Nanowrimo and the risks of research

nanowrimo‘Stretch goals’ we used to call them, when was that? The 90s maybe, then ‘audacious’ goals and then goals somewhere along the line morphed into either challenges or indicators – depending on if you get paid for delivering them. Nanowrimo is a challenge that stretches what you think might be possible for you to achieve within the arbitrary timeframe set for your challenge by the rules of the game . There are lots like it (Inktober for example) and nearly all of them hold their traps and risks. In Nanowrimo, one of the demoralising traps is ‘comparisonitis’ and a risk is ‘research paralysis’.

Nanowrimo and ‘Write what you know’

You’ve probably heard the advice to ‘write what you know’ and during the NANOWRIMO challenge it makes sense because you probably don’t have time to research the thing you want to set your story in or around. If it is fantasy, no worries, make that stuff up and move on (this can be tiring, but there are heaps of tricks to this). You might think you’re off the hook with Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) but oops, not so. Readers are wonderful, clever people with all their attention on your world.

You better have a decent excuse for how that spaceship got to where it is if you expect any of your other technological excuses to fly too. ‘Continuity of world’ is so very important. Readers don’t mind suspending disbelief in one or two areas in the name of entertainment, but you cannot afford to jolt them away from your narrative with broken edges or logical gaps they fall into and cannot get out of.

Nanowrimo can feel like a sprint when you’re trying to get down dialogue between your characters or descriptions of their world, but the moment you come to a real world detail that you know is going to matter, unless you already know it, you stop and check. If you’re experienced at this particular game you do not do this, you simply put in your own code for ‘check this detail later’ (BARNACLE for example – anything you can do a ‘find’ command with) and keep moving because you know that to stop now for research is a terrible risk to run. A risk you probably can’t afford to take.

Research is not writing

Oh it feels so good to be learning something and you just know your characters and plot are going to explode with this fantastic detail you’re getting! Trouble is, oops, where did that hour go? And that one? You’ve only got a limited amount of time for writing and every time you hit up Dr Google to help you with a name for someone or a town or any detail you know you need, you’re going to be distracted. There’s 20 fantastic search results in less time than it took you to hit enter. Even skim reading those is taking your mind away from building what you were going to say next. Research is awesome and one of my favourite parts of writing, but honestly, when you’re up against the clock, indulging in it is a bit of a rick. Type in your best guess, whack a BARANCLE to it, and move on.

Happy story telling everyone.

Buried stories – digging in nanowrimo

Ready to writeCreative writing is an act of faith. It is, of course, also a process and work and I will be taking my own advice in those regards but none of that can happen without the trust that inspiration will come. Do you believe in your muse? Do you have a creative faith that you can form something with your mind or hands that didn’t exist yesterday?

Turning up ready to be inspired, making the time and the space for it to happen, listening closely for those soft but magical words “what if…” those are all the ways that stories begin to edge their way into the world. By the time I’m inside that story, I don’t feel that I’m creating it but rather that I’m digging up something my muse buried for me.

That’s when it is going well. It doesn’t always go well.

Last week I was so sick that I didn’t feel like writing. Actually it was worse than that. I wanted to and couldn’t. I wanted to draw some meaning from being ill, to find some message we could all tuck into our hearts and feel positive about. There was nothing. It wasn’t ‘writer’s block’ so much as ‘writer is empty’. Obviously, if one is not writing, one is not a writer. It is with great anticipation then that I look forward to the culmination of my course of antibiotics and of October with the deeply held hope that November will fill me up again to overflowing with words.

November is the annual National Write a Novel Month (Nanowrimo for short) and you’ve heard me be a fangirl about it before. It is a challenge that gives some extra purpose and pleasure to my life, even though it has never yet resulted in a published story (although for hundreds of participants each year it does exactly that). Every year I try and dig up some tasty fiction. It is a choice I make knowing that I might fail (and knowing that I will feel like a failure anyway), that I will have to give up other things in order to do it, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter.  I do it because I love it. It makes me happy to try.

It is uncomfortable to admit that I don’t know what might come (or not come). I have my ideas and themes, my egoic attachment to producing a single, 50 000 word chunk of fiction during November. I have faith that something will come along. I am here in my chair at the keyboard typing that prayer out to you right now.

Hear me Muse! Lead me to a buried treasure!

