Writing on, and about, an island

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Portable Career

In Career, Writing on February 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I plan to go into more detail about my concept of the ‘Portable Career’ at a later stage; for now, I’d like to touch on the two things that make the Portable Career something to aspire to. With a Portable Career…

  1. You can work anyhow, anywhere, anytime (a bit like The Goodies!)
  2. You can change your medium to suit your message

What is a Portable Career?

It’s my term for working with total independence and flexibility – not only in location, but in the medium. In the 21st Century, it’s what everyone should be considering – to create less dependence on external forces beyond your control (hello, GFC 2.0).

“It’s not the strongest who survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change.”            (Charles Darwin)

A Portable Career is about adaptability, it’s about freedom of time and space, and freedom to flow from one way of expressing your message to another, according to the situation.

Work anyhow, anywhere, anytime

This is the obvious definition and benefit of a Portable Career. More than any other time in history, we have the ability – thanks to the internet – to make the conscious choice to work when, and where, we want. It goes beyond the conventional concept of ‘freelance’ – which still imposes financial/corporate system restrictions on the individual – and enters the realm of ‘whatever you can imagine, you can create’.

For me, a Portable Career is one that’s inherently based not on fixed products/services – ie tangible objects that are vulnerable to external forces – but on unfixed products/services – ie intangible objects that can fluidly adapt to the marketplace.

So, for example, selling online products (such as ebooks) or services (such as webinars) in a sustainable way from a no-fixed-address to an infinite audience is far preferable to sitting behind a desk, doing the 9-5, selling your skills to someone else and having a cap on your earnings and influence.

Change your medium to suit your message

This is the less obvious definition and benefit of a Portable Career, but it is the most profound one.

I change jobs and job titles often, and I have an ever-expanding eclectic set of skills, experiences and interests. I have struggled my whole career with the concept of job titles, struggled to pin down what it is that I ‘am’, and what it is that I ‘do’ – because everyone else expected me to do so. Not only have I failed to define my career in simplistic terms, so have others (I get introduced as some pretty weird things at parties!).

At times, I’ve felt on a different planet to friends and colleagues who all seem to have a chosen career path. I was alternately jealous of their certainly, and smug about my ability to be a chameleon. I’ve felt unfocused, and had a niggling sense of dissatisfaction that I couldn’t put my finger on, no matter how successful I was.

But two things happened to change that.

First, I realised I was a Scanner. Second, I read something that prompted this gob-smackingly simple, yet awe-inspiring thought:

You are not defined by the medium you work with; you are defined by the message that matters to you.

Wow. So – and without wanting to sound too self-helpy – this translated into “I should stop trying to define myself a ‘writer’ or whatever. Instead, I can view writing as simply one of the many mediums I use to communicate my message.”

By liberating yourself from conventional, restrictive and outdated job titles, and allowing yourself to change your medium to suit your message, a whole new way or working opens up. It is, I guess, the ‘intellectually portable’ approach.

So, what’s your message?
Your message = is your life purpose.

Once you’ve worked out what your message is – and make that the foundation of everything you do – you are free to change the medium as much as you like.

Time spent thinking about your life purpose is a priceless investment. I recommend Steve Pavlina’s famed method of defining your true life purpose. According to him, you’ll know when you’ve worked it out, because it’ll make you cry… This is what I got halted at, at attempt #75…

To treasure my unique voice, to tell the truth in the face of non-truths, to create with courage, to live with freedom, to love my children and to leave something for them to be proud of once I’m gone.

How do you put a Portable Career into practice?

A Portable Career means thinking laterally about my skills, talents and experiences. I do not restrict myself by conventional and accepted career paths or choices; just because I write, doesn’t mean I’m locked into being ‘A Writer’ ­– I can choose to be an entrepreneur, for example, with writing being just one channel. It’s big-picture thinking.

Now, rather than being a writer, or a journalist, or a stylist or a magazine director or a [insert job title here], I consider my self to be working to express my message, through whatever medium is appropriate. My message informs my decision on what jobs I take on (or not), how I relate to clients and what way of working I am ultimately aiming for. If you always keep your message in mind, everything flows much easier. There’s no forcing something that’s not meant to be.

It’s amazing how much focus that gives you.

Twenty-First Century Ideas for Tasmania

In Books, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I believe passionately in a new way of thinking and (more importantly) doing for Tasmania. For far too long, this island of huge potential has been held back by those who seek to maintain mediocrity – for what purpose, I can only begin to fathom. It makes me immensely angry.

There’s that thing called critical mass, though. And I feel we’re nearing it.

