Monthly Archives: June 2014

Overcoming writer’s block

 

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I’ve been wanting to write something on this for a while but have shied away from it – probably because, when it comes to overcoming writer’s block, there’s no such thing as a magic wand. Sorry.

But I can give you some of my own experiences with this god-awful phenomenon and, hopefully, you may find something useful in there. Even if it’s just the knowledge that you’re not alone!

Every block is different

Most writers will tell you that the process for writing every book is different – just as any mother will tell you that every pregnancy is different. Writer’s block is the same.

It can happen for endless different reasons, for combinations of reasons and, seemingly, for no reason at all. But it’s worth thinking about why you might be blocked, since this may help steer you towards a solution (if there be one) for overcoming it. Time to dig deep.

Where are you emotionally?

Writing is an emotional thing and, when you’re going through an emotional period in your life (whether up or down), there’s often nothing left at the end of the day for writing. Unfortunately there’s unlikely to be much you can do but wait for the period to pass; unless of course you’ve identified why you’re emotional and it’s something you can change (eg do you hate your job? Get another one).

Are you too happy?

Most artists will understand this. To write, I need to be a bit sad – wallowing in a gentle state of melancholy works best (at least for me). There’s music in sadness, and without it I can’t write. I remember when I fell in love a few years ago and, prior to that, I’d been in the peak writing zone of my life. But after the fall, my writing went out the window and no amount of listening to mournful music could get me where I needed to be. So I had to wait it out. Nothing else for it.

Are you too sad?

Similar to the above, if you’re in the depths of depression, you may be able to write but you’ll likely hate what you produce. Believe me, I’ve been there – and what came out in that time was mostly self-indulgent drivel. Having said this, some of that drivel made a useful starting point when I dragged myself up to the surface again, so don’t discard it. And if you haven’t heard of narrative therapy, Google it. Writing helps, whatever its purpose.

What’s going on in your life?

My husband and I migrated to Berlin for around two years at the beginning of 2012. We’re back in Australia now, and thank god for that. My writing suffered over there more than it ever has before; anyone who’s migrated will know just how much that process can take out of you, particularly when things never level themselves again or take a long time to do so.

I had actually thought that migrating would help with my writing because it would give me new material. I based this on the amount of writing that emerged when I moved into my house in 2009. I was wrong. Migrating depleted my energy levels and nothing was left for the white page. Again, I had to wait it out.

Is it self-imposed paralysis?

Are you too critical of your own work? Are you not getting enough encouragement from yourself and/or others? Have you been reading too many books by brilliant writers recently and is this making you feel like an incompetent baboon?

Ditch the good stuff. Read crap. I’m serious. You don’t even need to buy it – searching the net for various blogs and articles will show you just how many people can’t write, can’t spell and don’t understand grammar. I realise this sounds a bit mean, but in the service of getting our pens moving or our keyboards clacking, sometimes those downward comparisons can work (‘Well at least I know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, so maybe I’m not that bad’; or ‘Even if my grammar sucks, at least I know how to create good characters’).

Also, give your writing to some friends. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone who can provide useful criticisms and encouragement.

Walk away

You know that thing when you see a new movie and say, ‘Oh, that’s the actor from that film and his name is…’ and you don’t remember the details until the film has finished and your friends have left so you can’t tell them?

Same principle – looking at things directly doesn’t always help. I remember in my final year of school that I would do jigsaw puzzles when I was writing assignments/essays and didn’t know what to say. The answers would often come to me when I was concentrating on something else, like finding all the edge pieces. Let your subconscious mind do its own thing. Free it. It’s smarter than you are.

Work on anything but your novel/story/article

If I’m having trouble with a novel I’m working on, I often force myself to write something else – an email, a blog post, something for work. Writing other stuff can get things moving in your mind, or at least make you realise just how much you prefer working on your primary project instead. That in itself is helpful.

