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The things I have written this year are ‘Not For Publication’ (NFP).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 Not for publication, but I feel relieved of the burden and the obstacle to a freer creative mind.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.

    My writing process

    Since returning from Mick & Sue’s Aussie Adventure last year, I have been writing. And I have been able to ascertain my own process.

    Writing desk and equipment

    Here is the outline of that process:

    • I can hold the idea in my head for many years before I set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
    • Once I do though I can be driven each day, focused and intent on getting the words down.
    • I break it down into chunks, or scenes, or chapters.
    • I list these on PowerPoint slides, and in an Excel list, and also scribbled onto post-it notes that I stick onto a poster on the wall near my desk. These can be easily juggled.
    • I am a visual person by nature, so I find relevant images to enhance my creative flow. These could be from my own collection of photographs or found on the World Wide Web. These act as prompts.
    • I try to apply myself to writing out each chapter as best I can and work my way methodically through my list of scenes/chapters.
    • I save all of my work as I go onto a hard drive and an USB.
    • Once this is done, I save these into a PDF format and copy the files onto my iPad using the Bluefire Reader app. This keeps my work “clean” and I can see and read it through properly.
    • I edit by reading and rereading these chapters day after day. Depending on where I am reading, I will note any changes onto my smartphone or in a notebook.
    • I can’t put it aside until I am happy with what I have written.
    • Each time I make changes I have to update all of my files and the PDFs on my iPad to ensure I have the latest version. This can be time-consuming.
    • Perhaps a software program such as Scrivener would handle all of this process for me, but I’m still learning, finding my way and what suits me. Also, what is inherent to my nature and how I engage with the creative flow.
    • I find it hard to do anything else while I am held in the throes of this story that is calling to be told. I can spend all day at my desk at this task, even foregoing my daily walk. I will need to remedy this though.
    • I usually work in silence. Music and podcasts can be distracting. Sometimes I will play some classical music. When updating though I can play some more upbeat tunes.
    • I don’t like to talk about my work while it is in process. I’m not sure why this is. Do I feel it is not good enough? Am I embarrassed? Will it kill the magic? Perhaps there is still the option to bin the whole lot?

    I have just finished the zero draft of a new project. I am still not prolific with my word count. I am in the process of rereading and editing and soon I will let it sit. I’m not sure about it yet. Will I bin it? But I felt I needed to write this particular work to get it out of the way. I want to move on. I want to try my hand at something else. At the moment I’m waiting for the next idea to take hold. I know it will come.

    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

    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.

    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.

    Retired Life

    So what have I been doing since I left Library Land?

    It is amazing how fast each day goes by and I fill the days with things I love to do. Such as writing, cycling, walking, knitting, sketching, playing my piano, reading, listening to music and podcasts, taking photographs, yoga, making healthy plant-based meals, and more. #retiredlife

    retired_life_activities

    Reflections of 2018

    Once again, prompted by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity, I look back on the past year to recall what went well and what didn’t go so well.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8651

    What went well:

    • My days that I spend with my granddaughter are filled with exploration, discovery and fun. We walk, read, swim, play, tumble, ‘cook’, sing, draw, and play the piano.
    • Our new granddaughter arrived in November and the calm I feel when I just sit and hold a baby is so full of love and peace.
    • A warm holiday in the sun at Noosa with my husband, where we caught up with family.
    • The 2Cellos concert in Melbourne.
    • MOMA exhibition at the NGV with my daughter.
    • Returned to Portland for the launch of their refurbished library. Caught up with colleagues and friends. Remembered how far it is to drive there!
    • Netflix
      • Secret City
      • The 100
      • The Bodyguard
      • The Killing
      • Line of Duty
      • Animal Kingdom
      • Lots of others
    • Books read
    • Podcast favourites
    • Author Talks that I organized as part of my work at Frankston – the highlights:
    • Completed the Branching Out Certificate with the State Library Victoria.
    • Local champion for the Libraries Change Lives campaign and attended the launch at North Fitzroy Library in September.
    • Finished my personal Family History Scrapbook.
    • Continue to enjoy retreating to my house, surrounded by native birds, I feel like I live in a bird aviary. The sea breezes carry the sounds of the sea to blend with the birdsong.
    • Playing my piano.
    • The team of people I work with are supportive and dedicated.
    • The recruiting process for new staff is an experience I enjoy, especially when the results are beyond expectation.

