Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Being Santa’s elf sux


Being one of Santa’s elf sucks. All year we elves help Santa and Mrs. Claus make presents for all the world’s children. Well most of them; the poor kids in third world countries don’t have the luxury of a fantasy life underpinned by rampant commercialism and consumer avarice.

Anyway, back to my job. It’s a bad deal, because elves are paid on delivery and that’s only once a year. We need to revisit our Enterprise Agreement, but it’s difficult getting proper union representation when you’re in a sweatshop.
                                                                                    
Take last week. The conveyer belt broke down, the heating went on the fritz and the robotic arm went ballistic under the pressure. It put the all the Ken doll heads on the Barbie dolls’ bodies. This created another problem. Instead of just chucking the rubbish, Mrs. Claus came up with some crazy idea so we didn’t waste the components. Now we have to repackage all the dolls for the trans-gender market.

And what’s my reward? Bad pay! I get paid millions, which sounds good; but I can’t buy anything, because it’s monopoly money. That’s because one year the games were overproduced and we had all this leftover toy currency. Mrs. Claus (Cow!) decided not to be wasteful.

The work environment is a pain. It should be politically correct and accessible to all vertically challenged people. This isn’t the case. Sure, there’s an EEO policy, but it’s pinned at the top of the notice board and we elves can’t see it. And there are no chick elves. This brings gender imbalance to the workplace, which has ramifications for our capacity to develop sensitive relationships or an understanding of the whole male/female thing. Worst of all, the bottom line is there are no lady bits to look at. I may be an elf but I have needs.

Recreation facilities are a bummer. The workshop is smoke free so when I want a fag I have to go outside into a North Pole blizzard, which always puts the cigarette out. My mum told me smoking was bad for my health; she said it would stunt my growth. She was wrong about that, because at 4 foot 2 inches, I’m the tallest of my seventeen brothers. I do always have a cold from being outside next to the bin with the sign that reads “Smokers Please Extinguish Your Butts Here”. My poor butt’s already extinguished by the cold. Even my testicles have shrunk to the size of peas – well three of them of have.

The benefits in this job are rank. Take the cafeteria - Mrs. Claus makes Santa bring home all the uneaten cakes and biscuits left out for him on Christmas Eve. She uses these to stock the staff cafeteria shelves. We have to eat them all year. Do you have any idea how bad stale mince pies taste?

You’re getting a whole new understanding as to why those two never had any kids, hey? Personally, I think it has a lot to do with that reindeer herd. Far too chummy with that Rudolf character if you ask me. And I don’t care what anybody says, the red nose is alcohol related.

We used to have more elves at the workshop, but we downsized. I think some of the work was outsourced to elves in China, but the boss is pretty cagey about that. He’s nervous about the words “exploitation” and “Santa” being used in the same sentence. So we all have to keep this a BIG secret or he would be out of business before you can say Shang Dang Lao Ren) which in Chinese means "Christmas Old Man." Probably ‘cos no-one knows how to say “Big Fat Bugger” in Chinese. I tell you those Clauses are definitely the Patrick Stevedoring of the elf world.  

To top it all off, they’ve been trying to implement some kind of ISO standard. Idiots! It’s a one-off operation. Who else is going to need to be ISO 345567 North-Pole-Workshop Quality Accredited? They even tried to get the Heart Foundation Tick of Approval. Let’s just say the diet didn’t hold up - nor did the sleigh – we had to reinforce the steel frame this year when it went in for the 15 zillion kilometer service.

So, festive people take a reality check. On Christmas morning, as you mess up your homes with wrapping paper, thanking each other for stuff that you secretly hate and are planning to put into a Salvos bin the first chance you get; just remember that I have to live my crappy life so you can indulge in food, drink and credit card debt.

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, 8 December 2011

The twelve malaise of Christmas





My humble offering for those whose Christmas spirits are sunk in commercial mire...