Critique someone else’s work

I’m lucky enough to have a few writer friends to swap work with. I’m often asking to see their work – not only because I want to, but also for selfish reasons: seeing holes in others’ work can help me see them in my own. My friends say the same. It really does help to have a network.

Go back to old stories

Have no ideas? Rework something old and make it better. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s resulted in re-casting some short stories, a few of which have gone on to win placings in competitions. You don’t always have to write something new or have new ideas. Go back to old ideas/work and see what you can do.

Research

Whenever I’m not in the mood for writing, I research instead. As writers we need to be accurate about historical details and the like, so go through your project and fact-check anything that needs checking. You’ll feel like you’re writing even though you’re not, and you’ll be moving your project forward even if you’re not writing those beautiful sentences you’re so desperate to write.

 

That’s all from me for now! Do you have any ways of overcoming the dreaded block? If so, I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

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Being human – quirks and gripes

I’ve mentioned before that, as a writer, one of your tasks is to observe. That includes observing your own behaviour and perhaps finding some good/bad/neutral traits that you can use for your characters, or even finding some common humanisms that others will recognise and relate to. As humans we like knowing we’re not the only ones who do weird things.

I’ve made a list below of some things that make us human, including quirks and gripes. (Some of my friends will have seen a few of these before on Facebook – apologies if so. Another task as a writer is learning how to recycle material so you can get the best mileage out of it hehe.)

The list

I’m the kind of person who will never bring the groceries in from the car in two trips. I will get the bastards in one, goddamn it – even if this results in personal injury.

I really hate things that beep at me to remind me they’re there – the microwave (no, I haven’t forgotten my soup), the dishwasher and washing machine (yes, I know you’re done – I just wanna finish this sentence). Gen Y Whitegoods, I’m calling them. Wish you could turn bits of them off.

No one looks glamourous when running for a tram.

My husband often cooks something for himself and keeps it in the fridge. Even though I’m of course welcome to eat some, I prefer to do this in secret when he’s out, nibbling away at the edges so he won’t know I’ve been eating it. Consumption by stealth. This makes me feel like a spy. I love it.

Life will be the death of me.

When going into public bathrooms I’ve used before, I always return to the same cubicle. Because it worked the first time and is therefore superior. The others remain suspect.

I fill my coffee/tea mug right up to the brim each time I use it. And ninety per cent of the time I spill some and have to clean it up. I don’t know why I do this.

Eighty-five per cent of women can’t walk in high heels, and yet persist in wearing them to the office. How can you expect to be taken seriously if you can’t walk properly? The mind boggles.

Everyone’s elbows do wees in the shower.

I only buy clothes that don’t require ironing. Enough said.

Nothing makes you feel like a bigger a*sehole than eating a big, fat, juicy steak in front of a dog.

I hate people who lick their fingers before turning pages, particularly when it’s completely unnecessary, and particularly when they’re reading a communal newspaper that I’m planning to read when they b*gger off from this cafe. Boo.

You know that thing when you accidentally turn the tap on too hard and the water recoils from the bottom of the sink and sprays all over you? Well, I’ve done that three times today. Three different sinks. Superb.

A world covered in crisp white snow is sublimely beautiful. For about two seconds. After that it’s just freezing.

When having dinner in front of a film, I can’t take the first bite until the film is playing and the credits are over. Because starting to eat before the actual film is just plain wrong.

Why do I continually persist in painting my nails and then doing things like opening a can of tuna? Why do I expect a different result when finger meets ring pull? And why do I always get 564 itchy spots as soon as I’ve painted them? And haven’t I learned yet to go to the bathroom before said painting? Indeed, why do I paint them at all?

I’m one of those water-conscious people. We have a water-saver shower head and I really do have four minute showers. Except in hotels. In hotels I shower for at least half an hour. Because hotel water doesn’t count.

 

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Travel observations from a writer

So someone really thought through this design…

This post is a variation of one I just wrote for my life blog (http://littlewhitetruthsblog.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/little-white-travel-truths-and-quirks.html), but I’ve re-cast it from a writer’s perspective.

