To write distraction free. Bliss.

There is much to be said for having your own personal writing space. Some of us have managed to carve out a spot; a corner of the bedroom or lounge, the end of the dining table, even a room to ourselves. However, unless that space has a lock on the door or a cone of silence, chances are we still suffer the distractions of the everyday – the neighbour’s new motor bike, the sink full of dishes, the telemarketers who don’t understand your blunt voicemail message, the child who is bored – they don’t go away.

So what do we do? We might seek the ambience of a cafe or library, IMG_1965even a park on a sunny day. But what of the distractions of the other patrons; the laughter, the tinkle of spoons, the almost canned chatter? It may seem odd to choose to write in these areas of raised noise and movement. But for many of us they work. My theory is that we can ignore such distractions because they have nothing to do with us, they don’t demand our immediate attention.  And on the upside, if we are inclined to eavesdrop, the perceived lives of others in these public places may just be the basis of that next story we have been looking for.

However. There is another option for finding the peace and quiet we crave. A Writers Retreat. A chance to withdraw from the everyday. A place to spend literally hours at a time with nothing else to do but focus on writing, research, reading and coffee. Hot coffee. How do I know this?

Recently I was spoiled with the gift of two days at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre. In a very pretty setting in the  hills above Perth, they have three cabins perfectly set up for such a retreat. And the only distraction is the view. And perhaps the birdsong.

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I highly recommend this option. Hours to yourself. Nothing but words on a page. Someone deserves the Nobel Prize for the idea.

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Everything I write is s**t

I am currently going through the ‘everything I write is s**t’ phase, and that includes stories I have had published. I mean, what would they know?

This phase leads to the ‘why am I even bothering’ stage, hand in hand with the ‘I am wasting my time’ phase. Sound familiar?

What sets this in motion? Procrastination? Reading something awesome and profound by a fellow writer that we know we will never emulate? The phases of the moon? Or just a general dip in our biorhythms; a funk? If I had the answer I could probably write a book on it.

So what to do?

pexels-photo-47444For starters, get up and stop sulking. Next, move away from that computer and note book! Now, set yourself a task you know is achievable and /or short. Like doing the dishes, or going for a walk. Load the washing  machine or read a chapter of your favourite book. Weed the path. Whatever it is finish it. Achievement!

Now, tell yourself you can write. You are a writer. I. CAN’T. HEAR. YOU. That’s better. You are one of a big wonderful group of writers who go through this same phase over and over again.

Self doubt is a kicker. It sneaks up on  us when we least expect it and we let it in. And it wants to stay. Don’t let it. Kick it back. In fact, kick it out. It will come back, like the proverbial bad penny, but next time you will be prepared; you will shut the door in it’s face before it gets the whole foot in.

In a timely moment before I was ready to post this, I read Charlotte Wood’s article in The Australian, written after she was awarded the Stella Prize 2016 for her novel The Natural Way of Things. She writes of almost giving up because no one would want to read it. And why and how she didn’t give up. So glad she didn’t.

 

Kindling II – a valuable writer’s tool

I have said before that I am not a reviewer, but when I come across a work I enjoy I am compelled to share my thoughts. And I enjoyed Kindling II, an anthology produced and published by Writer’s Edit, very much.

From the blurb on the back of the book-

over 30 deeply personal and inspiring works of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and industry advice from Australian and international literary talent.”

I could not say than any one of the stories was more powerful than another, but I will admit to being brought to tears reading Friedrich’s Goat by Rosalind Moran, and Dear Perfect Stranger by Karen Morrow caused me to emit an ‘Oh’ out loud as I finished it. And the poetry, well let me just say it left me in awe.

This is a volume of works I will return to, not only for the pleasure of reading it over, but for the valuable insider knowledge and tips, such as the piece by Kyla Bagnall – Unsolicited to Solicited, which covers topics from the value of literary agents and how to find one, competitions, pitching to networking.

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Other pages bookmarked are – The Waiting Game: Strategies for patience in the Publishing Industry by Alison Jean Lester (as in patience post-submission) and Writing a Perfect Query Letter by Benjamin Stevenson. (I loved the date analogy throughout this).

 

 

 

Kindling II is not only a valuable tool for writers but those who read for pleasure will not be disappointed. A perfect companion to Kindling I.

 

When My Muse Procrastinates

Finding the muse, struggling for new ideas, fighting distraction, inspiration lost, writer’s block. We have all been there, that place where we fear we have lost our mojo. There is much written on this subject and many accomplished writers have prepared lists of what they find most useful for breaking the cycle and boosting their own creativity.

Not everything on these lists appeals to me – this body is not built for yoga, for example – so I was compelled to look at the ways I deal with distraction, to solve a character or plot problem, to even actually getting started some days. My list is in no particular order because I find my emotional and physical energy levels will affect which one/s works for me. (In other words which one I can be bothered doing).

