Zen and the Art of Creative Writing

The things I have written this year are ‘Not For Publication’ (NFP). Am I wasting precious time? I think not. I am practising the art of creative writing and trying to adjust to this lifestyle. I like it. It suits my psyche. I feel like I am in the apprenticeship phase of my writing life, despite the fact of my Earth years.

I have written a short story from a particular incident from my family history. It could be for publication, but is it finished? I am not sure.

I have also written my life story, to get that out of the way and out of my head. Not for publication, but I feel relieved of the burden and the obstacle to a freer creative mind.

My own personal writing process has been revealed to me. I now understand how this energetic force unfurls within me, and then abates with The End, post editing of the Zero Draft.

Writing desk

    I feel well behind when it comes to my skills with crafting the English language. I place blame in part on the negligent curriculum set by Victoria’s Education department during the 1970’s. Grammar was not taught at all, and yet this is an essential tool for being able to express oneself properly, and this leads to effective and genuine communication. This society now converses in memes and acronyms, and we can see how that’s going.

    I favoured math, design, art, science, became an Industrial Designer and left English behind me in secondary school. And yet I have always needed an outlet to express my thoughts and ideas. My main blog is Sues Bent that I began in 2008. While continuing with this blog, I have also written for my side projects such as our big trip around Australia, and my love of French culture.

    Of course, I have written work-related items during my years employed as an Information Professional: reports, media briefs, copy for websites and advertisements, instructional manuals, strategic plans, and created presentations.

    All of this writing over many years has strengthened that muscle. I have put in the ten thousand hours towards mastery (as prescribed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers).

    I feel match ready.

    My Self-Initiated Lifelong Learning Experience continues and I draw further learning about the English language and writing from Benjamin McEvoy and his Hardcore Literature teachings. The Writers HQ continues to be a great source for motivation.

    I have my Writing Plan and some ideas for 2023.

    Next month I will write a review of 2022; things accomplished, books read, writing completed, etc. I have done this before, inspired by Chris Guillebeau. It is great way to plan for the year ahead.

    PS The title of this blog post highlights my love of the 1974 book by Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I wonder if Benjamin McEvoy has a tutorial on this classic novel.

    Catching butterflies

    “Catching butterflies” is a poetic notion offered by author Jock Serong at a recent workshop at the Peninsula Writers Club, that I attended recently.

    Jock Serong presenting at the Peninsula Writers Club

    It refers to one of the ways writers engage with the creative process. The butterflies are the ideas that flit around in our heads, or out in the ether. As writers (or artists) we get a glimpse of the colour, a shimmer of light reflected from their wings, and then it is gone. Maybe to return.

    How quick do we respond? Can we catch it, study it, pin it down, find the words to describe it accurately? Or will it dart away to another creative soul who will be ready? Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, expresses the idea that ideas have their own life that is independent of the writer. If one creative person will not express it, the idea will find another willing creative.

    The topic of the workshop with Jock Serong was Plotting and Structure. He paced us through his ideas, giving examples from his books, and others. I liked his presentation style and the easy logic of his process. His description of his own novels inspired me to want to read them, as I haven’t yet. The Settlement is his most recent and the third of a trilogy.

    We did a few exercises that he set for us. One was to put a character into a stressful situation and see how they react. A method often used by Stephen King.

    We wrote for ten minutes. Others read out what they had written, and they were great. How quickly they put themselves into this character and the situation. Meanwhile I was still imagining my hero in her setting. Obviously, we have different approaches, but it illustrates my beginner’s ability, compared to the seasoned writers in the club

    I was not disheartened though and left with a new ‘to-do’ list and fresh ideas. I made a structure table for my story and will have a look at the Scrivener software. I am now reading On Writing by Stephen King as this seems to always crop up as a ‘must read’ book for writers.

    My own story has a new thread and I have plotted out the scenes, ready to start writing.

    Writer’s Work

    After attending the Writer’s Workshop this month provided by the Peninsula Writers Club and facilitated by author Kate Mildenhall, I have been quietly contemplating… and not much actual writing.

