Reflection #1


From yesterday’s blue to today’s red, the colour shift is enough for me to know there is shift happening, though ironically the shift is actually a settle. It’s been a bumpy seven days!

This combo gave me pause to think on what I do to ground myself to align with my creativity. Here, CBR talks about the King’s confidence becoming a rigidness that prevents new ideas. 
I get that confidence has the capacity to create a false sense of security that can compel you to continue to do the same thing, with the same result, over and over (some will tell you that’s success!) but for me confidence has always inspired me to try new things. When I am confident I take major leaps and major risks. I also tend to sparkle enough with those new ideas to co-opt others into jumping with me.
I stay grounded with the mundane – washing, dishes, cooking to name three. They are great places to gestate new ideas. 

And walking.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was forced to walk to retrieve my car from the mechanic. And guess what – I’m far from being as unfit as I think I am. I really enjoyed it. My routine , within my body, has settled enough now that I can think about an afternoon walk again without keeling over from exhaustion.

What do you do to stay grounded and available for the incoming flow of ideas? Is confidence restrictive or liberating?

Postcardia-cum-Poetica #21

I discovered this Avant card in the back pocket of my satchel Monday morning, possibly from a recent brunch visit to Brew. Possibly from last writer drinks. 

Welcome to my headspace.

I’m currently on hiatus from ‘life as I know it’. My phone is switched off. I have cancelled all my appointments and social engagements. My projects are all on hold, though I’m writing if I feel inspired to do so. No pressure though. I’m on a break.

I’m trying to get back to ‘me’. Trying to relieve the clusterfuck in my head and the horrible emptiness inside. Learning to be okay with taking a break and facing the fear of losing momentum. Sounds like a far better prospect than losing me!

Post depression/chronic pain/insomnia, I’m still a work in progress. I’m still unsure how to drive this body in a way that doesn’t destroy it in the process. Jokingly, as in typing this, I’m reminded of Moe Willems awesome book, Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus.

Unashamedly, this postcard is all about me. No pigeons. And definitely no apologies. 

(Apologies though to the postcard artist who, in my current state of mind, I forgot to note down their surname and social media details. Alex, I’m sorry!!)

Post It Note Poetry Saturdays 

On the back of this year’s successful Post-It Note Poetry challenge, and the passion and commitment with which it was embraced by the tarot community on Instagram, I’ve created a new weekly challenge: Post It Note Poetry Saturdays or simply #pinpsaturday

#PINPSATURDAY

It’s easy to participate, especially if you are a seasoned Post It Note poet. In essence it is a weekly mix of micro poetry and divine inspiration. If you know nothing about tarot, much less own a deck, I’ll be posting the card I’m using each week, and invite you to use it as your poetic catalyst.


1. Choose a tarot card based on the weekly prompt. (This week is is The Magician)

2. Write a poem on a post it note.

3. Photograph the poem and card.

4. Post the photograph to Instagram on Saturday with #pinpsaturday.

Smooth and easy! Looking forward to seeing your poems over the weekend. 

MENTORSHIP AND THE FUTURE ME

IMG_3157For NatCon2013, I was invited to sit on a panel about mentorship alongside Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton and Kimberly Gael. My first response to the invitation was: are you sure? I don’t think I know anything about mentoring other than that bit of youth mentor training I did back when I worked in behaviour management? (and I was pretty sure that I was the only one who knew about that a decade on!)

If it were possible to attach a good-hearted chuckle to an email, the reply would have come with it, plus: you’ve been mentoring writers for years, you’ve just never seen it as mentoring. It made me look at (and appreciate) my business and creative practices in a whole new way.

GRASS ROOTS

I came from a grassroots publication where it was the people who mattered most. I spent three years as a magazine editor seeking out, collating and publishing the most personal stories: those of birth and early parenting. Part of that job was belonging to and participating in a small but incredibly strong community. That same community sustained, educated and supported me throughout my pregnancy, birth and early years of parenting.

When I left Down to Birth and started eMergent Publishing with Paul Anderson in 2008, I took what I knew of community building and peer support and wove it into the foundations of our new business. It was less a conscious decision of this is what we will do and more an intuitive approach of what I knew, where my comfort zone was and how it melded beautifully with Paul’s worldview.