For example:

I was in the surf at North Bruny this past weekend (seeking relief from startling 40-degree heat; bushfires on the horizon) – and a few metres away from me, doing the same, was Dr Natasha Cica: fellow shack owner, talented author of Pedder Dreaming, former lawyer and current Director of the Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society at UTAS.

In that moment, I felt grateful for the intelligence that can be found in Tasmania. Dr Cica is one of 12 ‘thought leaders’ who have received a 2012 Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship worth $160,000 over two years. She was selected with regard to two intellectual superhero-style criteria: outstanding talent and exceptional courage. Cool indeed.

Later that day, at North Bruny’s boat-inspired Jetty Cafe, I picked up a copy of the 2011 SALON/SOUTH: Twenty-First Century Ideas for Tasmania report. Natasha Cica has been instrumental in the SALON/SOUTH series; in its second successful year.

SALON/SOUTH brings thought leaders together to workshop new ideas and directions around ‘culture’, ‘community’ and ‘capital’ – all in the desire to create positive change for our challenging island environment.

As an example – and I can’t believe this is even an issue in 2012 – how about Tasmanian leaders investigate the idea of making Grade 12 the end of compulsory schooling, not Grade 10? Our education stats are improving, but still woefully inadequate on the world stage.

So, for the amateur thought leaders out there…

If you believe in thinking outside the lines, challenging the status quo, and looking forward – regardless of where you live – I recommend you read the report. And be inspired to create change.

Writing a Novel While Working Full-Time

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I wrote my crime novel during the Tasmanian winter of 2011. I wrote it while working full-time in advertising and running a successful freelance business, and managing a high-energy home life…

I have always gotten more done when I am at my busiest. To write a novel in 3 months, I wrote 1000+ words a day.

What I know now, about writing a novel while working full-time, is that you must let go of two preconceived (and false) writing concepts…

1. There is a perfect place for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

If you wait for the perfect place to write, it won’t ever happen. I’ve fallen into this trap before. When I was younger and single and uncommitted, I wanted the cliched writer’s desk, study and all the trappings that go with it. Now that my life is – and looks like it will always be – perpetually chaotic and crazy, I know better.

Now, all I absolutely require is an uncluttered work area.

Generally, I work on my laptop in our study – or while sitting on my bed. Or on the couch. Or the kitchen table. For easy transportation, I also pasted my entire novel (in A4 sheets) into a scrapbook, which I’d take out into the park at lunchtime to work on. I’d also work on it while on the bus to and from work.

Occasionally, when I have been granted precious solo time, I have worked at my shack on Bruny Island. I don’t necessarily get lots more done there, but I’m grateful for the inspirational environment and the chance to totally immerse myself in my book.

2. There is a perfect time for writing

Nope: there is no such thing.

Writing is like anything else in life – you either choose to make it a priority, or you don’t. Simple.

When you work full-time and have a family, life is a non-stop juggling act. It’s easy to put yourself and your writing dreams last. I know this only too well.

But, if you passively wait for the perfect time to ‘be a writer’, something else is guaranteed to sabotage your intent.

So, then – and now – I have had to make choices:

Do I relax during my weekday lunch hours… or do I work on my book?

Do I lie in on weekends… or do I work on my book?

Do I watch something on TV… or do I work on my book?

Do I read a magazine on the bus to work… or do I work on my book?

You get the picture.

There is no magic formula

Writing a novel while managing the demands of a career and a family comes down to discipline, drive and lots of little decisions (that really add up).

Even when I didn’t feel like writing, I would still do it.

Even now, I have to work hard to continue to make writing a priority. It is somewhat exhausting. But I have committed to giving my writing the respect it deserves. And I keep my eye on the prize.

Writing a Novel in 3 Months

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I wrote my crime novel in the 3 months of winter 2011. I wrote it while working full-time and running a part-time freelance business, and being a mum to a demanding five-year-old and being a brand new wife…

My writing style = fast results

Perhaps it’s due to my inherent impatience, my incubator-style of working, my advertising training and my time as a ruthless sub-editor, but I’ve never been the kind of writer to agonise over sentences, to re-work things over and over, to spend several years writing a book… For example, I write these blog posts in about 5-10 minutes each.

My time on weekly magazines (especially as the Lifestyle Director of Australia’s OK! Magazine) involved a team pumping out an entire 200-page magazine each and every week. I’d have to produce countless articles each week. Similarly, working as a weekly columnist for a national newspaper (Sydney Morning Herald) had equally hairy dreadlines. Neither was an environment where perfectionism to the point of procrastination was valued.

So, I like to bash things out. I like to get stuff down, then go back over the whole. For this reason, I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. I have no problem writing on demand (a far, FAR greater problem for me has been to turn off my ‘commercial writing’ mode, and go into narrative, personal mode).

