What's in your Writing Museum? - by Liz Carter

The other day I got to thinking about writing histories, and how those histories make up both who we are as people and how we write today. Sometimes reviewing our personal writing museums can motivate and encourage us when we are weary, or short on ideas, or not sure what direction God is leading us in our writing journeys. I've been very lacking in my writing discipline lately; I've been more ill than usual for the past six months, and particularly over the last few weeks. It's so easy to lose confidence when that muscle isn't being regularly exercised, and anything to get out of the slump can help.

So today I'd like to share my Writing Museum for you (some of it a tad cringeworthy, but it's all part of the journey) - and to ask about yours. What do you keep in your museum? What's your writing history?

1. Your first marks on paper

I have this poetry book from when I was very small indeed. My mum tells me that I tried to mark the poems I liked best. This one obviously got the favoured treatment. I love that poetry was in my soul at just three or four years old. What do you have from your childhood that reminds you of your first love of writing?

2. An old English schoolbook

I somehow kept hold of an English book from back in 1982 when I was ten years old. I think that handwriting is better than mine is now! Do you remember endless sessions of handwriting practice like in this book? I remember less of that than when we were asked to write a story. Those were my favourite times in school, the times I could lose myself in my imagination. Do you keep any old school books? Any stories you wrote in your childhood? How do they encourage you now?

3. Those teenage diaries

Yep. I still keep all the diaries I wrote as a teenager. They are truly awful, but they give a snapshot of history and remind me that writing was always vital to me. I would escape into my diaries for hours at a time, writing and writing and writing, reams and reams of pages that don't say too much, that record teenage angst all wrapped up in earnest know-it-all-ness, all those crushes and sleepovers. It's a weird feeling, looking back at those, feeling for a moment those feelings from a lifetime ago. Do you keep old diaries? Do you ever look back on them or use them to help you form storylines? I know I looked back in diaries of when I was about 16 when I was writing a YA novel, simply to access the feeling of being 16, and it did help.

4. That novel you wrote as a teenager

We all have something like this, right? I wrote an entire novel on an ancient electronic typewriter when I was around 16/17 years old. It was pretty bad. I loved that typewriter; it seemed so modern at the time, it had a little screen where you could review one line before you printed at a time. I typed it all on A5 paper and then bound it with string - I had an actual book! I would have loved things like KDP, had they existed back then. I never showed it to a soul, so I'm summing up that teenage fear now by showing a page of the thing :)

5.  That book of really bad love poetry

OK, you're not seeing too much of this one. A notebook packed full of somewhat earnest love poetry, from when I was first seeing my husband and had my head full of Donne, Chaucer, Eliot, Yeats, etc (pass the sick bucket?) I keep hold of it because it reminds me of those times, but also because it marks some of my first real attempts at writing poetry. It reminds me that God had placed a calling on me early on, and that poetry was always in my soul. Do you have any poetry you've kept from many years ago? Do share it with us!

6. Prayer journals

I've kept these for many years - they took over the somewhat self-absorbed diaries of my teen years, and I've always found that communicating with God through writing it down has been helpful to me both in my faith and in my writing. Something about the act of writing can help us clarify our thoughts and feelings, and to really explore our relationship with God. Do you keep prayer journals? Do you ever look back at old ones? Sometimes reading back can help us see the fingerprints of God on our lives, to see where the Spirit has been working, and to encourage us to keep going. Journals can also be places we explore different forms of writing, where we express our deepest souls and spill out the words we need to spill out in a safe place. Journalling has been such a sustaining thing for me over the years, and I know I've neglected it lately and even looking back over this old one has given me new motivation.

7. Those dusty old files on your computer

We've all got these. Those files of stories we started that never went anywhere. Maybe we had a really good idea, maybe we really wanted to write this story, this novel, this memoir, but life took over and it remained unwritten. Maybe our files are a few pages long, like this one, or maybe you have entire books on there, unpublished (I do!) Sometimes I find that getting them all out and looking through them occasionally can motivate and even give fresh vision for a story you thought you'd left behind. Why not search through those old files this week and see if there's anything there? Why not publish those books this year?

8. And finally - that missing museum exhibit

We all have a missing thing in our writing museums. Mine is the first 'book' I ever wrote, at eight years old. I can picture it clearly. It was called The River Dove Stories and told the story of a girl called Jane who found a gang of goblins in some tunnels under the River Dove and went on adventures with them. It was even (badly) illustrated. But it was lost years ago. I think of it sometimes, though, because I dared to show it to someone - to my teacher, Mrs Johnson. She told me that when I grew up I was going to be an author. I wish I'd believed her earlier on. What's your missing item?

So that's pretty much it for my museum. I've shared it with you today to hopefully motivate you to think about your own museum, your own writing history, and to maybe unearth old things that might inspire the new. In the comments do tell us about your own museum!

Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire. She loves to write about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in online bookstores.  Her new non-fiction book with The Good Book Company, Valuable, is coming in June 2023. She is poet-in-residence of her local town and works freelance to proofread, format and design books.

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