As a writer, one of your tasks is to observe – whether with an objective eye or with a subjective one (when you’re writing from the perspective of a particular character).

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a good deal of travelling – fortunate in the sense that this is where most of my disposable income has gone in the past, and I don’t regret it. As part of these travels I’ve lived for a few months in Florence, Italy; Seville, Spain; and New York, Yemen (had you there for a second…; ) ). My husband and I also migrated to Berlin for just shy of two years at the beginning of 2012 and returned to Melbourne in late 2013. Over my travels I’ve noticed various quirks about different countries – including my own – and I wanted to share them. I’d be excited if anyone wants to add to the comments below about their own travel observations. They always make me smile, and please note: they’re meant well and not meant to be taken the wrong way!

Also, if I’m lucky, some of the observations below might be useful to fellow writers and spark off some ideas about content to include in their own writing. That would be really cool : )

The list!

Nowhere else in the world does washing strung high between windows look so amazing as it does in Italy.

Greece: I totally agree that a large bottle of beer should cost less than a small bottle of water.

Laughter sounds the same in every language.

Dear Germany: there’s more to life than potato and sausage.

Dear Australia: There is no need to treat your citizens like two-year-old children and over-regulate to the point where breathing the wrong way may soon be a punishable offence (which of course will carry an extortionate fine that most of us can’t afford to pay).

If we all smiled as much as the locals in Thailand, the world would be a happier place.

Mexico… Where every salt shaker is filled with salt, and every pepper shaker is too.

The Swiss embarrass me. They speak better English than I do.

German is a useful language when one is in a foul mood.

Egypt: I get that tipping is standard when you provide good service in restaurants. I’m not sure the same applies when you remove all the toilet paper from the cubicles in public bathrooms and then hand it to me in scrunched bundles, expecting payment for this ‘service’.

So Canada… What’s with the gross yellow cheese? You know that’s not the only cheese on the planet, right?

Melbourne: Where you can get off a train at a station you don’t know, in an area you don’t know, and yet be certain that decent coffee is a stone’s throw away.

Italy, I like your style. Smoking in underground train stations might be illegal but when people do it anyway, ‘eh’ is a great response.

Um, Germany… For all the hoo-hah about the brilliance of German design, you do realise that your traffic lights are placed in such a way that you can’t actually see them unless you bend over your steering wheel, cock your head and peer upwards, right?

Having said that, dear Germany – I LOVE your autobahns. Please publicise to the world (and particularly to my own dumbarse country) that you have one of the lowest road tolls on the planet. Speed limits do not always mean safety.

Oh Australia, I am happy to drive at 40km per hour in school zones. I am not happy to do same for phantom roadworks.

You learn things when you travel. Like snow really does fall on beaches. And Texans really do speak and act as they do in films. And even the smallest country town has an Italian restaurant, a Chinese one and an Irish pub.

Hi Mexico, just a suggestion – not every dish has to be drowned in condiments. If I order meat, I want to taste meat – not a gluggy, soupy mass of seven or more unidentifiable sauces.

So, um, America… Portion sizes, obesity… Yeah? Speak to the French for more information.

Dear Europe: Light switches should be placed just inside the room you intend to illuminate, not in random positions in the room outside it.

Dear Europe 2: I love the large bathrooms you have in many of your hotels, really I do. So luxurious, so much space – I could play mini golf in some of them. Do you not think, however, that the showers could be enlarged at least slightly? As it stands, I don’t have enough room to wash my hair without smashing my elbows on the shower screen. And I often accidentally turn the tap off with my arse when I bend down to pick up the shampoo. Not ideal.

G’day Australia, I’ve been thinking – if you want your citizens to prosper, perhaps you might consider reducing your prices so we can all afford to eat? And speeding/parking fines shouldn’t bring one to the point of bankruptcy. Just a thought.

So Belgium… What’s with the local attitude? Are you still p*ssed over the fact that the French claimed fries as their own?

