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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

I was thinking of writing a post about how to write a book/your memoirs but then I realised, hey, I have no clue, that’s why I read all your posts, isn’t it?

Alexis Grant recently wrote about feeling overwhelmed by a new wave of revisions. I can really relate to that feeling. That’s when I realised, I have knowledge to share about writing – something I am getting particularly good at actually…

How to not write a book

Step 1. When you sit down to write each day, take time to “just quickly” check your emails/facebook/blog.

A good, strong coffee is absolutely essential to any writing project

Step 2. Once you’ve revised your emails/facebook/blog realise your coffee has gone cold and, hey, surely you can’t be expected to writing anything in pulitzer/booker/nobel contention (hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?) without caffeine. Go make another cup. Perhaps notice that the dishes need doing/cat needs feeding/bed needs making/TV needs watching while you are at it and consciensiously deal to these small matters before returning to your desk.

Step 3. Finally sit down to write only to discover you’re not in the mood. As everyone knows, creative people do their best work when they feel inspired so it would be pointless to push it now. It’s better to wait until inspiration strikes (please note, it may take weeks or months for inspiration to strike so please be patient.)

Step 4. Tell all your friends and family, neighbours, workmates, and strangers on the bus that you are writing a book and describe in detail what it is about. This is a really good way to make yourself commit to the process.

Step 5. Read widely in and around your genre for inspiration. Be floored by the brilliance of your favourite writers and then feel intimidated and curse yourself for having the audacity to even want to be a writer when you are nothing more than a talentless hack who will never amount to anything.

Anne's diary was a best seller

Step 6. Start writing by copying out notes from your journals. People love reading other people’s diaries, right? I mean Anne Frank’s diary was a best-seller.

Step 7. Write about 10,000 words and then realise a major flaw in the current structure/point of view. Begin revisions now before you go too far down the wrong path. It is very important with writing to start out on the right foot.

Step 8. When your word count isn’t hitting the mark include words written in your blog/work emails/shopping list – it will make you feel much better about your progress.

Step 9. When all other steps are completed and you are well on your way to not writing a great book, be sure to write a brilliant and incredibly useful post about it on your blog so other aspiring do-not-writers can follow in your footsteps.

If you faithfully follow these 9 steps I guarantee that you will be not writing a book in no time! Good luck!

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A few years ago I read The Right to Write, Julia Cameron‘s open invitation and initiation into the Writing Life. The book is designed to help you unlock your own creative channels and unblock the barriers to your own productivity and writing life. I really enjoyed the book and it certainly got the juices flowing. I’ve just unpacked it from my storage boxes and plan to reread it soon.

Of late I have been sifting through my old journals while working on my travel memoirs. I discovered a list I made when completing one of Cameron’s chapter-end “initiation” exercises. This activity was about unlocking happiness. Julia explains:

Although our negative mythology around writing tells us that writers are often depressed and tormented creatures, the truth is that too much torment and too much depression can make it as difficult to write as to make the bed, wash the dishes, do the laundry. To the depressed person, writing may present itself as one more chore. For this reason, we are actually working on our writing when we directly address the larger issue of our happiness.

List fifty things that make you happy.

Happiness is not only a mood. It is a decision. Writing our list of happinesses causes us to see how simple some forms of joy are, how we can make ourselves happy in simple ways. When the blues set in, the simple act of listing joys can help elicit some.

Here’s my list. The first 25 are from the list I wrote 5 years ago, the last 25 are from today:

1. A pohutukawa in full bloom

1. A pohutukawa in full bloom
2. Travel documentaries
3. Jane Austen novels
4. Writing
5. Xanadu (still the best film I have ever seen, by far)
6. Walking in the fresh air
7. My friends and family
8. Mangos
9. Singing along when Dad plays the guitar
10. Places with a heavy sense of history
11. People with hidden talents
12. Free summer concerts in parks
13. Laughing so much my belly aches
14. Wes Anderson films (for example, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
15. Finding toast left over from breakfast in the afternoon – mmmm, the strange deliciousness of cold toast
16. Kicking a rugby ball around in the park with friends
17. Avocado and tomato on 5-grain toast
18. Achievable busy-ness
19. Inspirational quotes

35. Bold, colourful tattoos

20. Soft rain – the kind that moistens your skin without getting you wet
21. The smell of sunblock on your skin
22. My friend Claire’s “do the dance of…” game
23. Playing pool with my grandfather in his snooker room
24. Vintage clothes
25. Seeing people in love

