Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Writers' Wednesday - Living the Creative Life

This Wednesday our Natasha takes us shopping ... AGAIN!

I know. I'm sorry, but it's a really good book!

I’ve just completed a flurry of library talks as part of the UKs National Year of Reading and at almost all someone came up to me to say something like, ‘I write. Not properly, of course. I’m not published.’ It happened so often I started to think about it.

Being published is great, don't get me wrong - and no-one can deny the odds are horribly stacked against achieving that goal which makes it all the more incredible. When I see one of my books on the shelf it still feels slightly unreal. (And, yes, it was really embarrassing taking that photograph. I felt a complete twit standing in the middle of WHSmiths with a camera. vbg) What’s more enough people read my books worldwide to mean it’s the way I earn my living which, when you stop to think about it, is pretty fantastic. But is that what makes me a ‘proper’ writer? Or is it simply the doing it?

When I was at drama school, about to leave and firmly determined to be the next Dame Judy Dench, one of our tutors told us we needed to do something every day to further our career as actors. Something which might get us a job. It didn’t matter if we were waitressing, working in a call centre or cleaning toilets, if we were doing that one thing we were actors.

And, I truly believe writing is the same. If, even on the busiest of days, you are walking around with an idea notebook in your bag, or pull a evocative picture out of a magazine because a glint of a story winked at you (and to your left is one of the pictures which sparked 'Cinderella and the Sheikh' - out January 09 in UK and NA - for me), or you read a novel and start unpicking why what worked for you worked, I’d say you were a writer. Particularly if on all other days you are sitting your bottom in the chair and trying to get the stories in your head down on paper.

In my opinion, what makes a writer is the doing it. Day after day, it’s the hunger to be better. To create. A willingness to take the knocks when they come. To work through the days when it feels like you are doing the writing equivalent of pushing a turnip through a fine sieve. And then, again, it’s about loving the writing when you hit a groove that makes the process feel pure magic.

All of which reminded me of a book which is my top tip of the day – ‘The Creative Habit – Learn it and use it for life’ by Twyla Tharp. Early on in it she talks about the balance between natural ability and sheer hard work in all creative spheres, coming down on the side of hard work. I agree. That’s not to say you don’t need a natural gifting but if you were born with the ‘writing gene’ it’s not going to be honed without effort.

Here’s what she says about Mozart:
‘Mozart was hardly some naive prodigy who sat down at the keyboard and, with God whispering in his ears, let the music flow from his fingertips. ... Nobody worked harder than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose.’

Mozart himself wrote:
‘People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.’

I’m not automatically disposed to make Mozart my role model, particularly since his composition ‘Leck mich im Arsch’ (composed in 1782 and usually translated as 'Kiss My Arse') caused one of my sons to get a detention when he mentioned it in orchestra but ...

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Genius, yes. But Mozart worked at it too.

Before I sold my first book, before I sent it to Harlequin even, I met Barbara Erskine and did my own version of, 'I write, but I'm not published' and she said, 'Don't give up'. And I didn't. And I'm published. If writing is your dream, keep dreaming. Keep doing it!

What’s particularly good about ‘The Creative Habit’ is Twyla gives you practical suggestions on how to live the creative life. Routine isn’t my thing, but boy does it help!

So, go buy.

And writers, published and yet-to-be-published, what do you reckon is the one thing you do in your daily life which sparks your creativity? Do you always begin at the same time of day? Check your emails first? Blog? Buy fresh flowers for your desk? Or listen to music???

Much love

Natasha's latest Harlequin Romance 'Wanted: White Wedding' is available in the UK here and in NA here!

Romantic Times Magazine says: 'Natasha Oakley's Wanted: White Wedding (4.5) has its share of deeply touching moments, but what makes it stand out are the humor and the wonderful characters.'

You can find out more about it on her website and you can hear her moan about 'life, the universe and everything' if you visit her blog.


  1. It's a fab book! I have it and it struck many chords with me.

  2. *gasp* you *met* Barbara Erskine? She's one of my auto buy absolute keeper authors. I don't even loan her books out (except maybe to my hairdresser who also loves her and actually introduced me to her books years ago.) I'm frustrated as heck at present because I can't get a hold of The Warrior's Princess through my usual online retailer here in NZ.

    Anyway, to your topic, I heartily concur with what your drama teacher said--we needed to do something every day to further our career. A lot of people say writers need to write every day, but I'm not so convinced of that. But I do believe we need to work toward our writing goal every day, whether its publication or the next deadline. To me it doesn't really matter if it's writing, people watching, researching or *other*, but there's rarely a day that goes by that I'm not doing something towards my work. And I love that.

  3. Of course, she'd be nice as well! LOL! And I can happily report that I've tracked down a copy of the book, too! :-) Life is good.