Edited by Claire Buss
The simple act of looking back, taking time to reflect, can be so motivating in moving forwards. It’s all too easy to think I didn’t do everything therefore I failed but life just doesn’t work that way. What’s important, especially for a creative person, is to honour the doing. So whether it’s idea generation or the completion of a project, words on a page or a finished book, the start of brand new artwork or creative collaboration, shout loud and proud! Celebrate yourself – you are amazing!
With this celebration in mind, I invited members of the Write On! team to share their own reflections on 2023, hopefully encouraging them to begin the new year with a spring in their step. For myself, it’s been a year of change. I thought I’d be releasing the fourth book in my humorous fantasy series but, instead, I needed to take more time editing and polishing the story for it to be the best version possible for my readers. Watch this space 2024, Myth In The Mountain is coming!
The negative voice in my head reflects on the fact there are 12 whole months in a year, so what else have I been doing with my time? I’m delighted to share I’ve started writing again. The plan (I do not like that word) is to write 12 books in 12 months. We are, of course, talking about rough drafts only. But I want to prove to myself that I can make writing a priority in my daily life; trickier than you might think! Not being a fan of January resolutions, I set myself that challenge in November, so let’s see how the next few months go.
First up from the team is our Editor, Madeleine F White, with her look back at 2023:
My writing goals for 2023 were simple: to write! Other than a couple of poems, I hadn’t written anything more connected or consequential for a couple of years, and was feeling increasingly isolated from my creative spirit.
I went on a retreat in Wales earlier this year and one of the reasons I went was to start writing again. Part of my own writing journey is a need to write with purpose, and I’d felt this lack in my creative work. Oddly, though, things never happen as you expect them to. As I write most days in my ‘day job’, it’s not as though I’m not doing anything. However, the kind of writing that catches fire, whilst making me catch my breath and scramble to catch up, is different.
I’m glad to report this changed in September. A poet friend of mine was advertising an ‘online only’ writing course. Just regular prompts and then a connected Facebook group. I dithered for a while and then called her. Even though the cost was very reasonable, I’d never invested in my writing before; as someone who’s written professionally for most of her life, doing so seemed an admission of failure. After a 15-minute conversation and a throwaway comment – that I might find I’m primarily a poet rather than, say, a novelist, or an editor – I decided this was something I wanted to do and signed up.
The first prompt arrived. It was all about change: how we adapt, the pain thresholds we go through, the barriers holding us back. As a post-menopausal woman and in the light of significant family issues over the last year, I found myself being naturally drawn to creating a poem. The title just suddenly appeared in my head: Maiden Mother Crone.
That was the start of an exciting adventure, leading me to finish my second poetry collection – Mother Maiden Crone – a couple of weeks ago. I have written a series of 37 free-verse narrative poems built around the emotional, spiritual and physical journey of womanhood, drawing from my own path with the shadow of antiquity’s triple-headed goddess in interplay with the Christian Trinity.
It’s now with Beta Readers and the initial feedback is very encouraging. So, I’ve most definitely met my writing goals this year. However, for me, writing is life and life is writing, so in the same way my debut novel Mother Of Floods became a manifesto leading to the creation of, for example, Write On!, I believe Mother Maiden Crone has the potential to help us older women co-create something positive, reshaping the pejorative ‘crone’ into a word of power. After all, we’re in our prime and as creators of our own paths. Why shouldn’t we be able to reshape the narrative around older womanhood and creativity?
© Madeleine F White, 2023
A late spark to creativity for Madeleine whereas, for Mary, it was a bright start to 2023 with a shaky middle, finishing up strong:
The year started with a sunny front appearing from the south of Spain. Several poems were produced and given away freely to the local population.
On returning home, a wind gathered all my poems, and I made a poetry collection: 85 poems beautifully edited by Constellations Literary Consultancy.
Around March, a low front rumbled when trying to find a publisher or an agent, or both.
This low front lingered until I shoved it aside in summer to make a start on Detective Armando Ramirez book two. And compile a children’s poetry collection.
Armando was a bit bogged down by the Spanish Civil War, but now moving on about two-thirds of the way through.
A very busy year, with lots of Pen to Print writing and running a retreat with Eithne Cullen, resulting in a clement end to the year and so much to do in 2024!
© Mary Walsh, 2023
Another one of our regular contributors, Julie Dexter, explains that meeting her goal halfway provided the boost she needed for 2024:
Last year I pledged to myself, mainly by telling people in writing, that I was actually going to write. This has meant finishing writing one of my two novels. Well, guess what? I have finished one!
But I will not let it out yet, as I’m on page 51 of a rewrite.
After that, for 2024, I’d like it out of the drawer, and being sold and obviously read.
I added around four poems to my pamphlet, which I also edited and sent to Faber. And I won the Pen to Print Poetry competition, which boosted my self-confidence!
© Julie Dexter, 2023
Sebastian and Afsana Elanko have both scaled creative mountains with the support of each other, a testament to their partnership. Here’s what Sebastian had to say:
2023 Goals Set: One, Goals Achieved: One
Compiling all my literary skills, I’ve achieved my goals in the past without any external motivation. The pace was slow yet steady and, somewhere along the way, became stagnant as life got in the way. However, the desire for writing never wavered; I enjoy people’s reactions to what I write too much. Then Covid hit. I was shielding at home. Writing started again. My wife was constantly there; I’m not sure whether she was encouraging or nagging. In any case, she registered me for many Zoom meetings with writers. My diary was full. A little annoyed, I attend the meetings and discussions and had an amazing time. I was in the zone again.
