a review I want to write. You’re going to find out my secret and then I’ll have to share. I’m terrible at sharing.

To be totally honest with you, with myself, I share ‘me’ too much. So much so that it leaves very little time for ‘me’. Urgh. Just writing that sentence makes me cringe.

However, it’s true. I needed an escape. Not a complete run for the hills (my wife needed to escape too) but to be away. I saw someone recommend Catherine McNamara’s writing retreats in Italy. Cat and I met long ago at The Word Factory, and she’s often said we should go out there.

The thing was, she runs writing retreats. I wanted to go away to write, but I also wanted to go away to think, to read, to have enough head space for possibilities. Also, my wife doesn’t write (she tells people that. Actually she’s a damn good poet but she keeps it on the quiet). So would it be fair?

She went along with my plan, when Cat said of course she could do a retreat for the two of us. Because that’s what Cat can do – make it fit for you. The writer who stayed a week or so before us had spent her week mostly holed up in a choice of inside and outside spaces working. But Cat gave her the space to unplug too, to discuss work and life and the universe over beautiful meals and excellent drinks. I imagine anyway, because that’s we did, a lot.

We also got guided tours of two cities that are now firmly in our hearts. I read almost three books (probably the same I managed in the first half of the the year) and took the time to discuss them at length. I thought a lot, but not the worrying thoughts that plague the day-to-day about work and family and life on the whole. I thought about my writing, what was working and wasn’t. I even talked about it, which I hadn’t felt able to for a while because my focus has been on the work that can pay now, rather than hopefully later. I thought and talked about that work too, and how it’s going to play out in the second half of my first year as a freelancer.

We slept in, we stayed up late, we got up early, we crashed out. Whatever worked on that day. The only ‘order’ was ours to decide.

I run retreats, much shorter, one day retreats for Writers’ HQ writers. I know the power of saying – “don’t worry, whatever you do today is yours to do. You don’t have to do the washing up, and you don’t have to think about what’s going on at home, you just need to be in the room writing.” I watch writers leave with big grins and new ideas. I forgot what that feels like myself. Until Cat gave us that, or maybe just the space for it. New ideas, hope, and relaxed grins.

I’m going back, next time, as a writer writing rather than a writer in need of a break. I’m going back to sit in the sun-warm outbuilding to write more of the next draft of my novel where Cat wrote her first. I’m going back to continue to reform ideas when the head space is lacking. I’m going back to be in great company and to be looked after in the way I hope I look after my writers (if only for a day and not a week!). I’m going back because I promised Voss (the pup) I’d kick the ball some more.

I didn’t want to share, because I know that Cat’s weeks get booked up. There’s some availability left in late August/September I believe, and if you fancy being part of a taught group then Cat will be running a tutored retreat with Tom Vowler in September (which I’m gutted to miss). She’s taking bookings for 2020 too if you like to plan ahead.

You can find all the info about the retreat on Cat’s website, as well as more about her award-winning writing. Just leave me a week, eh?

Shhh. Top secret plans afoot.

Okay, so it might seem like I’ve been ignoring you all for some time, or more to the point ignoring this blog, but there are lots of secret squirrel plans coming together whilst I piece together my short story collection.
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Most secret (not so secret anymore) is the news that I’m becoming part of Team WHQ. I’ve spoken highly of Writers’ HQ in the past (used to be called Brighton Writers, until they decided to take on the world). From July I’ll be running monthly retreats in Cambridge – so get signed up here for when all the details are confirmed when you’ll get official type invites with discount codes and everything!

It’s also worth knowing that I’m running short story workshops at the Evesham Festival of Words on Friday 30th June, and at the Jersey Festival of Words at the end of September – so I hope to see you at one of these events too.

Resources that rescue

This afternoon I’ve been lured into the depths of the internet whilst working on the next stages of some new stories. Normally I would later bully myself, as many of us do, on the procrastination of this act. Should I really be watching these videos, reading these articles, when I should be writing? Today, however, I am going to celebrate this wandering off the page and onto the screen.

As may be obvious now, I am obsessed with fairy tales, myths, magic realism; their function and imaginations. They feed my work, and free my mind. If I’m not reading stories then I am often dipping into the theory that works to bring further understanding to these tales.

Whilst reading an email from the London Review Bookshop (one of my favourite places), I came across their YouTube channel and the video of Edmund Gordon introducing Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. This of course led to the leapfrog onto other videos and I found this video which has delighted me this afternoon whilst thinking on my stories.

I desperately wanted to go to this event last year but it sold out very quickly, so I’m thrilled that the British Academy have shared it in full on their channel. It might have been naive of me not to have already made the most of these resources, but it is something that has rescued me today.

If this introduction to fairy tale and Marina Warner’s expertise is something that interests you too, then you might like to come along to the Word Factory events next month where she will be leading a masterclass and then reading at the evening salon on 27 February.