Writing and Wellbeing is a Spread the Word series featuring writers sharing how they nurture themselves and their writing, particularly in the strange and startling times of Coronavirus. JJ Bola is a writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador who speaks and performs both internationally and in the UK. In this blog post, he writes about refining our habits and implementing positive actions in our everyday lives to enhance our wellbeing.
As a writer, you learn to be obsessed with time. How little of it there is, how quickly it passes, how rarely you get the opportunity to spend it doing what you love to do: write. You lament, as you have done so many times before, about what you could do if you had the time. You fantasise about quitting your job, lightening your responsibilities just so you can spend those long sought after moments creating the masterpiece that you have been obsessing over, in your mind, for weeks, months, years. And then, the world stops. Everything is momentarily closed, and you find yourself with an abundance of time, as you have wished for all along, to do the thing you love to do. Yet, you are still unable to write. Why?
Well, over the years of my own journey into writing, I’ve learned that writing – rather being able to write – is as much about what you do on the page, as it is what you do off the page. So if you are feeling like you cannot find the words, and moreover you wouldn’t even know where to start if you had the will and energy to, here are four friendly tips to help you along the way.
Get your mind right
You can’t create or write, when you are anxious, worried or depressed. Although these states of struggle are often romanticised in writers and artists, works of art are made in spite of these conditions, not because of them. We’re currently living through a pandemic, and one of the biggest social justice movements the modern world has ever seen. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but at the same time too frightened to plug out in case you’ll miss a vital moment. Breathe. Take the time out that you need. Do the things that bring you joy and affirm your life and your necessary existence in this world. And if the burden feels unmanageable, get the help you need; therapy, mental health professionals, support groups. Getting help is a courageous and hopeful declaration. Also, remind yourself that in spite of how it may seem, the world is not ending, we are still here; you are still here.
If the thing that came to your mind at the thought of exercise was a painful home workout or a brutal 100K run in a month, and it frightens you – like it does me – then forget about it. Exercise simply means doing the thing that gets your heart beating, that allows you to feel both your heart and lungs, as the part of the necessary vital organs you need to survive. Whilst you might surprise yourself, exercise can also be done through stretches (Yoga), breathing exercises (Qi gong), or light motion exercises (such as Tai Chi). Rooting yourself in an exercise of your body, allows you to escape your mind – to free it of the burden of thought, and instead, travel along the fluidity of motion. Set aside 10-20 minutes to do a light stretch in the morning. It could transform your day.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Check your phone for half an hour? Drink a cup of coffee? Stare into the abyss of that one empty space on the wall in your room? If these habits increase your anxiety and fear, break them – immediately. Instead, do something that calms you, and allows you to be prepared for the day. Of late, I’ve started meditating. Not even in the fancy, self-aggrandising way that comes to mind when you hear the word meditation, but just in the simple way of sitting down in a comfortable position, allowing thoughts to pass through me, and then visualising the things I have to do that day/week. Having an image of me doing whatever I need to do, allows me to believe in the fact that I can do it. If you can build into your routine, the thing that makes you believe that whatever you want to do is possible then you are already halfway there.
Time: give yourself time.
We all experience time differently. Where time feels its passing fast for you, for someone else, it’s passing by slowly. The same goes for your writing, some projects will happen quickly, and others as if the hands of time were acting against its will. The novels A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne were both written in under a month respectively, and conversely, Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell and The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien both took ten years or more to write. There are countless examples either way. My own novels have varied in time taken to complete them, but it’s been allowing the process to take place in its own time, that has led me to finishing them. Give yourself time. Whatever you write will come into the world whenever it is ready, no matter what is happening in the world.
Find a community or a group that you can be a part of that can boost your writing inspiration, or for somewhere to go when you need to laugh. It’s even harder to connect these days, as we all try to navigate our post-lock down anxieties, being intentional with who you hang around, and how you choose to do so, is arguably more important now than ever before. Fortunately, there are many online initiatives or groups for people looking to connect in the same way, and if you can’t find any, create one.