    Group picture – Peninsula Writer’s Club – 7 August 2022

    The workshop on Pitching and Publishing was useful, but more so were the exercises and discussions with all of the writers in the room. It was interesting to hear about the progress of other writer’s projects, successes, and not so successful experiences.

    I felt energised after the event and came home to prepare my own Annual Writing Work Plan. I am great at writing plans: work plans, project plans, communication plans, staff development plans, implementation plans. And I am happy with the personal creative writing plan that I prepared for myself.

    I now have a year’s worth of relevant resources to work through in order to expand and deepen this skill of creative writing. I will list some of them below for reference.

    Kate Mildenhall was an excellent facilitator for this workshop and her former career in the teaching profession was evident. I had already read and enjoyed her historical fiction Skylarking and after this workshop read The Mother Fault. I confessed to her that I could see many similarities between her novel Skylarking and my work-in-progress. We both had identified Anne of Green Gables as a story that was of a similar strain to our own works. So, yes, similarities, but totally different tales.

    My own story sits idle. But I now have an idea about how to develop my story further. The ideas sit inside my head, as the main story did for years before I downloaded it from my brain through my fingers onto paper and computer and wove it into a comprehensible narrative. I am at the point where I need to sit and get these new ideas onto ‘paper’. I will need to prepare a storyboard like I did for the main part of the story, and then plot the scenes and weave the new scenes into the other part of the story that I have already completed. So, while the creative ideas continue to percolate in my head, I write lists of things to do, and read books about writing.

    Here are some resources (in no particular order) that I have incorporated into my Annual Writing Work Plan (some I have read and listened to already*):

    BOOKS ABOUT WRITING

    • Save the Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody*                                                  
    • The Artists Way by Julia Cameron*
    • The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron*                                                        
    • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark *                            
    • Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing by Catherine Deveny       
    • Everything I Know About Writing by Annie Dillard                                                                              
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert*                                
    • Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg*                               
    • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg*                                                   
    • Searching for The Secret River by Kate Grenville                                 
    • Ten Things About Writing: Build Your Story One Word at A Time by Joanne Harris *
    • Night Fishing by Vicki Hastrich                                   
    • On Writing by Stephen King                                                        
    • Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, Keep Going by Austin Kleon                                              
    • The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Koffman                                                     
    • Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott                                                          
    • The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy                                                          
    • Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum                                          
    • Writing Your Life by Patti Miller*                                                              
    • How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz                                                              
    • A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders                                                         
    • The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr                                                 
    • The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp                                                           
    • The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick
    • The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood                                          
    • The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood                                                   
    • How Fiction Works by James Wood         

    PODCASTS

    • Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert*
    • The First Time by Katherine Collette and Kate Mildenhall
    • The Garret: Writers on Writing by Astrid Edwards             
    • The Writers Room by Charlotte Wood
    • Ruts and Routines by Madeline Dore
    • How to Fail by Elizabeth Day
    • Keeping a Notebook by Nina LaCour
    • Writer’s Routine by Dan Simpson
    • Between the Covers: Conversations with Writers by David Naimon
    • So, You Want to Be a Writer by Valerie Khoo and Vic Writers Centre
    • First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing by Mitzi Rapkin
    • James and Ashley Stay at Home by James Watson and Ashley Blunt          
    • The Screenwriting Life by Meg LeFauve and Lorien McKenna       
    • Dead & Buried by Carly Godden and Lee Hooper*

    SOME OTHER RESOURCES

    Those Adverbs!

    I hesitate at the edge, procrastinating, fearful about plunging into the deep, the real work of writing a book. I am surrounded by experts, published authors, stories already told.

    But here I am at the precipice, ready to go deep into the story.

    “Everyone has a book in them.” ~ Stan Smith (my father)

    The preparation is done, and no more time to dally.

    Writers desk at the ready

    I have not been writing in this blog for a while.

    • First there was the travel adventure around Australia where I concentrated my efforts on a bit of travel writing through Mick & Sue’s Aussie Adventure.
    • Then last year I completed the family story and printed that tome for family.
    • During February I have been trying to get my head to the task. I’m not sure that taking part in #FebFlourish on Instagram helped at all, except to add to my procrastination.

