Creative writing is generally an activity best conducted alone. So, if the festivities are getting on top of you, this could be the ideal time to squirrel yourself away with a notebook. Tell your partner, guests or children that this really is the ideal moment for you to kick off the novel or short story you have been planning in your head for years. Arm yourself with a cup of tea or a mug of mulled wine. Find a quiet room. Close the door. Breathe.
Now, open your notebook or turn on your computer. Do not stare too long at the blank page or screen in front of your or it will become a vortex that threatens to swallow you whole. You are not going to allow this to happen. Instead, you are going to forget about whatever it is you might think you are going to write – a series of beautifully pared-back, emotionally raw stories reminiscent of Raymond Carver, perhaps; or a historical magnum opus to fill the gap left by the much-missed Hilary Mantel – and you are going to do one of the following:
1. Just start writing. Anything. Put words on the page. It could be a diary-like rant about something supremely annoying your partner, children or relative did over the past 24 hours. It could be a stream-of-consciousness musing on why you prefer Aldi to Tesco. Don’t stop and think about it or read it back. Just write, and keep writing, until you have filled three pages of your notebook, or one A4 page of text.
2. Look around the room you are in and choose an object. Pick it up, weigh it in your hand. Consider it from all angles. Bring it back to your desk – or the spot on the bed on which you’ve plonked yourself – and write about it: the person who made it, perhaps, the shop it came from or to whom the object was once given as a gift. Anything. Be creative, be open, jump in.
3. Take your phone, or open the browser on your computer, and type the name of a place you have never been before into Google Images. Linger over two or three photographs of this place. Try to absorb every detail – the light, the scenery, the colours. Then put down your phone, or close the browser, and write down everything you can remember, in as much detail as possible. When you’re done, glance back at the images and see how much you were able to retain.
Try all these exercises, or choose whichever takes your fancy. Each acts as a jumping-off point for writing: a springboard to bypass the critical brain that tells anyone trying to write anything that their efforts are useless, and that helps to connect to the subconscious mind, which is generally a lot more playful, much more like the toddler in the sandpit who we all once were.
That’s what we want to get back to in our writing, particularly if just starting out – that sense of joy, of play, of writing as a means of reconnecting with the sense of wonder that we almost all, as adults, find it so difficult to retain.