Hermit muse

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m over on another blog this week – guest posting on the wonderful Two Sides Tarot about one of those darker cards, The Hermit.

It is in two parts the first is on the card and the reading I designed for it and the second is a sample reading to give a feel for how the positions play off the cards.

Such a pleasure to write something quite different from the usual day-job of translating corporate jargon into plain English. That has some rewarding moments, but it certainly isn’t generally spiritually enriching.

I’m looking forward to sharing a wider range of things with you over the next six months, and this is a good step in expanding my comfort zone and showing more of the range of work that I do. I do hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Hiatus

There’s an odd sense of guilt that I experience when I am ill (as I have been recently), that somehow, despite barely functioning physically and mentally I should be maintaining an “effective public presence.” In sideways conversations over cuppas I’ve discovered that other people feel this pressure too. It is not just on social media that we try and hide the clunky bits of our lives, it is in our conversations with acquaintances and colleagues. We down-play our dark days and try to skip through recuperation as though our soul and our heart can rebound to the pace of the paycheque. I know one woman who keeps the symptoms of her bowel disorder even from her husband. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We invented clocks to help us manage things we want to do but somehow we’ve lost control of the idea of time. Now time is a commodity and we humans must work feverishly under the relentless ticking. things inside us must be allowed to be a bit slower. We have these tides. The sun comes up but part of us is still in yesterday or last year, or in the moment our life changed forever. We sometimes struggle to honour where we’ve come from and still have enough left to get out of bed. Some people have an internal commanding officer, a big yeller in them who gets them going. They mean well, when they share these yelling people with you, but they don’t work for everyone. The phrases I remember most from my mum while I was growing up are “pull your socks up” and “we’ve all got to do things we don’t want to”. These never made sense to me, and then once day I discovered that that’d become part of my unquestioned -ness. The system that runs me that I’m not consciously aware of.

So when there are times that staying functional in the world is a challenge, the internal edict I hear is to not let it show. To be sad or weak or worn out is to be a failure. Tick tick tick tick! Every tiny tick a hammer-blow of judgement.

This time, I tried to do it a bit differently. I let those metaphorical socks flap around. I did things I needed to do and then just rested. I took some time off from being that me and the ticking. It took longer than was comfortable and the guilt and self-consciousness about that became a topic for another round of gentle reflection and learning and resting.

Six months is not so long in a life. I consider it a good investment.

Poetry on Twitter is Tweetery

Tweetery

Twitter’s hard limit on characters is a temptation too delicious to ignore.
What a marvellous space to evoke a mood or relationship in.
I’m surprised it isn’t more of a popular pursuit to craft poetry inside Twitter.

Tweetery
To me (and of course to many others) it is our digital age’s haiku. A widely accessible and understood form that is shared, public and ephemeral. I think of it as Tweetry, “poetry in tweets”. I saw that it is called micropoetry. Really? No poet came up with that name, I can assure you. Twihaiku too, but too direct a link to haiku I think (and it sounds like something rude that is being used as code behind your back). No thanks. I like my perhaps daggy Tweetery, and I know I’m late to the party too, but that’s how I roll.
I’m the slow anything movement.

I dabble. I’m experimenting. It is a little pleasure. I know I’m not great at it, but sometimes, gee sometimes that single little tweet reminds me of my own love and puts a tiny little poetry back into my step and that can be enough.

Here is my January 2014 tweetery for your non-Twitter based pleasure (I’m @orbitaltorch).

Jan 5
Your night sky softly waits for a cool calm to return.
Bring the fire of your heart for a torch.

Jan 18
Tin roof cooling in the night, tick ticking against crickets singing, My heart calling too All calling Into the dark

Jan 21
Master sets a test.
I take it every day
pencil scratching, heart pounding.
Do I pass!?
He won’t say, just
“Start again, stop trying”.

Jan 26
Imagine there’s room in you for all hopes, all courage, all loves.
Imagine that potential is in you now.
That is your heart.

So there you are.
I’m still learning, always anyway, and about line breaks.
Do you like it? Let me know what you think.

Revising a first draft for the first time

Last November I wrote about being half way through writing a first draft of a novel. It did get finished (triumph!) and now I am half way through revising it.

revision of first draft pages
This edit has already taken as long as the entire drafting process (in calendar days – I should have tracked working hours and didn’t) and the single word I would use to describe this process is humbling.

The focus for the first draft was to get it down, just get an entire draft done. Revising (with a patiently waiting small group of ‘first response readers’ standing by tapping their feet) is about all the usual editorial stuff, but the big thing has been to address all the bits that got tagged with “fix this later” or summarised as “something great happens here so they get to blah”.

Those were fine stopgaps at the time and the right thing to do to keep the draft moving, my challenge now in this first mammoth rewrite is to find fresh creative juice to solve the problems I made and then walked away from. Coincidentally nearly all of them are where the story took another turn away from the outline.