Ultimately, the thing to consider the most is this: writing your masterpiece doesn’t begin with the first words on the page. Rather, it starts way before that, perhaps way before the idea has even formed in your brilliant imagination, it begins with how you take care of yourself, how well you are able to tap into the well of hope, and fill your waters. Well-being is essentially this, applying hope as medicine; healing yourself. Your writing, your art, and yes – more so, your life, depends on it.
JJ Bola is a writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador. His three poetry collections – Elevate (2012), Daughter of the Sun (2014), and WORD (2015) – were all published in one definitive collection called Refuge (2018), which was read out in the British House of Commons during Refugee week in 2018. He was one of Spread the Word’s Flight Associates 2017 and a Kit de Waal Scholar for the Birkbeck University MA in Creative Writing. His debut novel, No Place to Call Home, was first published in the UK in 2017, and in 2018 in North America. His non-fiction book Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined, was published in the UK in 2019 and sold into five more languages worldwide. He has recently signed a two-book deal with Dialogue Books for his second and third novel The Selfless Act of Breathing (2021), and OTA (2023), respectively. JJ speaks and performs both internationally and within the UK.
Published 28 July 2020class="post-28609 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news"Say Your Peace Culture in Quarantine Commission live on BBC iPlayer
We’re thrilled to announce our Culture in Quarantine commission Say Your Peace: Three Recipes for Self Care is now available to watch via BBC iPlayer. You can watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08lh80h
“In the group chat we share our recipes for self-care,
promise to send pictures of progress as we are cooking and baking
something new to feel new.”
-Theresa Lola, Young People’s Laureate for London
In May 2020, Spread the Word commissioned Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola, and former Laureates Caleb Femi and Momtaza Mehri, to create new poems that explore the impact lockdown has made on us, and the things we have found comfort in.
In Say Your Peace, alongside filmmakers Ndrika Anyika and Jolade Olusanya, they provide a collaborative perspective on what offers them solace amid the disruption and isolation experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cups of tea, small talk in supermarkets, online chats all become ways in which we have maintained connections during this period of isolation and become reasons for celebration.
Follow the hashtag #SayYourPeace and keep posted for more activities in response to the film, which we’ll be sharing online with you soon
Say Your Peace was commissioned as part of BBC Arts, Arts Council England and The Space’s Culture in Quarantine season. Battersea Arts Centre provided mentoring and production support.
About the artists
Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian poet. She is the 2019/2020 Young People’s Laureate for London. She has held residencies at St Paul’s Cathedral and Bethlem Musem of the Mind. She was joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize. Her debut poetry collection ‘In Search of Equilibrium’ (Nine Arches Press, 2018) is described as a ‘a glorious hymn to being alive and wounded.
Momtaza Mehri is a poet, essayist & independent researcher. She is the winner of the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize. Her work has been widely published in Granta, Artforum, Berkeley Poetry Review and BOMB Magazine, amongst others. Her latest pamphlet, Doing the Most with the Least, was published by Goldsmiths Press in 2019.
Caleb Femi is a writer and director featured in the Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture. Caleb has written and directed short films commissioned by the BBC ‘FAM’ and Channel 4 ‘And They Knew Light’ as well as a Christmas campaign for Mulberry. Caleb’s debut collection POOR is released in November 2020.
Ndrika Anyika is a British Nigerian Director/DOP from Sheffield. She wrote and directed short film A Flourishing Crown, which aired on BBC 4 in 2020. She will be directing short film, Coconut, in the coming months – commissioned by BBC Drama and the BFI. As a DOP in 2019, she shot short films such as Sweet Mother, which premiered at the BFI Flare festival 2020 and Notes on Being a Lady, which aired on BBC 4.
Jolade Olusanya is a British Nigerian poet, director and photographer. He was a finalist in the 2013/14 Young People’s Laureate for London programme, winner of the Outspoken 2017 Prize for Poetry and Performance Poetry Prize. As a director and photographer, he has been commissioned and featured globally by WeTransfer/WePresent, BET, Kodak, Red Bull Music, Sony Music, C4/Random Acts, Google, Barbican and more. He’s also a creative arts facilitator and co-founder of production company Rxnin Co.