‘Ladies and gentlemen, our sincere apologies for the delay in opening the boarding gates. However the hostess tells me that you are all on board and seated and your luggage is correctly stowed, so we can in fact leave 20 minutes early.’ (Christ I love Germans.)

Hi again Mexico, another suggestion: If you’d like to solve your traffic problems, you might consider introducing rules and actually enforcing them.

Dear Western Europe: Why can’t I ask for a glass of tap water with my meal? I mean, what’s the problem? Do I need to pay for air too? And can’t I just use a public toilet without paying for it? Please???

Dear Eastern Europe: Thank you for giving me tap water with my meal without me having to ask for it. And for not charging me to use public bathrooms. I love you.

Oh Australia and your over-regulated ridiculousness, the whole cigarette plain packaging thing didn’t really work out, did it? You turkeys.

Asia… I thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing us some of the best cuisines on the planet. I have to ask though, what’s with the desserts? Is bean curd flan really such a good idea? Really???

South America, I ask you kindly to please reconsider your bus system. Tiny two-way lanes high up on mountains, paved in gravel and with no lighting, and crazy drivers doing crazy turns at night are not a good mix. I do rather like travelling with cages full of chickens though.

Someone seriously needs to explain to the Germans that a coffee is not a jug-sized cup of boiled foam.

Attention: India and France. Please learn how to queue.

Turkey… Why do you get angry when I want to pay in your national currency? I’m not European and I don’t want to pay in Euro. Thank you.

If Italy and Greece can’t stick to timetables for public transport, why have them at all? What a waste of paper.

 

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Slow walkers beware

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I wrote this article back when I was studying Professional Writing & Editing at the CAE in Melbourne. It was written for a project and it’s meant to be a humorous rant. It’s one of those pieces I’ve been reluctant to publish because I may come off as a little crazy… But I am crazy so I’ve decided to live with that.

Please note that the statistics quoted are valid as of 14 December 2008. I realise that’s a while back now, but I don’t think I need to update them for these purposes.

I’m also posting this on my life/being human blog (http://littlewhitetruthsblog.blogspot.com.au/) because it’s definitely a nod towards those little quirks and pet hates that we all have, the ones that make us human.

 

To all you dastardly dawdlers…(footpath rage accelerates)

Over one million disgruntled pedestrians have now joined the Facebook group ‘I Secretly Want to Punch Slow Walking People in the Back of the Head’. 

Inconsiderate walking behaviour has long been an issue close to my heart, so you can imagine my glee over being able to vent my frustrations when I found the gripe group earlier this year. No longer must I suffer stragglers in silence. And, as membership swelled, I felt vindicated to see just how many people feel strongly about this issue.

The vast membership is significant; it’s very rare that any group achieves such high numbers, let alone one that isn’t related to some specific cause. (Facebook doesn’t release group statistics but, as an indication, ‘Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barak)’ remains just shy of its target.) So interest in the walking group suggests that footpath rage is fast overtaking road rage as a social dilemma.

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Of course, some may have joined as a joke, along with such other associations as ‘Denny Crane for President’ and ‘What would Chuck Norris do?’; but humorous groups like these are lucky to attract 5,000 members, so there must be more to it. The founders of the walking group have clearly exposed a social nerve, and it’s a nerve that signals broader issues, including inconsiderate public behaviour in general – particularly on thoroughfares.

Let’s consider what’s meant by ‘slow walking’. This isn’t about tolerance; us speedsters are generally sympathetic to the pace constraints imposed by such factors as age, pregnancy and pram pushing. And we understand that some people enjoy a leisurely stroll. But the notion of ‘slow walking’ runs deeper: it relates to those mindless moochers who refuse to keep to one side of the footpath, who dawdle erratically with no consideration for the rest of us, and who seem unable to just get out of the way.