    So, my plan now is to:

    • Assign blocks of time for this writing adventure.
    • Go over my notes.
    • Do a bit more planning so I have a structure to write into.
    • Aim for a number of words per session goal.
    • Just start writing and try to get this first draft down.
    • And maybe I should do the online courses offered by WritersHQ.UK
      • Balance Your Writing Life that starts in March
      • Editing 101 that starts in April

    Searching for Phosphorescence

    Phosphorescence by Julia Baird explores ideas around the things that can lift us when life gets us down.

    She begins poetically with the enchanting existence of phosphorescence in the natural world. I loved her descriptions of lit-up underwater creatures and this drew me in.

    Julia goes on to talk about people who seek the deeper beauty that exists in this world: storm-chasers, divers, forest bathers, silence seekers, tree huggers, cloud appreciators. I relate to these ideas as here she validates my own deeper yearnings and life pursuits.

    With my smartphone handy I enjoyed looking up more information about the people and ideas Julia mentions: Nick Moir, Robert Hoge, and others.

    Julia touches on feminism and her own indecision about using her hard-earned title of ‘Dr.’. Her ideas on ‘lookism’ I appreciate and needs more exploration generally.

    My interest waned a little when she discusses religion but given where she was in her own precarious battle with cancer, I understand.

    Returning to the initial ideas of searching for phosphorescence in the underwater world was a nice way to close the book and reignited my own sense of wonder.

    Books read in 2019

    I read 26 books this year of my personal challenge of 50 books. Of those 18 are fiction and 8 are non-fiction. Books Read 2019-12-27 103509

    These are the books that I read and enjoyed in 2019 with my rating – three I rated 5 star:

    1. The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma – Fiction – 4 stars
    2. The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay – Fiction – 4 stars
    3. The Library Book by Susan Orlean – Non-Fiction – 5 stars
    4. The Greenprint by Marco Borges – Non-Fiction – 4 stars
    5. Attitudes of Gratitude by M.J. Ryan – Non-Fiction – 3 stars
    6. Wormwood Mire by Judith Russell – Junior Fiction – 4 stars
    7. Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion – Fiction – 3 stars
    8. The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris – Fiction – 5 stars
    9. The Book of Dreams by Nina George – Fiction – 3 stars
    10. My Life After Death by Erik Medhus – Non-Fiction – 2 stars
    11. Wanderlust by Jeff Krasno – Non-Fiction – 3 stars
    12. Vanlife Diaries by Kathleen Morton – Non-Fiction – 2 stars
    13. State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe – Fiction – 3 stars
    14. Writing Your Life by Patti Miller – Non-Fiction – 5 stars
    15. Artemis by Andyd Weir – Fiction – 3 stars
    16. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Fiction – 4 stars
    17. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – Fiction – 4 stars
    18. Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson – Non-Fiction – 4 stars
    19. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland – Fiction – 4 stars
    20. The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva – Fiction – 3 stars
    21. The English Girl by Daniel Silva – Fiction – 3 stars
    22. Bruny by Heather Rose – Fiction – 4 stars
    23. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – Fiction – 4 stars
    24. Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver – Fiction – 3 stars
    25. The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde – Fiction – 3 stars
    26. The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham – Fiction – 3 stars

    I am yet to reach my goal of 50 books in one year. Here is my record from Goodreads over the past few years:

    IMG_1386[1943]

    What is a Library?

    The father of library science, Dr. S. R. Ranganathan, defines the term ‘library’:

    “A library is a public institution or establishment charged with the care of a collection of books and the duty of making them accessible to those who require to use them and the task of converting every person in its neighbourhood into a habitual library goer and a regular reader.”

    Oxford defines a ‘library’:

    “A building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for the use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution.”

    Cambridge definition:

    “A building, room, or organization that has a collection, especially of books for people to read or borrow, usually without payment.”

    Wikipedia definition:

    “A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, selected by experts and made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or digital access to material and may be a physical location or a virtual space, or both.”

    Nowhere are the words ‘programs’, ‘events’, ‘performance’, ‘show’, or ‘hub’ mentioned.