1000 words a day x 90 days = 90,000 word novel

To write a novel in 3 months, I wrote 1000 words a day. This is nothing new to me in my line of work – and it’s certainly not a new concept in writing land. But I can’t stress enough that writing that 1000 words each day is what you need to do to get a book done.

Writing that much each day forces you to get over writer’s block, it creates discipline and drive, and it maintains momentum in your writing and story.

I would write 1000 words on my laptop – often in one go, and often more than 1000 – without worrying too much about following intricate plotlines. Above all, I wanted to avoid getting bogged down.

I’d then edit that 1000 words – usually in the evening, and on paper (not computer). The next day, I’d revise the previous day’s copy before writing my next 1000 words.

In my time not writing or editing, I’d think about the plot and characters, discuss my book with my husband, and do background research (the crime in my novel is underpinned by a controversial Titanic conspiracy theory).

Is this for you?

Perhaps not. And presumably no-one’s forcing you to write a book in 3 months. I simply chose to – because I was motivated to tell the story (and didn’t want to miss the boat, so to speak), because I was worried about my commitments coming up (and didn’t want to get waylaid), because writing fast is pretty much the only way I know how to work, and – crucially – the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is coming up on 15 April 2012, and I wanted to market my book around the event.

Even if I didn’t have an external deadline, I would probably still have written my book this way. It’s my style.

Some would say that a novel bashed out in speed is one that suffers in style and substance – I disagree. I have always felt that my writing is fresher, quirkier and more compelling when I go with the flow. When I’ve tried to be the considered, ponderous writer, my writing comes across as stilted and stifled. It doesn’t feel authentic – and if nothing else, I want my book to be authentic.

The Crime Writer’s Inspiration List

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 17, 2012 at 11:37 am

When you’re writing a crime/mystery novel, your focus gets very insular. You get so close to what you’re doing that, I find, it’s really important to occasionally look outside for inspiration.

When I’m stuck or stale, I get inspired by (and this is a work-in-progress list):

Books

The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper

The Secret History/The Little Friend – Donna Tartt

Inspector Morse (the whole series) – Colin Dexter

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow – Peter Hoeg

A Place of Execution – Val McDermid

The Ice House – Minette Walters

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Devices and Desires – PD James (the opening scene still gives me shivers)

Death of a Wombat – Ivan Smith and Clifton Pugh

Stasiland – Anna Funder

Anything by Henning Mankell

TV

Twin Peaks

The Killing (Danish version)

Red Riding Trilogy

Movies

Swimming Pool

Let The Right One In (Swedish version)

Lantana

Secret Window

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Ghost Writer

Music

December – George Winston

Mozart

Muse

PJ Harvey

Places

Bruny Island – I stay at my shack on my own, which terrifies me (and is therefore good for crime-writing).

Tasmania’s East (the empty coastline from Swansea upwards) or West Coast (especially Strahan, Macquarie Harbour and Gordon River), or the Midlands (the wide open farmlands and bleak hills).

Online

I use Ommwriter occasionally

I love Toast‘s online catalogues and Toast Travels

Wallpaper – currently, this Donna Tartt one

Looking at this list, I realise the majority of items on it are notable for their remarkable expression of a ‘sense of place’ – particularly a cold, out-of-the-way, edge-of-the-world place… (hello Tasmania). There are many, many more books, for example, that I absolutely love, but they don’t all make the cut when I need to be inspired in my own writing.

Writing a Book? Please, Delete Your First Chapter…

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Yes, you heard me…

If there’s some advice I’d pass on from my time in publishing –­ especially my time as an editor in book publishing – it’d be for everyone who’s writing a novel to delete, if not their entire first chapter, then at the very least the first paragraph, or the first page.

Why?

It’s an odd fact that most writers ignore the fundamental desires of publishers, or editors, or readers…

And that’s to be in the story from the word go.

Right from your first sentence, the reader should be projected directly into mid-conversation, into mid-scene, into mid-whatever – just don’t dilly dally around.

Too many writers – and I’ve been the editor for some of them – spend pages and pages setting up passive scenes, introducing characters, and explaining the back-story. By the time the reader gets to the action, they’ve lost interest.

Publishers, editors and readers like books that open with an immediate hook – a gripping first sentence that grabs them by the throat. You must make it impossible for us not to read on. To do this may mean you slash your entire first chapter – or three. If that’s what it takes, do it. Be ruthless. You can’t be sentimental with your writing if you want to be noticed.