There’s a certain lack of awareness to slow walkers, an inherent thoughtlessness, and they carry general characteristics and behavioural patterns. They often travel in packs (walking three or four abreast) when dilly-dallying in pairs or single file would suffice. They’re the random swervers, the ones who cut you off – again – just when you’ve finally spotted an opening through which to pass them. 

They’re the couples whose interlocked hands block a person-sized space, the people who linger in the centre of the grocery aisle with their trolleys, rather than placing themselves to one side. They’re the ones who push through to the vanguard at the traffic lights and then proceed to walk at 0.2 kilometres per hour, the ones who thwart your passage when you’re rushing to make the little green man – even though their light is red and they’re not going anywhere.

Several repeat sightings of weasel waddlers confirm they are the same people who can’t get it into their heads to keep left on the escalator, the same ones who stop in the middle of the street to gasbag, or to decide whether the restaurant door they’re obstructing – along with the entire footpath – is the door they want to enter. And the self-involved nature of dawdlers creates an inability to hear ‘excuse me’. 

One suspects that, if you stuck a slow walker on a bike, they would be the ones taking up both lanes of the road when peddling with their lycra-clad pals, or the ones who don’t understand the concept of ‘bike lanes’ in general (thus forcing entire lanes of traffic to merge right – just for them).

Yesterday I was rushing home, desperate to use the bathroom (know the feeling?), when I got stuck like a pinball behind two amblers on their mobiles. They happened to live in my building and, when we finally reached the lift, guess which button they pressed?  Level one!  For the love of… Take the stairs.

Should we, as a society, really have to tolerate this kind of behaviour?

Think I’m self-indulgently ranting about nothing? Perhaps. But so many people feel rage over this issue, and not just those who’ve stumbled across the gripe group on Facebook. People expect a certain level of consideration from others – and why shouldn’t they? Society is acutely bothered by those who conduct themselves with such blatant disregard; you should see the comments on the group website – particularly those from inhabitants of New York, London and Tokyo (unsurprisingly the cities worst hit by the slow walking phenomenon). Many members have detailed what they’d like done to idlers and, without going into graphics, for some this involves choice orifices and heavy artillery.

For those of you (probably dawdlers) who can’t understand these levels of frustration, have you ever been stuck behind a slow vehicle on the Great Ocean Road? And how do you feel when that driver, despite your rampant tailgating and fiery honking, doesn’t seem to grasp the purpose of slow vehicle turn out lanes? Exactly.

This isn’t just about frustration. The point is, such drivers encourage dangerous behaviour in others – tailgating, harebrained overtaking, distracting horns and slamming fists. The same applies to slow walkers. Yesterday a dallying flock of schoolgirls created the situation where people were forced to walk on the road to overtake them; some even jaywalked to the other side in despair, weaving through oncoming traffic.

Hardly safe, is it? 

I raised the slow walking issue among friends and received an impassioned response. We had some brilliant ideas to combat the problem, such as dividing the footpath into fast and slow lanes, and fining those caught transgressing. Is this suggestion so outrageous? We keep left on highways unless overtaking, don’t we? And public swimming pool lanes are divided by speed.

So to any dalliers who still question the importance of this issue, I ask you this: just how many times have you and your brethren affected someone’s day? How many people have missed their trains because of you – perhaps on their way to some crucial appointment or job interview? Just how does your behaviour impact other people’s daily lives? Some of us like to walk quickly to get some exercise, to ensure punctuality, or to squeeze an hour’s worth of errands into a forty-minute lunch break. Spare a thought for us. Please.

In the end, I think the intense irritation society feels towards selfish slowpokes boils down to the simple fact that, in the vast majority of cases, this disgraceful situation is so damn easy to rectify.

Keep left, think straight, move aside.

* Statistics are current as of 14 December 2008.

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My new blog – a bit of fun

Have a look at my new blog. I’m really enjoying writing this one : )

It’s a blog about life and being human. Because everyone’s elbows do wees in the shower.

http://littlewhitetruthsblog.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/plot-twist.html

 

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