Writing on, and about, an island

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

3 Things Every Writer Must Say

In Career, Freelance, Writing on January 31, 2012 at 10:26 am

There are a squillion words written on how to be a writer, and how to get published. But the truth is scarily simple – which is why most people don’t realise what it is…

This advice from the incredibly successful Sandra Reynolds (blogger turned cookbook writer) is priceless – whether you want to blog or write a novel.

Sandra says of her success (I’ve bolded the 3 unforgettable things you must communicate):

“I simply wrote about what I knew. As it turned out, the single best thing I ever did was simply being honest with my readers.

This is who I am.

These are my circumstances.

This is what I know.

Any good writer will tell you that every good story starts with those three pillars.”

Thanks to my colleague and friend Allison Tait at Life in a Pink Fibro, for the interview with Sandra on ‘Becoming a Cookbook Writer’ (read it, it’s great).

Agatha Christie’s Tasmania

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Agatha Christie came this close to being a Tasmanian… Sigh. I was born the year Agatha Christie died: 1976. I’ve also got the same initials as Agatha… I’m not superstitious, but I do admit to being inspired by this. To me – as a crime writer and reader – the great AC is hard to top. I have a bookcase devoted to her books. All of them.

I love how her books are the perfect example of what I admire most in writing – my ‘mantra’, I guess:

“Stylistically simple; intellectually interesting.”

Agatha didn’t aspire to any pretensions. And she’s sold over a billion books.

Agatha wanted to move to Tasmania…

Yes, AC travelled to Tasmania, as part of her grand world tour in 1922. She was entranced by the colours and stories of this island; she even checked out some skulls and skeletons.

There’s a great map of her 1922 travels at the official Agatha Christie site. However, when I originally looked at it, it didn’t include Tasmania. So, I contacted Chorion to pass on this info I’d found on Agatha’s time in Tasmania.

 

(The above taken from Nicholas Shakespeare’s book, In Tasmania.)

 

 

(Taken from Janet Morgan’s Agatha Christie: A biography.)

 

More will no doubt be revealed this year, when HarperCollins publishes Agatha’s diaries and letters from her travels in The Grand Tour – compiled and edited by her grandson, Mathew Prichard.

“Leaving behind her two-year-old daughter, Christie began her adventure at the end of January as part of a trade mission ahead of the British Empire Expedition in 1924. Travelling to Hawaii, Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the young author – who had already published two novels – described her adventures in weekly letters to her mother, also taking photos on her portable camera of the places she visited.”

Can’t wait to read it. And see what it says about Agatha’s Tasmania…

The French Five (aka The Island Five)

In Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania on January 30, 2012 at 11:39 am

This post could easily be called ‘The French Fashion Diet… Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a thing for clothes. I worked as a fashion editor, stylist and writer for a long time; to me, beautifully made clothes are art. Which makes it hard for me to get rid of them…

Repeat: I have A LOT OF CLOTHES.

But, my move to an island means reassessing my style. I’ve written about how I didn’t buy any new clothes for more than a year after arriving here, due to debt reduction… (tip: shop your own wardrobe before buying anything new).

It’s not just about cutting spending however, as I’ve never really spent much money on clothes (lots of freebies in the magazine world!). No, it turns out that my Sydney clothes are also now somewhat obsolete in Tasmania.

Sydney style vs Island style

In Sydney, I actually did wear everything I owned, so there was no guilty or wasteful ‘excess’. However, since moving to Tasmania, there’s no getting away from the fact that, for whatever reason (weather, work… whatever…), I am only wearing about 5% of my wardrobe. And the rest is clutter which I seem to spend way too much time ‘managing’ (ie moving from one chair to another; from bedroom to spare room).

I made a concerted effort to get rid of stuff last year (all donated to charity), in order to clear some space. But it’s obvious I need to do more in 2012. I want more time and space for me. And less clothes = more time + space.