Published 29 July 2020class="post-28349 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-opportunities"Apply for Experimental! An Online Writers’ Retreat for D/deaf and disabled writers
Experimental! is a completely free, online writers’ retreat, running from Monday 31 August to Sunday 6 September 2020. Expect a residential retreat – but from your own home.
Convened by Spread the Word and curated by poet and essayist Jamie Hale, the retreat is for 12 UK based D/deaf and/or disabled writers who write poetry, fiction and/ or creative non-fiction.
Experimental! aims to encourage people to experiment and broaden their writing practice, get insight into the industry and become part of a writing community.
There will be two days focusing each on poetry, fiction, and the personal essay. There will be workshops, masterclasses, guest readings, industry talks, 1-2-1s and a sharing event.
Industry talks will be given by: Jemilea Wisdom-Baako (Writerz & Scribez), Stuart Bartholomew (Verve Poetry Festival and Poetry Press) Owen Craven-Griffiths (Apples and Snakes), Ella Kahn (DKW Literary Agency), Ludo Cinelli (Eve White Literary Agency), Davinia Andrew-Lynch (Andlyn), Aimée Felone (Knights of), Valerie Brandes (Jacaranda Books) and Leodora Darlington (Bookouture).
The retreat will be BSL interpreted by Lynne Bateman, Michelle Wood and Robert Adam.
You can find more information about the retreat and accessibility below.
You identify as D/deaf and/ or disabled (including: neurodivergence, chronic and long-term health conditions and mental health conditions);
You must be based in the UK and over 18 years of age;
You are committed to taking your writing forward and are writing regularly in at least one of these genres: fiction, essay, or poetry;
You are interested in joining a community of writers, sharing your work and working across different genres.
Please note that six places on the programme are reserved for London-based writers.
Apply to be part of Experimental!
Places on Experimental! are by application only.
Alongside completing the online application form, you will be asked to provide two samples of your work either in word/ pdf/ audio or video format. You can supply both samples in one style, or two different styles. If poetry, 2 poems maximum of 30 lines each. If fiction or creative non-fiction: maximum 500 words each.
You can view the application form questions by downloading it in PDF format here.
Experimental! application form
The deadline for applications is 5pm, Wednesday 12 August 2020.
APPLY by completing this online google form and uploading two samples of your work: https://bit.ly/2D0QI3Q
Applications will be assessed by the Spread the Word team and Jamie Hale. We will let people know the outcome of their application w/c 17 August.
The decisions made will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
If you have any questions about Experimental!, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RETREAT AND ACCESSIBILITY:
The retreat will take place on Zoom.
From Monday 31 August to Saturday 6 September there will be two sessions each day between 13:00-17:00 – a workshop or masterclass, and a guest reading and/or insight session. Masterclasses and workshops will last 2 and half hours each (including a half-hour break) and industry talks and readings one hour each.
1-2-1s will take place between Monday and Sunday and will be scheduled during the week based on availability. Each 1-2-1 will last 25 minutes.
The sharing event will take place on Sunday 6 September between 16:00-17:00.
The retreat schedule will be sent to successful applicants as part of a welcome pack a week before the retreat starts.
All retreat sessions will be BSL Interpreted by Lynne Bateman, Michelle Wood and Robert Adam. They will also be auto-captioned.
The retreat is a relaxed space. People will be given regular breaks and are able to take additional breaks as needed.
Any images used in the sessions will be described, and participants will be asked to describe any slides or images used in their own work.
We cannot guarantee a trigger-free space, and while we will request that people put content notes on anything likely to trigger, we will not know in advance what people will be bringing to the space.
Writers applying for Experimental! should be intending to attend everything, although we know that unexpected circumstances may arise and will be flexible. We know that this structure may not be accessible to everyone, but we have picked one that, after consultation with writers and guest speakers, seemed suitable for as many people as possible.
