Artist’s Dates

As some of you will be aware I have recently been reading Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ book which I highly recommend to all writers. There are nuggets to be enjoyed in every chapter. You will, inevitably, recognise yourself in Julia’s wise words, nodding and smiling wryly as you read.

Right to Write_
Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’

One of the concepts that Julia introduced me to was the idea of ‘artist’s dates’. We are all familiar with going on dates but we don’t normally take ourselves on one – alone. Here, you do just that.

Romance rose

You choose a day that suits and an activity you know you will find interesting, fascinating or stimulating and off you go. Just you alone. This is a special time for you to commune with your inner self or as Julia puts it you are ‘romancing, wooing, courting your creative self’.

Date Time

You could go to see a play or a movie. You could visit a museum or take in an exhibition. You could go to or take part in a glass blowing demonstration or a workshop on how to make mosaics. You could knit, sew, crochet, draw or paint. You could listen to a talk on a subject of interest or visit a historic landmark. Take a walk in an ancient wood or along an unfamiliar coast line. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.


Julia suggests going on these excursions once a week to refill the creative well. With a busy schedule, once a week is a little optimistic for me but I have been achieving an artist’s date once a fortnight and it has been an uplifting and inspiring experience. We’re in the grip of winter in the UK so my activities have been largely based indoors: an exhibition of black and white photos, a mindfulness meditation session, an exhibition of landscape paintings and a past life regression. I am looking forward to the spring when I can widen my horizons further.

Whilst I have no definite plans to include any of the things I have done or seen in future stories I am pretty certain they will filter down into a work in progress at some stage and I will be excited to see how that turns out. In the meantime, now that I know the joy and freedom of an artist’s date, they will remain a firm addition to my calendar.

Autum open road

Why not give them a try and see where they take you?

Happy writing!

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes



Putting the FUN back in your writing

Following on from last week’s blog about remembering that writing is meant to be fun, I took a look at my own writing world – several works in progress at different stages of completion, a desk covered in notes about Pinterest boards to be created, advertising campaigns to organise, podcasts to listen to and articles to read. A tsunami of to-do-lists and to-finish-lists. Is it any wonder that I’ve lost touch with the joy that used to sit at the heart of my writing?


Fun, Fun, Fun!

I decided enough was enough, it was time to put the fun back into writing. When I catch myself being far too serious I find the best way to jolly myself out of it is to write. Not the work in progress. Not even something that might become a work in progress but something completely new, of the moment, to be created, enjoyed and left.


Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction usually does it for me. I have a dictionary of phrase and fable (a guaranteed rabbit hole to disappear into if you want to lose an hour) which I open at a random page, stab my finger down and whatever it points to, I give myself 500 or 1,000 words to write a piece of flash fiction that incorporates it. If the dictionary isn’t near at hand, I’ll use a magazine instead. It’s amazing the kind of subjects you can find yourself writing about when a copy of Cosmopolitan is close by!

The beauty of this exercise is that you are free – forget genres, forget writing styles, forget targets and plans. Just flex your creative muscle and see where it leads you. You might be a romantic novelist who writes in the third person by day but for this exercise you might find yourself writing gothic horror in the first person. A literary heavyweight could discover their comic alter ego, a chick lit aficionado could let out her gory crime other self. The point is to let yourself go, to have FUN.

Forget the rules, forget who you think you are as a writer and just write. You will be amazed where it takes you and when it’s time to put the games away and get back to the work in progress you will hopefully find having let your creative self off the leash for a bit, you return to your work energised and re-engaged.

Happy writing!

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes


Remember that writing is meant to be FUN!


I belong to a writing group and I suggested that we each write out our writing resolutions for the year and read them aloud to the group. I then collected them in and said I would bring them out again at our mid summer social event so we could all check in with how we were doing and once more at our Christmas get together to hold the Inquest into whether we had hit all our targets and if not, why not.

I made several writing resolutions of my own, the last of which is “To remember that writing is meant to be fun”.



Where did the fun go?

It is all too easy to forget this when a once innocent past time that gave us so much joy in the early days morphs into a career with all the attendant pressures that come with deadlines and running a business.

A writing friend gave me Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ book to read. If you haven’t read it do get hold of a copy, I promise you will not be disappointed. It is written in such an engaging and open way that you are quickly transported to Julia’s world but at the same time you recognise yourself in her words. I found myself muttering ‘That’s me, I do that.’ and, often, ‘I thought it was just me who felt like that.’

