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Keeping Your Writing Head Above Water With Alison Wells

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Alison Wells

Under the banner of Head Above Water writers, I’m giving a series of classes in Bray this Autumn from Beginners to Short Story Improvers and to Flash Fiction. My signature class is Creative Practice in Busy Lives & Short Story Essentials.

As a psychology and communications studies grad, busy mum and writer, I’m very much interested in how creativity can flourish in busy lives. Do you ever feel that you could flourish as a writer if you had more opportunity to write? Does it get you down that your writing dreams sometimes give way to everyday demands? To write creatively requires techniques, practice and talent along with time, headspace and mental resilience. All these factors combine to assist the new writer in finding confidence, developing skills, producing ever-improving material and pushing through the setbacks (motivation, uncertainty, skill gaps and the vagaries of the publishing industry) to become as productive and successful a writer as possible (where ‘success’ is defined by you.)

An avid writer of poetry and stories from childhood I returned to writing when on maternity leave with my eldest child (now almost 14). I attended a local short story course which helped enormously in two key ways 1) helping me identify myself as a writer 2) encouraging me to produce material. I then entered a process of what you might call an apprenticeship of producing those practice novels and stories. Receiving an early boost of publication (in the Ireland’s Own) and I went on to eventually produce stories and flash fiction that were published in many journals and anthologies in Ireland, the UK, US and Australia and was nominated for a Hennessy Award in New Irish Writing in 2009. Since then I have been working on novels and novellas for agent submission and also had some experience in self-publishing.

headaboverwaterautumn14courseposter smallThose first successes were a tremendous boon and beacon within a hectic family life involving (eventually) four young children and other family setbacks and tragedies over the years. No matter how committed you are to a creative endeavour, it can often be difficult to forge a clear path through the general busyness and extra challenges that life supplies. Five years ago I established the Head Above Water blog. The focus of the blog (shortlisted in this years Irish Blog Awards) and recent Facebook page is to support and encourage creativity in our busy lives. Some popular posts are How to Be a Writer When You’re Not Writing  and How to Do Nanowrimo When You Don’t Have the Time

There are some great methods you can use to generate creative, time, space and energy.

Become a ‘writer’ for real!

  • Let family and friends know you’re a writer and that certain times are reserved for your writing.
  • Let family know of any writing challenges you’ve set yourself so they can cheer you on.
  • Join a writers group or peer review group either online or in ‘real life.’

Create Creative Space

  • Rise early or work late: A dawn chorus or night owl writing routine of 1 or 2 hours helps you carve extra time out of your day. These edge of day times are quiet and free from the usual interruptions.
  • Designate a writing space at home but be flexible enough to work on the fly: while commuting, at lunch break, waiting at kids activities/classes, in between chores.
  • Keep a notebook or use your phone notes function (back up): Ideas and key phrases can strike at any time


  • Make clear and specific daily, monthly and yearly writing aims, set a daily wordcount goal no matter how small and review your progress daily.
  • Write down your writing achievements and track your development as a writer.
  • Camaraderie: a marathon with friends is easier than going it alone. Try a writing challenge such as Nanowrimo (write 50,000 words in a month) and Add Buddies so you can track and cheer each other’s progress.

Creative Sparks

  • Experiment with word prompts, images, restricted wordcount and other constraints to focus your creativity. You’ll be amazed at what emerges.
  • Take time for incubation. Ideas and associations come from everywhere but to combine them in fresh ways we need to step out of our daily lives. Enjoy your cultural and sporting passions and let your ideas and plots percolate before setting them on the page.
  • Walk or Run: A nip around the block will free up the mind to make creative links.
  • Most writers have always loved to read and have been inspired by key authors. Revisit those authors and revel in their stories and techniques.

For those wishing to forge a creative path, it’s vital for health and happiness both to maintain that identity and confidence as a writer but also to find the physical and mental spaces to write. As a writer it’s important for wellbeing to take time out for yourself to develop and build skills and affirm your commitment to your creative endeavour.

With this in mind I’ve devised several half day classes that will take place in Bray, Co. Wicklow in November/ early December. These classes are Beginning Writing, Creative Practice and Short Story Essentials, Intensive Workshop Short Story Improvers and Writing Fabulous Flash Fiction. While participants will receive writing techniques and skills, they will also go away with great enthusiasm and verve for their future artistic pursuits and methods to carve out creative time. Full details here.

(c) Alison Wells

About the author

Alison Wells is a writer, mum and blogger from Bray. Her short fiction has been published in many anthologies in Ireland, UK, US and Australia including The Stinging Fly, Crannóg UK National Flash Fiction Day Jawbreakers and Scraps. She’s been shortlisted in the Hennessy New Irish Writing, Bridport, Fish and Over the Edge awards. She has just completed a literary novel The Exhibit of Held Breaths and in 2009 self-published the space-time comic romp Housewife with a Half-Life. Her Head above Water blog supports creativity in busy lives and she also blogs on literary matters on the Writing.ie Random Acts of Optimism blog.

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Twitter @HAWWriters

Creative Writing Classes are in conjunction with Down at the Gate Creative Craft Classes

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