We spoke to Gemma Seltzer, a London-based writer working live, online and in print. Gemma is the founder of the brilliant morning and online writing class Write and Shine. She opened our minds to the peaceful and sometimes surreal world that exists before the working day starts – a perfect time for unfettered creativity. Next online course, on writing with colour, begins August 24th.
1. Write & Shine is an organisation that offers morning writing workshops out of various locations in central London. Only a morning person would come up with this – we’re curious to know what an average day looks like for you. Care to share?
I’m a morning person! I leap out of bed, bright and focused in the early hours but all my senses become dulled in the afternoon and evening. While this might be my natural rhythm, I think I’ve honed it over the years because of my need for quiet and solitude. Wherever I am, I try to be the first person awake. I like to write as the light arrives. I know that as soon as I talk, I forget what my pen was going to say.
And my average day? I rise early, around 6am, to allow time for thinking and writing. It’s my most creative time and it’s helpful to balance out whatever the day ahead holds (the commute, working in an office, meetings). Time in the morning, before the world gets moving, is important to me. I wanted to create Write & Shine to make a place for others to make the most of the morning. And allow a space for a burst of creativity.
2. Tell us a little about your past writing experience and career. How have they led you to setting up Write & Shine?
It’s the stuff of life that stimulates my writing, from good conversations to discovering new places. I wrote a blog, later published as a book, called Speak to Strangers, which charted my random interactions with Londoners in hundred word stories. During the past year, I’ve worked with older people in care to co-create stories. I’m currently making a new project with a dancer and a visual artist commissioned by and taking place in London’s largest gym.
In 2013, I collaborated with a photographer to create a digital literature project 5am London, capturing the city in the early hours of the day. We travelled to a new spot in London once a month, including the Houses of Parliament and Hyde Park. It offered us a different side London, people on their way to work, or on their way home from a long night out. It was like walking around in a dream, disorientating, nothing quite as we expected. Our minds were buzzing with ideas each time.
Soon after the project ended, I started running morning writing workshops. I wanted to share my love for mornings. So, acknowledging how busy we all are, and how so many of us want more creativity in our lives, I gathered people to write before the working day began. Sessions now take place every week, and online, and pop up at new peaceful locations too!
3. What benefits are there to writing in the morning as opposed to at other times of the day?
Research shows we’re more creative in the morning. When we wake, we’re incredibly sensitive to the sights and sounds of our environment. My experience has led me to believe that it’s the best time to think and imagine, with afternoons better for editing and critiquing. I like moving straight from a sleeping state to my notepad, as it allows me to explore the edges of dreams when I write. I once heard Marlon James explain how he deals with the fear of writing. He said, ‘My inner critic doesn’t like getting up early so I get up before him.’ So true. And writing early offers a clear space before the demands of the day emerge.
4. Can you share some tips for people who have trouble sticking to a regular routine, be it a writing routine or one with the goal of developing a different skill?
Designating a place to do that thing is an important part of developing a good habit, I think. If it’s learning a new skill, it could be the library, classroom or the studio. For writers, this might be the kitchen table or their desk. Knowing where you’ll write means you don’t have to spend time choosing where to go. You free your mind from that concern. Plus you can visit that spot in your head anytime, associating it with progressing your writing. Some people believe a location enhances with regular use. If we agree that’s true, settling on a single writing place will help you quickly reach your creative state. Worth a try, anyway!
5. What are your favourite books of all time? Any particularly good books on the topic of writing you would recommend?
Lovely question, too hard to answer! I’m a fan of 1930s female novelists, so my favourites include Rosamond Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day. Plus, anything by Jean Rhys.
I love books about thinking and wandering in cities, too. Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky, Teju Cole’s Open City, Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, for example.
About writing, Stephen King’s On Writing offers a great perspective on the tools needed to create fiction. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is all about writing swiftly and freely to learn to write well. The Writer’s Voice by Al Alvarez is a fascinating set of essays analysing how authors uncover and develop their distinct style.