Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘Writing process’

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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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.

Sydney writer Fiona McGregor’s daily routine

In Writing on May 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Continuing on the theme of ‘the writing process’, started the other day with EM Reapy’s evocative Guest Post, this one by writer Fiona McGregor is something I’ve had sitting on my desktop for a little while now…

I don’t collect anything tangible, per se, but I have come to notice that I collect screen shots (Shift + Command + 4 on a Mac) of inspiring words and images – all of which I keep in a ‘mood board’ folder on my laptop.

Monday Morning Inspiration for Creatives #4

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on April 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

Again, from Brain Pickings – a little bit of John Cleese genius, on the fact that:

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.

This has become increasingly obvious to me over the years. I may have been told I had writing talent when I was six years old, but resting on the laurels of that talent doesn’t work once you’re a grown-up – you’ve got to put your creativity into operation every day.

That’s why I feel I’ve reached a personal milestone in finally getting my author site up, and committing to the publishing of my debut crime novel, Undercurrent – something that has strangely little to do with writing talent.

I’m kind of approaching it like this (another Cleese-ism)…

… which is handy, because I’m filled with doubts about what I’ve written (I swing wildly between being either impressed by what I’ve written, or too embarrassed to show it to anyone). But, I can’t dwell on that – I’ve just got to remain focused and trust myself and my writing.

And I don’t really have time to dwell on the correctness or talent (or lack thereof) of my writing. There is simply too much going on – when you self-publish, you’re not just polishing the book, but also dealing with marketing, web design stuff, and all the other ‘non-writing’ things that go with being a writer.

Which leads to…

Now that I’ve launched my site with the Undercurrent Prologue, I’m aiming to have the complete novel ready for sale in about 30 days. To do that, I need some seriously focused time and space.

And this is why Cleese’s “5 factors that you can arrange to make your lives more creative” is particularly pertinent right now. I’ve organised the first 3 (with some time off work) – the other 2, I’m working on…

Writers – Are You a Doer or a Talker?

In Books, Writing on March 28, 2012 at 11:22 am

If you want to get a book published, this is the question you have to ask yourself – and be honest when you answer.

I felt compelled to write about this today because I’m staring down the barrel of a self-imposed deadline. I know myself pretty well, and I know that I do my best work  when my back’s up against a wall. It helps me ‘jump my shark’: perfectionism.

My perfectionism can be crippling. Working as a journalist and an advertising copywriter has cured me of perfectionism in the corporate world, and gone a little way to helping me overcome it in my personal writing, but it’s a daily struggle!

It’s not that writing is hard – it’s avoiding distractions and staying driven that’s fucking hard.

Are you a doer or a talker?

Doers…

  • Have no expectations (you may finish, you may not ­– but that’s not the point right now)
  • Let go of perfectionism (worry about perfect later – just get the words on the paper)
  • Do the hardest things first (the easiest things in life always get done anyway)
  • Make writing a priority every day (not TV, shopping, cleaning, sleeping in…)
  • Work smarter, not harder (identify the time of day when you’re most energetic, creative and inspired – and dedicate that time for writing)

Talkers…

  • Make excuses

Having said that, I believe it’s important to still talk about yourself as a writer – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it starts to make your dream real.

 

For Success, Let Your Ideas Sleep – and…

In Books, Career, Writing on March 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

I’ll get to the and in a minute.

Last night, after an inspiring weekend away at my East Coast shack, I had the kind of light-bulb moment that creative people dream of. Around midnight, – seemingly out of the blue – I sat up in bed and thought, Oh My God – I have to do this! There was no sleeping for me last night…

The idea in question will deliver me many of the things I want for the future – it’s sustainable, creative and profitable. And it’s so blindingly simple and elegant – as all best ideas are – that I could cry or laugh.

Interestingly, it’s an idea I had about 10 years ago, in my mid-twenties. I had, until last night, consciously forgotten about it.

Ten years ago, I’d recognised the idea as the bloody good one it was; I’d looked at it from every angle I could think of, trying to see how I could turn it into reality.

Unfortunately, as good as the idea was, I simply couldn’t see how I could let it be the best it could be in the mediums available to me. If you have to force something, then it’s probably not the right idea or the right time. So, I let my idea go (if you love something, and all that…). It’s a similar concept to knowing when to ‘kill your darlings’.

