Writing on, and about, an island

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Brain soup: writing + ADD + adulthood

In Writing on February 14, 2015 at 7:32 am

I don’t believe in god, but when she was wiring up my brain she obviously took some creative licence.

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I’ve just been diagnosed with ADD, about 30 years after it would have been helpful (but better late than never, I guess). I also have an anxiety disorder – fairly severe at times – plus OCD and a few other things thrown in (synaesthesia and sensory processing disorder).

On paper I sound like a bit of a basket case – but funnily enough I am, in others’ eyes at least, pretty successful, in-control and happy (I’m clearly not a bad actor either!). I’m also lucky to be gifted with a natural talent for writing, drawing and a knack for quickly mastering most things I try… when I can be bothered, which is almost never. I have noticed that, when I put in 10% effort, I get a 90% return – it’s probably why, despite my particular challenges, I’ve sailed through a lot of things with minimum commitment – but the occasions when I put in that 10% are very, very few and far between. And it’s getting harder, and more stressful, to pull off. As most ADD-ers would relate to, I feel like I’m in a permanently suspended state of ‘potential’, without ever achieving anything of any real substance.

The ADD diagnosis came at about the same time I received a literary grant to complete my first novel, and the time I found out I was pregnant. I have some large, immovable deadlines looming. As I run my own business as a writer and editor, and have a young family, I have layer upon layer of deadlines and responsibilities to manage.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to do this year. I am anxious, angry, and immensely fucking frustrated. Finding out there’s a reason why my inner world is so splintered is a relief, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to be different, but I’m completely struck by the enormity of what’s in front of me. I can’t focus for more than a minute or so at a time (oh, how I thought that was normal…), yet I am going to be attempting a 60,000 page novel?

Right now, I’m thinking that I might aim for 333 words a day (that’s the OCD in me). I have also started reading other ‘ADD’ writers’ experiences, and they are inspiring. I will let you know how I go.

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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).

 

 

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.

A Week at Varuna Writer’s Centre

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on July 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

My experience of a week at Varuna, published over at Island Magazine

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Still waters run deep (‘Who is Pufferfish?’)

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on July 31, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I’m a bit late to mention this, but I currently have a crime piece in the latest issue of Australia’s venerable literary publication, Island Magazine.

I profiled Tasmanian author David Owen’s character, Pufferfish (aka Detective Franz Heineken). As if he were a real person.

Interesting assignment… the piece is titled, ‘Who is Pufferfish?’ Australian author Carmel Bird sent me a very nice email about it, which I am enormously grateful for.

If you’re into crime stories, and Tasmaniana in general, I thoroughly recommend you try to get your hands on one of David’s books (pretty hard to find, although I do believe there’s a new book out later this year).

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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).

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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.

Writing Crime or Popular Fiction: one-day intensive with PD Martin

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on July 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

PD Martin

If you’re in Tassie in September, this Tasmanian Writers’ Centre workshop sounds worth attending…

“Blockbuster novelist PD Martin will guide you through some of the major elements of writing a popular fiction novel – genre, planning, research, character development, plot development, dialogue and the all-important writing process. The session will focus on take-home theory and practical tips, coupled with some exercises and workshopping to improve your writing skills.”

Phillipa Martin is the author of five crime fiction novels published in 13 countries. Her Sophie Anderson series has met with international acclaim. Her books are Body Count, The Murderers’ Club, Fan Mail, The Killing Hands and Kiss of Death. She’s also published an ebook novella, Coming Home. You can find out more about Phillipa at www.pdmartin.com.au

Details
Sunday, 02/09/2012 – 10am to 4pm

Meeting Room, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart TASMANIA

Email admin@tasmanianwriters.org or phone (03) 6224 0029

Monday Morning Inspiration (“Why writers write”)

In Writing on July 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

I love this Brain Pickings post on George Orwell’s philosophy for why writers are compelled to write. According to GO (one of my favourite writers), it comes down to:

  1. Sheer egoism
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm
  3. Historical impulse
  4. Political purpose

This is in stark contrast to today’s writing culture, where we have writers who say that their only motivation is to write for their readers.

I say bollocks to this falsely modest reasoning – I think writers inherently write for themselves and are pushing their own agenda, whatever that may be.

And writers should not feel pressured to be PC about why they write. It dumbs the process and the craft and the result down. How many artists do you know who say they create their art just for the viewer?

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!

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