1. Escape to a cafe, a museum, a gallery

One of my favourites. This morning I sat in a cafe to prepare notes for this post. I watched people pass, sit and move on. The red haired man covered in tattoos scratching his leg ferociously; a recent tat gone wrong? The shabbily dressed, proud elderly man with a slow limping gait. He Western Australian Museummay have survived a POW camp. The 2 young mums chatting over coffee. One dressed simply and expensively with immaculate hair and makeup, her child quiet and happy; the other frazzled but trying to hide it, her clothes thrown on at the last minute, hair falling out of it’s clip, child throwing his cake at her. Sisters? Old school friends? What choices led to their different journeys?

I might visit an art gallery, an exhibition, even weekend markets. Somewhere I am exposed to different areas of creativity which help get me into the mood and to feel at my most inspired and creative.

2. Take a walk

Walking has solved many a problem for me, I’m just not that great at it. While I know that walking is good for mind and body, walking shoesI often have a pretty good argument against it. I am also one of those people who gets bored on a walk around the neighbourhood, so my smart phone is my best companion. Music, radio or a podcast and by the time I am home again I have solved the issue of whether Miranda should meet Jean Louis in Paris or Sebastion in London. It is also a great way to smell the roses from time to time. Or the seaweed and salt if a beach walk is more the thing.

3. Morning Shower (or whenever)

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This might sound odd but for some reason my mind unleashes when I am in the shower. It’s a bit like being in an enclosure with the outside world shut out for a while. When I found these waterproof notebooks I was in seventh heaven. Because I lose ideas quickly if I don’t write them down. The downside is I can emerge a lot more wrinkled than when I started.

4. Enjoy Nature

Winding down, relaxing, getting my thoughts together is easier, and all the more enjoyable, if I can sit under the shade of a big tree and listen to the birds chat and Looking up into a treethe leaves mingle. Watching the canopy move against the sky can mesmerise and clear my mind, giving me room to start again and fill it with ideas on how to begin the next part of my story, or just start.

5. Write everyday – even if it is junk.

“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour. (I admit I had to look him up.) but he is right. I just pick up the pen and write. Anything. What I am seeing through the window, what scents waft in. I can hear the sound of a lawn mower fighting the cries of the galahs in the trees. How does the pen feel on the paper. Why does the buttery croissant taste so good right now?

6. Read – Anything

As writers we are encouraged to read widely, especially in the genre we hope to be published. I need no excuse to do this, usually with two books on the go at once. This is therapy, enabling me to travel to different places, inhabit other minds and often inspires me to put the book down and put my imagination to use on my own project. I also love to read what other writers have to say. McSweeneys.net is a good place to get lost in.

7. Mind Mapping

I keep a scrap book and markers handy. This is a fun activity and I am often surprised at where I end up. Basically, start with a question or an idea in the mindmapmiddle of the page and branch out from there with associated thoughts and ideas. A bit like a tree or a spider. Let your mind go and write whatever comes to mind. Try this website,  Mindmapping,  for help if you haven’t tried it.

8. Try just one thing from this list or a different list.

Then share it. I would love to know what works for you.

Oh, and 9. TURN OFF THE INTERNET FOR AN HOUR.

Self explanatory.

6 excuses not to be a writer – and how to turn them around

When I tell friends and acquaintances that I write, so often they say – “I would love to write, but…” We all have excuses not to write, not to even start.  I used them. Most likely you did too. Excuses are not valid reasons.

So how to turn these excuses around and send them packing? In this post I share what worked for me, what made me pick up that pen and just go for it.

First and foremost, give yourself permission to write. This can be the biggest hurdle, too often we put our needs last. Believe in yourself, put you first and say ‘YES.’

No 1. I wouldn’t know where to start

Enroll in a writing course. This is the first thing I did when I finally gave myself permission to write. Enrol in a community college class or, if you want to be less visible, look online, whatever works best for you.  Start with the basics. I found these beneficial – Australian Writers Centre, The Writers Studio and UWA Extension, however there are many, many others.

Read, read, read.

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This is probably the one most important piece of advice I received and that I can pass on to you. Read the genre you want to write in. But do also read other genres. Join a book club, join a library. Expand on your reading experience. Pretty soon you might say to yourself – “I could write that.”

Pick up a pen and paper and just do it.

Notebook and fountain pensWrite junk. About anything. Write what you see outside the window. What can you hear, smell? Use all your senses and don’t worry what goes on the page. No one will see it except you. Throw it away after if it makes you feel better. But do it every day.

Join a writing group. There is so much support out there for new writers. Search ‘writing groups in your area’. Go on. I dare you.

