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?

Welcome, the Serpent!

serpentpendant

Ox starts a new lucky life cycle in 2013. Finally your hard work is rewarded. ~ Susan Levitt

I wrote a few weeks ago how it was hard to let go of the Year of the Dragon and here I find myself almost a month into the new year hanging back on the welcome. Well here goes, welcome year of the water serpent!

Like the dragon, the serpent is not demonised in eastern traditions. The serpent is a goddess, heroine and healer in the ancient myths of China. The year of the Serpent is a powerful year for rebirth and transformation in all areas of life. I’m an Ox and the Serpent Year comes with auspicious tidings, melding effortlessly with what is set for the Sagittarius, Aries and Virgo triad in my chart.

Consolidate

My theme for this year is: consolidate.

A quick flick through the dictionary turns up the following definitions:

  • to strengthen, solidify
  • bring together separate parts into a single unified form
  • to discard unused or unwanted items and organise the remaining

This year I’m setting aside business to concentrate on writing*. It’s time! The conversations I had in the lead up to the making this decision, and several things I’ve read since, all point to this being the right time (especially to bite the bullet and develop my idea for the sub-genre of birthpunk) to do so.

It’s the year to bring together all the skills, experience, lessons and connections I’ve made in the last five year and put them to work for me. Time to shed one skin and grow a new one.

Breaking Down Consolidation, The Year Ahead

Last year I just wanted to fall in love with writing. This year I want my writing to:

  • continue to push boundaries
  • reach a larger audience and,
  • begin to reap financial rewards for the creative investments.

It’s where the early blush of romance gives way to the practicalities of sharing your life with someone, for life! Where you take stock of your individuals lives and see what needs to be done to bring those two lives together in a permanent way.

With this in mind I’m focusing on these key projects/areas:

  • complete Post Marked: Piper’s Reach and do what is required to sub it to a publisher
  • repackage ELYORA for submission to a new publisher, as well as develop a feature-length script for it.
  • write the first draft of six interlocking #birthpunk novellas (aprox 180,000 words)
  • write at least one short story a month (with a view to overseas submission)
  • make one pro sale
  • strengthen and extend my network (including keeping in regular contact with my close writing colleagues)

In addition to writing I have con and festival panels in April (IronFest and NatCon), I’m presenting an editing and critiquing IQ seminar in May, am listed as a mentor with the QWC and have a podcast with Devin Watson in the works.

The Year of the Serpent is a slower paced year and I can already feel it. The list of things I’m setting out to do may seem huge, but in comparison to other years, it feels rather short! There is less pressure, I’m not working for others, I’m working for myself.

I’m shedding the skin that helped to nurture and develop many new writers and launch and grow a publishing house. This new writerly skin feels a tight, but I’ll suck in my stomach and not fling my arms around too much…until it feels and moves like a second skin.

What skin are you willing to shed this year, so a new one may grow?

* eP will go into moth balls for between six and twelve months to undergo it’s own metamorphosis. More on the eP website shortly about this

Farewell The Dragon!

dragonI’m coming back to a draft of this post, almost two weeks after I sat down to write it: two weeks into the new year. To say I’m not quite ready to let go of the Year of the Water Dragon is possibly the understatement of the last 13 months.

I washed up on the shores of The Year of the Dragon, burned out, disillusioned, without confidence or trust in my abilities as a writer. 2011 was my annus horribilis. I wasn’t sure what would come next, only that I didn’t want to go back to where I’d been.

In the end I decided I wanted to fall in love with writing again. I wanted the deep immersive transportation to another place, to completely inhabit another person’s skin. I wanted the experience of writing when I was 17 and juggling a novel with completing the HSC.

From a business perspective it was time to tidy up loose ends, to stop being a serial starter, to get over the addictive buzz of the new and finally clear the decks.

A YEAR OF FALLING IN LOVE aka THE YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY

Love is always a bit of a gamble. So I paired my year of falling in love with the Write Anything call to write dangerously… to get out of the comfort zone. For me, the comfort zone had been for too long, about doing nothing.

