Writing on, and about, an island

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Simplicity = Creativity: stop worrying

In Career, Minimalism, Uncategorized, Writing on September 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I don’t do Facebook, and I don’t do quizzes on whether I’m creative or not, but this article hit a bit of a nerve with me.

I am a worrier, and apart from zombies and Ebola and being electrified while taking a shower (yes, I actually worry about this), I constantly worry whether my creativity is good enough, or is even ‘enough’. (This last bit is possibly why I have never pursued a career as a literary writer or artist, preferring commercial/corporate positions to give me validation and direction.)

As a writer by trade, I have (somewhat) over the years been able to release myself from some of the pressure to submit the perfect article, or perfect advertising copy or whatever… After 20 years of doing this career, however, I still procrastinate because I pursue perfection. I know this is something I will battle with forever, and accepting that makes me feel a little at peace with it… which in turn allows me to worry slightly less about it.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to stop pressuring myself to enter writing comps, for the next little while. This is very hard for me because I’m ambitious, competitive and have had success in the past in this area. But I also clearly see that only viewing my creativity through this prism means I’m almost writing to some imagined KPIs, and not necessarily out of the joy of writing. It means I limit what I write about – and it also means I’m feeling stuck with re-starting my art practice (something that used to be second nature, and now feels very, very far away from me).

So, I’m going to try the simplicity of not loading myself up with creative expectations. I am going to place no demands on my creativity. (I’m referring here to my outside-of-job creativity, but I’m hoping it has flow-on effects to the ‘real work’ as well.) I’ll write and draw what I feel like; and I’m actively trying to replace other distractions and consumption with being creative in some way – but without the pressure.

The perfect (creativity) truly is the enemy of the good (creativity).

 

 

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Simplicity = Creativity: the start

In Career, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on September 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Once upon a time… when I was about seven… I used to write and draw/paint instinctively and obsessively. There was nothing attached to the process. It was part of who I was.

I’m 38 now, and I have been struggling with my creativity for a while. Probably, if I’m honest, since I was about 16 – because that’s the point at which creativity stopped being something I did inherently, and became something I needed to quantify in some way.

I am not just a creative person, I have worked as a ‘creative’ for a long time, for money. And that’s where the problem lies. I equate creativity with monetary reward or prizes or accolades of some sort.

So, I’m going to try something for a while. I’m going to stop approaching my creativity as something I have to make money from, or should to do in order to submit an entry for something. I am going to try creating for no other person than to be creative; for no other person than for myself. I imagine that this, after so many years of not doing it, is going to be painfully hard. But, I am already frustrated and distracted and lost when it comes to my creative self, so it can’t be much harder, can it? It’s just going to be implementing a different ‘habit’.

To help me stay on track, I am going to combine one of my obsessions – simplicity – with creating. I moved to Tasmania from Sydney in 2008 to make my life simpler, and enable more space and time for creating. Getting rid of unnecessary stuff has always been important to me (I’ve worked as a copy editor for almost 20 years, and cutting out unnecessary words is one of my favourite past-times!) To some extent, the move and the motivation behind it has been a success. But there’s no doubt that pursuing simplicity can be just as hard on a quiet island as in the big smoke; the distractions aren’t always external – the internal ones can be just as bad. And I believe that simplicity is essential for creativity…

So, each time I feel like distracting myself from my lack of creativity with something that’s anti-simplicity – shopping, eating, going down the rabbit hole on the internet, for example – I am going to replace that time with being creative. Without pressure or need for result, I’m going to write or draw.

I don’t have the answers – that much I do know. But I can give it a go. Starting now.

The ‘commercial writing vs literary writing’ conundrum

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on March 13, 2013 at 8:28 am

I’m about to have a short crime story, “The Wifemaker”, published in Tasmania’s well-regarded Island Magazine (issue 132).

IslandMag132

I’m surprised and pleased to have been asked to submit the story. Of course I don’t think the story is good enough, shouldn’t have been written at the last second (ahem)… and all that fragile-ego writer stuff. But more importantly, it’s got me thinking about the expectations and requirements placed on writers.

Two thought-provoking points:

  1. Am I now a literary writer (Island Magazine is considered a literary magazine; I have never considered myself a ‘literary’ writer)?
  2. Have I now published my first work of fiction (despite writing fiction for magazines, newspapers and books for about 15 years now)?

A couple of years ago, I considered applying for an Aus Council grant to complete a piece of writing. Having worked for more than a decade as an editor, writer, ghostwriter and journalist (being published consistently in my chosen genres), I thought I’d slot in somewhere between the ‘emerging’ and ‘developing’ writer categories (the final one being ‘established’). Apparently not.