An opening line I’ve never forgotten (from one of my favourite crime books, Minette Walters’ The Ice House):

“Fred Phillips is running.” Anne Cattrell’s remark burst upon the silence of that August afternoon like a fart at a vicar’s tea-party.

According to the experts, every first sentence – whether crime novel or no – should hint at trouble and raise a question. (Actually, your whole book should pretty much do that – raise questions in the reader’s mind.)

In Minette’s subtly menacing, yet amusing, first sentence… why is Fred Phillips running? What is he running from? Clearly, Fred is not usually to be seen running, especially on a summer’s afternoon… otherwise Anne wouldn’t mention it. And who the hell is Fred Phillips anyway?

The first sentence from my soon-to-be-published crime novel is:

She was six metres down when instinct told her something was wrong.

Checklist for Self-Publishing an eBook

In Books, Writing on February 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm

February

  • Complete editing of book
  • Book design – internals and cover, plus epub compatibility
  • ISBNs x 2 (one for hard copy, one for online) DONE
  • Buy WordPress publishing template DONE (Templatic’s Publisher theme)

March

  • Create mini-site – including PayPal function
  • Make a promo video
  • Launch mini-site (including video and first chapter)
  • Email press release/video/book teaser to media and contacts

April

  • Launch ebook

Later…

  • Publish hard copy


Crafting a Creative Tasmanian Life

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania on February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

How to succeed as a creative in Tasmania? Get creative with how you present your message…

Recently, I worked on a story for House & Garden, featuring some good mates – Nick and Kerry – who’ve moved to Tasmania to renovate a minimalist-in-a-cool-Danish-way, 1960s weatherboard cottage. They love their food, so I love them.

They also live in a totally out-of-the-way place: in the beautiful, sleepy village of Middleton. Yet their careers are not suffering. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nick’s a sought-after blacksmith and Kerry’s a talented creative director, and they both enjoy an amazing country lifestyle while maintaining their impressive creative careers. Kerry divides her time between their farm and Melbourne’s CBD for work, and Nick spends his days in his forge (on their 23-acre property on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux).

They’ve also launched a blog, The Tassie Menagerie, which documents life on the farm, and how they juggle creative pursuits with herding ducks…

While their current arrangement seems idyllic to most, they are aiming even higher. Their goal is to live sustainably and independently – not just in terms of producing their own food, but also in working where and how they choose.

They say their move to Tasmania has enhanced their creativity – has given them a real point of difference in their work (which their clients are noticing).

To me, they are an example of how you can have your Tasmanian lifestyle while not compromising on the quality of your creativity. How you can use Tasmania as your USP (unique selling point).

To do the same, you have to:

1. Be flexible in how you deliver your message and product (think laterally);

2. Make sure you’re visible online (blog, website, guest posts…); and

3. Keep speaking to your audience as if they are global (not just local).

Too many freelance or independent creatives in Tasmania make the mistake of thinking and acting insular, of feeling they can’t compete with interstate and international creatives.

Clearly that’s not true – and it always pays to check out what other successful creatives are achieving. Be inspired and informed.

(Pics by Kerry and Nick, of their farm and forge)

So, You’re a Writer and You Want to Move to Tasmania?

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on February 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

Longing for a Tasmanian seachange, treechange or farmchange (for those agrarian types)? Ah yes, the dreamy life of the Tasmanian writer, tapping away at a laptop in a cool little café on the docks, or on their deck under the eucalypts and the big island sky, free from the stresses of the modern world…

I understand this picture: I almost live this reality every day, and I still dream of it.

There’s no doubt that Tasmania tempts creatives with an enviable and affordable lifestyle, inspiring landscapes, some of Australia’s best produce, the world’s cleanest air and water, and a strong artistic community. We grow and nourish some of the world’s best writers. It’s also a wonderful place to have a family…

BUT.

It is also challenging place to be a writer (whether for love or money). It is not impossible to be a successful writer in Tasmania, but my experience has shown it to be a very different kettle of Devils to what working as a writer in Sydney is like.

If you’re keen, here are a couple of things you’ll need to think long and hard about.

Where to live

If you need beach, peace, coast, bush, space and solitude, you’re spoilt for choice. Raging nightlife and up-to-the-minute trends – hmm, not so much…

Of course, whatever your taste, I can’t tell you where you should live. I will happily recommend certain areas (and unrecommend others), because I know this island pretty bloody well.

However, there is one unifying fact: Tasmania does not yet have the internet capabilities of the ‘mainland’. And the places that writers generally love most – out-of-the-way havens – are the least covered by the web.