Except I obviously didn’t kill this one. I just buried it for a while.

My sub-conscious hung on to it until last night, when – presumably after a bunch of obscure triggers and letting my mind do its wandering/wondering – it came back to me in full force. And, this time, the production of it is not only perfectly possible – it’s perfect.

The landscape for writers and publishers is so vastly different now, and that is the crucial factor in the viability of my idea.

I’m so excited about this idea that it’s taking all my willpower not to drop everything else to get onto it. I’ve committed to self-publishing my novel, however, so the idea will have to wait a month or so (funnily enough, the plot for my crime novel has been a sleeper, too – it’s taken 5 years of germinating to come into bloom).

So, sometimes, for success, you need to let go of an idea that’s not working at that moment in time. Let it sleep for a bit.

And the and…?

Well. It’s simple:

Keep your mind forever open.

Where Writers Write

In Books, Career, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on March 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

I’m very interested in the daily schedules of writers. I’m very interested in the routine within writers’ mornings. And I’m VERY interested in where writers write. The below image is of super-successful Tasmanian writer Katherine Scholes‘ writing desk and view. I know Katherine through my family, and she lives in a beautiful boat-like house on the edge of the beach in the same beautiful seaside suburb as me (her view’s a little better than mine). Her career and approach to writing always inspires me to keep going…

Image: from author Fiona Palmer‘s site.

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…

Writing a Novel

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on January 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

Last year, after a few months of manic writing (and enforced solo weekends at my shack on Bruny Island), I finished the first draft of my first full-length novel.

It’s a crime novel, set in Tasmania. It’s to be the first in a series featuring an enigmatic central female character (the kind of person I wish to be!).

A Sydney literary agent is interested in it, based on the sample and synopsis I sent her.

And she’s just emailed me: “When can I see the whole book?”

And now I’m kind of petrified with inertia.

Why petrified?

Because I’ve worked in book publishing, and know what it takes to go from first draft to something worth sending off to an agent. It’s a physical and mental marathon. Also, I don’t want to miss this chance. Also, I’m a perfectionist. Also, I’m so exhausted by the process of getting out the first draft that I’m putting off the inevitable rewrites…

… So, why write at all?

I’ve never wavered in my belief that I’ll be a published author one day. I’ve ghost-written lots of books, and, of course, I’m already a well-published magazine and newspaper writer. But there has always been a burning desire to have my own book published. It’s in my DNA – my grandmother was a published writer (into her nineties), and my father is also.

And I have something to say. Which, when you strip everything else away, is the number 1 ingredient needed to write a book…

… Which, thank the heavens, I’ve finally done

I’ve started various novels at various points during my life. I read those tortured false starts now, and can clearly see all the hallmarks of ‘first novel’ syndrome – where you are basically writing about yourself. I cringe a little, but I can also see the seeds of this later book, the one I manage to complete.

This one still has what matters to me and my life stamped over it (mystery, history, Tasmania, being different, questioning the status quo…), but if your writing doesn’t reflect you in some small way, why write?

Enter: the art of incubation

Recently, I’ve learnt that, instead of being a procrastinator, I can happily call myself an incubator. Different thing entirely, apparently.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that I have a habit of creating side projects (editing others’ books, finishing my Masters…) that steer me away from my central goal. These projects fool me into thinking I’m still achieving my goals, without the scariness of forced to focus on what I really care about.

I also make excuses about the fact that I need to make money to pay the mortgage, and since my day job involves being creative and writing all day long for others, there’s no juice in the tank for my personal writing…

No more excuses

Writing my first novel was one of the sub-conscious reasons I moved back to Tasmania – I realise that now. Sydney was a very distracting place to live. I needed the head/body space to write a novel that Tasmania would provide.

And I need to recognise my achievements thus far.

However, I also need to get brutal. I should know how to cross the finish line; as a book editor and publisher, I’ve coaxed other writers through this journey (god, it seems so easy when it’s someone else’s book…).

So, I’ve given myself a deadline and a routine (essential, I find). I’ll be writing every day to fine-tune the draft. And I’ll keep you updated.

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