The (very nice) grants advisor regrettably told me that none of what I’d done counted. I needed to have written and published serious literary fiction, essays, short stories or poems to even get within licking distance of the emerging category.

As a proudly ‘commercial writer’, it made me question all that I’d done to that point. Did all my training and talent not count?

In my mind, then and even more so now, there is no more rewarding and rigorous training for writers than having to churn out high-quality work to a tight deadline and within a rigid word count – often having to bestow bland, regurgitated material with a new hook that’ll entice readers. It’s such an incredible skill.

Ernest Hemingway was one of the pioneers of taking this commercial training, this style of writing, and applying it to ‘literature’. But the AusCo would not have granted him money to complete his first novel, as he would not have satisfied their criteria.

(And, as an aside, crime writing is a genre that’s notoriously disrespected by the establishment, despite some crime writers clearly being worthy of literary accolades and awards.)

I’ve finished my novel regardless, having always been very uncomfortable with the idea of writers getting free money to write. And I probably could apply for an AusCo grant now. But I won’t be. I don’t like the way they think – it’s predictably outdated and elitist.

There is a group of Tasmanians who are currently in the process of forming a Creative Industries Council for the state, to act as a peak body for its under-represented creatives. I hope that their framework includes space and place for the advocacy of the island’s commercial writers as real writers – those who have the potential to be, or already are, literary writers. There’s a gaping hole here, where the people who fall between being categorised as a straight journo or straight literary writer, fall. Perhaps the establishment simply doesn’t like what can’t be categorised?

So, going back to my two thought-provoking points – am I now a literary writer, who has published their first work of literary fiction? I don’t have the answer to either question.

Alain de Botton. Advertising. Creativity. And skulls on desks.

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on June 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Three things…

My ceramic skull by Tasmanian artist Marion Abraham

1. I have a turquoise ceramic skull on my desk at home. I bought it as a present to myself when I finished the first draft of my book. It alternately creeps me out, inspires me to write about death (something I think about pretty much all day long) AND reminds me to keep perspective (which is important when you’re predisposed to think about death all day long).

2. I work in advertising. That’s my day job. And every big campaign or teeny ad I come up with is arrived at by:

trying to find the truth of something;
the insight that comes from the truth;
the idea that can express that insight;
and then the execution that will catch the public’s eye…

3. After a hiatus, I am restarting my Masters degree next year (I’ve done a third of it so far). I’ll be studying philosophy – which I’ve always wanted to do yet somehow, until now, had felt was not practical or relevant enough for my pragmatic mind…

What do these three things have in common?

This cool Mumbrella post, and [thinking woman’s crumpet] Alain de Botton’s musings on skulls, creativity, advertising and philosophy – that’s what!

Seems I’m on the right track.

Snacks of the Great Scribblers

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on June 19, 2012 at 9:36 am

This clever article was originally in the NY Times book review, but I first discovered it on Sarah Wilson’s blog. I am obsessed with food, so cannot imagine writing slightly starved, like Lord Byron… and I am still learning how much wine I can drink before it goes from helpful to unhelpful.

If you’re interested in a murder-meets-food story, I’ve just added one of my short stories – Death is Served – onto my author site.

Enjoy!

Death is Served: A murder in four courses

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on June 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I’ve just uploaded one of my short stories, Death is Served: A murder in four courses, to my author site. Would love you to read it. It involves food… and, naturally, death… and there’s a lot of my ‘olden days’ magazine life behind it.

The story was shortlisted for last year’s Scarlet Stiletto awards – I ended up with a Highly Commended.

I wrote the piece in about four hours, just before the comp deadline – and it serves as a reminder to me (a perfectionist-slash-procrastinator) that you should just ‘do it’. I almost didn’t write the story, and I almost didn’t submit the story. Boy am I glad I did.

Final tally: 30,000 words in 10 HOURS!

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on June 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice in Wonderland

This weekend, I wrote a massive 3,000 words an hour for 10 hours.
That’s 30,000 words in total, written far faster than I’d expected. The words just kind of spewed out, so to speak – there was no writer’s block or anything.

I am mentally drained, and I can’t quite believe it, but I now have 30,000 words with which to play with.