Please do email us about any other access needs: email@example.com
Published 23 July 2020class="post-28346 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-opportunities"Poetry and Place for Lewisham Residents
When times are tough, it can be helpful to turn to art, and to look there for new ways of thinking, space, and comfort. Creative pursuits can give the sense of escapism, even when life feels very confined. Poetry and Place is a short poetry course led by award-winning poet Jamie Hale, exploring life in Lewisham and what we mean by home.
It is for older and isolated people, especially if you have difficulty accessing events that are online (or in person) and is run entirely by post.
The course will have 5 short packs, each of which contains poems, exercises, and tools to help you write your own work in that style. From ballad to haiku, pastoral poetry, sonnet, and acrostic poetry, the course is designed to help you explore and understand the style, before working on creating your own. Thinking about the idea of ‘home’ and how that relates to Lewisham past, present, and future, we will write poems that consider our space in various communities that make up our homes.
For each session you will receive a poetry pack, exercises, and a stamped, addressed envelope with which you can return your poetry for feedback.
At the end of the course, with the writer’s consent, some poems will be published on Spread the Word’s website, and printed onto postcards for distribution around Lewisham
How to take part
If you are interested in participating, please send a letter with your name, address and a brief reason for your interest to:
Poetry and Place
c/o Spread the Word
The Albany Theatre
London SE8 4AG
The deadline for expressing interest is Wednesday 19 August 2020 and places are limited
Poetry and Place is supported by Spread the Word and funded by the London Borough of Lewisham.
Image: Lewisham High Street in the 1830s.
Published 23 July 2020class="post-28222 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-archive"Return of ACE Project Grants – FREE workshop on how to apply from Spread the Word
Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants has re-opened for funding applications. This is an open access funding stream for arts, museums and library projects. The fund is for individual artists, community and cultural organisations. They are keen for more individual artists to apply and be funded and have made changes to the grant to support this happening.
About project grants
Project Grants supports a broad range of not-for-profit projects that create and sustain quality work and help people to engage with arts and culture. The fund supports development by allowing artists, cultural practitioners and organisations to work in new ways and to get their work out to new audiences. Engaging audiences, live or online, is the key distinguishing feature of this fund – it is not primarily designed to support your time to write or mentoring unless these are integral to the engagement activity. You can also apply to research and develop a project idea without going on to fully-fledged ‘production’ of the project. An individual artist can apply for up to £15,000.
About the workshop
If you are not familiar with applying for grant funding, filling out an application form can be a daunting and baffling process. Ruth Harrison and Eva Lewin from Spread the Word will be running a free zoom workshop for London based writers 6pm-8.30pm on Wednesday 12 August 2020.
We will talk you through the changes to the fund and the different questions in the Project Grants form to help you think about what you will need to have in place for Project Grants funding. Once you have attended the workshop you can send your draft application to Spread the Word for 30 minutes phone feedback.
Who is this workshop for?
This workshop is designed to support:
Individual writers or a writer representative from, for example, a writers’ collective who want to pursue a joint project;
Writers of any literary form including playwriting and graphic novels;
Writers who are considering applying for a Project Grant for the first time or who may have applied in the past but been unsuccessful;
Disabled writers and writers of colour are particularly encouraged to apply.
What you will need for the workshop:
A clear idea of what your proposed project is, what you want to achieve, the audiences you want to engage and how you are going to go about it;
Be able to show how your project involves engaging audiences or participants or will engage them at a later date;
Please read through the ACE guidance before you apply to take part in the workshop, so that you are reasonably sure that what you have in mind is suitable for Project Grant funding.
This workshop will:
Give you an insight into the purpose of the fund;
Help you think through your project;
Take you through key stages of the application process;
Look at what will make a strong application;
Provide opportunities for you to ask questions about your own proposal.
We are only able to offer spaces to applicants whose project ideas are suitable for this particular funding stream. We anticipate that demand will be high so please only book yourself a place if you are committed to attending. This workshop is not open to artists working in other artistic forms outside of literature, including screenwriting and documentary film making.
