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

Photograph of Fishermen

I love this photograph of a group of fishermen standing on a pier.

Lobster fishermen attending to their wicker pots at an unnamed port, western Victoria, ca late 1800’s

I stumbled upon it while doing research for my story, and I became obsessed with it. The man standing in the centre fits the image in my head of the father of my main character. So, I have included the photo in a private “illustrated” version of my tale.

For correct citation purposes I tried to locate the image again, but all searches failed. I posted the photo on the Facebook group “I love Portland” asking if anyone knew of it.

Successful crowdsourcing revealed it is a photo included in a book published in 2011, written by Alasdair McGregor, and titled A Nation in the Making; Australia at the Dawn of the Modern Era. The photo gallery from the book is currently posted on the Australian Geographic website. The inscription reads, “Lobster fishermen attending to their wicker pots at an unnamed port, western Victoria, ca late 1800’s”.

The interest on Facebook was more than I had anticipated, and some went on to say that several of the men were ancestors of theirs, and that this photo was taken because of the union activity involving the crayfish fishermen. It is definitely Portland, Victoria, Australia and probably taken during the 1890’s.

I still love this photo: the snapshot of times past, the clothes and physiques of the fishermen, the strong confidence in their stance, and the masterful arrangement of the portrait. Also, the improbability of such a photo taken at that time and place. I wonder who the photographer of this gorgeous image was.

For me, it links me to that time and place, strengthens my respect, and provides inspiration and validation for my fictional story.

Finishing the Zero Draft

With reluctance and humility, I set down the zero draft of my story.

It is the story about a teenage girl growing up in Portland and Cape Bridgewater during the years of drought and World War 1. It is a family story about hardship and poverty. At this stage I have just over 21,000 words in 21 chapters and 65 pages. So, it is short; too short?!

I have enjoyed the creative process of letting the story unfold. I have felt the emotions of my hero, lived in the era, understood the hardship, and asked the questions as they arose in my hero’s mind.

The story still needs: time to sit and set, to be fully edited, more emotion, more detail, more prose, more relationship, more revelations, more words, more wordsmithing.

Of course, it falls short of my high expectations, trying to follow in the footsteps of classic Australian novelists. But despite years of writing this and that, it is my first real attempt at writing a “book”.

While I wait for my story to cook, I will study the works of other authors and see what devices they use to embellish, evoke, and portray.

Zero Draft

Melding into my Zero Draft I enjoy the gentle ebb and flow of the story unfolding. Just five chapters in, still setting the scene, I visit the world of my hero like a time travelling tourist. It is nostalgic even though I have never lived in this time or place.

Farm at the Cape. Copy of original painting by unknown artist, c. 1895

Helping this beginner writer to navigate my way I use the wisdom and assistance of the Writers’ HQ in the UK. They offer short online courses and this year I have done the Balance Your Writing Life Challenge and now I am completing Editing 101 in readiness for when I do eventually finish the Zero Draft.

I have also read Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody and have applied the Beat Sheet to my plot, providing me with a more detailed understanding of my hero’s journey.

I feel freed to hear the quote by Terry Pratchett:

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

With no real deadline I have the luxury to enjoy the process as it unfolds. I do not aim to meet a certain number of words per day or sit at my desk at a certain time for a specific number of days. I find that if I try to force the creative process, I write uninspiring third-grade drivel.

What works well for me is to linger in the moment of the story, let it fill my soul, dream, and imagine. And I am discovering that when I take this gentle and unhurried approach, when I wake in the morning the details are revealed to me, and I have to get up, go to my desk, and write it down before it fades away.

And this is the very process of creativity that I am dwelling in and loving.

However, I know my hero is about to meet some life-changing and heart-breaking challenges.

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

Lockdown Life

Since we have returned to “normal” life, after our adventures, we have been in lockdown with the rest of Melbourne and Victoria. My husband misses his weekly golf games with his mates and looks forward to when he can do that again. I am quite happy and occupied at home. We are both fully vaccinated.

Images during lockdown life 2021

These are some of the things I have been doing:

  • Family History Research

After decades of saving bits of information, stories, and photographs, I am finally compiling it all and see an end in sight. A bonus has been the remote access to the Ancestry Database. This has allowed me to fill in lots of gaps and extend my tree.

So far, I have found 22 ships that our ancestors arrived on, mostly from England, Ireland, and Scotland, one American, and one German. Three convicts on my side and one convict on my husband’s side.

Some of the ships my ancestors arrived on emigrating to Australia

I have one mystery that I cannot solve, and he is a key ancestor. I have found him in England and found him in Australia, but I don’t know when he arrived exactly somewhere between 1851 and August 1853. Perhaps there is a major misspelling somewhere that has not translated well into the digital files.

The excellent course I completed online through Future Learn has added a richer dimension to my research. I know what I am doing. Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree, Future Learn UK.