The twelve malaise of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
An over-budget stressed-out family

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Eight shoppers shoving
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family


On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Nine bills arriving
Eight shoppers shoving
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Ten gifts for loathing
Nine bills arriving
Eight shoppers shoving
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Eleven heads a throbbing
Ten gifts for loathing
Nine bills arriving
Eight shoppers shoving
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Twelve bah-humbuggings
Eleven heads a throbbing
Ten gifts for loathing
Nine bills arriving
Eight shoppers shoving
Seven bargains begging
Six ‘sold out’ postings
Five credit cards
Four ‘What to get fors…?’
Three bouts of panic
Two thousand ads
and an over-budget stressed-out family

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A string of Christmas pasta


Today, up went the Christmas tree. It took me an hour to arrange the branches which had been squashed into their storage box. It took me half an hour to untangle a string of Christmas lights. By then, I was irritable. It took Bing Crosby crooning Silent Night in the background to restore a pinch of my Christmas spirit. With that, I started to add decorations, keeping it as simple as I could; just some gold and silver baubles, and strings of opaque pearls. As I added each piece I started to think about past Christmases in my life, especially my childhood ones.
My mother was our home’s Christmas engine. She started preparing for Christmas early. We didn't have a lot of money so we were unable to buy ready-made what was needed for Christmas celebrations. Mum made everything herself. It was a month of cooking; curing meats and making sure that as many eggs as possible were collected from the chickens in preparation for the baking that needed to be done. One of my main memories is of home-made pasta that would be strung to dry over dowel rods which were balanced on the backs of our dining room chairs. This tradition continued into my adulthood.
The first Christmas without my mother nearly 10 years ago was hard. I thought my heart could not break any more than it had. A few days before that first motherless Christmas, I woke up to find pasta drying throughout the kitchen. My son, a chef, had worked through the night to prepare it for me. I have never forgotten that demonstration of his understanding. It started to put my heart that together and has become one of my enduring Christmas memories. It taught me a great lesson about small acts of kindness that belong, not just in the Christmas season, but throughout the year.
As I watch the lights twinkling on the tree, the initial vexation decorating it caused me has dissipated. I'm warm with memories of past Christmases and Mum’s pasta. If I had some now, I hang it to dry on the tree.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ghosts of other readers

Today I received in the post a book that I had tracked down via a second-hand bookshop in Queensland which advertises "gently used books". http://www.carlasbigbookshed.com.au  

It felt like opening an early Christmas present! The book pages are yellow with age and it has the additional surprise of being signed by the author. I love the feel of it. I love the smell of it. I love the fact that I will be able to nod off to sleep at night with my face buried in it.

My e-book reader allows me to take a portable library wherever I go but give me a used book where I can meet the ghosts of other readers.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lost for words (Lessons from NaNoWriMo)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has become a worldwide phenomenon for writers of all levels of experience. The concept is simple: churn out 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. 

I’d heard lots from writers who’d taken on the challenge but never thought about doing it myself. On impulse, I registered. To my surprise, I discovered a NaNoWriMo-me. She taught me a lot. With this year's event about to start, I'd like to share some of what I learned:
 
Meet the challenge: An eager novice, I gave myself an appropriate user name ‘whatamithinking’ and sat at my blank screen filled with a mix of trepidation, optimism and a good dash of caffeine. With one part of my brain singing my mantra ‘what am I thinking?’ NaNoWriMo-me argued, ‘This could be fun. Get to know me.’  So, I wrote.

Persistence pays: First day, I churned out two thousand words. I was on my way! (Until Word crashed and consigned my document to an inaccessible part of the PC) I’d need the entire ‘Without a Trace’ team to have any chance of seeing it again. So, its only day one and I’m ready to chuck it in. But hey, at the time, I was on the Gold Coast and sunrise is around 4.30 am. I figured rising early would give me a chance to catch up. By day two, it was clear that holidays and dedicated writing don’t mix well. Sun, sand and surf, beat out the screen each time. ‘You’ll find time if it’s important,’ said NaNoWriMo-me. I found pockets of time during the day to write—five minutes here, ten minutes there. The word count climbed. I kept writing.

Carry a toolbox: The NaNoWriMo website provides lots of tools for the writing journey. Graphs and charts to measure your progress, a merchandise store (where, not surprisingly, the book ‘No Plot? No problem’ was the only ‘sold out’ item). There are regional groups you can link with, writing buddies, events to attend and regular ‘rah-rah’ emails from mentors. NaNoWriMo-me didn’t use all those resources, but it was good to know they were there. I kept writing.