I allowed myself to walk into this unfamiliar process with an open mind. I had decided that I would not take my finished crime-novel manuscript (Undercurrent) into the writing room with me. What I would do was write freely about my characters and the scenarios they were in, just to see what happened…

Hmm:

  1. Someone died (who I wasn’t planning to kill off).
  2. My main character, Cattis Cull, was accused of something by a colleague and had to be stood down, pending an internal investigation.
  3. And someone turned out to be gay…

Of course, I won’t be using a lot of what I’ve written (or perhaps I will – who knows?), but I cannot tell you how valuable it is to simply sit and write very fast, without over-thinking what you are doing.

Rachel Edwards, editor of Islet Magazine, was an excellent team leader, and hopefully we’ll be doing this again soon.

If you’re interested, here’s another post about the weekend, from one of the Melbourne Rabbit Holers, Little Girl With A Big Pen

Why Be a Writer?

In Books, Career, Writing on May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm

And that may or may not be a rhetorical question…

‘How I Write…’ Guest Post by Ireland’s EM Reapy

In Career, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on May 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I love reading about other writers’ daily routines and creative processes. How much wine/coffee they (need to) drink, how early they wake up, what gets them through writer’s block etc… So when I unexpectedly met emerging Irish writer, EM Reapy (Elizabeth), a couple of nights ago at a family dinner, I had no choice but to ask her to write a guest post for me on those very things. It was too good an opportunity to miss – she’s so driven and dedicated to her writing. And then there’s that intriguing ‘otherness’ that comes with all writers who live and work on an island (whether that’s Ireland or Tasmania). Look out for Elizabeth’s work; it’s good.

My Writing Process* by EM Reapy

(*Sequencing and Frequency Imperfect) 

I love the morning. The natural optimism of a new day bursting to life. I wake early and go for a walk or to the gym, if I can. If not, I get up, just have some time to ease myself into it all.  I will probably nap in the afternoon though. I wake much too early to function after lunchtime.

I make bullet points in my diary; deadlines, meetings, shenanigans.

Then I roll up the sleeves, switch on the laptop and write fiction. Short stories and screenplays. Sometimes poems come. I write new story ideas down. Sometimes I work from a title or an image. Sometimes from a prompt, a memory. A lot of the time, I have the characters to start with. And then I ‘put them up a tree/throw rocks at them/get them down.’  I figure out what kind of trees and rocks and the success of the rescue mission, the survival rate of the fateful climbers. I allow myself crappy drafts. Horrible, sloppy writing. No one’s going to see this except me. It is dire and that’s fine.

Perfection is boring.

Flaws, dilemmas, tricky situations and how they get handled make things interesting and give strength in writing; in life. Working on bettering a draft is crucial to working on that distinct ‘voice,’ you have as a writer too.

Sometimes I get real excited and finish a rough draft and then instantly go back and rework it. Hours will pass but I won’t have felt any of them. The muse brings with her a new perception of time.

I’ll work the story again. And again, and again, and so on until I get it to a decent standard. Decent, not perfect. I’ll send it on to a reader and see what they think; where strengths and weaknesses lie; what opportunities have been missed and what isn’t working at all. I’ll be open minded and receptive to their critique. I will look at all their comments and look at the piece. See what I can do. These readers are friends I’ve made through various writing projects and through the MA in Creative Writing course I completed in Queen’s University, Belfast almost three years ago. I return the favour and critique their work when they need me to.

Create networks with other writers. Support each other. There’s room for us all.

Sometimes, writing new bits, I might trail off or sputter out altogether. I file everything away, even if it’s off to some murky space at the back of an IDEAS folder that never gets opened again. I keep it anyway. Someday, I might renovate.

I rethink the old stories. The stories that I got bored of or that keep getting rejected. Or ones I wrote when I didn’t know tricks and techniques to make writing strong and clear. When I didn’t know that keeping it simple was the best thing I could do. I try and fix these pieces. If I can’t see where to fix, I take characters out and put them into new situations. I add and subtract. Chop and change and scrap and renew. If you get stuck, try it out as an exercise. Take Character A from Story 1 and Character B from Story 246 and have them sit beside each other on the Trans-Siberian, or on a sun lounger by a nudist beach or inside a Nobel physicist’s frontal lobe. Whatever. Try it out.

Try everything out.

I chip away at the ‘big’ projects too. I need to have at least two big projects to go between so that when I get bored with one, I flit back to the other. At the moment, it’s a movie script and a thematic short story collection. In the meantime, I do the other stuff and always try to keep the classic ‘work hard and be nice to people’ philosophy in what I am up to. My parents would kill me if I didn’t.