26. Writing (and receiving) old-fashioned, snail-mail letters
27. The smell of Queen of the Night
28. My friend Frank
29. A strong, black coffee in the early morning
30. Dancing Salsa and Bachata
31. Intimate conversations with strangers you meet while travelling
32. Having a job that makes a positive difference in the world
33. Pasteles en Hoja and mango milkshakes at Amable Restaurant in San Pedro de Macoris
34. Jorge Luis Borges
35. Bold, colourful, confident tattoos
36. Antique photos of strangers
37. Monkeys
38. Latin America and the Caribbean
39. Cougar Town (a very guilty pleasure)

49. Jump photography

40. Dancing in the streets
41. Riding in the back of pick-up trucks
42. Children
43. Ideas that almost hurt your brain to think about
44. Buddhist philosophy
45. Modern dance
46. Connecting with fellow writers through the blogosphere
47. Perfect, shining moments when you feel you might pop just at the thrill of being alive
48. Carrot cake
49. Jump photography
50. The number eleven

It really works! I feel better just thinking about those things.

What would be on your own list of happy things?

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While I was dance-walking home from Salsa lessons tonight, I had a thought. (Ok, I had many thoughts but most of them were not worth blogging about and this one is actually only borderline.) Anyhoo, the thought was this:

Writing is a lot like dancing.

*pregnant pause to allow depth of wisdom to sink in*

Get on the dancefloor, forget all the rules, and go with your instincts

Basically, I see it like this. You have to learn the basics or you may as well not step out onto the dancefloor. (Really, you’ll only embarrass yourself and others if you do.) But, once you’re out there, you better forget every rule and instruction you ever learned and just go with your instincts or you will either freeze up, fall over, or freak out and do some tragic dance move like the pogo-stick while your friends smile awkwardly and try to pretend they don’t know you.

I haven’t danced for a while and I was pretty nervous rocking up there tonight, to twirl amid the talented. But I had fun, and I learned some new steps, and once I got going I wasn’t too bad.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing much lately and I’m pretty nervous about rocking up to the page tomorrow. What if I’ve forgotten all the steps and I stumble or, worse, think I have talent and everyone stands around me cheering but it turns out I’m only the writing version of that William Hung guy?

I’m beginning to over-think it again. And that is as dangerous to writing as it is to dancing. So I’m just going to stop now and go read my book and come back with a clear head in the morning.

Good.

PS: In case you don’t know, dance-walking is forward motion with headphones and dance moves.

PPS: While I was dance-walking home through the city tonight two, I repeat two, seperate weirdos stopped to offer me a ride home. I’m not trying to be cynical but I can assure you they were not offering me a ride in a “oh, people can be so sweet” sort of way but more in the “oh my gosh, I narrowly escaped being cut into pieces and hidden in the walls” kind of way. I’m glad I didn’t give in to today’s overwhelming sensation of being in dream rather than waking life and jump in just to see what would happen. I hate to think what sort of nightmare would have ensued and, judging from my real dreams, I would only end up not being able to shout loud enough or run fast enough (damn lead legs) or fly high enough (despite frantic arm flapping)… erm, have I said too much?

PPPS: Do any of you also have the flying by flapping your arms dreams? One of my friends flys just like Superman (point and go) in her dreams and I was always jealous of her coolness. My sweaty flailings look so unco in comparison. It probably says a lot that I’m not even cool in my own dreams!

PPPPS: I’m not being particularly original with the idea that writing is like dancing. I just did a quick net search and, to name but a couple, Kelly Polark says it’s all about practice, in both dancing and writing, and Shannon Philpott thinks writing is like dancing because it’s how we express ourselves.

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I have an announcement to make and I will have to respectfully request that you all contain your excitement.

I finally have internet at home again. Woop!

Kevin had a dream, and so do I...

It has been a long, cold winter without any digital entertainment to amuse me and I am pretty excited to be back up and running. Given that it is a rainy winter’s evening (as are most of late) I am thrilled at the prospect of wiling the hours away, warming my fingertips on the keys and such… now I just have to wait for profound slash interesting slash mildly amusing thoughts to come to me… but I am an optimist and, taking Kevin Costner’s lead, believe that if you write it, they will come…

I have a feeling that a frenzy of posting may follow. Brace yourself people.

How has everyone been, by the way? It’s been a while.