Tell someone who cares: Each day I’d give my husband an update of the numbers popping up in my word count. ‘That’s great,’ he’d say not taking his eye off the news broadcast. Don't get me wrong, he loves the fact that I write, even though he doesn’t entirely get why I’d write all those words and not use them. A number of non-writers friends agreed, giving me a blank-faced ‘Why?’ when I told them of the 50,000-word aim. NaNoWriMo-me learned quickly who was on My Team. She didn’t talk much; instead she conserved her energy for the page. I kept writing.

You don't have to write well, you just have to write: Here’s the thing; I never had a plot to lose. I had one-dimensional characters, most of whom I decided I didn’t like. Don't ask me about landscape, setting, or theme. My timeline travelled more than the complete series of Dr Who. Dialogue, seemed to flow, but sensory detail was absent. My inner critic screams ‘Loser!’ in an amplified voice. NaNoWriMo-me ignored it. I kept writing.

Don’t look back: My tale started with a contemplative woman in her sixties, who though some convoluted story lines reflects on her days as an unwitting porn star. Don't ask. I didn't. Despite my lack of direction, I wasn’t tempted to edit, focussing on pouring the words onto the page. Would I get to the word count Holy Grail? I pushed on like a desert explorer moving toward the oasis mirage. I kept writing.

You CAN be brave at your keyboard: our writing class was advised to write about what we’re afraid of writing. So I did. Prim and proper me wrote sex scenes. My inner critic tried talking me out of it. What if your kids see it?  What if someone thinks that’s what YOU do? But NaNoWriMo-me did the cheerleader thing, ‘Go for it!’ Sometimes I’d laugh out loud at the sheer drivel I wrote; sometimes I was surprised by the eloquence of a line. I kept writing.

Enjoy your destination when you get there: my writing GPS may have been wonky, but I managed to hit 50,000 plus words on day 22. My progress bar on the official website turned from blue to green. I did a little jig and gave myself a round of applause. I’d be getting that PDF certificate in which I could write in my name and hang on my wall. I’d met my goal. I took a deep breath… and decided to stop writing.  

Celebrate the surprises: The big surprise was how much NaNoWriMo-me taught me about my process as a writer. I know where I get stuck. I know what excuses I use to put off getting those words down on paper. I can tell you exactly at what point my brain will tell me its ‘coffee and cake’ time. NaNoWriMo-me tells me it’s ok to write really badly without my perfectionism gene going into overdrive. She gives me permission to not have structure and plot all cemented in place before I start. She tells me that in their absence, I can still write.

After doing NaNoWriMo, I found new energy for my other writing projects. I don't know yet how much better I am as writer for the experience but I’m okay with that. What I did discover is that I can commit and I can get a story onto the page.

Would I do it again? I will. I wouldn’t mind spending another month with NaNoWriMo-me. I quite like her. 

She’s never lost for words.


Friday, 21 October 2011

Falling off my Tw**ting perch

So—I've been off Twitter for ages. Not by choice. Somehow I even managed to pick up a few new followers! Thanks guys. Overall, I'm not sure that anyone noticed. Despite falling off my tweeting perch I still love Twitter. There are opinions left, right and center. There’s shock value and things to ponder on: to react or respond to. I've become better at managing my Twitter time. I used to get caught up in reading all the websites that I'm directed to by other Tweeters posts. There was always the chirp of the next post in my ear, distracting me from the tasks to which I should have been committing my energy. I've become a more selective and found that things in small doses can work just as well. One of the things that is great about Twitter is that it forces me to refine what I'm want to say and for that has helped with my writing in general. It's a kind of inbuilt editing mindset. I've appreciated that twitter makes things tight. I'm back on my perch now. Tweet!
 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Good medicine

