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Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

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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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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I’m feeling tense. Here I am, writing my memoirs, and I keep jumping between present and past tense as I write. I know that just won’t do but I can’t decide which one feels right. I like the immediacy of the present tense, but I would have to re-write my beginning (which begins at the end, so to speak) in order to use it. (Let’s face it though, I’m going to have to re-write a LOT either way.)

If I don't decide on a tense soon my head might explode, and then there'd be brains all over my manuscript

Is anyone else having this problem?

I would really appreciate some advice from the more seasoned writers amongst us – I have no real training in writing per se so I am lost when it comes to all this. I just write on instinct, but that seems to be failing me on this one. (Actually, as I just wrote that I realised it wasn’t strictly true. I had decided to write in the past tense but, as I am writing, I keep slipping into the present-tense style that feels more natural. Does that mean that I should be writing in the present? Or is it just that I am a schizophrenic or undisciplined writer?)

Can I write in the present tense and still allude to future events or realisations? Or is that only possible if I write in past tense, and hence from a position of hindsight?

Are the rules so important in writing? Can I break them if I want to? Don’t you know I have a problem with authority? Aaaaaaaagggghhhh! I really am getting tense about my tense.

Help please!

By the by, I just read an interesting little article by Marg McAlister about cutting back the use of “I” in your first person writing (which will no doubt be a major focus of my editing process).

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I’ve been writing a lot lately. A lot. I think having a blog is helping. Encouraging myself to write on a more regular basis was one of the reasons I started this blog and it seems to be working.

Blog City

For a while I was worried that having a blog would simply be a distraction from my “real” writing but I’m not really finding that to be the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. I should probably add “having a blog” to my recent list of things that inspire me to write.

Progress on my travel memoirs is slow but steady. I have set myself the goal of 500 words a day. It might not sound like much but I find that if the goal is much higher I get scared away and don’t even want to start. While it feels like chipping away at a huge block, the sculpture is starting to take shape and that feels great.

I spoke about making choices recently. I’ve made my current twist-a-plot decision and I start my new job on Monday. I hope that my recent writing momentum will continue once the 9-to-5 enters the equation once more.

How do others find the time to write around their full-time jobs? And does anyone else find that having a blog keeps them inspired to write regularly?

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