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A strange medley of market stalls run along the outer wall of the famous jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina. They are strung together by the cheap and cheerful wares they display and the desperate glint in the eyes of the vendors. Strolling by, each hawker greets you, entices you to touch their merchandise (as they know touch to be a forerunner to desire), desperate that you will pause with them before you realise that each table is lined with identical mass-produced tourist rubbish, the same colourful trash that tourists must inevitably carry home with them to gift to disappointed relatives or hide in forgotten drawers. If you fail to show sufficient interest they either glower at you (they may as well spit on your feet for the way it makes you feel) or apply the tireless nag-factor technique that children the world over have honed in the aisles of supermarkets and toy stores.

By the end of the consumer gauntlet you feel weary and spent, already dreading the return journey. You may consider walking off into the wild but are braced by the realisation that, no matter how far or in which direction you walk on this continent, you will surely have to run the gauntlet again before too long.

Plaza de Armas, San Ignacio Mini

I warily pay the 10 peso entrada and try not to notice the incredulous glares from the merchants at this definitive proof of wealth. It is here that the fence line, ashen and overgrown, leaps skyward before continuing its dance about the perimeter. Upon entering the grounds the sense of exit is overwhelming. The world of haggling and sweat, sustenance and toil, copulation and excretion stands glowering behind the wall, invisible from the inside; it seems possible that it never existed now that you have entered this eternal dream state. Time is an illusion. This is real. Even the smattering of tourists disappear into their own dimensions and I am left alone in mine. Here I am in a world of substance; there is a sense that nothing has really existed before, except this place. This is the only place that has ever existed and I am the only woman.

Walking across the grassy plazas my shoes melt away and the grass caresses my bare feet. I feel every blade. I am every blade. I am every brick. I am the breeze in the trees and the sun on my skin. I am the moss that slithers up the side of the fallen cathedral, the clouds floating across its gaping ceiling. I see the outline of the houses, only a handful of bricks high. They grow up from their skeletons and reach their former heights. Straw grows over them, forming rooves. I see people come and go, smiling at one another, working, embracing. I see an entire civilization laid before me. I smell the casserole bubbling away on the fire, the juicy steam curling out of a doorway and down the lane. My mouth is watering. I hear the cajoling crowd at a public meeting. I don’t know what they are saying but the trees are alive with cheers and jeers. Touching my fingers to the dank brickwork in a hidden corner, they come away bloody. I lick the salty juice of the ages and lay down on the grass to gaze into the eye of the Universe.

It’s all pretend, of course. I don’t see a thing. I only feel it, yearn for it, dream it into being. How can you know a thing about this place and these people if you haven’t lived with them, loved them, or paid for a tour? And who can afford to pay for a tour?

Ancient worlds spring up from the ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina

I content myself with imagining their world and delight at the thought that one day, four hundred years ago, a young Jesuit priest had sat in this very spot and imagined our own world. Had he seen the tread marks of our rubber-soled shoes trampled through his village paths? Had he smelled the artificial orange fizz that I guzzled with my lunch? Had he hid his eyes from the mass-produced vendors selling “handicrafts” made by faceless strangers in a distant factory? Had he felt my breath on his neck, my hair on his chest, and fancied himself in love? At this thought I lose all interest in his world. Steeling myself to face my jurors, I pass once more through the festival of fabric and retire to my rooms.

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This post follows on from yesterday’s post (lessons 1 – 14 of 29 lessons i’ve learned so far) in celebration of my 29th birthday…

In my fifteenth year I learned that if you tell a boy your friend likes him, even if she really does and even if he likes her back and they then start dating, she might not talk to you again for a really long time.

I think of my grandpa every time I see an Hibiscus flower

In my sixteenth year I learned that old people sometimes know when they are going to die. My grandfather invited me to visit one weekend and spent the day sharing memories and giving me small gifts. He had a stroke a few days later and died the next week. I still miss that man, who taught me to play pool in the his billiards room; who let me get my curious little fingers into his amazing collection of antiques; who played hide and seek with me in his hibiscus gardens; and gave me “horsey rides” on his great, kauri knees.

In my seventeenth year I learned what it feels like to fall in love and give yourself completely to someone else, body and soul. I also learned that it hurts like a motherf#@ker to get tackled by a Tongan princess in a rugby match.

In my eighteenth year I learned how boring it is to be unemployed and that I needed an education to get a “good” job. I learned later in life that that’s pretty much bull, but still.

Catherine and Heathcliff share a dark, destructive love in Wuthering Heights

In my nineteenth year of life I learned, for the first time, how a great book can sweep you up completely. I was reading Wuthering Heights and got completely lost in that mad, brooding world, unable to sleep until I devoured each and every word.