I thought my fingers would never navigate the keyboard again. They were unpractised at finding the right letters, slow in the keystrokes. I’d been away from writing for a month. I’d spent most of that time fighting an acute illness, dosed on antibiotics, feverish and flat. I spent some of that time catching up on my reading list; including Henriette Anne Klauser’s ‘With Pen in Hand: The Healing Power of Writing’ a great reminder of how writing can make thing better. These events reaffirmed that I don’t function well when I don't write regularly. Even if I'm their only audience, I need to spill words onto the page. My fingers are getting more limber, the words are starting to flow again. It’s good medicine; take as needed.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Choking on my words


                               
Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2011 is a smorgasbord of words; lots to pile onto our crafty plates; lots to digest. I listen to the writers who constitute ‘fine dining’—best selling authors, they’ve done the work and are deserving of their success. I gorge on the wisdom of the craft they spread before the audience. Sometimes I get so full, I give myself indigestion. I wonder how much more feasting the writing world can handle. Will the table collapse under the weight? Is there room for one more morsel, for that crumb of a story I have scattered onto my page? Will it sate someone’s appetite for the tale just a little? As a writer, will I give up because there is so much fine food out there? Or will I decide to practice, practice, practice, until I can whip up the perfect offering? Abandon or aim to emulate? One thing I know, hunger revisits every day. There is an audience waiting for good stories, delivered on white linen or take away containers. Chew it over then do the work. 

Friday, 19 August 2011

Friday, Freedom and Ferrari

It’s Friday and my dog, Ferrari, spends the afternoon the way I’d like to—snoozing. Ferrari’s days are filled with the same daily routine now that he’s reached dog-dotage. It’s a safe bet he has no idea it’s Friday. There’s nothing to review in his world.
For people, Friday is pivotal day, the place we stand to look back on the week or forward, to the weekend. It's freedom day for many. A day when we can consider that we’ve achieved and the things we hope to still. Friday is the full-stop on the working week. It’s the catchment grid for stories collected at work, school, appointments, meetings, shopping; mundane events and perhaps dramatic ones that change our lives; an anecdote or an apocalypse. What happened this week? What stories do we have to tell? What questions remain unanswered? What happens next? What will never happen again? 

What’s the story? 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Did you enjoy Michael McGirr’s ‘Things you get for free’?


You can also ask lots of questions of Michael, Maureen McCarthy and Lucia Nardo for free at the upcoming Rotunda in the West - Conversations with Australian writers at August Arts
Saturday 20 August
1.30 pm for a 2.00 pm start
Wyndham Civic Centre Functions Area
45 Princes Highway Werribee

Presented by Victoria University and Wyndham City

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Words in a waning winter


Melbourne: winter tries to maintain its grip but spring arm wrestles it successfully to the tabletop. I sit at one such table on the banks of the Yarra River, soaking up a promise of more sunshine, watching and listening as a parade of locals and tourists fills the air with words and laughter; the sound a chorus to the verse of the city. I savor the taste of conversations; a morsel of a phrase, a word without a context, a line without its punch. Behind each, there’s a smorgasbord of story questions; enough to sate my notebook and fountain pen. Words emerge, thawing after winter’s heavy silence. Bliss.

Friday, 12 August 2011

What goes on in a writer’s head and heart?

Rotunda in the West – conversations with Australian writers brings writers face-to-face with audiences who love words and a great story. Here’s another opportunity to find out what goes on in a writer’s head and heart. Free event presented by Wyndham August Arts and Rotunda

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Cooking up characters

 
The other day I baked a cake. Unlike the chefs in my family, I didn’t make it from scratch. I confess I bought cake mix. In my defence, it was a reputable and always delicious brand. I couldn’t make up my mind between moist vanilla and smooth lemon. Being a reader, I blocked the supermarket aisle while I scoured the ingredients on both packets only to discover the oddest thing. The ingredients were exactly the same. The lists were arranged in a different order but that didn’t fool me. It got me to wondering what distinguished them aside from the obvious name and slightly altered image on the packet. And when I start thinking, it always takes me back to writing. This time it was characters.

What makes your characters stand out from one another? Do they have distinct voices? What are they scared of? What makes them happy or sad? What’s important in their life? What do you want your readers to know about them? What do your characters need, want and desire? What can’t they live without? What makes the reader care about them? What do you know about them? How are you going to find out more about them? I've learned much about developing characters by listening to other writers to stop characters being sliced from the same cake. Something that works for me is writing a few pages as if the character is telling me about his or her life. Not all of this information is used but it makes great background information when I'm writing scenes.