It also had a lot to do with what both Paul and I really wanted to do – we wanted to create publishing experiences for authors who were keen to collaborate because, at that time, collaboration between authors was rare, even rarer as a large group, and most of the collaborative efforts were published online. And while we were able to begin because of the digital revolution and the low overheads that came with it, we were able to show a few years later, in dead-tree print, complex collaboration and high-concept ideas were absolutely possible in publishing.

A VERY HUMAN TWIST OF FATE

When I began editing fiction, I came to it with a false notion it was just about the best arrangement of words on the page to convey the most powerful story. I had no idea at the time that the role of editor (especially in long projects) was also that of best friend and most sworn enemy, harshest critic and most exuberant cheer squad, confidante, life coach and magician. The relationship between author and editor is synergistic. It’s the most human element of publishing, one I find equally challenging and fulfilling in its frustrations and intimacies.

A COOPERATIVE ROLE CALL

As an editor, I’ve had the honour of giving dozens of writers their first publication credit and for many of those it was also their first paid publication. For other writers it was the first chance to work closely with a professional editor or to work with other authors. My preference has always been to work with new and emerging writers.

As a publisher, I’ve been lucky enough to create projects that facilitate collaboration and creative exchange, opportunities for writers to connect and work with each other, in a way traditional models of anthology collation do not make possible. I’ve always been more interested in working with a group of writing to develop and publish the best stories each individual could write rather than opening to public submission and publishing the best individual stories from there. Because of this very different model, new writers have left projects with a support network they didn’t have when they started.

As a workshop facilitator, I’ve had the fortune of interacting with (and learning from) an ever-broadening group of people. For the past three years I’ve delivered the highly sought after self-editing and critique seminar through the Queensland Writers Centre. Alongside hints and tips on how to edit your work, I’ve also been sneaky enough to transform the impersonal seminar space into a personal one that pushes writers our of their silence to talk and connect with each other.

As a community builder, I’ve had the joy of building and facilitating spaces (in and beyond eMergent Publishing’s boundaries) where individuals or clusters of writers have come together to help and support each other, to foster new and enduring relationships and friendships. Last year I wrote about the experience of accidentally building an online community of writers. The article was published in IF:Books and Editia press’s n00bz.

A RECIPROCAL CONNECTION

As a writer, I’ve seen the importance of peer support and encouragement, and been lucky enough to find other writers and industry professionals who’ve been able to help me. From the people who took me under their wing and introduced me around at Cons and literary events when I knew no one, to others who have offered advice or guidance over the years.

And there are others, those with whom I have written shoulder-to-shoulder with over the years, in collaborative arrangements, as beta readers, as fellow travellers, as members of online writing groups and community, who have challenged me to be the best writer I can be. They have been there with me through good times and bad.

I have always tried to pay it forward because I am everything I am today, not just because of the hard work I’ve put in, but because of the hard work my writing colleagues have put into me.

THE BIRTH OF A MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

I’m not the only one who hungers for connection, for support and for the confidence that comes when others invest their belief in you.

I’m also not the only one who is constantly looking to upgrade their skills, deepen their creative connection and seek innovation in story telling.

And surprisingly enough, I’m not the only one looking for creative and sustainable ways of building an art-commerce model of income to support myself – in this case it’s the double whammy of not just funding myself as a writer but also a small press that wants to pay  authors well.

This has culminated in the conception of a mentorship program that draws on my own experiences, skills and accumulated insights. My vision is to be the curator of a supported creative space with the benefits of one-to-one personalised attention and small group interaction.

FOR THE ASKING

For The Asking is a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.

The first 12-week mentorship block begins Sunday 13th September.

The program is open to all writers 18 years and over. Places are limited to FOUR and are via an application process. Successful applicants will be notified by Sunday 6th September.

Investment* is A$250.00

Additional information and the application form can be downloaded here.


*The proceeds from this mentorship block will fund the publication of ‘The Heart is an Echo Chamber’ (the follow up to ‘No Need to Reply’), the second Pandora’s Paradox novel and eMergent Publishing’s website redevelopment. 10% will be invested via Patreon into my favourite podcast, Tea and Jeopardy, created by Emma and Peter Newman.

