The Writer Automaton

Looking for some inspirational writing films on Google videos the other day I came across this short film. It features a writing automaton called The Writer  created in the 1770s by one of the greatest Swiss watchmakers of all time – Pierre Jaquet-Droz.

The narration is exceptionally eloquent and thought-provoking. I love the idea Jaquet-Droz was attempting to “mechanise reason and automate the passions” and that “all his energy was inside him,” in the shape of more than six thousand miniature components. By changing the alphabet at the back of the boy, he can be “programmed” to write anything.

The writer was the inspiration for the automaton in the 2011 3D film Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Just imagine if the boy could really write…

Anne Rice on Writing

When I need motivation or inspiration, I love listening to well-known writers talking about their craft and passing on their words of wisdom.  In this short YouTube video, novelist Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles) gives some great advice, expressed beautifully, including the magical phrases “write the book of your dreams” and “Be brave, reach for the fire from heaven.”

Spinning Yarns


A spider's web

The work of a master spinner

My lovely old Italian spinning wheel

My lovely old Italian spinning wheel


As well as being a writer I am also a spinner, courtesy of the fibre obtained from my lovely herd of alpacas.

I am aware of the many correlations between the two crafts of spinning words and spinning wool. These are some that I have noticed.

  • You create something potentially beautiful from raw materials
  • You need many years of practice
  • The process is as enjoyable as the end result, sometimes more so
  • There are many stages to go through to get from an amorphous mass to a pleasing end result
  • You learn the rules and then develop your own style
  • When things go well you can easily get lost in ‘the zone’ for hours
  • You need patience  – lots of patience
  • You never stop learning
  • Good preparation is vital
  • It’s easy to over complicate things – sometimes simple is best

I called this site spiderywriting for several reasons  – a Roald Dahl quotation, a play on the Worldwide Web and web spiders. Now that I have started my journey into the fascinating world of spinning, I love the fact that my site is named after a little creature able to create wondrous, magical structures from  a simple skein.

I am trying my best to learn to do the same.

The Art of Workbathing

I watched a wonderfully relaxing two-hour video the other day from . Made by the inspiring Kirsten Dirksen (of Tiny House fame) and husband Nicolás Boullosa, it is an account of their road trip through the USA in a VW camper van with their three young children. The film allows the family to fully experience life in a very small space and examine how attached we are to property and our stuff.

Apart from being extraordinarily relaxing, the film also contains some fascinating reflections, particularly from Spaniard Boullosa. One of his observations really hit home for me. He was talking about the difference between deep REM sleep and fitful dozing. We all know what that feels like. but then he compared it to being fully immersed in a work project as against dealing a stream of constant interruptions.

I had never thought of this. Of course I am aware of the dangers of multi tasking and never being able to fully focus on one topic, but to compare this to deep relaxing sleep as opposed to restless napping was quite brilliant and striking.

He went on to say that being in nature has much the same effect and that in Japan there was a culture of forest bathing, where people allowed themselves to be surrounded by nature and all its sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Don’t you just love the expression “forest bathing”?

How many of us these days, with email, twitter, facebook, web surfing, rolling news and God knows what else ever really get completely immersed in something, transported to another world, are truly “in the zone”? Yet that is where miracles happen and breakthroughs are made.

Time management books often advise us to make lists, break tasks into small steps, spend a brief time each day on a number of different things. That may help us plough through the workload, but does nothing for our poor distracted minds.

So I am going to try “work bathing”. Immersing myself totally in a piece of writing with no distractions until my mind stills and the muse takes over. My monkey mind will object big time, but I hope with practice it will calm down and cease its endless quest for entertainment and distraction. It looks like it might be worth the struggle.

Is Letter Writing a Lost Art?


From when we moved to Italy in June 1994 right up until a few months before my dear Mum died last December, I wrote her a letter every week. A handwritten letter with drawings, bits cut from magazines and pasted to the paper, sometimes with enclosures like photos, sometimes just plain letters. And she wrote back to me.

Every so often I read through the hundreds of letters she sent me. They make me laugh and yes, cry too, as her humour comes shining through the lines. I’m transported back to her house, her kitchen, her little dog, her daily life and the years melt away.

There’s something about a letter, a proper letter, that forever holds the energy of of the person who wrote it. It’s rather magical really.