Sometimes it takes me a while to build a relationship with my characters. The relationship is as real to me as any I have. I have to interact with my character to get to know him or her. Some I've taken to easily, others have had to grow on me. There are times I look for them in the street. I wonder what they would do in any given situation. 

Like baking a cake, you can start off with the basic mix, mix it up, raise the temperature and wait for it all to rise. And for those who really want to know, I chose moist vanilla. It was scrumptious but only after I added a few extra ingredients of my own. I finally figured that the difference in the cakes mixes was the additives in the icing’ I didn’t use the icing. 

For me, the flavour should be in the body.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

So you think you have a story to tell?

Want to ask a writer some tricky questions? 
Here's a FREE Question & Answer event at which you can:

Michael McGirr: Lost art of Sleep/Things you get for free
Maureen McCarthy: Chain of Hearts/When you wake and find me gone
Lucia Nardo: Heart to Heart/Soul Sisters/Ada Cambridge Prize
 
Saturday 20 August 2011
2pm for 2.30pm start

Wyndham Civic Centre
45 Princes Hwy
Werribee (Melways 206 B7)
 
or Bruno.Lettieri@vu.edu.au 0422 29 86 43

Presented by: 
Rotunda in the West: Conversations with Australian Writers
Professional Writing and Editing (TAFE), Victoria University & Wyndham City Council August Arts

More information about Rotunda events is at ‘Rotunda West’ on Facebook 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Wake your words from slumber

 Blossom reminds a suburban street that it’s stirring after a long winter sleep. The heater is off and the sunglasses are on. Just when you think you can’t handle it any longer—something gives:
The temperature climbs, 
You’re blinded by inspiration, 
The cold blocks dissipate,
You’re hot again. 
Get those fingers moving: type, write. 
Wake your words from slumber.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Many happy returns

It’s my birthday but not the sort you think. I had a mechanical heart valve inserted ten years ago today so I figure I'm ten years old. That gives me the right to be imaginative and full of dreams. I can choose to avoid an adulthood in which the world says: don’t, can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t— Bliss! It’s simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I've had unfailing support from family and friends and a whole medical team behind the scenes who helped save my life. Aside from the surgeon, anesthetist and cardiologist, I’ll never know who they are but I often think about them. Thanks guys! Sometimes the changes forced on us give us the best opportunities to develop our character. I'm not sure where mine’s at for now because the recovery hasn’t been easy. There are people who bounce back quickly from this type of ‘routine’ surgery. Routine for the medical profession not the patient! I didn’t bounce so well so I have days when having a whinge is something I do spectacularly well. I’ve learned to limit the time I spend on self-pity before moving on to deciding what attitude I want to take in a situation. Time is precious and I've got things to do – even if it’s within new limits.  Mostly I've learned that every breath is a bonus. 
I might go bake myself a cake. 
 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Competition


Recently I submitted a short story to a competition. Do I expect to get anywhere? Not really and the outcome doesn’t matter. It would be nice of course but am I less of a writer if I'm unplaced? Not at all. Why do it then? One reason is for the goal of completing a story; deadlines help in building a body of work. The second is that the more I write, the more I increase my chances of becoming better at the craft. Maybe that is the more important reason. I'm no literary genius just a modest writer. My greatest asset is that I'm committed. I write a little every day because I have to. I don’t mean that I'm compelled by an external force. The drive to write is internal. That’s the way it’s been ever since I can remember; even when life isn’t going well. Some ten years ago I was ill. I could not speak because I was so short of breath. In fact, I was almost ready to say goodbye to the planet. But I kept a diary of those events. It’s how I process things. It’s what I needed to do to get through. That diary became my first non-fiction title 'Heart to Heart' http://www.lucianardo.com/links/hearttoheart.html 
It took years to get from my splotchy fountain-penned notes to the bookshelf. It was a combination of many polite rejections, taking on board feedback and persistence that got me there in the end. It would have been easy to give up. I'm too sick, too busy, too much in pain, too despondent. I chose to keep going. Unlike many writers, I can’t sit at a keyboard for hours. All my writing is done a few minutes at a time: a word, a paragraph a page. The deadline might be a competition closing date or the end of an A4 page. I love finishing a piece and sending it somewhere: to a comp, to my writing group, to a friend. There’s huge satisfaction in knowing that I got there. It makes me feel like a winner. The only competition I need to worry about is the one I'm having with myself. Don’t you give up either! It’s okay to award yourself first prize.   

