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Campervans and uncluttered contemplation, with Sue Reid Sexton – 17 January 2018

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

How many times do authors get asked that? Tonight, at the latest Ayr Writers’ Club meeting, we will hopefully find out and more importantly, discover actions we can take when those ideas dry up.

Help arrived in the form of Sue Reid Sexton, author, teacher of creative writing, ghost-writer, and previous counsellor.
Sue started with a quotation from Muriel Rukeyser: ‘The universe is made of stories – not of atoms’. All we have to do as authors, Sue argued, is to tap into those stories – to make the conditions for those stories to filter into our subconscious.

For Sue, those conditions are met by finding solitude in her campervan. Sue wends her way through the country lanes of Scotland, come rain or shine, metaphorically ridding herself of the incumbents of the normal day (such as washing machines and pink bath mats) before finding a layby or the edge of a cliff where she can be alone with her notepad and laptop, and let those ideas slowly crystallise.

(At this point someone in the meeting freely admitted to having a caravan. Idea: The Caravan Vigilante. Hmm, not bad, that’s a keeper. Is Charles Bronson still alive for when the movie moguls come knocking?)

Sue read some extracts from her book, Writing On The Road: Campervan Love and the Joy of Solitude, which describes the process she goes through to invite those ideas in. She told us that well-meant interruptions from family, such as offers of tea, can take a writer twenty minutes to get back into the world they were previously in. Writers have to be fully immersed in their work with no distractions.

She also suggested we learn to look; as author Christopher Isherwood wrote, ‘I am a camera with its shutter open’. Writers should be passive recorders of events; absorbing everything everywhere they go to be recalled and used in future volumes.

(Idea: what if everyone in the world had reverted back to being naked. Oh dear! No, forget that. It could be worse; I could’ve been in Greggs.)

Sue also repeatedly implored us to write down all our ideas, as soon as they come to us, without censorship. Take a small notebook everywhere you go, or record the idea to your phone. Don’t rely on your memory as the best ideas can get lost. That record of past ideas can also become a prompt for when we are lost for inspiration.

Exercise: write a short paragraph of some event that you happened to you today. Now write another paragraph using the opposite of each previous word. Some brave ‘volunteers’ read out their contributions revealing more about themselves than they intended to. Sue also described some other exercises that can be done to make you view your writing in a different perspective which can prompt more ideas. Limiting your thoughts, Sue explained, can help to create ideas rather than restrict them, which seems counterintuitive.

(Idea: An earth bound spacecraft hits a storm and arrives back to find the planet ruled by sloths. Ooh! Helena Bonham-Carter as a sloth. Let me think on that idea for a while – in solitude.)

Time unfortunately stops for no man, or indeed Sue, so the meeting drew to a close.

However, all of us, I am sure, took something from Sue’s talk, whether it is examining the conditions we all write in, or to buy a small notebook and make sure we carry it at all times, or to remember some exercises we can try when we face that blank page.

Dan Ogilvie

One comment

  1. Great blog Dan, or should that be, Poor tweet naD? Haven’t got the hang of this opposites thing yet …

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