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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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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To steal from the blogger I am about to mention, a successful blog should (generally) either be useful or entertaining. Alexis Grant’s blog, The Travelling Writer, is both successul and very useful. If you are at all interested in becoming a writer, and especially if you are writing your travel memoirs, Alexis’ blog will be invaluable.

Alexis in Timbuktu

Alexis was a journalist until she quit her job to go travelling alone in Africa. Now she’s back home and writing a book about her experience. Oh, and a blog about writing a book about it.

A very hard-working blogger, Alexis’ posts are both useful and insightful. She offers advise on the process of getting published and has heaps of great ideas about making social media work for you.

Some recent posts that I found particularly interesting were:
Blogging 101: a three part series on the if, why, and how of blogging for writers
Losing the play-by-play in your memoirs
– The weekly Writers’ Roundups never fail to point you in the direction of some interesting and useful advice from around the blogosphere and www
– Ask yourself: are you being honest on the page and with yourself?
– And, just for fun, let’s have a laugh with Google

Thanks for all your advice, Alexis, and good luck with your book!

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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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After three epic days on the Inca Trail, my friends and I awoke on the fourth and final morning of our trek with anticipation gnawing at our bellies. Just the ten of us (or so it seemed) striding purposefully through the 4am darkness, hawing our jagged little path across the flanks of deep, quiet mountains. We each entertained visions of the magical, epic, ancient, forgotten, discovered city – Machu Picchu, the famous lost city of the Incas.

Machu Picchu: the never-really-lost city of the Incas

Guided initially by the glow of our torches, then by the first sparkle of light that hovered in the damp air, we made our way along the thin and twisting pathways of the mountain side. Two hours later, after hiking a final stairway toward heaven itself (or so it seemed), we finally mounted the famous Sun Gate, just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon and bask its eternal glow upon…

the impenetrable layer of perfectly white clouds which blanketed the valley below us. We couldn’t see a brick of Machu Picchu.

While truly handsome, this wasn’t quite the scene I had hiked for four days to lay my eyes upon. “I want to see Machu Picchu,” I whined, with a childish pout. Eternally optimistic by nature, my friends and I were loath to despair. We quietly agreed that if we waited it would clear. Wayra, our guide, thought us foolish and informed us that it was thus fogged almost every day (they don’t put that in the brochure now, do they!) We stubbornly ignored his advice and waited…

After almost an hour our patience was rewarded. The clouds split and faded just as the sun hit the ancient city. Triumph! But we were too awe-struck to be cocky. Stunned and humbled by the sight laid out before us, we sank into silence to milk the moment for all it was worth. Unable to extract all her glory, for she has an endless supply, we eventually gathered ourselves and begun a surreal decline into her waiting embrace.

Sacred mountains protect Machu Picchu

After the obligatory “Look Ma, I’m at Machu Picchu” photo ops, I broke away from the crowd and purposefully lost myself in the alleys and stairways of the proud mountain-side town. Sitting in a shaded corner, soaking in a bustling calm of the place, I found myself looking out over history, hidden in the enclave of a trilogy of mountains – Machu Picchu (old mountain), Waynu Picchu (young mountain) and Putucusi (happy mountain). A gentle breeze blew seductively on my neck, bringing with it the memory of cool waters trickling through the fountains and irrigation chutes. Ay, Machu Picchu, with her manicured grass banks and farming terraces, tropical plants growing in rocky crevices, stone temples and statutes made of the Earth’s treasures, flowing waters; a city with her head tipped elegantly to meet the sun’s rays.

A hum of chatter emanated from the hundreds of tourists below. They were happy. Machu Picchu is a happy place. It is old and pure and perfect and pays homage to the gods – to Pachamama (the earth mother), Inti (the sun), Killa (the moon), the air and the water. This was a culture of people, Quechuas ruled by Incas, who knew how to respect the planet, who understood the wondrousness of the gifts we have been given, the treats that money is not required to enjoy.

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perfect moment #8

Getting up at the exact same time as you are used to but, instead of rushing around to get out the door in time for the bus and connecting ferry, having time to dawdle, sip coffee, work on your manuscript, email some friends, and walk to work. I love not having to commute anymore!

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I love interacting with my favourite books

It’s confession time. Warning: you might not want to read what I’m about to write. Ready? I like writing in books. I underline passages, write questions to the author, scribble my own reflections, and sketch symbols next to amusing parts, lines that have moved me, or remarkable ideas.

Many people feel funny about writing in books, believing it to be a kind of desecration. I respectfully disagree. For me, writing in my favourite friends is a way to enter into dialogue with the greats, a way to personalise the reading experience, and to convert my books into treasures I will hold onto for a lifetime.

Does anyone else write in their books?

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