    It is a sad day when a library collection is being arbitrarily shoved aside to make room for random artists to show-off. And these significant decisions are being made not by ‘experts’. Not by Library Professionals. Not by the people who are educated and qualified and comprehensively appreciate the importance of a properly functioning library with an appropriately curated collection.

    A Library is not a hall, or a meeting place, or an auditorium. It is not a place where individuals ‘perform’. That is a different place: maybe an Arts Centre, or a public hall.

    In trying to reinvent themselves to assure a slice of public funding, public libraries have done a disservice in trying to be all things to all people. Basic storytime has morphed into miked-up performance to a large crowd expecting a ‘show’. While you can’t deny the popularity of storytime sessions in every public library across the nation, it has raised the expectation to put on a show for every single event, week, cause, and celebration.

    Science Week becomes an opportunity for a Science Show complete with explosions. Children’s Book Week invites character dress-ups, but also another “show” based on the theme.

    These examples are relevant in the library space, but now “they” expect this every week for every random idea or theme. Libraries exist on the premise of inclusivity. But where are the ‘collections’ in all of this? Where are the books? Where are the spaces for investigation, learning, study, and contemplation? Where is the avenue for the Self-Initiated Lifelong Learning Experiences?

    I don’t believe all people are lazy and mindless and willing to sit back and be delivered an idea through a performance. All people are creative and wish to activate their own thing.

    I believe libraries need to focus on the very core definition of a ‘library’ in order to reinvent themselves, and not accept the current coercion that reduces the library to a day centre, performance space, community hub, and marketing opportunity.

    I am a book lover and perpetually curious about this life. I love to read and investigate. I can do some of that online, but I also like to delve into a physical book, being unplugged, sitting under a tree, holding the book in my hand, turning the pages, absorbed in the unfolding story. This story inevitably leads to further investigation and more reading resources as I delve and learn further.

    Public libraries need help from everyone as public funds are being redirected and usurped into other areas by people not qualified, or educated to understand the elemental and crucial function of a ‘Library’. If there are no books, regardless of the format, it is NOT a library!

    Me and many other Library Professionals like me have worked hard and conscientiously for libraries for many years, but I fear that public libraries won’t be there when I am retired and looking for a good book to borrow.

    Public Libraries RIP.

     

    Leaving Library Land

    After 24 years in the industry I have left the Land of Libraries. It has been a busy, interesting, and rewarding time that has passed by in the blink of an eye.

    Back in 1996 when I began my first job in a public library there were still card catalogues about. The automated library system used DOS and I remember using the keyboard prompts to operate the green cursor on the black screen. The World Wide Web was just emerging and Hotmail soon became the wonder of communication. Mobile devices were still a long way off. Social Media and ebooks were not things yet.

    Now Google is the place everyone goes to for information; not a book in a library. Amazon is where people go to buy books either in print or as an ebook. We all carry our computers in our pockets for 24 hour connection. We go to iTunes for music, Netflix for movies and TV, and news is sent to us.

    I have done everything in libraries: helping customers, handling the books, system administration, website design, reports to local and state government, presenting to groups large and small, social media, photo setups, organizing events, author talks, book launches, trivia nights, school holiday activities, budget management, recruitment, staff management, moving large collections, cataloguing, buying shelving and furniture, making ads, videos, and promotions, and much more.

    My career highlights have been:

    • Involvement with the IFLA Global Vision
    • Involvement with the Victoria’s Libraries 2030 strategies
    • Library Manager at a regional library service
    • Presenting at a School Libraries Association of Victoria Conference
    • Presenting at a Red Cross Conference
    • Being involved with the Public Libraries Victoria LibMark Special Interest Group and helping to organise and deliver the Annual Conference.

    I have worked with some great people and excellent teams. I have also worked with some less than satisfactory people and poorly functioning teams. It has been a profound learning journey that has been satisfying intellectually and ethically. This work gives back to the local community and is appreciated every day.

    For me it is the perfect time to step away. I feel the continuing decline of public libraries and wonder how long they will operate on goodwill. For me a “community hub” is a poor replacement for what was a Library. My soul feels the affront.

