Welcome to Everyday Words
We're going to start with books.
Hello and welcome to the very first Everyday Words newsletter.
As I write this to you in the second week of January (just) it’s pouring outside, and I feel a bit scared to turn on the radio. I’ve gone back and forth about what I should write – and, well, does writing even matter? But then I remember Kurt Vonnegut saying, ‘"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it."
So do it, he says.
And I will. Because this is a newsletter about writing, the joy of writing, the difficulties in writing, and perhaps most of all, some of the things we can do to help us write.
Some of you will be here because you’ve been signed up to my previous newsletter, others because you’ve subscribed directly, but I’m glad you are with me on this new adventure. I say adventure because if 2020 has taught me anything it’s that no plan is set in stone. Who knows where this newsletter may end up!
In the meantime, here’s how it begun. A small thing but over the last year, in between hospitalisations and lockdowns, I realised just how much I missed regular face-to-face teaching and coaching sessions and started to think of new ways I could do it. So this letter from me to you comes from that place.
Let’s think of it as a year-long course where every month I’ll share some of my favourite resources, prompts and thoughts to build up or add to your creative tool-kit. In addition, for those of you who have signed up for the paid subscription (thank you), I’ll also offer writing exercises, random extras and even invitations to the odd get-together and mentoring sessions. With any luck, we’ll build up a strong writing community, and although I’d like you all to be the first to know my news, this is as much about YOUR writing as mine.
And as always, just hit unsubscribe if this isn’t for you right now. We’ll miss you, and you’re always welcome back any time.
Right, for those of you who are still here, the name Everyday Words came from my TEDx talk about the power of words we use every day, often without thinking. Like me, you probably grew up with that maxim, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’
What rubbish. Am I right?
But if, yes, words really can hurt badly, the other side of that is that they can also support us. Which is why we are going to start with books.
(Of course we are going to start with books. Where else did you think we’d begin?)
I’m guessing most of you are writers and readers, and that you have probably already amassed a number of books about writing. If you’ve got space for one more, do please take a look at the Everyday Words bookshop where I’ve begun to collate some of my favourites for you, including such classics as Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the Bones, and John Yorke’s Into the Woods.
But it’s a great focus to find the top five books (or websites) that get your creative juices flowing. They may be conventionally writing-based, but they may also be about subjects that excite you – even slantways. Remember it’s what interests you as a writer that will make you interesting.
And in the meantime, here are my five. I’ll keep lobbing recommendations for books at you, by the way. You’ll just have to dodge those you don’t fancy but I hope you catch a few too. Although these following ones aren’t traditionally about writing, they are ones I often turn to for inspiration. It’s an eclectic mix, but that’s important too. Hopefully at least one will work for you, or guide you to build your own individual matchbox on the shelf. Recognising that little bounce you get when you find something that speaks to you is a muscle worth building up.
ONE | Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Twyla Tharp is a choreographer, but this book, summed up by its subtitle – Learn it and use it for life – has probably done more for my writing than any other. I’ve had to buy two copies so far because I scribble so much on each page, and I love how she doesn’t treat ‘creativity’ as some kind of ambrosia dripped only on the most godly of us. No, it’s a habit and we have to work at it. But if we do, we’ll be rewarded. Just look at the last line of Twyla Tharp’s biography on her own website: “Today, Ms. Tharp continues to create.” I tell you, she’s a role model.
TWO | Isabel Allende, Aphrodite, a memoir of the senses
Now this one may feel a strange addition if you were hoping for serious books to help with your grammar and punctuation but there’s more to life – and indeed writing - than that. I’ve built whole courses around this book, and we’ve all been amazed at the excellent writing that’s come out of the exercises. Read it for the quality of Isabel Allende’s writing, for her imagination, and the inspiration it will spark in you. After all, just look at the chapter headings: Cooking in the Nude; The Spell of Smell; Death by Perfume; Table Manners; With the Tip of the Tongue; The Orgy; Sins of the Flesh; Love Potions, and Sauces and Other Essential Fluids.
THREE | Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
I’m a big fan of Austin Kleon and his newsletter too – do sign up, you won’t regret it. His ideas will get you doing, as well as writing. And this book is pretty, one of those you can’t help stroking.
FOUR | Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Ah, my hero. I love her. Simple as that. I probably haven’t run any writing workshop yet without bringing her in because it’s my mission to introduce her work to as many people as I can. This is my favourite book of hers – so many sentences to drool over, so many facts to underline. Here’s one: Human beings have five million olfactory cells. A sheepdog has 220 million, so it can smell 44 times better than we can. What are we missing? Can you even begin to imagine? That’s right – write it!
FIVE | Mary Pipher, Writing to Change the World
And because I don’t believe you can teach any kind of writing without getting people to think about why they are doing it, this is a really inspiring book. Of course we can write just for fun – heck, over the last year I’ve been hungry for pure, happy entertainment – but it’s exciting to think what else our words can do. This book makes me understand that, and to write a bit braver.
Oh there are more, so many more, but what’s also important is that we don’t read books about writing instead of writing! Besides, this really does give me a chance to push other books on you as we go through the year.
While we are on recommendations, here are some people doing wonderful things and who you may want to look up:
Holly Wren Spaulding and I ran a course together last year based on Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, and at the Poetry Forge, she’s carving out a very special place for poets and writers to think deeply and peacefully about their work.
I came across Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing during the height of lockdown, and loved her easy videos where she read one poem, gave us a line from it and set us writing.
Another good thing I did in lockdown was take a walk with Street Wisdom - it’s such a simple idea. You formulate a question and then look for signs on your walk that might help you come to an answer. I love the concept, and what’s been amazing is doing it with a friend – both of us with separate questions – and how we saw completely different things along the same walk.
Before I go, I have a writing prompt for you.
Most of my workshops start with a short freewriting session. It helps to get the hand moving, the words dancing on the page, clears the thoughts from the day outside and often surprises us nicely before we begin the workshop, so click here for a prompt for today. I’ve taken it from the 30 day writing prompt challenge on my website so do sign up if you’d like more in your inbox. The premise is simple, make some tea, get your journal, set your timer for just six minutes and start writing. Oh, and enjoy!
And CLICK HERE for a lucky dip from my other website, writer in the garden. This is one of my lockdown ‘passion projects’, a cabinet of curiosities where I can keep all the juicy garden snippets I find in my wanderings and pull them out of their drawers every so often to marvel at. Feel free to rummage round too!
With all good wishes,
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I publish two additional posts every month for paying subscribers. These include a behind the scenes look at my writing practice, writing and reading tips, artists dates and activity suggestions, as well as access to the Everyday Words writing community.
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