We will presumably eventually catch up with everyone else, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, although I live 10km and 10 minutes from the capital of Hobart, my broadband connection drops out on a regular basis. I had to swap phone carriers when I first moved, as the service was so sketchy I couldn’t carry on professional phone calls.

In another example, I’d pack my bags tomorrow and move to one of our family shacks, but there’s no WiFi at either… and oh, how I love WiFi!

How to work

Since moving to Tasmania, I’ve had to reassess my work style. The way I move between jobs. The way I (yuk) network. The way I charge for my work and chase payment.

In Sydney, I was spoilt for choice in where I worked and what I did – so many magazines, newspapers, book publishing houses, websites, PR companies… should I be a columnist this year, or a book editor???

Tasmania has three ‘newspapers’ (I hesitate to call them that), a couple of indie book publishers, and about three magazines (only one of which I would recommend).

Work for any of these, and you will get paid a fraction of what you receive elsewhere. Which is fine if you’ve downsized your lifestyle and you’re not fussed about money – but a bit of a slap in the face if you’re an established professional and expect to be paid as such.

(Try not to make the same mistake I made on moving here, which was to get myself into a situation of having to work so hard, that I couldn’t enjoy the lifestyle that Tasmania should have offered me.)

It’s also unfortunate to have to say this, but certain individuals and businesses in Tasmania suffer from a debilitating chip on the shoulder. There’s an inverse snobbery directed towards outsiders; it didn’t matter that I’d grown up here – the fact I lived and worked in Sydney meant that I wasn’t one of ‘them’.

The usual methods of breaking through barriers don’t work here – and I might as well have not had a CV at all, so irrelevant was my mainland work – and it’s taken three years to crack the tough nut of Tasmania.

How to succeed

My advice – to begin with – is to maintain your big town connections and, as far as possible, continue to get work from those sources. Perhaps position yourself as an expert in a niche area (moving to Tasmania???)… I would also advise getting a regular gig/s that bring in regular money (for example, editing for academic purposes).

Although I currently receive a full-time income as an advertising copywriter in a very cool Tasmanian agency, I also run a freelance business consulting for Tassie clients, and I take on regular editing and writing work for national magazines (such as House & Garden), book publishers (Murdoch Books and HarperCollins, for example) and local newspapers (a weekly column on houses and interiors for The Mercury).

All of this, of course, is quite draining.

Which is why, if you want to move to Tasmania, I’d suggest thinking laterally about your writing career (which you should always be doing, anyway). Don’t stop looking at ways you can work smarter, not harder. Be open to things – and you can turn your move to the twigs into new opportunities.

So…

This year, I am finding ways to not have to be physically present with clients in order to pass on my knowledge/advice to them.

This year, I am finding ways I don’t have to be restricted to earning by the word, the hour or the job.

This year, I am finding ways in which my work no longer has such a short shelf life, and can be more sustainable.

If I’m living in Tasmania, I want to make darn sure I can enjoy the lifestyle, while  not compromising on my ambition.

Live Like a Pauper. Write Like a King

In Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on February 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Living frugally is perhaps the most liberating thing any writer can do. I have come to realise that my success as a writer (by success I mean the amount and quality of personal writing I do) is directly related to how simple I make my life. To how many distractions I remove.

Not so long ago, extreme frugality was forced on me. However, now that it’s no longer a necessity, I can’t let frugality go. The more I live like a pauper, the more my writing flourishes.

Why?

In the short-term…

  • I socialise less – freeing up time for talking, thinking, discovering and creating
  • I cook mostly homemade meals –  see above
  • I buy less alcohol – self-explanatory!
  • I walk and run – not paying for exercise leaves me with valuable thinking time, and essential ‘running writing’
  • I catch the bus – no car equals more time for writing and reading
  • I clear more clutter – whittling down my wardrobe by half means I’m spending far less time managing it

In the long-term…

I’m not having to fund things I don’t need, so I don’t have to work so hard to make ever-more money. Not being consumed by distracting/draining money-making projects has massively freed up my time and energy for personal writing…

It’s a wake-up call when you realise one new pair of shoes is worth about half a day’s work. That’s half a day I can reclaim in writing – if I choose not to buy the shoes.

So, it’s a choice.

In 12 years in Sydney – when I was childless, free of major responsibilities and had plenty of disposable income – I made a few halfhearted attempts at writing the novel I’d always wanted to write.

Since moving to Tasmania and simplifying my life, I’ve written a full-length novel (in 3 months), entered a short story in a national crime-writing competition (and won an award), and am well on the way to publishing several non-fiction guides (funded by the money I’m saving by not spending).

If you want to be a writer, choose minimalism, simplicity and frugality – and you’ll find the focus, discipline and freedom you need to be successful.

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