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Shredding


I've spent day going through old documents that are like a time line of my life before Twitter. So many scraps of paper! It started with a practical goal of sorting out tax documents. I knew the seven-year rule but still anxiety gripped me What if I need this later? I kept asking myself. I was too scared to let go. Traveling back in time can be jarring. It made me wonder why we hang onto the past so tightly. I was shocked at all the trivial things I hung onto. All had lost their importance over the years. The only thing I kept were old pieces I’d written. Because in writing, nothing is ever wasted. I can’t say the same for the old gas accounts and birthday cards from people who, sadly, I no longer remember.
I fed piles of paper into the shredder and listened to the sharp teeth tear my life on paper into pieces that could never be stuck together again. When I finished, I appreciated all the empty space in the filing cabinet. The weight of the past had shifted. Maybe the Australian Tax Department's seven-year rule should be applied to all aspects of life?  Maybe after seven years it’s time to work our way out of grudges and misery; take a different attitude; get a therapist if necessary, do the work. Get a mental shredder. Oh… and file the tax return.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Lost Austen and Lost in Austen

So Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript has sold for $1.6 million. I have a heap of unfinished scribbling in my bottom drawer but I suspect that none of my writing generates the interest that Jane’s does. Our fascination with her continues. What captivates me about her writing is her observations of society at the time, the dos and don'ts of behaviour; what was expected and the uncomfortable nature of that, especially for women. The characters are so real to me that I could imagine how they would behave in any given situation. The brilliant television series ‘Lost in Austen’ put a new spin on Jane’s work, melding the characters with modern times. Oh to be able to write like that…

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The work of change

Today I was thinking about making change and the sheer hard work that is involved. The changes can be physical or psychological or both. Whichever it is, this is what I've come to realise: many people want things to be different but nobody wants to change. Change is hard work. Lasting change initially makes you uncomfortable to the core. It’s painful. It makes you question what you believe about yourself and others. If you want just how confusing change can be try this simple experiment: next time you're dressing, start by inserting the opposite arm to the one you usually use first for your top/shirt or use the opposite leg for pants/trousers. It feels weird. It challenges the habit—the practiced response. We have to kill off the old thinking pattern to develop new ones. Neither of those is palatable. Change involves a death of sorts. There is a mourning period to be observed. The most painful period is that between the old and the new. It is uncomfortable sitting with the dormant; the things that are yet to emerge. Like trees with bare branches waiting for spring to unfold their new leaves, it’s easy to notice only nakedness; to think about the dying colours of autumn, to feel the sting of winter rain though the branches instead of focusing on the sky revealed. The old must be destroyed to make way for the new—new habits, new thinking, new writing. Don't be afraid to sit under that barren tree. Look up to the sky. Use a different starting point; wait patiently. Before you know it, everything will be in bloom again.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Godfather was a girl and Blanche Dubois was a guy’

I'm tired because of Hardie Grant Books. They sent me ‘The Godfather Was a Girl and Blanche Dubois Was a Guy' by Eamon Evans and I’ve been up half the night discovering the good, bad and sometimes surprisingly ugly inspiration behind many of my favourite characters. Intrigue list to date: the alarm clock bed invented by the person who inspired Wonderland’s Mad Hatter character, Peggy Lee as inspiration for Miss Piggy (gives me Fever!) and for managing 72 weddings in a few years and giving us four to enjoy, I love Richard Curtis even more. Really engaging read. I can feast like I did last night or graze. Satisfying—and fab dinner party conversation.