#6in6 Challenge: A look at accidental community

Writing is a solitary activity, but as writers we were never meant to be alone.

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 It’s easy to get maudlin when you’re mired in rejection hell. I know the temptation well. But instead of falling prey to it, I decided to hustle and write more fiction and used social media to make myself accountable. That’s how the #6in6 group (with a god-awful official name of no less than ten words including ‘magic’ and ‘puppies’) began.

Looking back, I have no idea why I chose to publicly declare I would write six stories in six weeks. Who knows? All I know is that there was something in it because within hours other writers were commenting and committing to the same challenge on my Facebook status.

Fellow Brisbane-based spec-fic author, Ben Payne, summonsed his inner admin genie and convened a closed Facebook group. It was all set up before we went to bed on the Friday night.

And they came.

As I write this, the group has 26 members. We are poets, scriptwriters, short story writers, novelists and academics. We are international in our representation. At any hour of the day it is possible to find someone in the group to write alongside or talk/bitch/moan with. Each of us comes with our own aspirations and demons. We are honest in our struggles; genuine in our support. We swap markets, ideas, brainstorming sessions, beta reads, reflections on the highs and lows of the writer’s life, and writing extracts—often hot off the press!

This is community at its best.

The overall opinion is words might have been put down without the challenge, but the group has ensured they were. And more words are on their way as we race toward the end of July and the conclusion of the challenge.

I have no idea what will happen then. While I have some sneaky suspicions about the future, it’s not for me to say. I’m just one twenty-sixth of a group lashing words together in a sea of possibility.

Image by Emdot via Flickr used under a Creative Commons License

This post was updated on 22nd July.

Oh Hell, We’re Where?

or how to tackle plot impasses.

Dead End - close upSometimes We Take a Wrong Turn…

How often as writers have we emerged from the wilderness of our words to find we’re not exactly where we’re meant to be? It happens to plotters and pantsers alike. The story takes a tiny deviation and suddenly we’re in a whole (hole?) new place.

A Story About an Accidental Turn

Year Nine school camp took us to Apollo Bay/Ottway Ranges along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria for four nights. The same camp had been running at the school for years: two nights by the beach in Apollo Bay, two nights roughing it in the bush, sleeping under bivvies in preparation for Outward Bound in Year Ten.

Our group started with the roughing it bit and were dropped off, with our backpacks, to hike down into the camping area by the river.

Miss Dorman, our PE teacher, told us we were taking a slightly different route to other years, but it wouldn’t be much longer: two hours tops! One hour went by, followed by another, then another. The afternoon air cooled our shoulders, our backs ached from carrying heavy backpacks for the first time, and it became apparent we were “just a little bit lost.” It was okay, we were told–the gorge ahead was where we had to be.

On sunset we came out of the bush, on the edge of the gorge, several kilometres too close to the coast and without a trail down.

Gorge vs Dead End

It is a common writing topic: dead ends and writing yourself out again.

That night back in 1988 we weren’t at a dead-end. We’d simply arrived at a place which was much harder than anticipated to traverse. We hung tight and waited for morning and a new way out.

What if as writers we considered our plot impasses as arriving on the edge of a gorge facing a more difficult trip down, rather than being in dark, nasty alley facing a brick wall?

Are we really at the end? Or have we simply arrived at a place where there is a huge divide between where we are and where we want/need to be.

The metaphor of a dead-end provide two alternatives: give up or go back. Neither of these adds momentum to writing, in fact it draws energy from the writing process and pummels our confidence.

Do we really want to go all the way back… and how far do we go back? Is it possible to spot where we lost our way? Is it worth throwing the towel in? Not exactly an inspiring mindset.

The metaphor of a gorge gives hope, a way forward, albeit a more difficult one than we’d originally considered. But a way forward nonetheless.

A Light to Illuminate the Way

(Back to Year Nine Camp!) When night fell, the sky above the gorge erupted into a sea of stars, freed from the light pollution of the city, and below on the beach, emergency beacons sprung to life. We had no way of communicating our location or the fact we were all fine (it was 1988 and years before any of us would see a mobile phone). Seeing those beacons, gave me the fortitude to make the best of our less than salubrious circumstances. Someone and something was out there. And tomorrow night, we would be too.