So, I’m taking inspiration from the French on this one. (Well, the cobbled streets and pretty parks of Hobart do have a Parisian flavour, especially during spring and autumn.)

Obviously, I’m not going to be living with a mere 5 items of clothing, but I consider the following to be the basis of any decent minimalist wardrobe.

My French Five (accessories not included*)

  1. Black blazer
  2. White t-shirt
  3. ‘Cigarette’ pants (ie skinny)
  4. LBD
  5. Pencil skirt

*It almost goes without saying… ballet flats, silk scarves, leather shoulder bag

My Island Five (accessories not included*)

  1. Leather jacket
  2. White tank
  3. Skinny jeans
  4. Shift dress
  5. Denim skirt

*Ankle boots, Havaianas, Indian shawl…

On top of this French/Island Five, you should really only buy 5 additional items per fashion season (ie 10 items per year). And make sure you get rid of something each time you buy something new.

Finally – I do not (and never will) fall for fashion trends and cheap copies. Work your own style and make more space for yourself in doing so!

The First Step to Working for Yourself

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania on January 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Want to make money from your art, craft or your writing? Want to turn your creativity into a small business or a freelance career? I truly believe that it’s possible to move from whatever you’re doing right now that’s not doing it for you… into a custom-designed career that you really love.

So, what’s the First Step?

Simple. Streamline your lifestyle.

There’s a social trend at the moment to downsize debt, and to cut clutter. This is good because, as a general rule, we are fed a diet of information that tells us that we must consume more to ‘be’ more. In order to consume more, we must make more money; in order to make more money, we must work harder; in order tow work harder, we must give up more of our creative energy and  personal freedom – and so we lock ourselves into a cycle of work and consumption that is ultimately unsatisfying. Sure, buying new stuff makes you feel great for a moment, but there’s little long-term gain and no creative product to show for it.

So how about challenging that idea that you must keep making ever-more money? If you genuinely want to find more freedom for yourself – the freedom that leaves you open to creating for a living – you’ll need to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term rewards.

Just let go.

Let go of traditional expectations about how you should make money, and how much money you should make.

Want to have more time to write, paint, whatever? Then accept a part-time job that allows you that creative time. Yes, you’ll probably earn less, but if you make the choice to stop going out for dinner, to stop buying new clothes, to stop expecting expensive holidays, to stop buying your lunch everyday, you won’t be needing that extra money

Everyone has choices, everyone can make the decision about how they make and spend their money. I know everyone’s situation is different, but if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices in order to gain freedom, then you simply don’t want that freedom badly enough.

Small steps work.

Your ultimate goal might be to work for yourself, and make a living out of your art. That might seem impossible right now, but if you take small steps towards streamlining your life, you will eventually reach a place where you can spend a little less time being an employee, and more time on what matters to you – on creating.

Getting to this point is very satisfying, and it becomes addictive. Being less dependent on others/your bank/your conventional income means all the more independence for you and your creativity. Once you have a taste for freedom, you want more freedom – and it’s at this point that thoughts of working for yourself, and making money out of your art, become not only tempting – but possible.

I’m not saying this is easy to do, but it’s possible. You just have to make the decision that it’s a lifestyle worth working towards.

I can say this stuff, because I have done it.

I was in debt when I left Sydney for Tasmania. Despite having a high-paying magazine job in the Emerald City, each week had seen me slip further behind. Not for any outrageous reason. But, regardless of the reason(s), they are nothing more than excuses. You must take responsibility for your situation in order to change it.

So, I did. I moved to Tassie to give my son a better childhood, and myself the opportunity to create again – specifically, to write a novel. An interesting bi-product of that move has been a total turnaround in my finances, a turnaround in my attitude to making and spending money, and a turnaround in how I plan to work in the future…

In order to get rid of the debt, I worked very hard and lived very, very frugally for about 18 months after arriving in Tasmania. Catching the bus was considered an unnecessary expense. I bought no new clothes for more than 12 months. I would challenge myself to spend zero money on the weekends. We ate a shiteload of potatoes (from our vegie garden)… I was envious of my friends who were spending money on fun things, but I kept the goal of financial freedom in mind, and I rarely wavered. (I hope, however, that I never again have to go through a Tassie winter without heating. Absolutely appalling!)