I read as much as I can. I study what I’ve read. I underline the words and phrases that struck me as unusual or brilliant or something I had never considered and then I copy them into a notebook or onto my laptop. I read a lot of short story collections and anthologies. I read scripts. I read what writers say on writing. I talk to other writers. I talk to editors and to artists and to people interested in collaborations. I listen to loads and loads of music. I watch how other creatives create. How they describe what works in their process. I am inspired. I listen to podcasts; New Yorker Fiction podcast mostly, but also How To Write type podcasts. I read How To Write type sites and books and articles. I make notes. I put their theories into my practice. I try to improve.

I am improving.

I edit an online journal that I co-founded to showcase the work of young and emerging Irish writers (www.wordlegs.com). We use social media and other creative outlets to highlight the journal. We’ve been going two years and our fanbase and submissions keep growing. We’ve done it without any funding or profit. Just a passion to make it work. Facebook: (www.facebook.com/wordlegs) or twitter (@wordlegs) We update these pages with literary news, opportunities or advice for writers. We advertise our alumni’s current projects and successes.

I talk to the other wordlegs’ team about new things we could do for our writers. I talk to other writers about new things we could do at wordlegs. This year, we collaborated with podcasts.ie, (one of my stories is here: http://www.podcasts.ie/2012/03/em-reapy/) we released an app into the android market, we launched www.wordlegs.com/30under30; a two part ebook featuring work by 30 promising young Irish writers. We’re planning workshops, readings, guest editors and a festival. More collaborating with artists and musicians. A print edition. A special edition. A translated edition. A bursary.

We brainstorm, negotiate, make stuff happen.

I submit my own work to other magazines and journals too. I make a note of any new acceptances or rejections. I also enter competitions. I read the winning works and read what the judges have said about them. I apply for creative things and have been fortunate to have received Arts Council awards in Ireland and be selected as Tyrone Guthrie’s Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House in Sydney where I’ll be in July and August.

In saying all the above, I do have a life outside of writing. I exercise. I laze about. Chat to friends. Graze on their couches. Watch world cinema and trashy TV. Flirt with cute boys. Shop for bargains and vintage clothes. I do have to work steady paid jobs for a while to save up and fund my spells of writing and travelling -though I try to avoid work that will sap my creativity. I go to concerts and talks and poetry readings and launches. I go out on the town. I have the absolute craic* as much as I can. (Irish word for fun, a good time, a laugh etc.)

I will still notice what’s going on; observe my environment, what I can hear and sense, what colour the sky is, what smells are hitting me. I’ll talk about writing to anyone who’ll let me. I let people tell me their stories. ‘Here, you should write this one down,’ they say and I listen and I learn from them.

Not just from their tales but from the way they speak. The way they phrase things. The logic which organises their sentences. Their body language and mannerisms. I imagine their world and the world of everyone and anyone else as much as I can. The human race is infinitely fascinating in its diversity.

I want to explore what motivates people.

For me, I’m motivated by knowing I don’t want to go through life being someone who talks about doing things. I’ll do them and talk about them after. It’s back to an awareness of my flaws but at the same time an awareness of how I can improve. If I fail, I fail. Big deal. Next time I might succeed. Next time I might do it completely different. Next time I might just leave it to the experts. At least I’ll know a bit more about it and about myself from trying.

And in the morning, I will look forward to it all again.

EM Reapy, 27, is an Irish writer travelling Australia. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her work has been published in Irish, British and American publications. She was shortlisted for 2009’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com (www.wordlegs.com/30under30), has been selected for masterclasses, performances  and awards; including Tyrone Guthrie’s 2012 Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House Sydney and an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award to complete this. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is being produced by Barley Films. She will be featured at the prestigious Dromineer Literary Festival in October 2012. At present, she is redrafting a screenplay and working towards a collection of short stories. (Email: editor@wordlegs.com; tweet: @emreapy)

NOTE: I hope to do a follow-up with Elizabeth after her stint at Varuna Writers’ House, so sign up to receive updates!

Monday Morning Inspiration for Creatives #3

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

It’s 10.45am on Easter Monday, and I’m sitting in the living-room of my Tasmanian house – with the wood-fire going already… Autumn has hit suddenly. Fortunately, autumn was made for Tasmania. Cold, sunny days; red-golden poplars; excellent local apples…

Anyway, this Brian Pickings post on short stories was well-timed – particularly because I’ve started working on a bunch of very short stories for a new online writing project I’m really excited about.

I particularly like tip number 5:

Start as close to the end as possible.

Full-length novels are hard to write (you’ve got to be built for stamina). Short stories are equally hard, but for different reasons (you’ve got to be built for speed).

PS: Speaking of stamina and speed, I’m putting the final touches on my author site to be ready for the launch next weekend (15 April).

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