Compulsory Letter Writing

And so I read with interest a Daily Mail report on the latest UK government plans for the 2014 curriculum. Key Stage 3 pupils (11-14) should be able to ‘write accurately, frequently and at length, with increasing fluency and sophistication’ through ‘personal and business letters using the correct form’ as well as other forms including stories, poems and essays.

Apparently the fear is that too much texting has caused kids to lose the ability to write a letter. Some teenagers can’t even do joined up handwriting apparently! (Actually I can well believe that as my own handwriting is much worse since I started doing almost all my writing on my computer or iPad.)

So writing a personal letter would kill two birds with one stone: kids can practise their handwriting while also learning things like salutations, dates and even how to spell sincerely correctly apparently.

I actually think this is a good thing. Using text, messaging or email feels different from writing with a pen. There are some novelists, more than you would think, who write in longhand first in a notebook or similar and then transcribe it later, and these include Stephen King and J.K.Rowling.

Handwriting Stimulates the Brain

They are not being old fashioned, as brain scans shows that handwriting uses more parts of the brain than typing does. It also helps us remember better and stimulates creativity.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Gwendolyn Bounds writes: “Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.”

So dust off your fountain pen and buy yourself some luscious handmade paper, open up your address book and send someone a handwritten letter. Not only will it make their day, it will make you – and your brain – feel good too.



How to Use the Tarot and Mind Mapping to Plan Your Writing

Today June 19 I have a guest post on Danny Iny’s Firepole Marketing Blog. I always plan blog posts on paper first so that I don’t miss any key points out and also because I use mind mapping for planning and prefer to do that with old fashioned paper and pen!

I mention in the post, which you can read here, that I used an additional and less conventional technique to assist me with planning – the Tarot. I often do this if I need some extra insight for an article or blogpost, I even use it to help me plan my workload.

I thought you would like to see both parts of this planning method so you can use it, if it appeals, for your own writing.

The Plan

First of all I’ll share Danny’s suggestion for planning an effective blogpost which includes the following stages:

  • a good hook
  • stating the problem
  • the root of the problem
  • discussing solutions
  • an engagement building question.

For my plan I first picked a Tarot card for each of the stages above and then used those to write my mind map.

DSCN2028 DSCN2029
You can see my actual notes and mind map in the photos above. I was going to rewrite them to make it clearer but then I thought, no – be authentic! So here are the actual notes, dodgy handwriting, coffee stains and all, so you can see that it’s quite genuine! Because the content isn’t really important, it’s to show you the technique.

The Cards I Chose 

I did think it might be helpful to discuss the cards I pulled for each of the stages though, so here they are:

Hook: Six of Coins. – This card shows a man handing out money to lots of different people so everyone gets their share. He has more than enough to hand out.

For my Renaissance Genius or Jack of All Trades post it gives me my hook. If you have lots of different ideas to offer people can you give everyone what they want? What happens to the others if you decide to give to just one? (Or laser focus?)

Problem: Two of Swords. This card shows a woman sitting on a rock with her back to the ocean. She has a sword across each shoulder and is blindfolded and unable to move. It indicates analysis paralysis, an inability to choose one thing over another. It also indicates a choice between two things.

For my post, here is the problem – the dilemma between going laser niche or multi niche and how not doing so can lead to inaction.

Root of the Problem: Hierophant. This card is also known as the Pope and shows a religious leader in all his regalia. It typifies conventional beliefs and behaviour, following rules and regulations.

In my post the root of the problem is that the Internet in marketing terms is quite conventional an has its own rules. (Add a list of the “rules”.)

Solution: Five of Coins. This card shows someone in difficult circumstances who has called on for help. Money is not the solution here, the help needs to go deeper than that. There is more than one person in need in the picture.

For my post the solution lies in not focussing on financial rewards and also in asking unashamedly for help (from the readers of the blog.) Maybe there are others in the same boat?

Implementing the Solution: King of Wands. The king of communication, this card shows someone who takes effective action and maybe stirs things up a bit.

For my post, I am implementing the solution and taking action by writing about the problem, asking for help and seeing what happens.

Engagement Building Question: Queen of Swords. In this card a solitary woman is holding a sword in one hand while the other hand is almost being held out for help. The Queen is strong and fearless but she does feel isolated at times.

In the engagement building question ask for help and also mention the feeling of being alone.