Thanks to her motivation, my burning flame to write was fuelled. I wrote poems and short stories, pairing them with my photography skills. Currently, one of my poems, along with my photograph, is exhibited at a museum. Thank you, my wife, again. In 2023, life took its toll, but several of the short stories, poems and features I wrote have been published. Without my wife, my passion may not have prevailed.
© Sebastian Elanko, 2023
And from Afsana:
Writing Goals And Life
Over the last 18 months or so, much of my life has been difficult for one reason or another. It started in July 2022, when an incident had a devastating effect on me personally and shocked those around me. This left me harmed, damaged, and affected me in a negative way in every shape and form. Time heals some wounds, but others we carry with us and we have to learn to live with them. For me, it will be the latter, but writing has given me a way to survive until life gets back on track. So, writing and editing goals have been a way of giving stability and have been my constant companion over these months. A companion I will find difficult to lose and I know will be a part of my integral being. When life gets tough, I can get an ink pen, a piece of paper and life becomes liveable again. In that moment, a sense of calm surrounds me and I’m in the world of the writer, where freedom exists and no one can stop me. Total sense of serenity is what I’m aiming for; total creativity.
© Dr Afsana Elanko, 2023
Online Page editor, Eithne Cullen, thought she didn’t have much to reflect upon at all, until she sat back and looked at her fabulous year:
Whenever anyone asks what I’ve been up to in my writing life, I tend to say: “Not much at the moment!” However, this opportunity to reflect on 2023 is a great way of reminding me how much I’ve enjoyed and achieved.
So here goes… I started 2023 as Poet Laureate Of Plumstead, a great honour as well as being great fun! I handed the laurels over just a few weeks ago, so someone else can enjoy the title.
February was a busy time for me, too. I took part in an amazing charity, Poem-a-Thon, organised by Forest Poets and worked with a composer and choir to put some of my poetry to music. The result was a fabulous concert (I wrote about it here https://pentoprint.org/?s=Eithne+Cullen).
I ran creative writing workshops for Pen to Print on Writing The Seasons. I love these sessions, as they bring such interesting people and writing together. I followed this course with organising a one-day writing retreat, with fellow Pen to Printer Mary Walsh, during Readfest.
I’ve also interviewed Brian Bilston and Elen Sentier for Write On! magazine and the interviews appeared online and in the Write On! Audio podcast.
In May, I not only attended the Hay Festival with other Pen to Print team members, but was also part of a session about co-creation: great fun and a real privilege!
I’ve kept up my page in Write On! magazine online and in print, submitting creative pieces for the magazine, too.
I have a couple of poems coming up to be acknowledged, one as a poem commended in a competition and another accepted in an anthology – though I can’t say anything, yet.
So, if you ask me what I’ve been up to and I say: “Not much,” remind me to stop and reflect on what’s been happening. With all the things going on in my writing communities, I expect to be busy again next year. Happy writing to you all now and in the New Year!
© Eithne Cullen, 2023
I’d like to round off our look back at 2023 with a personal piece from Ellie Blake, who talks about how focusing on her social media posts have enriched her storytelling:
Since I was five years old, I’ve worn a piece of jade from my grandmother on a necklace. Objects possess power, a central theme in my last book, This Silly Bench, where Joe the crow remembers his friendship with Cleo, the Egyptian goose whenever encountering a bench.
This year, I explored the idea of memories and objects in a YouTube series I created about the Freddie Mercury Sotheby’s exhibition. The videos showcased silky kimonos hanging aloft, the handwritten lyrics of Don’t Stop Me Now and the silver Tiffany’s moustache comb which sold for £152,400. They reached 20k views and were worth staying up until three 3am to finish. Then there’s my TikTok video of the London Marathon which has 438,000 views.
Freddie Mercury A World Of His Own Sotheby’s London Exhibition – extra bits (part five) from YouTube @e.mblake2695
Social media consumes a significant portion of my time, but it enhances my understanding of connecting with audiences, editing and story-telling. Perseverance and experimentation reaps success and cultivates a mind-set that any aspiration is attainable. I’ve even been motivated to write 40,000 words of a memoir / technology / self-help book.
I’m also tutoring a Year Ten student in English for a charity which supports students from under-resourced backgrounds to access top universities. This meaningful work deepens my appreciation of the technical aspects of language and the multi-faceted nature of writing. I see my student’s face light up as he grows in confidence, and confidence in my own skills grows, too.
This year, my goal was to be open to different opportunities. My grandmother, despite her mother’s objections, insisted on going to school to learn to read and write. The past may be behind us, but it drives our future!
2023 emerged as a year of personal and creative growth, driven by a commitment to learning, and was inspired by women like my grandmother, who fought for an education.
(c) E.M. Blake, 2023
I hope that our reflections encourage you to look back at your own creative endeavours throughout 2023 and that those musings will boost your imagination and inspire you into 2024 and beyond. All that’s left for me to do is wish you and yours a very happy and productive New Year.
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The simple act of looking back, taking time to reflect, can be so motivating in moving forwards.