In my twentieth year of life I learned that sometimes love ends. It just runs its course.

In my twenty-first year of life I learned that if you drink an entire 40oz. of vodka all by yourself while you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere you will do a lot of embarrassing things you’ll never remember and your boyfriend won’t sleep a wink because he will be watching you all night to make sure you don’t stop breathing.

In my twenty-second year of life I learned that I enjoy pottery but don’t have the patience to make anything good. (I made my mum an antipasto platter and caught her the next week using it as an ashtray. Nice one.)

In my twenty-third year of life I learned that it is actually possible to work four jobs at the same time, if you are a good scheduler.

In my twenty-fourth year of life I learned that if you believe in yourself and work hard enough you can get what you want.

In my twenty-fifth year of life I learned to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. I looked around me and saw my future in the eyes of middle-managers. It was frightening. On a brighter note, I went on my first international adventure and learned instantly that I was destined to become a travel junky.

In Lack'ech: We are all one

In my twenty-sixth year of life I learned that we are all one. I also learned that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other your legs can take you pretty much anywhere you’d care to go. Oh yeah, and I learned Spanish.

In my twenty-seventh year of life I learned that people who live on remote islands can have very strange attitudes about relationships. I also learned that children have an amazing capacity for love, forgiveness, and optimism.

In my twenty-eighth year of life I learned what it feels like to think you might die in a sweaty hostel room in Morocco while your fellow travellers smoke hashish, watch the Olympics on mute, and pay you no heed in an adjoining room. I also learned the magic of being alone in the mountains staring into eternity on a clear black night.

In my twenty-ninth year of life I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I saw death and destruction on a massive and personal scale, thought my heart would burst on several occasions, and survived a bout of malaria; but came through it smiling.

I wonder what I may learn in this, my thirtieth year of life. Perhaps not to waste people’s precious time with pointless lists about what I’ve learned? Sorry about that, I’m only twenty-nine.

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Today is my twenty-ninth birthday. That’s right people, I am now beginning my thirtieth year of life in this body. In honour of this momentous event I present you with a list (can you tell I like lists a lot?) of 29 lessons learned thus far.

The first year can be a bit full on for any child

In my first year of life I learned how to breathe and cry and get my parents attention. I also must have learned how to create some sort of logic out of all the sensory input my little brain was receiving. That’s pretty amazing; probably my greatest single accomplishment to date really.

In my second year I learned how to walk, talk, feed myself, and hold a crayon.

In my third year I learned how to ride a motorbike. My dad was driving it, but still.

In my fourth year I learned that if I wore my new red shoes I could run really, really fast.

In my fifth year I learned to share my parents because my little brother was born. I also started school and learnt that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be on my first day when, aged four and a half, my mum and the teacher literally had to carry me into the classroom kicking and screaming.

In my sixth year I learned that if I told a schoolyard bully that my big brother would beat him up he would stop picking on me.

In my seventh year I learned that it is both scary and quite exciting to move countries. I also learned that my friend Lily could dive off the banister outside our classroom without hurting herself if she landed with a stunt roll.

My undies were not as cool as these ones

In my eighth year I learned that it is not cool when your dad owns an emporium in which he sells orange underwear because if boys lift your skirt up (which they are prone to do at that age) and always see orange they will tell everyone you never change your undies and you will be shamed.

In my ninth year I learned that the teachers who get the best results are the ones that bribe kids into good behaviour with lollies and bottles of soda stream.

In my tenth year I learned how thrilling it was to travel the world solving mysteries. I can’t remember where in the world Carmen Santiago actually was, but it was fun trying to find her.

In my eleventh year I learned that some kids are bad. We had a boy in our class that used to scream at our teacher and call her “tits on a stick” before throwing his chair at her and storming out. I learned years later that sometimes bad kids grow up and die of drug overdoses when they are still very young. That wasn’t a nice lesson.

Am I really less talented than a cow???

In my twelfth year I learned that I had star potential when I played “Widow Swanky” in a version of Aladdin that our teacher had written for the class. I also learned about envy when everyone thought the kid that was dressed as a cow was a legend but nobody told me I had a good singing voice.
In my thirteenth year I learned about death. A friend’s older sister died suddenly of meningitis. The funeral was at the beach and they played Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do.

In my fourteenth year I learned that sometimes people get so sad that they choose to end their own lives. That’s what my brother did. In his car. In the mountains outside the city. He was missing for two days before they found him.

…This post is getting long (and a little depressing – sorry) so I think I will continue tomorrow with lessons 15 – 29.

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