Post Marked: Piper’s Reach provided the heady infatuation that grew into something big and wonderful and amazing…and around it my writing flourished. Working with Adam has been a dream, a blessing, a ride full of laughs intersected with moments of serious introspection, inquiries about the colour of toast, planned spontaneity and a ping-pong return of ideas and music. It is proof it only takes on person who believes in you, your abilities and crazy ideas to lead you back to the core of believing in yourself.

From Piper’s Reach came the first flowerings of brand new short fiction. From my shift in focus and routine came the space to write. From tackling unfinished publishing projects came the impetus to return to unfinished pieces of my own writing and complete them.

Did I fall in love? Yes I did…at that deep level, where the world dissolves and disappears, where you find yourself with your heart caught in your throat, heart pounding, holding your breath in anticipation.

I also managed to push just about every boundary in my writing in terms of what I had done in the past and what I was prepared to have a crack at.

In thirteen months, I:

As an editor and publisher, I:

WITH A LITTLE HELP

These things don’t happen in isolation. I’d like to thank the following people (in no particular order) for the support, the helpful shoves, the investments in my work and help they gave so generously in 2012 (many of them without even realising!):

Dan Powell, Stacey Larner, Tom Dullemond, Alan Baxter, Laura Meyer, Josh Londero, Jessica Bell, Tiggy Johnson, Daniel Simpson, Benjamin Solah, Melanie Selemedis, everyone in the Sub-Committee Facebook group, Paul Anderson, Peter Ball, Alex Adsett, Paul Landymore, Aimée Lindorff, Meg Vann, Nicky Strickland-Cavalchini, Damon Cavalchini, Jason Nahrung, Andrew McKiernan, Kate Eltham, Lesley Halm, Matthew Lamb, Amy Stephenson, Rowena Specht-Whyte, Tehani Wessely, the literary Mix Tapes authors, Jon Strother, Devin Watson, Dale Challener Roe, Jen Brubacher, Zena Shapter, Lily Mulholland, Nicole Murphy, Jane Virgo, Jack Dann, Janeen Webb, Paul Phillips, Jo McClelland, Susan Talbot, Amanda Roche, The Elyora Brains Trust, the readers of Piper’s Reach, Rus Vanwestervelt, everyone who bought an eP publication, Ty Dawson, Erica Blythe, Greg McQueen, Ron Cleghorn, Leanne Cleghorn, Kate Campbell… and three very special guys:

Adam Byatt, Dave Harris and my Mr D.

This concludes transmissions for 2012 and the Year of the Water Dragon. Thank you for giving me back my passion, my grounding and my will to write again. Roll on the Year of the Water Serpent!

A Year With Ella-Louise

…or how I found my way back to the light

When Ella-Louise slipped into the car on January 5th, I had no idea the wonderful creative adventures and opportunities writing her letters would birth, or the richness and depth she’d bring to my life. Much less the structure she and Jude would build, to enable Adam and I to work together across an entire year.

The momentum born of writing letters again, the enthusiasm to explore the world through Ella-Louise’s eyes and my interest in her backstory, spawned What I Left to Forget, the first short story I’d written in a long time. And like the proverbial rolling stone, I kept on rolling. I’ve been prolific: written poetry, a novella, short stories, vignettes, short film scripts and a box full of letters from Ella-Louise. I’ve taken risks and experimented and in doing so, seen more of my work enter the public realm.

You can read the whole guest post, talking about collaborative writing, depression, creative redemption and my relationship with Ella-Louise at Jessica Bell’s The Alliterative Allomorph.

How I Catalogue the Chaos

Adam’s got a great post up today: Cataloguing the Chaos. It really helped me dissect my organisational skills in a way I hadn’t thought of previously.

I have the capacity to be disorganised. If the regularity with which I have to ring my mobile to find it is any indication of the level of disorganisation in my grey matter, you’ll understand my compulsive list making tendencies. The brain can only hold so much in short term memory and I often max it out between business and writing and the other things life insists you attend to. I also found coming out of my last bout of depression at the start of the year, my memory just wasn’t what it used to be.