Despite now being in a good financial shape (with only a small mortgage to tend), those 18 months changed my outlook forever. I’m not going back to ‘spending’, and therefore having to earn lots to keep up. I am happy to continue to live frugally, to only buy second-hand clothes when necessary, to grow our own vegies, to walk whenever possible, to not own a credit card… because I know it grants me the freedom to choose what work I do, and where and when I do it.

In fact, I want to take this concept even further this year ­– to depend less and less on making money the conventional way, and to create more and more space and freedom for doing things my way.

If There’s One Place You Must Travel to in 2012…

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on January 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

… it’s the Huon Valley. A bunch of influential global travel experts – Mr & Mrs Smith, for example – have named Tasmania’s Huon Valley as one of the top-10 places to check out this year. This in partly due to the Valley’s growing and well-deserved reputation for artisan and organic produce, but the vistas are also stunning, and the locals are keeping alive traditional processes (spinning and wooden-boat-building, anyone?) that would otherwise disappear.

The Huon is also where Matt Evans’ Gourmet Farmer is set, it’s where Tetsuya built and launched his boat from, it’s where you can check out the up-coming Taste of the Huon, it’s where Tassie’s Apple Isle moniker was born… and it is easily one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been compiling an arts and heritage strategy for the region, and have had to spend a lot of time in the Huon’s five main townships of Dover, Geeveston, Huonville, Cygnet and Franklin. Each has a distinct flavour, and travelling the full ‘circle’ from Hobart and back is a memorable journey. I remember childhood trips to the Huon with my English-born grandparents (who loved to go to there to experience a little bit of the ‘home country’), and the winding country roads lined with autumn’s vibrant trees and Cape Cod-style cottages. But I hadn’t been back in decades, and I now see I’ve been missing out. Little has changed the Valley’s gentle, peaceful ambience over the years, and it’s the first place I send visiting friends when they arrive in the state.

So, when you’re in the Huon, you must get your art on at the Church Studio, you must anchor in Charlotte Cove (and dream about buying property there), you must buy a Summer Kitchen pie (go the Hunza or the Humity), you must stand on the enigmatic shores of Dover, you must listen to a gig at Red Velvet Lounge, you must stay in the teepees at Huon Bush Retreats, and you must buy some wares from Steenholdt’s Organics – which my mates at Island Menu have often been inspired by.

 

NOTE: Take the long way back to Hobart from Cygnet (not the short-cut), and you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views along the coast – and the chance to pretend you’re time-trialling (just don’t tell the authorities I said that).

PS: I know I said I was Not Using Images, but thought a little context would help in a travel post.

6 Reasons I’m Saying No (to Others and Myself)

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania on January 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

As a compulsive over-committer, as someone who has (in the past) confused busy-ness with productivity, as someone who is so inspired by ideas that I want to be involved in everything… I’m saying no more in 2012. Here’s why…

1. I am tired of being the messenger. It’s time for my own message!

This is an occupational hazard for many writers and designers – anyone who communicates for a living. Sometimes, it feels like your whole career has consisted of working on the achievements of others. I have a lot of energy and ideas, and I believe in being generous (in fact, I frequently give away my ideas for free). But, when I spend all my time helping others achieve their goals, it leaves too little for my own. Yet I clearly have something people want: people pay for my advice, my opinions and my ideas… so I should respect this more.