    What didn’t go so well:

    • Work continues to be unstable, changeable, and challenging. This is partly due to the changing nature of public libraries and how people consume media. Also state and local government priorities change in response to community needs.
    • I have little free time due to work commitments and the daily commute.
    • I have not exercised enough.
    • Road cycling is not something I do much of now.
    • I had several Basal Cell Carcinomas removed from my neck.
    • A winter cold resulted in a persistent cough that has been hard to shake.
    • I have not done enough yoga, meditation, or walking.

    Go deeper in 2018

    It’s great to have an overarching focus, theme or motivation to dedicate a year to. And I like the ideas offered by Leo Babauta and David Cain about ‘going deeper’.

    David sees it as a mark of maturity and here he explains the parameters of his idea:

    “No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started. You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale. The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.” Drill down for value and enrichment instead of fanning out. You turn to the wealth of options already in your house, literally and figuratively. We could call it a “Depth Year” or a “Year of Deepening” or something.”

    Leo has taken hold of this idea and adopted his own list of rituals that include: meditation; fitness; healthy eating; yoga; etc. He asks:

    “Are you willing to live with constraints of your own? Are you interested in going deeper or wider? What would that look like for you?”

    So my thoughts around this and ideas for 2018 are:

    1. Meditate daily using Insight Timer
    2. Yoga twice weekly
    3. Plant-based cooking and eating
    4. Piano practice daily using all the music I currently own
    5. Walk, swim and cycle regularly
    6. Finish the Family History scrapbook that is almost done
    7. Write in my journal and on my blog
    8. Play and swim with Lily
    9. Work of course and this takes up most of my time
    10. Read the content saved to my Feedly list for professional development and creative inspiration
    11. Practice French using the books I have
    12. Read the books from my bookshelves or from the local library. My Goodreads challenge is set for 50 in 2018 and I have already finished 4four this month
    13. Cook recipes from the cookbooks I already own
    14. Plant more things in my garden
    15. Paint pictures using the ideas, canvases and materials I already own

    Square eyes

    “You’ll get square eyes if you watch so much TV.”

    This was a familiar catchcry from my mother to me when I was a child. And I admit I loved watching television. Brought up on Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Skippy, and Get Smart, I am a product of the television generation. Later in my teens I would hurry to get my maths and physics homework finished in time to watch the Monty Python TV series.

    Back in the 50’s when TV first arrived in Australia my father was an electronics nerd and built a crude TV with the screen and not much else, by his description. When I said to my parents at three years of age, “I see two TV’s!”, they realised I probably needed spectacles; and I have worn them ever since.

    FullSizeRender

    How viewing has changed though! We are in the midst of huge change. Since we had the NBN connected I don’t often watch the mainstream TV channels anymore, instead switching over to Foxtel or streamed channels. Binge watching series favourites such as House of Cards, Suits, and finding new creations such as The OA, in between episodes of Game of Thrones, have transformed my weekends into marathons that do indeed make me feel like my eyes are getting squarer. Surfing the YouTube content is a pastime sure to waste untold hours that could be better used. Now I’ve heard of Gregg Braden just because he cropped up in the YouTube feed, and many others via Oprah’s hyped-up Super Soul Sessions.

    Once I listened to commercial radio stations like 3XY for hours in my room, or later in my car driving to and from University. The first music album I bought for myself was The Essential Beatles on black vinyl. Nowadays I am an avid podcast listener, preferring to choose my content free of awful advertising that disturbs my serenity.

    A typical evening’s viewing consists of something like an AFL football match on the big screen, my husband searching GumTree on the Mac on his lap, and me with my earphones plugged in to my iPad watching Suits or Utopia. I wonder if my highly connected father, who was an expert in HAM radio and Morse Code, would enjoy this lifestyle of multiple screens.

    Given that I have taken on the challenge to #glamblogweekly I must accept that some of my content might ‘suffer’.

    Re-imagine your truth with IN-Q

    I am listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, hearing him talk to IN-Q. I am inspired by their discussions about vulnerability, authenticity, honesty, and truth. IN-Q is a modern-day poet of note, rubbing shoulders with Cirque du Soleil, President Obama, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others.

    Poetry is a beautiful genre that allows people to share their stories and speak their soul. ~ IN-Q

    As a teen IN-Q wanted to be a rapper, and his poetry reflects modern day America. It is raw, witty, intelligent, spiritual, gritty, and moving.