Booking your place
The workshop is FREE but places are limited. To book a place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief paragraph about you as a writer; a short paragraph on your project idea, an outline of the activities and audiences you are aiming to engage and the approximate level of funding you are seeking. Do include brief details of any previous Project Grant applications you may have made and if they have been successful or not. Please say if you have any access requirements. The workshop will be BSL interpreted by Michelle Wood and Amy Hayward.
Please put Project Grant Workshop in the email subject line.
Closing date: midnight, Sunday 2 August 2020.
We will contact you by 5 August (5pm) to let you know if you have a place on the workshop.
Date: Wednesday 12 August 2020
Location: via Zoom
We will be repeating this workshop in October. Applications will open in late September and will be announced online.
About Ruth and Eva
Ruth Harrison joined Spread the Word in 2015. Her working life has been in the field of the arts and particularly in literature. She has been Director of Apples and Snakes, a literature development officer and programme manager at The Reading Agency. She is passionate about not only widening people’s engagement with writers and writing but also in developing writing talent. Widening participation and engagement alongside developing and building awareness of new voices has been core to her work.
Ruth has previously been a trustee of Little Green Pig – a charity working to inspire children and young people to get creative with writing, sits on the steering committee for The Literary Platform’s Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and is part of the team developing EmpathyLab – a start-up using words and stories to build young people’s empathy skills.
At Spread the Word, Ruth is responsible for leading the company artistically and strategically and working with our highly skilled and dedicated team to make a difference to and for writers and their audiences in London.
Eva Lewin is Writer Development Manager at Spread the Word where she leads on the one-to-one support for writers, through feedback surgeries and professional development coaching.
Eva commissioned the Writing the Future research (published in 2015) into Black and Asian writers and publishers in the UK marketplace. She continues to work on the strategy to take forward the diversity agenda, including Spread the Word’s consultancy on WriteNow with Penguin Random House.
Her twenty years’ experience in the literature sector includes curating creative writing programmes, co-directing the Hackney literature festival, running writers’ residencies and a shop-floor library at Ford’s car factory in Dagenham. Eva is an RD1st accredited coach (ILM Level 7 equivalent).
Published 22 July 2020class="post-27522 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-opportunities"Free Reads scheme 2020-2021 opens for London writers
Spread the Word is delighted to be an official partner for The TLC Free Reads scheme, supporting applications from London writers. Over the last 10 years, we’ve supported 47 writers with receiving professional feedback.
The Free Reads Scheme is managed by The Literary Consultancy and funded by Arts Council England. It is open to writers of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, poetry, scripts and screenplays. It offers writers the opportunity to receive professional, editorial feedback on their writing. The Free Read scheme particularly welcomes applications from writers belonging to groups currently under-represented in publishing including disabled writers, writers of colour*, and members of the LGBQTIA+ community.
From 2020-2021, the scheme is open from Monday 20 July 2020. There are two submission windows for writers to submit: Monday 20 July-Monday 2 November and Monday 2 November-Monday 22 February.
To apply for the Free Reads scheme via Spread the Word, you must live in London and be on a low-income, meeting one of the following criteria:
– You are in receipt of Job seeker’s allowance, Disability benefit, Income support, Working tax credit, Universal Credit or Child benefits
– You earn less than the London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour or a £23k annual salary**
– You are a full-time student
– You are aged 60 or over
If you identify as being on low-income but do not meet one of the criteria listed above then please get in touch as we are able to evaluate applicants’ eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
For more details on how and what to submit please head to this page: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/the-literary-consultancys-free-reads-scheme/
We have a FAQs page for any enquiries on entering the scheme, but if yours is not listed there, please get in touch and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
We look forward to receiving your submission.
*Writers of colour: Black, Asian, Arabic, Mixed-Raced and Non-white Latinx
**Please note that if you are currently furloughed and taking in less than £23k annually, you’re eligible to apply for the scheme.
Published 20 July 2020