Each step away from the outline made the final shape of the story and of the characters different to what I had planned. A better, more interesting, and authentically driven from the characters’ viewpoints story, but different enough that now I feel on my own and overwhelmed trying to patch it seamlessly into a readable experience.

I’m loving the process, by the way, in case that sounded like a moan.

I’m learning too (I can’t help but learn when the red pen tearing the draft apart is my own) which is delightful. This is my first time on a big job. Over the New Year break I took the opportunity to read and re-read a few tips from those who’ve been down this path before me, and they all agreed on one thing “stop procrastinating and get back to work”.

What is your number one tip for taming a first draft?

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Perhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html

A review of “Write. Publish. Repeat.”

Writing is an art

This is a reprint of the review I orginally posted on Goodreads. You are welcome to follow me there if you like.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success)Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sharp and pacy book checks you out first to see if you’re the right reader. I love that, I know if I am or not and then I either self-select out (no hard feelings) or go on to gobble up the goodies.

There is no secret to the subject of this book, it is about publishing books and how, what you might not expect is how truthful and outcome driven it is.
There are hard truths to writing (especially for those of us with day jobs) and this is not a scammy work-around book dealing quick fixes. These guys expect you to create the wordcount. There are plenty of other great books out there on writing and style and punctuation and so on to help you with the content of your wordcount. This book is about what to do next inside a strategy aimed at sloughing off the day job eventually. If the readers think you’re worth it.

Yes, I said ‘wordcount’ not writing or prose or storytelling. There’s a pushy, brass-tacks tone to most of this book and no matter what you write you’ll find helpful information in here. Actually, you’ll find helpful info for each step of the strategy. I topped out on my first read at about Chapter 3 or 4. Once I catch up, I’ll be taking notes again for the next stages.
For me, my big ‘ah-ha’ out of this first read through was getting the very clear distinction that “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.” and that not only was it ok to treat them differently, I needed to.
You might think that is obvious, but I’ve been tortured by it.
Then there was heaps more great gear on fans, how to use the 80/20 rule to focus and prioritise, and some pretty blunt “pointers” on what to stop wasting my time on.
Overall I found this book to be really helpful. Really, really helpful.

If you’re squeamish about language or precious about writing, this book is not for you, but as I mentioned, they’ll let you know that in the free sample. On the other hand, maybe just make the call to take it on the chin this time, after all, if you’re a newbie to self publishing and you hope to make a living writing then you need to hear what they have to say.

View all my reviews

To be inspired but not ensnared

50-year-tardis

Lots of us are fans. I bet you are, and I know I am.

There are loads of writers that I want to pay tribute to over time, people who’ve shaped my reading and so my mind and so my writing. Today though, and probably only ever today, I will honour a TV show because it is the 50th anniversary of Dr Who.

Dr Who was my second love and it has been a complicated relationship from the very beginning. He snuck in through the “cathode ray nipple” and began to challenge my world and bring excitement to a safe and happily mundane childhood.

I was little, very little, when the ABC (That’s the Australian BC, not the American) began showing Dr Who at weeknights before the news. Watching the news was my mum’s ritual and she would put the TV on while she prepared dinner so that she wouldn’t miss the start of it. Forever in my mind the two theme songs are entwined around feeling safe, hungry and a little bit hopeful that there might be pie for dessert. Mum was with us, adult things were being taken care of, and adventure was available in easily manageable 25 minute episodes.

It was the third Doctor (John Pertwee) that I first remember, and it took me a while to warm to him. I wasn’t sure where I stood with him and I didn’t always like how he spoke to other people. I thought he was a bit of prick actually, but when you’re little you’re not allowed to say that about adults, especially clever adults with power. You knew he had power because the Brigadier always did what The Doctor told him to do. Even when the Brigadier didn’t like it. So he was obviously as powerful as a mum, maybe more. Then something magical happened, and he was still the Doctor and in the TARDIS, but he was someone new. Hello to Tom Baker. BOOM. That was it. I was hooked.

I grew up with Tom Baker’s gorgeous goofy grin (he was The Doctor from 1974 until 1981) and when he left, I sobbed. I couldn’t not. A part of my life was over.

The Doctor changed again, he was still there, in the TARDIS, but now he was in cricket whites and as far as I knew he was Tristan from All Creatures Great and Small (another beloved show in our house, based on the James Herriot books).

I was torn. Who was this new man? I didn’t want to let go, I didn’t want him to change. Change had drawn me in and now it pushed me away. Complicated. I compared, I watched repeats. The same way you don’t tell the truth about the old man, you let it slide that the handsome new one is not to your taste.

I had entered the realm of fandom.