The Week Starts Here

The first thing I do on Monday morning (well okay, after I’ve brewed tea) is open my diary and write a comprehensive to do list. This tames the swirling miasma of chaos and contains it to a single page.

I have a Moleskine diary that has the dates on one side and a page opposite to accommodate the list writing. It is both a ready reference and constant companion, so much so, by the end of the week the ink has faded from sitting open in the sun.

Lately I’ve gone from using pencil (even if it is easier to rub out) to using coloured ink. In the absence of any artistic talent beyond the odd wonky stick man, this is how I make the dry process of diary keeping and lists making juicy. I’m surprised at how a visually appealing to do list makes it easier to tackle. Highlighting important dates, while adding additional splashes of colour, ensures I don’t miss them.

Being organised on a Monday morning means I can than move on and flag any important dates with other people I’m working with, and the gears of the machine are oiled and move with precision.

Multiple Projects

I’m a terrible one for working on multiple project–simultaneously. I believe it is, in part, an artifact of last year: taking on too much, crashing and burning too often, saying yes when no was the appropriate answer and generally being someone who is naturally drawn to lots of different things at the one time.

Keeping an itemised list of all the things I’m working on helps me to see what’s on the go on any given week, quickly and easily, and where the priorities lie (what appears at the top of the list). It also means I can decide what I want to, or need to, work on the following day.

List Everything

Where possible I break down every task into its smallest unit size. On one hand it makes the list longer, and therefore possibly more daunting, but the reverse of this is tasks get completed and crossed off quickly. I’m a big one for momentum begetting momentum.

Several weeks ago I achieved a first, with the exception of getting back to my studies, I crossed everything off my list, added more and crossed it off too. There is nothing like hitting the weekend knowing you’ve achieved what you set out to do at the start of the week.

Separating Work and Pleasure

You’ll notice my to do list is divided into two: on the left side my editing and publishing responsibilities and on the other side what I want to achieve each week with my writing. Anything that doesn’t get crossed off is transferred across to the next week, as a way of keeping myself honest.

This week, as you’ll see above, is the first where the writing column is longer than the editing and publishing column. Keeping lists has enabled me to see how I’ve slowly transitioned into my sabbatical and how, yes, I’m almost fully there. It’s also a log of what I’ve worked on, what I’ve submitted, what I’ve completed and what’s still brewing.

Curbing the Outer Chaos

Life happens. Shit often accompanies it. Recently, more mornings than I care to to number, I’ve sunk into the wrong head-space before I’ve even reached my desk. If it weren’t for the list, I’d be lost. A head-space under siege is where a list comes into its own. When you’ve itemised your tasks down to bite sized pieces even a brain that resembles the mess of a 1000 word jigsaw puzzle just tipped from the box more than a thrumming set of circuits, can find something to start on until the head-space realigns.

Return of Chaos Theory

I know when I’ve succumbed to chaos. The diary disappears, the lists disappear and I lurch from one task to another and every second emails begins with “I’m sorry”. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t keep a diary or write lists for most of last year (the most chaotic of my entire adult life). I put it down to being unable to find ‘the right’ diary, but it really was a case of the horse bolting and never actually catching it.

I know better now. Thanks to Adam’s post, I understand this is my way of harnessing the chaos, rather than just being a bit of pedant who likes the look of her own writing on the page.

Five Tips For Taming The Chaos

  1. Have a diary and keep it handy. Put everything in there so you have a single overview of the week at your finger tips.
  2. Use your diary for dates and lists.
  3. Break your list into the different projects you’re currently working on. If it makes sense, make a division between business and pleasure.
  4. Break your list down further into small, easy to do tasks where possible
  5. Make your diary and your lists visually appealing and easy to follow. That way you’ll want to look at it.

One Month Down, Twelve To Go

So we come to the end of another month. For those who are running off to check their calendars, I’m talking about the lunar month. This morning the moon clicked over into a new lunar month–the month of watery, dreamy Pisces.