I love and hate a sunburnt country

Dorothea MacKellarI have been lucky enough to travel to the other side of the world and visit the ‘home country’ (as it was still being called when I was little). I’d always aspired to this cultural ‘homecoming’  in an unconscious way due to a steady childhood diet of English culture, books, stories, myths, music and television. Badges, foxes and the Queen imbued the world that was valued, but not the world that I inhabited. The world I lived in had bushfires, snakes and Christmas in summers so hot you could burst your skin if you got badly sunburnt. It was confusing.
So I went to England to see the Queen, her Tower, and the Thames. I went to Bath and Stonehenge too as well as Stratford on Avon. It was gorgeous and charming. Every day I was excited to see visit and touch another sacred idea of home. The more I saw, the more I wanted to consume. Tintagel, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Portsmouth, Sussex, Sherwood Forrest all the places and names and stories, I wanted to bring them all to life inside of me, and yet … I was homesick.

I didn’t understand the food, the humour, even the greetings. Oak trees were a revelation to me, but the colours all looked too bright and even soft. It was only in England that I began to truly understand what it is to be Australian, to yearn for a big sky. As is so often the case, a writer had been there before me, and put my feelings so well into their own words.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Those are the words of Dorothea Mackellar OBE, the opening stanza of her famous poem. Like me, she was a third generation Australian, grown up with stories of the “home countries” and indeed she wrote this poem while visiting England and feeling homesick (source).

I didn’t know this stanza at the time, but I have often reflected on it since. There are in fact six stunning stanzas to this beautiful poem, which it is not currently in vogue to love, as I unashamedly do. But I also hate it, as I sometimes hate the way our country is so very hard to live with. I’m watching the footage on the television of the State of Victoria burning, and I’m feeling terror flood my body. I can hear the popping of the oils in the gums and smell the heavy smoke rushing ahead of the roaring fire front. I feel for the people fleeing their houses, with pets and livestock if they have the time, treasured photos and documents, or just their lives if the wind makes an unexpected push. Next week it could be our neighbours, or Queensland. People wonder at our humour when the farmers of the west can say, “Not much here to burn since the four years of drought.”

I can’t laugh. Grief overtakes me. Floods may come soon after, or the rains may not come for years yet, as El Nino grows in strength here and sends La Nina to Argentina.

Sometimes I hear city people say “Why do they live there if they know it is a bushfire zone?” and it is a reasonable question for all those millions of Australians who’ve always lived in suburbs or the cities. But not for those who love those ‘far horizons’ that you get in the bush. If you’ve lived in the country, then the odds are that the country lives on in you. We’ve made these nests of humans along the coasts where cyclones and storms might be the seasonal threats and when they pass through the locals shrug and say “It is just part of life, part of living here.” They would never leave either. They love the ‘jewel-sea’. Why does this love hurt? It is love, we all chose to stay – far though we may roam.

Sunburnt and happy

Australians like to travel, we all have stories to flesh out and names to bring to life in the far distant lands. We are the long-haul hard-core travellers. It is long hours to even our nearest neighbours. Nearly all of us come back here, gratefully, to this place with the contradictions that form us and the skies we miss and the beaches for endless holidays. We boast of our sunburn and deadly animals, much as we work hard to avoid them all at any cost. Sometimes I think the bush ballads are too honest now for our desire to be sophisticated and urbane. I am torn between the unendurable summers and their suffering and the longing I have when I’m gone. I envy Dorothea the clarity of her vision, and the resilience of her spirit in facing a lifetime without air-conditioning!

I’m a long way from resolving my passionate confusion over this country and even my relationship with this poem. I will grieve for our brothers and sisters in Victoria who face such hardship this week, and support them when the times comes to rebuild as we all know and trust that we will do for each other here. Because one thing is always true in Australia, this is not a land tamed by humans, it is not domesticated. Slowly, every generation, it seeps into our souls ever further and we are trained to live with it, we are the ones who must learn her long and secret ways. We are stubborn, but she is eternal. I may well spend many years trying to hear that gum-soft whisperof her love. For now we shall leave the last words to Dorothea (listen to her recite the poem).

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Image source.

Rough seas leave me stormwrecked

stormwreckedEvans used to say “Rough seas make for seasoned sailors” and give a little whistle when the new crew went that grey-green and ran for the head. He was forever telling others to look on the bright side of scurvy, no rum and being stormwrecked a long way out to sea. I almost wish he’d made it through just so I  could see how he’d whistle now.

But Evans is long gone, he went in the first days, back when our world became stillness. Those weeks of glazed water and silent sails that weakened us all. Nothing has gone right since we took on the new cargo. Clouds hang low on the horizon even now that we’re on our knees, clinging onto what’s left of the mast and muttering a prayer to anyone we think will listen.

Once we cheered when the first breeze returned. By the time we realised the breeze was a wind sent from the depths of never and would build into a storm beyond reckoning it was too late to attempt reason. My map was torn away in the very beginnings of that tempest two, was it three days ago? We’ve since drifted, flung, catapulted far from any course even an albatross might remember. The cargo moans. Low in the water we hang, and slosh in the heavy weather and low in bowels of each us we feel rough water coming, rough water churning.