 Attend Writers Festivals. This is my favourite thing to do. These are a mecca for writers and readers alike. Writers are there to promote themselves and their work and they offer much in the way of encouragement to those of us on our own journey to being published. Soak up the ambience and escape to another world with like minded people. Here is a link to a piece I wrote after the Perth Writers Festival 2015.

2. I don’t have the time

SunsetTime is on the move, don’t waste it.

Do you really have to watch the twentieth repeat of (insert here your favourite TV show)? That’s 30 minutes you could have been writing.

Do you commute by public transport? That’s twice a day you could be writing.

Get up 30 minutes earlier, go to bed 30 minutes later.

An hour lunch break? (Lucky you) Squeeze in 30 minutes of writing.

Once a month ask your partner to take the kids out for the day. Write. Do the same for him/her.

3. I don’t have a place to write

You don’t need a huge space to write. Grab a corner of the dining table.

Large oak treeSit under a tree. Go to the library or your favourite coffee shop. Your lap. As long as you can fit your notebook on it you can write.

Some days I escape the distraction of a dirty house, and crave a quiet spot. My local library is perfect. And there is a lovely cafe close by. What more do you need? Supposedly, the Potter books were written in a cafe on napkins. We all know what came next… (I know, but it makes for a good story, right?)

4. I don’t know what to write about

Stories are everywhere. Who is the person under the Santa suit? A friendly Granddad or a serial killer? Maybe he murdered the last Santa and is hiding out. Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you off Santas, but…

The homeless man on the station platform, the girl with the purple hair and the tears in her eyes on the bus. The old lady who walks down the road at the same time every day. They all have stories.

Write about the happiest event of your childhood, or the saddest. There is a story in you.

5. I couldn’t write a whole book

So don’t. Write a short story. Write a poem. Dig out those essays you wrote at school. Rehash them, rewrite them. They were good and they can be again.

PastedGraphic-10Enter competitions. I did and was lucky enough to have 3 short stories published. Some are free but most will ask a small reading fee. One of the benefits of many of the competitions is the feedback.

Stringybark Stories is a small publisher who runs regular competitions across varied genres, and there are many others. You can be anonymous and receive genuine feedback.

6. I am too old to write

The worst one of them all. You have sent the kids out to the wild beyond, you are winding down to retirement and you plan to sit and wither away waiting for someone to call? I think not. You especially, have a lifetime of experience to explore. Use it.

I am the world’s worst procrastinator, but at 59 I have 3 short stories published and at the time of writing this post, am 28,000 words into the 2nd draft of a novel.

Books by Mary WesleyMary Wesley, Laura Ingells-Wilder, Frank McCourt, Harriet Doerr, to name just a few, were all late-comers.

Maybe you just want to write for your own pleasure, you’re not ready to share your words. Keep a journal. Fill a notebook.

If you have ever once in your life said to yourself, “I want to write something”, then do it.

Point of View – which is best?

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Recently I submitted a brief breakdown of scenes of the first chapter of my WIP. While the feedback was great, it was pointed out that not all scenes were in the Protagonist’s Point of View. The feedback went on to explain that it is more difficult to write from a multiple POV. The risk is that the reader may no longer relate to the protagonist, and indeed might lose any empathy for this character. This is especially difficult for a novice writer and I might want to rethink the scenes in question.

This was sage advice, however I had not deliberately set out to write this way, in fact I did not realize I had until then. Naturally I was concerned but as I read through my scenes and placed them in the big picture of my story, I began to wonder if they shouldn’t stay. In this novel I include several characters whose lives interact with both the protagonist and antagonist. Their own stories play out around these two. My challenge then is to keep to the rules of this POV and not confuse or bore the readers.

What to do? So off to the bookshelf to dust off the books on writing, and of course to the trusty Internet to seek answers, the rules… and maybe justification. There are many and varied websites and one I found particularly helpful is http://www.scribophile.com and of course I also checked in with Orson Scott Card, author of Characters & Viewpoint.

Nowhere did I find a commandment telling me Thou shall not write multiple third person POV because you are a novice writer. But I did find rules so I don’t stuff it up.

Salient Points

  • Multiple POV provides the ability to be inside each character’s head, to grow that character and for the reader to get intimate with that character
  • Not all of the characters need their own scene
  • The writer can build suspense by revealing something the protagonist doesn’t know, like watching the teenager about to walk through the door and we know the crazy guy with the chainsaw is waiting on the other side.
  • Rule of thumb – stick to one POV per scene, don’t head-hop by mistake – the writer must stay in the one character’s head for the whole scene.

So I guess my research has validated my subconscious choice, but will this prove to be my downfall when it comes to publishing my novel? Stay tuned.

@paulinewrites