Don’t get me wrong, life went on. I could get my own books out of the library, I had my own radio, I even went to high school. In my own small ways I started to participate in a broader cultural life. When I started to write, it was as a fan. My first major foray into story was a fanfic piece based in the The Day of the Triffids world.

Writing is an odd thing to do. Writers use everything they’ve ever come across to make new things. Or at least new-enough. It is a maelstrom of influences and quotes and vibes and kaleidoscopes of blitzing colours and soundtracks and sweet adjectives in here, and as each word squeezes its way out through that mix, it gets a flavour and a tone and a little bit of something else and eventually, if you’re lucky, you have your own voice. And if you’re very unlucky, you’ve got somebody else’s voice. It happens.

Dr Who took a big long rest pause around about the same time I tried to grow up and be an adult. He was off-air from 1989* until the reboot in 2005. I spent those years being employed and largely not-writing, or trying to not-write because writing was stupid and pointless and who would read it anyway?  These were the ‘secret scribble’ years it is a terrible thing to live with, that relentless self loathing.

Self loathing leeches into everything else too, don’t you find? For me it was hard to be happy and joyful in the world when the eyes I used had a film of despair over them. Fiction was there to escape into, bountiful, amazing, expansive fiction. So many books, such amazing worlds and stories. I read everything, but I was addicted to Science Fiction, it was so satisfying and so safely otherwhere!

But where does being a fan lead the creative mind? It leads to the desire to share and to create. If you’re too attached too closely to a specific thing, it can lead to living and working only within that realm. Every time I tried to write (for years!) what came out was just wrong and contorted. It just never worked the way I wanted it to. I was a writer missing the ‘story’ gene.

Time to confess something.

I hated the new Dr Who. Hated it. I watched enough that I could disparage it. I watched the next season too (just to be sure it was rubbish). I was ensnared in being ten years old and hating whoever killed Tom Baker. I was ensnared in being despairing of ever finding my voice, I was ensnared in feeling betrayed by the promises of SciFi for a shiny future in which, if not TARDISes (yes, that is the plural) then surely at least spaceships were coming. They never came. I did not know I was lost.

Luckily, one day, after another of my invective-filled rants about how rubbish the new Dr Who was, a dear friend showed me how lost I was. He said “I like having a show I can watch with my eight year old nephew.” I’d like to think that at the time I had a graceful response to that, but I doubt that I did.

It is a show for children.

I watched it again, as a child would, for fun. I thought about letting it be an escape. I thought about what my nieces might be watching after school homework and before dinner. I remembered the fun things about being a fan of something but not so attached to that identity that it needs to be supported by an encyclopedic knowledge of production details. If it was just for fun, it was ok to miss episodes or to wink into the camera occasionally or for there to be zippers in the back of aliens. I started to have a really good time. I started to be inspired.

So I may not have been there for all 50 of your years Doctor, but the nearly 40 that I remember have been pretty important to me. You, in all your different faces and wonderful coats and delicious hats, you have helped me to find my self. You have helped my friends guide me back from a long darkness, and you have helped me find my own voice from inside the vortex.

Thank you Dr Who and Happy Anniversary.

(*I’m sorry to be rude, but I can’t count the 1996 Eighth Doctor. Sorry. You did the best you could. Let’s not play the blame game.)

Halftime is not halfway – Six writing lessons from Nanowrimo

Writing at Sandgate

It is November 15 which means I should be halfway through drafting a novel, and I am, so the world is a shiny, happy place for a few hours and I dance and I smile and my workmates edge away from the crazy lady.

I love NaNoWriMo for this annual push and sense of communal urgency to create a work of fiction as whole as possible inside the month. In some ways, the arbitrary restrictions of the Nano game have taught me a lot that I needed to learn about the discipline of writing. I’ve had a crack at Nano every year since 2006 and ‘won’ it only twice so far but I’ve got my best game on this year.

So what exactly has NaNoWriMo taught me about writing?

  1. Turn up and tune in. Sit. Write. Sitting in the chair is no good if the clock’s not ticking and the words aren’t coming.
  2. Deliver the words. Want to write a book? Produce a daily word count towards it. You set the rules, but measure yourself. Do whatever works for you. I like gold stars. There is a part of me that is still 8 years old and will do *anything* to get a gold star on a chart. I wish I’d known years ago that all it would take to relight my writing was about $3 worth of shiny stickers and a wall calendar!
  3. Have fun. If the writing is getting boring, you’re doing it wrong. Call a friend and bring in your plot ninjas or drop your characters into hot water.
  4. Say no. Say no throughout September, and October to things in November, especially if you hold down a day job. You’re going to need those weekends for your story. You’re going to wish you had some holiday time to take or a long commute. Daydream and note down ideas and keep saying no to everything else. Time is words.
  5. Kill your darlings. Yeah, I stole that one from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch* (via Faulkner). I’d heard it before but never really understood it until I re-read some of my rambling, no tension, and precious manuscripts and nodded right off to sleep. I’d put so much effort into making beautiful characters I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. Oh dear. Total snooze fest.
  6. Finish. Is that obvious enough? I didn’t get that for a long time. I thought – ‘I’ll get back to that one next week’ and … nothing. So now it doesn’t matter how, or where the plot ends up, or what weird contortions I put those characters through, together we’re all getting to the finish.