  • Exercise
    • Walking within the five-kilometre restriction. This can include a solid upward walk with views of the bay. Logging these on Strava gives an added interest.
    • Cycling along the foreshore track now and then.
    • Unfortunately swimming at the local pool is not allowed at the moment. We look forward to when we can go back there regularly.
  • Creating
    • I finished an oil painting that I had on my easel for too long. Marg’s elephant at Salvia Court. And started a new painting.
    • Cooking lots of yummy food that we then have to share between the two of us. Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie, Apricot Sour Cream Tart. Practicing for when our family can get together once again.
    • I practice playing my piano occasionally.
  • Media consumption
    • Reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. His interpretation of those early years offers only stories of flawed humans, on all sides of the equation, trying to survive on this Earth. There are no heroes in this tale.

The Creative Library

Annie Talvé and Dr Sally Gray presented a workshop at Dandenong Library that I attended. The Creative Library builds on the work they presented in their 2014 report Creative Communities: The cultural benefits of Victoria’s public libraries. This report can be found on the Public Libraries Victoria Network website.

A room full of library professionals enjoyed a fun and informative day “thinking with our hearts, heads and feet” led by Annie and Sally. We challenged our presumptions, analysed our actions, and debated about our work.

As a designer in my early years, and a lover of art, design and all creative endeavours, no one needs to remind me that ‘everyone is creative’. My attitudes are creative. I always think outside the box. Flexibility of thought is an asset in all we do in this life.

Annie runs Project SiSu which “is a creative consulting practice specialising in tackling organisational transitions and framing the benefits of culture in all its varied forms”.

I recall attending a workshop led by Annie at Waurn Ponds Library several years ago. She was then embarking on her research for the resulting Creative Communities report. The New Nirvana on her website sums up the conversations from those workshops.

National Library Week 2015

National Library Week has been a busy week for me where I have seen months of planning come to fruition. Our author event was a success with a lovely discussion around the topic of this year’s theme ‘imagine’.

Seven authors were asked questions posed by poet Andrea Louise Thomas. These authors were a diverse group and this added richness to the discussion. The authors were: Garry Disher; Greg Hill; Rose Inserra; Judy Taylor; Brita Lee; Leigh Van der Horst; and Susan Berg.

Andrea Louise Thomas expertly led the conversation asking questions tailored to suit each author’s unique approach. Andrea is a poet, arts editor of Mint magazine, proof reader, and poetry slam finalist. So a very well qualified person to lead this discussion.

IMG_4768

Susan Berg offered a heroic and painful true story about losing her whole family in a boating accident in which she was the only survivor. The tragedy many years past, her story is about how her life has unfolded since that awful day.

Leigh Van der Horst is a new author with a book about the grief following her mother’s death. A common theme by coincidence, but it was interesting to hear about different approaches to writing about this deeply life-changing experience. The resulting published manuscripts also show this different approach to a similar life experience.

Garry Disher is a credible writer of crime fiction and his substantial body of successful works shone through in his answers that provided insight, generosity, and the humble spirit of a true craftsman.

Judy Taylor is new to the writing scene and her self-published diary of grief after her mother’s death is raw and personal. She gave advice based on her experience of the self-publishing process.

Greg Hill is a ghostwriter who brings life to other people’s true stories. He spoke with knowledge and depth about the writing process.

IMG_4770

Brita Lee writes science fiction. The Panopticon Deception is the first published of a trilogy. Her passion and excitement for writing was obvious as she described how she lets the story reveal itself to her as she writes.

Rose Inserra writes children’s non-fiction and her latest non-fiction publication is about dreams. As a teacher of the writing craft she is well qualified to talk about the topic. She is warm, intelligent, and an engaging speaker.

The audience seemed happy and satisfied with one lady telling me, “I go to these types of events all the time, and this was the best one ever.” Sigh!

Instagram Magic

A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Who said that I wonder? A quick and dirty Google search tells me that it is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard who published a piece in 1921, commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising. Imagine what he would have to say in this connected multimedia world.

This is a picture of me and a friend at the age of about three.

Carlina and Susan 1963

Carlina and Susan 1963

I am the one crying. The other cherub is clearly enjoying the moment. I remember this incident and why I was crying. I didn’t want my photo taken. I didn’t know what having my “photo taken” meant. I didn’t like being forced to have this done. The photographer was the father of the happy girl, our neighbour, a school principal, and a huge bear of a man, of whom I was frightened. So it was a traumatic experience for me as a small child and I remember it well.

I have never liked having my photo taken since. I am not photogenic, nor fit the popular notion of what is attractive. So I don’t take many #selfies. And I don’t often post them to social media. I prefer to be at the other end of the camera lens.

On Instagram I am @queuingforbliss. This nom de plume originated in my pursuit to find beauty in my life. This began with a blog I created titled French Accent where I was trying to define what that pursuit for beauty really meant for me. It led to a trip to Europe in 2008 with my husband. We would queue gladly and expectantly to see master works of art and architecture: Michelangelo’s Statue of David in Florence Italy; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at Le Louvre in Paris; the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome; Le Tour Eiffel; and much much more. And I remember sitting in the town square in Beaune France cocooned in a cloud of bliss, feeling like I was in love, realising I had indeed found my bliss. Back in Australia the challenge for me has always been to find that je ne sais quoi here at home. My quest is a daily one that persists. Instagram helps.