Looking back, I remember the trepidation I felt waiting for the new year to start a month ago. I was afraid for so many reasons, the biggest one by far: would I fall apart again? I did a hell of a lot of soul searching, deconstructing what was left of myself before the year began, thus  started with a better understand of how the wheels fell off last year and knew what to avoid at all costs. Walk the middle path between imbalance and depression.

Unconsciously I made a commitment to be gentler with myself–to stop forcing demanding deadlines on myself. In light of this, I organised with Paul to have a part-time re-entry to work. And while the first week was pretty messy and hectic, with the imminent roll out of two new writing initiative at Write Anything, and I did work stupid hours, including well into the night, once February clocked in, I took it slower.

The Writing Round Up

In the last month I’ve written more than I have since November of any year in the last five:

  • completing a vignette entitled Intersected and submitted to Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Fingers crossed my first sub for the year is a successful one.
  • completing two brand new short stories for the Form and Genre Challenge: the crime short What I Left to Forget and a contemporary romance Thirty-Eight Degrees South. Thanks again to Laura Meyer and Stacey Larner, as well as Adam Byatt who bought the virtual pom poms.
  • writing two articles for Write Anything–The Secret Project/BirthPunk Mashie which details the two writing projects I am working on in the first six months of the year and Get Me to the Page on Time which is my search to find the best time to write, and how a routine can actually free you.
  • adding two new installments to #thesecretproject with Adam Byatt. This project is pushing all kinds of boundaries with me. I don’t think I have ever been this up close and personal with a character. The nature of the project means I can’t stand back and observe from a far–it is intense and has an immediacy which isn’t apparent (or expected) because of the structural framework, which includes delayed gratification between each installment. I’m so grateful to Adam for saying yes and believing in the project. At this point we have five installments and still have a tentative launch date for Easter.
  • re-wroting my author page and giving the blog the first of several make overs –the most important of which is a new name, 1000 Pieces of Sky, reflecting where I am in life now.
  • completing the first six days (of 30) for the First Draft in 30 Days book. Writing shorts took over and distracted me from the research I’d set myself up to do.
  • writing at least one haiku every day since the start of February for the haiku challenge with Tiggy.
  • completing the first article in a multi-part series on beta reading. The articles  will form the basis of an online course at some point in the not too distant future.

Many thanks to Chris Chartrand, Laura Meyer, Adam Byatt and Tiggy Johnson who have all beta read for me (some multiple times) in the past month. And a special thank you to Stacey Larner who did the final line edit and proof read for me on Intersected and Thirty-Eight Degrees South.

The Reading Round Up

My reading list was a short, just two books (and a half-read Poe novella).

  • Jessica Bell’s beautiful and brutal debut novel The String Bridge (which I devoured over a week in the shelter of a dodgy tent awning as it poured rain) and it’s equally haunting soundtrack.
  • M.J Hyland’s This is How which moved and disturbed me in equal measures.

The Movie Round Up

My watched list is a healthy one for the first time in a very long while:

  • District 9
  • Oceans 11
  • Abduction
  • Ghost Writer
  • Hanna
  • The English Patient
  • Crazy, Stupid Love
  • The Good German
  • The Descendent
  • The Texas Killing Fields

Devin Watson  publicly launched Literary Mix Tapes: The Movie Project today so it’s go. There will be movies from LMT/eMergent and a bunch of emerging filmmakers this year. Very exciting.

Hello/Good-Bye

In addition to that, we bid good-bye to [fiction] Friday and launched my two babies, The Form and Genre Challenge (2012) and PROPMTed at Write Anything. The Form and Genre Challenge is helping to rebuild the community of writers which once existed  via [fiction] Friday and has driven a lot of the old writing crowd out of their  funk and back into their stride, including myself. Chris Chartrand’s help administering the first week of the Form and Genre Challenge Judging helped to put it all into administrative order and meant I got to hang out with him twice in a week on skype.

Sadly, my workshop for the QWC didn’t reach minimum enrollments and I received word lunchtime Monday that it was cancelled. I’d lie if I said it wasn’t a blow but the timing was spot on. My energy bottomed out yesterday and with the stress of the pending workshop removed, I took a slower and gentler approach to this week.