The following exercise is the light to give you fortitude to keep on going. As an extra bonus, it has the potential to provides a rough map  off the edge and down into the gorge.

The PoV of Three

Several years ago I took a short story workshop with award-winning Brisbane author Trent Jamieson, (author of the Death Works series, Roil, Nights Engines and a bunch of amazing short stories). To date it is the best writing workshop I’ve attended. Trent made us write, and write, and write. And then made us read out what we had written!

The PoV of Three exercise I’m about to share, is based on one of the Trent’s exercises.

First

Think of a short scene, any scene you can dream up (not something you are currently working on) where: 1) something happens, and 2) it involves at least two people.

Second

Choose one of the characters present and write the scene from through their eyes in the first person PoV. Write about 250 words.

Third

Choose another character and write the scene through their eyes using limited third person PoV.

Lastly

Write the scene through the eyes of someone not participating in the scene–but who is witness to the scene. This may be written from the limited 3rd person or 1st person POV.

The 360 Degree View

The scene I wrote in the workshop focused on a midwife attending a birth (an idea inspired by the [Fiction] Friday prompt of hearing two heartbeats). When I moved into the second part and the limited third person PoV, the character I chose looked around the room and in the corner, in the shadows, was a man! The last thing I expected to see in a birthing room.

Intrigued by who he was, and why he was there, I selected him as the character in the third part. In 250 words I realised who he was, why he was there, and an entire novella* was born (no pun intended!).

The PoV of Three exercise gets us down off that damn edge and toward the cool, free-flowing waters of the narrative, by:

  • providing a panorama of a single scene–something we wouldn’t have in the normal course of writing. It allows us to see things we may not have seen, through the eyes of whoever is telling the story.
  • opening the narrative to alternate thoughts and experiences of what is going on.
  • keeping us writing–momentum begets momentum.

It is perfect for moving forward when the only options appear to be going back, or worse still, giving up. I dare any one to say they don’t find SOMETHING employing this exercise at a plotting impasse. Not the solution perhaps, or a clear-cut, gently graded path down, but a compass setting with the kernel of an idea to explore further. And for those attempting NaNo and finding themselves here, it’s a better option than the Shovel of Death.

So, next time you stumble out of the narrative and find yourself in unknown literary environs, don’t freak out and see it as the end of the world. It won’t necessarily be easy, but there’s always an evil plan ‘Z’ (for those Spongebob fans reading) to propel you across the wastelands of your plot impasse.

Happy Endings

That night in the Ottways we had run out of water, eaten everything that didn’t require cooking, and were a little freaked out about being ‘momentarily lost’, but… we had warm sleeping bags and George Michael. Yes! My friend Rachael jammed her battery-powered, pink twin-deck tape player in her backpack. Out into the virgin bush, the heterosexual version of George rocked out (amongst other songs) Faith to a bunch of fourteen-year-old girls who couldn’t sleep.

And several days later we appeared on the front page of the Colac Times–the only real claim to fame I have from my high school years! The photo showed us dirty and bedraggled, but with big smiles because word quickly spread that even though we were to continue our walk to base-camp, the SES had water with them and were offering to drive our backpacks to camp.

A version of this article was first published at Write Anything website on the 13th July, 2011.

* From that original novella idea came a novel that splintered into a cycle of five and then six novellas and a brand new sub-genre of fiction called #birthpunk (just in case you weren’t quite sold on the power of that one small exercise!)

Destruct the Distraction

…or how discipline and austerity became my new best friend!

It’s a no brainer: I’m happiest when I am writing and when I have written. My close friend Amanda says she always knows when I’ve been writing—apparently my eyes twinkle!

Yet I allow things to keep me from writing.

CHOKING

I’ve struggled to find the writing mojo this year. Behind the scene I’ve been consumed with family issues—the sort that wring you out and then come back for seconds and thirds. It’s no surprise I haven’t been writing on one level. But once upon a time, writing was the most successful form of escapism I had.

Last year I wanted the whole body, alternate consciousness experience of writing. And I got it—especially with POST MARKED: PIPER’S REACH, but with everything I worked on from ELYORA to  short script adaptations.