It confirms that writers need to be observers when creating our characters; one trait or one remark when given a creative twist can make our character leap from the page or screen. So, I'm off to make a list of strange people I have known as part of my character research then I'm going to catch up on my sleep.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

First steps on the writing road


What’s it like to start out as a writer? I often think about this when I facilitate a group taking their first unsteady steps in the craft. They don’t only come with paper and pen but often with uncertainty and little confidence. They believe it’s not right to call themselves a ‘writer’ because they don’t know enough or don’t believe they are ‘good enough’. Most often they believe that only being published allows the word ‘writer’ to be used with their name. I can share with people some of what I know about the craft. I tell them that none of the things they worry about matter but I can’t turn them into writers; they need to choose that for themselves. My small voice is often lost in the clamour of their inner critic. I keep telling them—keep your pen to the paper, your fingers on the keyboard. Tell the critic to shut up! Keep going. Slowly I see the changes. People become bolder at having a go; more willing to share their work publically. I'm coming to the end of another group who have worked through some of these issues and are producing good work in just a few weeks. I'm grateful to them because they remind me of what it was like when I first started. I learn just as much from them as they do from me. I always come away feeling humble and privileged. One day I’m sure I’ll see names I recognise from these early days on the spines of books. Be brave.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Balancing the books


I don’t get as excited as an accountant about the start of the new financial year but I do like new beginnings. There’s always hope in a chance to begin again. I think of that often when I'm writing. It can always be fixed later. As long as the words are on the page, I can redraft, edit, refine. Pouring it out on the page is the sticky point for many writers (me included). We want our books to be perfect, balanced. We want to know that there is more profit than loss. That’s why we stall—we’re afraid of what is going against the ledger. The constant self auditing grinds us to a halt. I'm going to try and be more brave, leave my auditing until it’s required; enjoy accumulating the words, the paragraph the story, hope I can hold my readers’ interest.

I'm no financial expert but I’d love to cook a book.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The winter of my discontent


I don't know about anyone else, but winter is not my favorite season. Don't get me wrong, I love a roaring fire and watching the rain outside, but that’s usually a fleeting moment. Those of us who manage chronic pain know that our defences are lowered by the constant battle to untense muscles tightened by the low temperatures. Along with the naked trees, misty streets and bone aching cold, winter strips me bare. And it hurts. I have adopted a hot water bottle and a wheat bag. They join in most of my travels. Sometimes just from room to room. The scent of lavender from the wheat bag reminds me that spring will inevitably arrive and the gloom will dissipate. In the meantime, I write as much as I am able to while the heater hums and my old dog snores on the study chair. Time and pain pass. This morning I awoke, not to the usual stillness of the winter but to a bird twittering in the branches outside my window. Maybe spring is closer than I think.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I'm a twit at twitter



Someone told me to exercise my brain, not just keep it active, but ‘stretch’ it through new challenges: learn a language, a craft, a skill. It’s supposed to help stave off dementia. Figured I’d learn to twitter. That way I'm braining s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g while keeping up with a technological world that passes my station platform like a bullet train while I'm still trying to figure out how to buy a ticket. At the rate I'm learning, my brain will stretch twice around the globe. I'm persevering despite the challenges. My progress is hindered by the fact that getting old sucks and body bits don’t work as they once did. I can’t see so well on my small screen smart phone (phone smart/I'm not) and reading tweets gets problematic so I have two pairs of specs these days: boring reading ones, flashy ones for social occasions. I recently wore the flashier ones trying to locate the unflashy reading ones. Fifteen minutes later I located the second pair where I’d pushed them up onto my head. Good look. Tweet that.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Writing rhythm

Writing rhythm
Having trouble getting into a writing rhythm? Writers talk about ‘discipline’ when it comes to writing. It’s a harsh word. I prefer Julia Cameron’s expression of being ‘enthused’ for writing. It takes us to the page willingly. I've just done Morning Pages – three hand writing pages in my beloved fountain pen. I write them before I get out of bed when my head is full of the remnants of dreams. I’ve noticed that the enthusiasm I'm developing for these pages is growing because I just feel better for doing it. Maybe its an endorphin thing. Want to know more? http://www.theartistsway.com/ or twitter: @J_CameronLive