New Writing Partnerships

Teaming up with new writing partners Laura Meyer and Adam Byatt is doing wonders to kick start my story writing again. I feel utterly at home in their creative confidence and not surprisingly, it’s having a flow on to my own confidence. Laura penned the heart-tugger Son Esprit Noir for the 3rd Person Challenge and Adam The Photographer’s Concerto, a prequel to my What I Left to Forget.

A Return to Editing

Last week I completed my first week of editing since last October and managed to edit and write with little problem. The only real trouble was dragging myself away from writing to concentrate on editing Deck the Halls. One story is day is a very doable amount. The hard work in releasing my old thought processes and welcoming new ones in, has wrorked wonders. I’m still on track to have all the editing done in time for Easter, at a pace which accommodates all aspects of life.

In Summation

All in all, the month fleshed out better than I could have hoped; the pieces slowly, but surely, finding a good fit and life in turn, continues to develops a resonating rhythm. I’m looking forward to being able to say the same (or better) this time next month.

21 Tips for Writers of all Persuasions

In May 2010, the Emerging Writers Festival’s five ambassadors Guy Blackman, Natasha Campo, Jill Jones, Sean Riley and Julian Shaw were invited to share their best tips for writing. At the end of the session, what struck me most was–writing is writing– whether you’re a song writer, a journalist, an academic, a poet, a film maker or a novelist. All modalities have more in common as a creative creative process than you might think.

Following are 21 tips distilled from the 35 given during the panel session.

  • Arrive late and leave early: get straight to the heart of the narrative.
  • Defend your work and keep your creative dignity: learn to say no/no way/go f*ck yourself – because no one else will stand up for your work – and remember you cannot write someone else’s vision.
  • Don’t show your work to family and friends: you will erroneously become attached to what they think is brilliant – which in fact is likely to be absolute crap.
  • Go out and live your life: do not allow yourself to become stuck in a hole of your own creativity – especially when you’re creatively blocked – being in the real world is the best antidote.
  • Make up the rules for what you want to produce: in a global market there are an infinite number of possible niches with people willing to pay for your work.
  • Build an audience online: utilise a website or a blog to connect with readers – capture them through a mailing list – don’t be afraid to give away free stuff.
  • Back yourself: don’t ask others for permission to do what you want to do.
  • Know you can do it yourself: you do not need the backing of major publishing houses/production companies – the rules are changing – look for those you know, who want to work with you, and your idea.
  • Persevere: your yell is someone else’s whisper and whispers are pervasive, it will get heard – work on several projects – this keeps you energised and working creatively even when one project isn’t firing.
  • Utilise a multi-media approach: there are audio books, podcasts, youtube as well as thinking further afield such as combining/selling photos and music with writing. (Jessica Bell’s String Bridge–novel and soundtrack–is an excellent example of this)
  • Embrace festivals: nothing is ever to small to be part of.
  • Look after yourself: writing will ruin your health – so take care – consider writing standing up (apparently Hemmingway did this) and making use of pen and paper rather than chaining yourself to a computer.
  • Get to know your process: work out when and where you work best and do it your own way – try to write every day, even if just for a few minutes and carry a note book with you so ideas don’t escape you.
  • Trust the intuition of your readers to know where something doesn’t work: but don’t trust their advice on how to change/fix it.
  • Don’t write to a presumed audience: there is no point in second guessing your niche market – just write!
  • Promote yourself in public: but allow space to doubt yourself in private.
  • Write simply and vividly: specifics paint the best pictures on the page.
  • Don’t hold back and don’t protect yourself: say things no one else has said before – turn off the inner critic/editor
  • Collaborate: work with new people and don’t be afraid to change circles of friends – there are always new opportunities out there.
  • Be professional: submit on time, to the required word length, to the brief agreed on – editors like writers who they can rely on.
  • Cultivate a community of writers: writing can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be – other writers understand where you are, what you’re thinking and feeling.

Which piece of advice strikes a chord with you? Why do you think this is the case? How can you incorporate it into your writing life?

Article based on a column written for Write Anything on 31st May, 2010. Image via via http://www.stepheneinhorn.co.uk.