That gets a first draft done. It is admittedly small draft, but a whole one. It is no where near half way through completely finishing a novel, but it is an incredibly satisfying milestone along that path and it feels great. So today I mark halftime in the word production schedule and celebrate being on track with a nice shiny gold star. I wish you all the very best in your writing goals too.

Have you played the Nano game? Please share your writing tips in the comments.

* The full quote.
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings”.

Blooming Jacarandas

Jacaranda season 

My passport expired last year after ten years of representing the possibility of travel rather than facilitating any actual travel. It has been retired without a single visa or stamp in it. I sit on the domestic commuter train instead, endlessly shuttling backwards and forwards between my work cubicle and sleeping compartment. I stare out the window, too worn-out to read, too numb to hear the music in my expensive headphones. I watch the backyards, queues of cars, the smooth even walls of on-ramps and bypasses slide by. I no longer notice the grounds of the prison, unless the kangaroos that live there are mugging for portraits as the train passes. But this month the Jacarandas are in bloom and every familiar sight is rewritten with lavender punctuation and a sweet soft scent. Jacaranda trees are like me – introduced long enough ago that most assume we’ve always been here. My Nan was born in Toowoomba, but her Ma came from ‘the old country’. Jacarandas (from South America) are officially a pest here now, squeezing out the native trees. An analogy still too close to the bone to bear and a wound salted by the fact that the trees continue and grow as heavily promoted tourist attractions for the locations ‘lucky’ enough to already host them.
I walk the dog and listen for the heavy, trumpet – shaped bloombells to land on the carpet they make. Purple droplets. There are rituals and myths about good luck in exams at those unis and schools with trees in the grounds. The colour is amazing this year – the drought makes the trees desperate to seed and seed needs bees and bees, well bees are where the magic happens aren’t they?
The rest of the year the trees are anonymous in the city. Green among the many greens we take for granted but for this one wonderful month these jacaranda trees invade our senses and give any cherry blossom a hard run for title of most beautiful.
I used to envy the Japanese their Hanami season – picnicking under cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are a perfect symbol for so much of Japanese culture. Haiku poetry, zen embrace of the now, a reverence for natural beauty, a deep understanding that striving for perfection is misguided. Ah – Cherry blossoms hanging on bare boughs, scenting warm air, and driving spring’s lusts back into our blood. All so very elegant, exuberant, sensual and ephemeral.

Here are our own zen muses. Jacarandas in bloom interrupt routines and demand enjoyment. They invite you to find a blanket and some food and drink and relax, staring at the glory of the sky through an impossible colour.  I’d rather they weren’t an import but life is no longer a game of perfect, it must be dealt with in the reality of here and now not just what could or should be. A blooming Jacaranda now is worth any number of Cherry blossoms that never seen. No passport required.

Can’t find the stories for the books

Too much of a good thing?

Too much of a good thing?

Writing has stalled.
Bogged.
Lost in the wilderness.

The discipline is there, time in the saddle, words down each day but the fire in the line is missing. How to fix?

I got up from my desk, very slowly and very carefully so as not to disturb the references on my right, the notes and journals on the left, the correspondence behind me, the ideas and clippings behind me to the left, the recently read and waiting for review, the to-read, the not-sure pile and then finally the dog who had curled up on the stepping space. They used to be a path to the door but it had shrunk when I cleared some of the books out of the kitchen. The stovetop and the bathroom were the only places in the three bedroom house free of book piles due only to the unrelenting truth that fire and water remain the mortal enemies of paper.

I made a cuppa and sat on the back stairs as the couch was covered in magazines and papers and the dining table was hosting a long-term craft convention, complete with comparative pattern books and technique tomes. The dog sat in the sun in the yard and looked at me. I sipped and thought. Perhaps sometimes too much of a good thing is simply too much.
“Something has to go.” I said to the dog.
“Better not be me.” he replied and wandered off to sniff at some grass and see if the crows had dropped anything interesting from their headquarters.

I sipped on, realising that my bibliophilia had reached an unexpected crisis point. My hoards of books were suffocating the stories trying to come to life. It wasn’t just books stashed and crammed into the house until there was no room left for my heart to break but they were the most symbolic, they would be the hardest to release. Each one was a promise, a kiss, a call, and a friend. I believed in some deep and sad way that I would be irrevocably diminished in some ineffable but vital way without every single one of them and yet something really had to give and it had better not be me.