Even my first mate, ever stalwart and steady, this week deserted his post and wouldn’t meet my eye. Dry rations, silence where there should be warmth and nothing but the cold cold comforts of frail hope in long dark.

Then came the depths of the storm and even our shadows fled.

All was elemental. Screams and silence merged. The promise of the sun was a myth to tortured, stormwrecked souls. Was it eternal, that storm? Are we in it, even now, as a feeble sunrise denies the horror? Is it death and we will live forever in the tides of destruction and despair visited upon us by the impersonal wrath of an unleashed ocean? The cargo is reclaimed.

The depths have their own harmony that cannot be gainsaid by any Queen or Emperor yet they insist on the hubristic attempts, leaving ants like soaking in rough seas stormwrecked, broken and lost. Remember me, if you can, I am lost at sea.

(image credit)

The moon follows you home

bloodmoonThe moon follows you home.

It is a dream and you know it is.

You walk with your beloved through a market and fall into a deep, warm pool of water.

Everything you’d been holding was dropped. All that money.

Everything you’d been wearing was washed away. All that jewellery.

Everything you thought dissolved. All those stories of right and wrong.

It is a dream and you know it is.

Someone pulls you out and they love you – even though you don’t recognise them.

It is your beloved. It is another you. The first and final you.

The moon followed you home.

You’re naked and proud, standing tall in shivering skin. Blazing your innocence in the crowded market place.

The you who waited while you were lost, who waited while you sank and then pulled you out, tenderly wraps your new body in a soft blanket.

It is a dream and you know it is.

But the moon had followed you home and you’re consecrated now.

Love always, you’ll never regret it.

The moon follows you home.

It is never just a dream.

Inky Water

dolphins at night

Inky water gives no ripple as we enter,
no need to sink, it is all deep.
Here fears show their own faces
Breathe despite your worry you cannot drown.

This is you, stripped of illusions,
revealed in the shadow’s world.
This is your eternal womb, your own mystery.

Come, join me in the search.
Break the satin surface of this blood-hot reservoir.
There are no tourists here,
we are all seeking the fullness of union.

No light from the other side penetrate.
You must make friends with echoes,
be guided by reflections
Embrace private riddles, brambles and thorns.
Sway in generous currents of eternal grace and beauty.

This juicy place is the source.
We are molten and reformed to wake anew.

 

Image source.

Sometimes a stumble

Our brave face outward.
Fierce, focussed on horizons and plans of epic proportions,
ready to stride forward, forging success.

Oh but even you are human,
perhaps you stumble. Can you forgive
the foot, the stone, the day?

Pause in the eternal moment here,
between the trip and the echo,
where you explode and reform.
Are you ego, emotion or empathy?

Sometimes a stumble is the biggest challenge of all.

NaNo-riffic writing fun

NaNoWriMo participant banner 2014It is November and so the Nanowrimo is upon us. Praise be!

I love this crazy, silly fun and free festival that over the years is helping me learn how to write. This is my 8th or 9th year now (? I’ve lost count)  and maybe it has taken that long to learn how to participate, but finally I enjoy this personal challenge more than nearly anything else. I did a beginner triathlon – not as hard. Rode a bicycle 100klms in a day – sure it needed a lot of snickers but it was done in a day. Writing 50 000 words in a month – you need to really turn up for that. Of course here in Week One it does seem like fun, you’re a lot less likely to hear many participants extolling the joys around week 3 when everyone’s stamina and plot seem to run out at the same time.

That’s a thing I’ve learnt, Nano has its own rhythms and as a writer you’ll need a different strategy for each week. The organisers understand this and the support structure is incredible. If ever you have considered that you’d like to write a novel or a play or the story of your Great Grandmother, now is the time to start. Jump in to the idea that you can do a lot more than you imagine. Join the groups where people share their dark moments and their wins. Strangers will cheer for you as you meet your own goals and people who are also writing will understand the tears and joys you’re having. Writers don’t generally stride around in big groups banging drums and cheering everyone having a go – during November it is different – there’s somewhere just for you. I love seeing those posts coming through – people dancing for joy in their lounge rooms or bedrooms saying things like “I never thought I’d make it, but I DID!” and your own heart swells for them.  Then you have a draft. A whole draft. Imagine that, it is dizzyingly exciting.

Editing and rewriting, well that’s for another time. Right now you just need to hit today’s word count target and then tomorrow’s. And then the next day, and the day after. Etcetera etcetera, etcetera. See you in December.

 

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.

 

 

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.