Right to Write_
Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’

Julia is a pro who has been there and done it and got the scars to prove it. Along with a lot of practical advice and good dollops of common sense, Julia reminded herself and us that writing is meant to be fun. Such a simple statement and yet so easy to overlook in the tangle of our everyday writing lives.

If writing has become a slog or a duty to be performed rather than an activity to be enjoyed, those feelings of disengagement and disillusionment will filter down through the words on the page. If we’re doing it because we think we should and the heart is a bystander the reader will be able to tell.

Writing is a passionate, visceral, all encompassing relationship between the writer and the page. If we’re dialling the work in, it will show and we won’t be capable of producing our best work.

If that sounds like you, take a step back from the work in progress and cast your mind back to when writing was fun.

Fun keyboard

What’s changed? Perhaps you had the innocence of naïvety to sustain you, the expectation that a big deal was just around the corner. Now, the school of hard knocks has taught you otherwise. Perhaps it’s the work itself that is the problem, are you stuck in a rut, writing a particular book because you think you should when your heart yearns to be writing something completely different.

If you can stand back and look at the wider landscape you should be able to see why you are not completely engaging with your writing and, more importantly, what you can do to recapture the joy and bring it back to your work.

Happy writing!

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes



Are You Kidding Yourself?

The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves

We all lie to ourselves occasionally. ‘I’m happy as I am.’ ‘He loves me.’ ‘I love him.’ ‘I’ll work less hard.’ ‘I’ll make more time for me.’ Sound familiar? We are all guilty of it but the biggest lies we tell are often the ones we tell ourselves and that’s the brutal truth.

Catching ourselves in the act is, of course, never easy, particularly if the lies are long standing ones. Ironically it is often easier to spot when others are doing it. You meet a friend for coffee and listen to her latest dramas – work related or romantic and think: ‘Her life would be so much better if she would just go for that promotion and/or dump him’. You might even offer some gentle advice to which your friend will smile serenely and say, ‘I’m happy as I am.’

Being that honest with yourself however is tough. Sometimes we have lived with our own lies for months, if not years. They have become a part of us. They are a comfort blanket to shield us from a cold, harsh world. They are our friends or so we think.

Comfort blanket

In reality, the lies are holding us back, trapping us in the safe yet restricting surroundings we feel most comfortable in. Beyond those boundaries another world exists. One where you can be yourself without compromise or deceit. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Getting there, however, is the tricky bit. Fessing up is never easy however good it may be for your soul.

Quiet time
How not to manage an introvert? By Nguyen Hung Vu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In my novel White Lies it is only when the three main characters face up to the reality of their situations that they are ready to start over and become the people they have always wanted to be.

Frequently the lies we tell ourselves are a protection mechanism to shield us from an unpleasant reality or to stop ourselves facing up to a problem we need to tackle.

People shy away from change because we like to cling to the familiar even if ultimately it is making us unhappy but it’s through change that we learn and grow.

stagnant water
Stagnant water by Bossi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Picture a pool of stagnating water – dark and murky, choked with weeds. Not a great image, is it? Now picture a babbling brook, flowing freely over pebbles, gushing and gurgling, giving life, enhancing life. Which would you rather be? Stuck convincing yourself that nothing needs to change or taking your courage in your hands and becoming a better version of you.

Gentle brook
Gentle Brook by Andrew T Thrasher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0

Owning up to a lie is the first step in the right direction. Only when you have done that can you begin to see there are other choices available, new directions you can take.

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t sell yourself short. Be your own best friend. Have that conversation with yourself. Honesty really is the best policy as your gran used to say.

Change is scary but it can be exhilarating and life-affirming too so be brave.

And the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I am happy as I am’ you may actually mean it.

Smile by Jens Bergander courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes



My own little piece of Chelsea

Summer flowers
Summer Flowers – Ellie Holmes

The Chelsea Flower Show was recently held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London. Possibly the most famous flower show in the world, it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. Crazily intricate show gardens are constructed from nowhere and dismantled after just a few days from elaborate gardens in Main Avenue to smaller, more intimate gardens that can inspire, challenge and delight.