I love Instagram. I love the immediacy of being able to see moments around our world as they happen and through the eyes of others. I appreciate the transient nature of this experience. There is no need to archive. I love that it represents a snapshot of our world moment by moment and we get to share that with everyone. I don’t see the point of locking down this social media tool as a private domain. The joy is in the shared experience.

I have always responded well to visual stimulation. Like many people I love colour and beauty. I love this Earth. I love detail, patterns, texture, art, landscapes, still-life images, shapes, and design. I don’t mind if the image has been enhanced with filters or other software applications. The detail is in the eye of the creator of the image, and if it is an image that stimulates further artistic creativity, then that is a perfectly reasonable aspect of this creative stimulation that Instagram inspires.

Some people have a natural eye for detail and capture excellent snapshots. Others have a gift for photography and some earn a living as photographers and it is good to see those on Instagram too. And while I enjoy following National Geographic @natgeo@nasa and other organisations, it is the everyperson daily snaps that seem to carry the most interest for me. I don’t like sales on Instagram or personal promotion, and if it is a key component of the content then I will unfollow that person.

Instagram offers food for the soul.

Some of the Instagrammers I love to follow (in no particular order) are:

Review of 2014

As I sat at the beach on the first day of 2015 I felt real peace. As soon as I became aware of this unique feeling I tried to identify why. I had just been for a swim in the ocean followed by a walk with Archie the dog, and I was waiting for my husband to return from his run. The sea was calm but the sky was overcast and grey. No jet skis or boats were out yet. A slight breeze blew the sand dune grasses making the little cottontail grass heads flick back and forth happily. Archie sat quietly near me watching other people and their dogs. I felt happy but tired from dancing the night before until after midnight greeting the New Year at a local venue with some friends. 2014 had been a difficult year and many of the difficult hurdles were now behind me; completed with mixed results.

Last year I was inspired by the ladies on the Up For A Chat podcast to do some forward planning after listening to their episode #40 Manifesting Matisse. I followed their idea to write out a “wish-list” of 32 items on a single piece of paper that is divided into 32 squares (by folding the sheet of paper).

Here are my 32 items with the results at the end of the year – with only four actions that I did not start:

Activity Result
1 Get a new job Found a great job
2 Design a new house House design completed
3 Sell parent’s house Parent’s house sold and settled
4 Execute the Will Will execution finalised
5 Drink no alcohol Alcohol free period for 6 months
6 Paleo diet Consistently trying
7 Eat no wheat Ate less wheat
8 Photo archive Started
9 Exercise regularly Regularly but not enough
10 Write my blog 20 blog posts
11 Create a new blog Did not do
12 Build new house Still waiting for planning approval to begin
13 Learn digital SLR photography Started
14 Start writing a book Did not do
15 Do yoga Weekly sessions with gap mid-year
16 Meditate Regular but not daily
17 Walk Regular but not daily
18 Walk the Peninsula trails Walked many of the Peninsula trails
19 Visit Peninsula art galleries Visited some art galleries
20 Cycle every week Cycled most fortnightly Saturday mornings
21 Read 20 books Read 38 books
22 Garden new block Obtained formal landscape plan for block
23 Learn French Did not do
24 Paint Did a few water colour sketches
25 Start sketch book Started a sketch book
26 Whole 30 Did the Whole 30 eating program
27 Be positive Consistently moved towards positive thoughts
28 Be kind Consistently tried to be kind to everyone I met
29 Learn online Did not undertake an online learning course
30 Go to ALIA conference Yes
31 Write letters to friends Yes
32 Family dinners Yes

 Here is what didn’t go well:

  • We continue to jump through hoops trying to comply with the ridiculously convoluted and slow planning process of the local Council in order to obtain permission to begin to build a new house.
  • Our family relationships have deteriorated in the aftermath of my parent’s departure from this earthly plane; despite honourable intentions and repeated and prolonged efforts to make amends and be kind and positive.
  • Dealing with the possessions of my parents was a huge undertaking that took time, energy, help from my brother and husband, and a respectful attitude.

Here is what went well:

  • My parent’s house sold extremely quickly, making it easy to move on with our own lives.
  • We moved into a new townhouse near the beach in a place we love.
  • I have a perfect new job with great colleagues.
  • Being involved with reading lists for book clubs.
  • Our new house design is brilliant.
  • Regular yoga and cycling.
  • Time spent with some great friends – new and old.
  • I continue to enjoy listening to some great podcasts here, and elsewhere that provides me with some important information and inspires me to keep on track with my efforts.
  • My favourite movie of the year was Inter Stellar – a rare masterpiece in my opinion.
  • I read some interesting books (here are the two I rated 5-star):

So I have once again taken a sheet of paper and folded it into 32 squares, then listed my 32 things, and pasted it into the back of my journal. So come what may 2015…