2. I want people (read: ‘Tasmanians’) to respect creative work

Although the issue is widespread, the tendency to devalue the creative process and product is particularly endemic in Tasmania. Too many people want things for free, or cheap, or are slow to pay. I’ve worked hard to be financially independent, and I don’t have to tolerate this attitude. In saying no – to low-paid jobs, or ones that don’t respect the time and effort it takes to create – I’m stating that I value my, and others’, creativity. It’s important to educate people on the value of creativity; being selective (and explaining your reason) helps to do this.

3. I need to focus

I am a scanner. I like doing many different things – and I can do many different things. It’s great to be multi-talented; but, if unfocused, it can manifest itself as scattered and distracted. I blithely start countless projects in the hope that one of them will be the lightbulb that shows me what I really want to do with my life. What I should be doing, is taking the time to stop and consider what truly matters to me – not expect this enlightenment to come from external sources. Just because I can do anything, doesn’t mean I should!

4. I believe there is enough to go around

But I didn’t always believe this. I have previously felt pressured to do something right now in case the opportunity passed me by. From a young age, we’re indoctrinated in the concept of the Scarcity Principle: that there’s not enough to go around, and everyone’s in competition for financial gain, creative recognition, whatever… But you should challenge this false idea. Believe that what you have to say will be valuable, whenever you choose to tell it.

5. I feel there are more sustainable and satisfying ways to use my talents

Although my career has not been traditional, the way I’ve offered my services has been. In other words: reactionary. People want something, I deliver it. My skills and talents are charged out by the hour, or the word, or the job. I expend the effort, then it’s in the public domain for a short period of time. This is conventional business practice, and most people follow it. But I want better. I can create a business model for myself that means I can pass on my ideas and advice in a more sustainable way; one that’s not restricted to hourly rates or dependent on me being physically present… More on this another day.

6. I crave a sanity buffer

Once upon a time, I only had to worry about myself. I could stay up all night to meet a deadline. Those days are long gone, and I now have no control over huge portions of my life. If things are going well, I can juggle my commitments well; but if my child gets sick, everything falls apart. It’s stressful to be sailing so close to the wind. More space, please!

So…

  • I’ve just said no to someone who wants to meet for (another) coffee, to ask my opinion, for free (again), on their project;
  • I’ve said no to something I would’ve usually loved to work on – because the timing was insane, and the person wasn’t prepared to compensate me for that;
  • I’ve said no to continuing on with a committee that was far too time-consuming; and
  • I’ve said no to my Masters (again), as uni will always be there when I’m ready – right now, however, it’s not directly relevant to the achievements I’m focused on this year…

I am discovering that if you say no to more things, you create more space and time to consider each request as it comes in; making it easier to choose wisely rather than simply react.

 

Writing Freelance Features

In Career, Freelance, Tasmania, Writing on January 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

Want to write a great magazine or newspaper article? What does it take to discover that one unsung idea, pitch the piece to an editor, produce the thing and see it through to published completion?

It’s a hard-to-pin-down process; when I wrote my first published article, about 13 years ago, I stumbled blindly through the whole thing. But despite having written thousands and thousands of published words since, seeing my byline in a publication still gives me a little kick.

Note: Although my focus this year is less on being the messenger (ie. documenting the achievements of others) and more on being the message (creating my own achievements), there’s no doubt that when you come across a great story about someone/something/somewhere else, it’s empowering to be able to tell it.

I’ve just finished two stories about Tasmania – one for House & Garden magazine, and one that has no home as yet (but will likely end up in a national food magazine).

One of these stories I pitched directly to the editor, the other was done ‘on spec’ – purely because my photographer, Nick Watt, and I were entranced with the story and had a couple of days free to shoot it. (Local Tasmanian stylist, Charlotte Bell, below, lent her aesthetic skills for both shoots.)

I do not take the opportunity to write these features for granted: interviewing interesting people, in beautiful locations, while working with some of the most talented people in the business… it certainly beats sitting at a desk all day!