I have visited Chelsea on several occasions although I prefer its slightly less celebrated cousin Hampton Court. I may not have the greenest of fingers and my garden may be a triumph of optimism over horticultural knowledge but my own little piece of Chelsea inspires, challenges and delights me every bit as much as a show garden and at a fraction of the price.

Summer flowers2
Summer colour – Ellie Holmes

Whilst small my garden is also a haven for wildlife; birds, bees and butterflies are regular and welcome visitors. As an organic gardener, the bugs are a challenge but I appreciate they all have their place in the grand scheme of things and we each of us go about our business leaving the other pretty much alone. This spring I even had a hedgehog in the garden (I think he or she may have been hibernating in the compost heap or behind the shed).

A gardening expert would probably tut and shake their heads at some of my planting combinations. Certainly, I would not win any medals but my garden is not about showing off. It is about relaxation and calm, colour and inspiration. We all need a little beauty to feed our souls and each day, in different ways, my garden provides that. I think that is better than any medal.

Hosta heaven
Hosta heaven – Ellie Holmes

To Still a Busy Mind

I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.

Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.

Dandelion by Coen Dijkman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.

Bubbles by Stellajo1976 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.

Calm by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?



Adventures in Meditation – Part Two

Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

As I recounted in Adventures in Meditation – Who Has The Time?! (see below) I knew the tangible benefits of meditation and that they could specifically help me. Mind buzzing all the time? Finding it hard to let go? Want to concentrate on something more important than a Facebook post? Yes please!

So now that I had made the decision to give it a go, how did I actually begin? Before I got into the heavy stuff of scheduling where and when on a daily or even weekly basis I thought it would be a good idea to have a trial run.

For my first session, I chose a sunny Sunday morning when I was fairly sure I would not be interrupted by the outside world. I had already got a load of washing underway in the machine and I had taken my dog Willow for a long walk.

First dilemma – where should the meditation take place? Chair? Bed? Floor? I have tried practicing meditation on the bed in the past – I would usually fall asleep and then wake up cold so I discounted that idea. I decided to compromise and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory which was toasty warm from the early summer sun. This I thought also had the added benefit of the birdsong coming in through the open back door and the gentle fluttering of the blinds in the breeze. All an aid to relaxation, surely?

Relax by Dave Doe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

The next question was how was I actually going to do it. I decided twenty minutes was long enough to give it a good go but not so long that I would start panicking about my to do list. That length of time also seemed doable on a daily basis which was my ultimate goal.

Should I set the timer on my phone and go it alone or should I choose one of the many guided meditations that are available on the internet which, helpfully, have their timings included and a little about what the guided meditation will entail.

I thought as a novice I should accept a little help – a bit like a kid with stabilisers on their bicycle.   I choose a guided meditation that did not look too worthy or daunting. I plugged my headphones into my iPad and settled down.

Except I could not hear a thing. I fiddled with the iPad but could not figure out how to increase the volume on the app. I abandoned the iPad and reached for the iPhone. Searched for the same guided meditation, plugged in my headphones and settled down. Again. This time I had sound. Hurrah!

It all started well enough. With a little squirming around and the re-arranging of cushions I managed to get comfortable, retrieved the earbud that fell out in the process and settled down. Again. I started to concentrate on my breathing. I let the voice soothe me. I began to relax. And then…the dog started barking. I remembered I had left the back door open thinking the birdsong would help. I got up, brought the dog in, closed the door.

I settled down, put the earbuds back in and picked up where I had left off. I got a little further with the relaxation exercise. I could feel it starting to work when my washing machine when into its spin cycle and sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff. I made the effort to block it out.

Now my whole body was relaxed and it was time to start counting backwards from 10 and go to my ‘special place’. I hadn’t been warned I needed a ‘special place’. I quickly cobbled something together in my mind and began to descend. I had just arrived when Willow, my dog, decided to jump on my chest and settle down for a spot of meditation of her own. I was back in the present with a bang, one earbud forlornly dangling and my special place ripped away without any count back. I was just debating whether to start over when the washing machine beeped to indicate it had finished. I took it as a sign and went to hang out the washing.

Meditation speaks
Except maybe not in my house! Meditation Speaks by Tejvan Pettinger courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

My first attempt at meditation had not been a complete disaster. I had learnt a lot. Mostly what not to do but at least I would be better prepared for next time and I was determined there would be a next time….