Last night, for the princely sum of £5 (plus free Prosecco, guys!), I joined a room full of other ambitious 20-somethings and 30-somethings to learn about the barriers blocking our creativity. The venue, Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano in Covent Garden, was the ideal backdrop to a Grazia Collective panel of talented women from across the literary board.
“Give yourself permission for the first draft to be rubbish.” Laura Jane Williams
This wasn’t an evening of airy motivation talks about releasing the novel inside us all (bleurgh), or patronising sermons on ‘how to live your best life’ (further bleurgh). It was aimed at any kind of creative woman who struggles to get their project off the ground, whether because of time constraints, work-life balance or the propensity to procrastinate.
The panel, chaired by journalist and author Elizabeth Day, consisted of bestselling novelist Jessie Burton, poet and journalist Bridget Minamore, journalist and author Bryony Gordon (whose Mental Health Mates walking group I’ll mention later) and blogger and author Laura Jane Williams. They had a surprising amount in common, from struggling to understand their own success, to seeing the internet as both a blessing and a curse, and they didn’t pretend there’s a formula or secret to their literary achievements.
“Give yourself a word count, rather than forcing a whole day of writing.” Elizabeth Day
What does this have to do with travel blogging, I hear you ask? Well, quite a lot. Writing and maintaining a blog requires creativity, and I believe all writers can still learn from those outside their genre, because the end goal is always the same: to tell stories and engage the reader.
Blogging, journalism and poetry or prose writing can be intertwined, as young journalists are encouraged to blog to develop a voice, and many bloggers diversify into other forms of writing to make an income (such as self-publishing books or entering writing competitions). In fact, everyone on the panel has experience of juggling two or more roles – sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes just to balance the loneliness of writing with something totally different.
Williams is a prime example: “I’m a part-time nanny, but I’ve got this book, I’ve got by-lines; James Corden mentioned me on The Late Late Show. I get to give more of myself in a shorter space of time by having another job too.”
Minamore agreed, saying, “I love working in bars and chatting to people – I people-watch. Give yourself the space to do these other jobs if you can.”
Whilst Williams was the only official blogger on the panel, all the women have well-received confessional articles under their belts – possibly the closest thing to a blog post in print media – plus Burton maintains a ‘research and thoughts’ tab on her website which essentially acts as a blog. Go and read her most recent post, Success, Creativity and the Anxious Space, and be blown away. Oh, and if you haven’t read her novels (The Miniaturist and The Muse), go forth and buy them.
“I don’t do it [write] for pleasure or as a hobby. It comes out of a place of tension, or adversity, or unhappiness; that’s where the drama comes from. I’ve recalibrated my experiences, or those of people I know, in my writing.” Jessie Burton
Social media was another big talking point for the panel. We know it’s a procrastinator’s dream, but it can also be a useful tool for scoping ideas (Gordon said she’s been known to “workshop columns on Twitter”) and for building an audience, whatever your genre. Both Minamore and Williams said they wouldn’t have a career without Twitter. As Minamore explained, “It gives me platforms, and people take me more seriously because of who follows me. It’s democratising – you get this weird sense of validation.”
Minamore also passed on this great quote she’d heard: ‘If you’re going to send more than five tweets about something, send a pitch about it.’ One for all writers to memorise, I think.
“I got my first Grazia commission from Twitter,” said Williams. “Emily Phillips from Grazia saw me mouthing off on Twitter about something, and sent me a message asking me to pitch a piece about it.” Cue the entire room plotting how to catch the Grazia team’s attention with that perfect tweet…
For me, the evening was the chance to reassess creative goals – blog, journalism, dreams of a novel, memoir or even a play – at an important stage in my life. It’s now two years since my depression went into overdrive and I suffered a breakdown. In fact, next February marks a decade since I was initially diagnosed with depression, a condition that I’ve lived with every day and continue to struggle with. I’ve used writing as a way of measuring the days (when I was coherent enough to count them), recording my often disastrous medical and therapeutic treatments, and distracting myself by attempting to maintain my blog.
A large part of my slow recovery has been down to my involvement with Gordon’s Mental Health Mates, a walking group she’s tirelessly championed in magazines such as Grazia, Glamour and Red, whilst promoting her brilliant mental health memoir, Mad Girl. Her writing has always been funny and frank, but mental illness was something she preferred to keep under wraps for most of her career. However, speaking out about it (and forming a kick-ass tribe of walkers) has rightly made a positive impact.
One of her key tips for the audience last night focused on the confessional: “Be unapologetically you if you’re writing about your life. With the great non-fiction writers, like Caitlin Moran, you always know it’s them.” This doesn’t just apply to someone dreaming of their own national newspaper column – it applies to bloggers, poets, essayists, and the rest. As it turned out, the concept of not apologising was a recurring theme of the evening, and it’s one we should all learn… so I’m not going to apologise for writing 1,000 words about this awesome event. #Sorrynotsorry
See the Grazia website for further Collective events.