Once I had made my notes based on the cards, I then quickly wrote the article. It was very easy and seemed to write itself!

You can easily use this technique for any article that you have to write. Leave a comment below about what you think of these techniques and how you get on.




A Video to Inspire You if You’re Suffering From Writer’s Block

Writer's block is horrible. I've never suffered from it in my professional life, but when it comes to my own stuff I have been blocked and it's frustrating and exhausting. When I feel like the writing well has run dry and procrastination is rearing its ugly head then I turn to other creative people to inspire me.

Regular readers will know how much I love Ted Talks and I always find something fascinating, inspirational, provocative or moving. Today I would like to share this talk from  spoken word poet Sarah Kay. She is a charming, enchanting speaker and the poem at the end – the one she says she has been struggling over for years and years – is just jaw-droppingly good. I sat in silence  shaking my head at the end in awe, but also feeling I wanted to play with words again. So thank you Sarah.

I hope you enjoy this exceptionally talented poet.



A Cure for Writer’s Block

As a professional writer I never get writer's block when writing my clients' stuff. I can't afford it! It has been said many times before, but you don't hear about people getting builder's block or doctor's block, do you? 

But I do suffer from it sometimes when writing my own stories. My block takes the form of a kind of quiet but inexorably rising flood of panic at the thought of too many ideas and not knowing which to choose to work on. This can get so bad that I sometimes end up not writing anything, and that makes me feel worse than ever.

Well, I think I've just found a cure and every time I'm blocked I swear I will read this for inspiration. The following is not only a breathtakingly good piece of writing from Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize Lecture speech, but the content itself makes me realise how lucky I am to have the luxury of even contemplating writer's block when some people have so little at all.

You'll see what I mean when you read this and I defy you not to have tears in your eyes by the end. And to be reaching for your pen or pencil or keyboard …

Doris Lessing Nobel Prize Lecture 2007

Ten Ways to Get in a Good Mood!

 Having just come back from quite a difficult trip to the UK I find myself tetchy and  too hot as it's 33 degrees C here in la bella Italia!

 It's all too easy to get into a spiral of negative thinking and general grouchiness. So if you are feeling the same then here are some tips to help you out of the Slough of Despond!

1 Be Grateful. It sounds trite and simplistic, but it's been scientifically proven that regularly practising gratitude really works on all kinds of things including improved heart function and alertness. Take a look at a hugely popular site Three Beautiful Things and do likewise.

2 Have a Laugh. Personally I watch Youtube videos of Michael McIntyre, but the blog Pitching the World also has me crying with laughter. Read it from the very beginning to get the full experience. Ostensibly it's about a journalist who decides to pitch to all the magazines in the Artists and Writers Yearbook, but that isn't even the half of it… 

3 Finish Something. A tapestry,  a shed, a novel. If it's undone, then complete it. You'll feel absurdly proud of yourself.

4 Walk. Yes, take your sorry self out into the great wilderness and walk around a bit. Exercise is very cheering.

5 Sing. Find some songs that take you back or lift you up and then sing your little heart out. Oh yeah!

6 Shop at Your House. This is weird but very satisfying. When you get the urge to go out and buy something to cheer yourself up, stop.  Mindless purchases are not the answer you know! Why not try 'shopping' for it in your own attic, garage or  cellar? A rummage through your old stuff is a great mood changer.

7 Change something. Paint a room or cover a sofa. Add accessories from your 'shop' above!

8 Get Inspired. There are some really uplifting videos on Youtube or Ted Talks to shake you out of the blackest of moods. Try this one. No Arms, No Legs, No Worries. Or this one: Looking Past Limits.

9 Learn Something New. But not if involves buying a lot of stuff. (I'm on a bit of an 'Enough' kick this week as you can see!) Learning is part of our DNA and also comes in useful when conversation flags at parties.  Try  'Did you know I can find water with coathangers?' as an opening line.

10 Write. It has to be there on the list, doesn't it? You'll feel so much better when you have stopped worrying and spent a minute, an hour or a day creating a poem or a journal, a story or an article. Words equal immortality after all!


If you would like me to write for you, then why not CONTACT ME today?




Diana Gabaldon on Writing – Inspirational

It's fascinating to hear writers talk about their writing process, especially when they are as amusing, intelligent and articulate as novelist Diana Gabaldon. For people who work on several projects at once, she is an inspiration!