I haven’t been able to recreate the same experience or even feel a flutter of the same energy for my current WIP.

THE FIRST PROBLEM

Since the start of February I’ve been trying to work on the first novella in the BYRTHED series (the poorly named, Sylvie’s Story). I started writing it in 2009. I promised I would return to it in 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 (though I at least did some plotting, character development and wrote a short story set in the world last year). I’d liken it to the pointless act of breathing into a long-dead corpse if it weren’t for the success I had last year picking up ‘cold-case’ stories and not just finishing them, but pushing them through to publication.

SYLVIE’S STORY is tough going for a number of reasons. I’ve never had to build a “big world” for a long work. While I continue to believe (as a pantser) the hard yards of world building occur in the second draft, I have to have some idea of the world my characters are traversing. I have some idea of the worlds above and below Rosslin but it has been slow going watching the world unfold through Sylvie, Joseph and Sophie’s eyes.

The process has been amply supported by Rob Cook who has sent through articles on futuristic worlds and he really groks the world I’m trying to write. If not for Rob I may have thrown my hands up in the air and decided it was all too hard. Especially when I realised I had the wrong voice, perspective, tense. Talk about getting it wrong—really wrong!

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…

I promised I would keep turning up to the page until something happened. I read this inspiring Order to the Chaos of Life by Isabel Allende several weeks ago at Brain Pickings. I’ve steeled myself to the fact it’s hard in the beginning and turning up to the page will eventually provide a breakthrough. A little Dory voice in my head sings: just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming.

Last week I changed the POV and sparked a little momentum but there were so many other more (temporarily) fulfilling things to do…like mop the floor!

THE SECOND PROBLEM

Last week Dr Kim Wilkins publicised a Writing Resilience survey. I opened it, started answering the questions and the full destructive nature of my social media interaction (ie. distraction-cum-interruption) hit me. It’s not just Facebook and Twitter; an incessant (and unnecessary) compulsion to check email is a close second. I’m the consummate creator of interruption and disruption, especially when I’m floundering.

I jokingly said to a friend last week I needed another Rabbit Hole—to be sequestered away with nothing but writing (believe me, the Rabbit Hole gets mighty boring after an hour of not writing).

So I emulated the Rabbit Hole to the best of my ability this morning, coupling the leaving of the house with the leaving behind of my phone: no Twitter, Facebook, email, text messaging—just me, the computer, my manuscript and the old iPod cranking out  time-tested writing tunes.

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AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION

In 2003 I was in my second year of uni and I was the kind of student who made over-achievers look like slackers! Dave and I were shacked up in a two-bedroom townhouse and there was a little bit more money hanging around than there had been the year previous. This meant I could keep a packet of Tim Tams in the fridge downstairs during assessment hot spots. When I hit a tough bit in an essay or prac report, I’d go down, grab one biscuit and usually, that was all it took to unknot my brain and for the words to follow.

This morning I slowly sunk into the opening section of the novella. It took almost half an hour to thump the opening paragraph into submission. As soon as the words refused to comply, when the concepts broadsided me, I reached into the front of my satchel for my phone.

My phone has become my Tim Tams.

The thing is; the Tim Tams were only ever intended as a micro break for headspace. Diving into social media is not that, it is the most insidious type of distraction.

It takes 20-25 minutes to regain pre-interruption focus. Ouch! When I add up the number of times I’m ‘distracted’ or ‘interrupted’ in a single morning, ‘squirrel’ becomes the sound of nails being hammered into the coffin of progress.

HABIT FORMING

21 is the number of days experts say is optimal for habit forming. So for the next 21 days I am committing to one hour of distraction free writing in the morning. This means turning the internet off if I’m home, leaving my phone at home if I am going out, and slowly weaning myself off the ‘phone as safety blanket’. (Just in case you are wondering, I’m not taking up Tim Tams!)

When I finished writing this morning my blood was warm again. True, it had taken longer than the hour I had budgeted for, but at the end I had 948 almost brand new words. Better than that, I just wanted to keep writing (dang that midday appointment!)

The thrill of a story unfolding infused me. And still does.

The novella feels do-able now.

What are your major distractions to writing? How do you deal with them? Especially when writing is tough going?