    On my first day away from the industry I was surprised to feel that at heart I remain a Designer. This was my first love, first pursuit, and I have dabbled over the years as a hobbyist. But I also applied the design thinking, creativity, project management and problem solving skills to all that I did in my work in libraries.

    Books Read in 2018

    Here is the list of books that I read in 2018 with my ratings.

    goodreads_challenge_2018_pic03

    FICTION

    1. The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton – 5 stars
    2. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – 5 stars
    3. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – 4 stars
    4. Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric – 3 stars
    5. Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord – 3 stars
    6. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – 3 stars
    7. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – 3 stars
    8. The Quiet Side of Passion by Alexander McCall Smith – 3 stars
    9. The Other Wife by Michael Robotham – 3 stars
    10. The Nowhere Child by Christian White – 3 stars
    11. The Little French Bistro by Nina George – 3 stars
    12. Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham 2 stars
    13. Six Years by Harlan Coben – 2 stars
    14. The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen – 2 stars
    15. Scrublands by Chris Hammer – 2 starsgoodreads_challenge_2018-pic01

    NON-FICTION

    1. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari – 5 stars
    2. To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidah Jenkins – 5 stars
    3. Staying: A Memoir by Jessie Cole – 5 stars
    4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson – 4 stars
    5. The Plant-Based Solution: A Vegan Cardiologist’s Plan to Save Your Life and the Planet by Joel K. Kahn – 4 stars
    6. The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life by Natalie Goldberg – 4 stars
    7. The Hidden School: Return of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman – 4 stars
    8. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising by Marie Kondo – 4 stars
    9. The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Revolutionary Guide to How You Can Prevent and Reverse Memory Loss by Dean Sherzai – 4 stars
    10. Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man by Abdi Aden – 4 stars
    11. Random Life by Judy Horacek – 3 stars
    12. 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright – 3 stars
    13. Living as a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change by Bodhipaksa – 3 stars
    14. The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi – 3 stars
    15. Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Best-selling Memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert – 3 stars
    16. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris – 3 stars
    17. The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo – 3 stars
    18. Lovelands by Debra Campbell – 3 stars
    19. Unequaled: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence by James A. Runde – 3 stars
    20. Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss by Joel Fuhrman M.D. – 3 stars
    21. The Vegan Starter Kit by Neal D. Barnard – 3 stars
    22. OMD: Swap One Meal a Day to Save the Planet and Your Health by Suzy Amis Cameron – 3 stars
    23. Marcia Langton: Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton – 1 stargoodreads_challenge_2018-pic02

    Author A. (Alec) S. Patric

    Alec Patric spoke at Frankston Library this week as part of the Australian Library Week events. And despite the small number of people in the audience, it was a lovely event. Maybe because of the small audience it was more of a conversation rather than a presentation. Alec Patric

    Alec appears as a dedicated and humble writer who loves his craft. Growing up in the then barren western suburbs of Melbourne he sought enrichment through poetry. Becoming a ‘writer’ was a foreign concept in that era in that community. Working on weekends in his dad’s engineering factory he found beauty in words.

    The conversation at the library meandered lyrically, involving us all, we spoke of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction, winning awards, work in the local book shop, Black Rock White City, his soon-to-be-released collection of short stories The Butcherbird Stories, immigration, book clubs, libraries, the writing life, and more.

    When Alec observed that fiction novels are the zeitgeist of society, I understood completely. This is a notion I have explored on occasion, my thoughts flailing about trying to reason why fiction is important. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is a perfect example of a story that portrays a particular, time, place and culture: ‘the spirit of the times’.

    The conversation about literary fiction brought the novel Eucalyptus by Murray Bail to mind. A book I love and is hard to place into a rigid genre. Alec was aiming for a literary page-turner with his book Black Rock White City and by receiving the Miles Franklin Award in 2016 for this novel, he obviously succeeded.

    He mentioned the Long List for this year’s Miles Franklin Award and this has prompted me to have a look at those books. The one that appeals at first glance is From the Wreck by Jane Rawson.