So, I thought I’d do a few posts on the process of freelance writing for magazines, or newspapers, or websites (or whatever takes your fancy). I know instinctively how I do this, but I’ve never put it down in black and white.

I’d like to look at things such as:

  • How to unearth the untold stories around you
  • How to pitch a story to an editor (including how to find the USP – the unique selling point)
  • How to produce the story (interviewing, logistics etc)
  • How to structure and write a story
  • The business side of freelance feature writing

If there’s anything you want to know about writing freelance features, let me know!

4 New Years on an Island

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm

What will island life in 2012 bring? Living in Tasmania has been, at times, very hard. It’s three years since I moved from Sydney, and this bloody island has challenged everything I thought about myself, my career, my purpose, what matters to me…

Why are islands demanding?

Why are islands so linked to artistic endeavour? Maybe it’s the isolation, maybe it’s the natural physical boundary – wrapped in a coast, an island presents the potential for complete exploration, and people always have a need to define their surroundings. It’s akin to collecting: collectors often desire things that are limited, because there’s some sort of possibility of completing that collection.

The above is a pretty accurate description of what living on an island means to me (I’m sure the Mercury won’t mind me paraphrasing myself).

Of course, I wanted Tasmania to challenge me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t also wanted to throw in the towel.

So, prompted by the fresh western New Year (and tomorrow’s Chinese New Year), I’ve had a think about what each year in Tasmania has taught me.

For better or worse…

… 2009 was The Year of Recovery and Mistakes (and Magic)

I landed in Tasmania an exhausted, burnt-out thing. The preceding couple of years had been emotionally and financially debilitating. I was so tightly wound, I even had to learn how to sleep all over again.

As a prodigal son, I also made mistakes. I tried to transplant my Sydney way of doing things into Tasmania. My high expectations, my way of doing things very fast… not the most successful approach. There was a lot of friction. Oh, and I was fired for the very first time in my life.

Which, as it turns out, did me a favour – I launched my MADE Tasmania business not long after. I also started, and paused, my Masters (as one of the many fumbling ways to try to work out what I wanted to be doing).

The magic part of 2009 came in getting married (to someone who is the support and inspiration I didn’t even ever know I needed).

… 2010 was The Year of Consolidation and Learning

New year, new full-time advertising job.

And the clear decision to clear debts. I was on a mission. So, 2010 was a blur of full-time and freelance work… Seriously, I don’t really remember much but the fact I was working every minute. However, in hindsight, it was a year where I put down some solid foundations in the search for freedom, even if at the time I wasn’t sure what I was peddling so hard towards.

And yes, I did clear my debts. A little closer to freedom…

… 2011 was The Year of Frustration and Questioning

What. On. Earth. Am. I. Doing.

I spent the whole year asking this, in-between spinning like a mouse on a wheel. I was working hard, still managing a freelance business while working full-time. Trying to finish my novel in snatched moments. There was so much stress, and not enough time spent with my new family. The year was a whirlwind of doing – but doing for others, mind you. There was nothing I was genuinely doing for me. I said yes to a squillion projects, hoping that one of them would show me what I should be doing, yet none of them did.

I got to the end of 2011 and realised every day had been spent in a state of responsibility and commitment. No personal creativity or expression, no free weekends, no reflection, no sweet spots of getting lost in something for the simple joy of it… Everything I did, I felt obligated to do. When prompted, I couldn’t even think of one thing I loved doing just for the sake of it.

BUT it was a massive wake-up call to even realise this, to realise I was reincarnating my Sydney habits all over again, and it propelled me into having a good hard look at myself and my life.

… 2012 is shaping up to be The Year of Freedom

Ah – the Year of the Dragon (which I am; a Fire Dragon actually). My year? I’m going with that.

Only 3 weeks old, and 2012 has already brought breakthroughs of beautiful clarity. Clarity in how I want to respond to the world around me. Clarity in my purpose for being here. Just clarity for the sake of clarity…

And that is such a weight off my shoulders.

Running Writing

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

No, not what we were taught at school… Running writing is the writing I do in my head when I’m running.

Running is something I’ve recently gotten back into, as a way to expend my considerable creative and nervous energy in a productive way.

I have a tendency to expend that considerable energy in an unproductive way. Usually, drinking and being a dirty stop-out. For example, during the period when I was a newspaper columnist, I reported on Sydney’s coolest events and parties (oh boy, have I got some stories from those days!). Every night started with the promise of so much, and I never wanted to go home. I spent a year meeting punishing daily deadlines with a 365-day hangover*.

But I digress…

As a creative person, drinking and partying certainly burns up the energy and provides a certain dubious creative outlet. It is undoubtedly the path of least resistance to ‘expressing’ your creativity.

But, when you wake up in the morning, there’s nothing to show for it.

Hence, running

I run outside, for quite a long time, through the Tassie bush or along the beach. Why running? In Ayurvedic terms, I’m a Pitta (mentally hotheaded, physically easily overheated), and Pittas need the sensation of the cooling breeze on their face as they exercise. We need to escape, get out, be free…

Now that I’ve broken through the initial two-week pain barrier, I’ve reached that blissful stage where I’m writing in my head as I run. I don’t ask or expect it to happen. The welcome monotony and freedom of running frees up my thoughts. I write articles this way; I write whole chapters for my books.

Running writing = free thought

The physical act of running is a good metaphor for the type of writing it produces. Writing that flows, that has good rhythm, that is without restrictions (mental or space-wise). Don’t worry that you won’t remember what you’ve written in your head. Even if you don’t get it down word-for-word, running writing flavours what you do for the hours afterwards.

And don’t worry if you don’t like running. Walking is just as good. Washing dishes. Or, as Agatha Christie liked to do it, soaking in the bath while eating apples.

*If you’ve ever seen Secret Window with Johnny Depp as the alternately neurotic and apathetic writer, you’ll have a pretty good picture of me in these phases (although I’m not that handsome and I don’t have a brilliant French life) – unwashed hair, worn Missoni dressing gown, lying on the couch recovering from a hangover. And the avoidance of writing dreadlines that have taken on a life of their own…

A Novel Decision

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

People will think I’m mad (nothing new there) but, after thinking long and hard, I’ve decided to self-publish my crime novel. There are a variety of reasons for this:

1. I’ve edited and published lots of books for other people, and worked as a book publicist at one time, as well as working in-house at Random and freelance for HarperCollins and Murdoch Books… ie, I know what I’m doing.

2. I have an April deadline I want to meet for plot reasons – going the traditional path will mean I’ll miss this deadline.

3. I’m not publishing a novel to make money – I’m doing it because I want to tell a story. Breaking even would be sufficient!

4. I have a large network of people who I can tap into for assistance and support – creative friends for cover design, for example, and also the media (my colleagues).

5. I’ve recently won a Scarlet Stiletto award for a short crime story, and now’s a smart time to leverage a novel off that.

6. And I have come to the realisation that trying to fit myself into the conventional publishing model was sapping my inspiration and just feeling plain wrong. I just couldn’t get interested in it, it was frustrating me, and I realise it’s one of the reasons why this project has dragged on longer than I wanted it to.

But mainly, this decision is all about cutting out the middle man. I’m over having to give away my power to people who are gatekeepers of contrived conventional processes. Just because I’m told it’s the way to do things, doesn’t make it right or true. Thanks to the magic of technology, I can do things my own way. This is not to denigrate traditional publishing, by any means. Traditional publishing works for many, and it’s an industry I’ve loved working in – but I know it’s not for me when it comes to my book(s).

So, I’ll be selling my book online – both as an ebook and as a physical hard copy. Maybe I’ll sell it through a couple of bookshops (but then maybe not, as I’m not that keen on giving them 40%).

I’m very curious to see how things go.

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