Epiphanies of Gratitude

Has anyone ever thought about the things they are good at and been truly glad for it? Like running fast or unfailingly burning toast; sketching comics or creating a world of words. I never really had a moment like that even after so many years of writing. In fact, it was only recently that I started to realise I wanted to be a writer; a dedicated writer, not the whimsical hobbyist I started off as. I can’t say that’s going spectacularly right now, but the new resolve sure makes me feel better!

I was listening to the radio the other day and a pop tune was playing. Now, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the hot hits on the airwaves these days. Pretty much most music older than me would hold my ear better. So you might say that I might not have had this light bulb moment if ABBA had been playing instead. What I thought was: Gee, it takes a lot less effort to sing a popular song than to write a novel.

Then I scowled at myself because I hate catching myself being judgmental. My dad gave me a pretty funny look.

I righted the thought. All forms of art require effort and time, and deserve respect, whether it’s an abstract spatter of paint or the Mona Lisa. Sure, some products might take less time than others, and some may be more acknowledged than others, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that the people who made them tried to put a little bit of themselves into the process. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Writing a song, practicing it and getting it recorded takes more time and money than radio-listeners appreciate. A single piece of paper with a simple landscape drawn in oil pastels might have taken half the time you expect, but twice the years of experience to get right. Then there’s the actors and actresses, magicians, comedians, etc. No one gets to snap their fingers and have results appear out of sheer friction.

But damn, writing a novel can take a very long time!

And then I realised: I’m actually glad that it does. For the first time in my life, I realised that I was grateful to be a writer rather than another type of creative artist. I knew I was in the right place.

Again, I admit the pop song pumping beats about partying all night and one night stands probably glorified my epiphany. It’s obvious work had to go in to produce such a song and it’s popular for that reason. What I was glad to realise was that to write something, anything, I had to dig so much deeper into myself than I would writing a pop song. The moment I decided to write a novel (more like a series but let’s use euphemisms at this stage), I committed myself to a schedule of headaches and heartaches and feeling like an unproductive slop of radioactive goo. Even if the words I write are utter garbage, I’m still writing them one by one, so slowly. It’s something I’ll be doing for a while, something that doesn’t really have a shortcut. I’m not a fast writer so this pet project could very well take me a decade. And I may not even truly accomplish it.

But I’m still grateful to be a writer, grateful to have something I love and can actually do. Because every spark of creativity is a climb and the longer it takes, the more you see yourself reflected in the final product.

Call me crazy but I write to see myself on the page. I want to see the world through the eyes of a character I brought to life on a plain white page, and breathe in words I wrote one by one. I reckon it’ll be worth it. Just maybe.

✎ All Write – A good blog for writing tips

I had the pleasure of stumbling across this blog when I was looking into the average length of a novel. I’ve been on the mailing list for about a month and have really appreciated the regular updates, and the author’s effort in addressing all types of writing advice, from general tips to specific ones (like her latest one on scene breaks). I recommend checking it out and subscribing if you like what you see. I know I’m a big fan of any free writing advice!

Here we go! http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com.au/

 

The Ingredients of Writing: Talent…?

When I was little, I thought a lot about the talent argument; about whether or not it really, really mattered. I’m not what you call a genius – nope, you don’t want to see me grocery shopping. That said, I grasped things faster than some – at school, my grades were good, I was pleasantly athletic, remembered details better and could study less than some classmates with better results. At the same time, I was never the #1 student, the best at any sport or the most effective at studying (pfffftttt! Don’t get me started!). Still, I admit people mostly saw me as ‘smart’. I used to think the talent goddess had shined quite nicely on me.

At those introduce yourself group activities, they tend to ask about something you’re good at – a talent. I usually say that I can juggle just to make myself look a tad less geeky. Then when people ask me how I do it, I tell them “I had no life as a kid and spent a lot of hours chucking hacky sacks at my face.” Seriously, how many hours did I spend trying to keep two balls in the air with one hand? How many days did I kill trying to do three with two hands? It was a lot of hard work, you know!

Oh wait, then I guess that’s not a pure talent that I was born with… writing then? I’m pretty good at writing! Well, not brilliant but it’s my greatest hobby and I’ve been writing since I was just a wee little-

Hang on. I wasn’t born a good writer either (evidence). Does such a thing exist in the first place? I clearly remember writing tragically bad not so long ago, and hey, I actually had the most fun then! I loved tripping over my own amateur feet and climbing back up standing a little taller than I had before. It was a lot of hard work. And you know what? I don’t think – actually, I know – that I’m not the only one who had to put in the effort.

We’ve all heard it before: talent is useless if you don’t use or practice it. I agree! But what is talent anyway? In the same vein, what’s ‘writing’? What’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? You may have an easier time with a task than some others – is that talent, experience, luck or just individual differences? My boyfriend is terrible with theory but he can reverse park a bulky 4WD into a tight spot with one sweeping movement – and one hand.

But then there are some geniuses out there. Plenty, actually! Geniuses at the big things; the scientists, the artists, the inventors. Then there are geniuses at small things; haggling for a good price, coffee art, juggling. There was a guy on TV years ago who could sculpt an elephant out of chewing gum in his mouth without looking.

Is it talent? Sometimes! But not always. Why am I being such a rookie philosopher about an age old topic?

Because writing is often such a personal and solitary experience, it’s hard to imagine how the successful authors did it. This insecurity is everywhere. Of course, we know they had their share of hard times. Many well-known authors were penniless – some say they still are. So I’m not trying to say anything new. We know this stuff. But it doesn’t hurt to remember it, over and over again:

The authors we look up to are normal people, just like us. Writers. They’ve just been where many of us want to be, that’s all. And is it talent?

Sometimes – but not always :)

Have a look at this nice post by Emily Temple at Flavorwire of Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. It was actually the whole reason behind this post but I got sidetracked as I always do (sorry you had to dig through so much babble to find the good stuff, haha). See JK Rowling’s outline? What about Joseph Heller’s for Catch-22? Lots of work involved – that said, the outline is a metaphor for effort here. I’m aware that pantsers work just as hard with great accomplishments!

Good results don’t just fall from the sky – you have to climb up and fetch them yourselves. Some people are born closer to the clouds than others. But if you build your ladder carefully, with good foundations, you can be right up beside them just the same.

So keep writing! Keep chasing those dreams step by step, and remember to love what you do!

My favourite is William Faulkner’s outline, written on his wall!

Caring for Your Writer – 10 Easy Steps for Friends & Family

Just a spot of fun. I love this little instruction manual. So much that I’m going to tell you a story about it.

I shared this post with my boyfriend, just to let him know the package deal, and he approved. We’re hitting the gym more often as part of #6. I told him his little writer would be working very hard this holidays. Then he said, “I like your working ethic. Another reason why I love you.”

And I stopped.

Did he say ‘working ethic’? WHAT working ethic? I had one?! He must not have seen me dazedly mashing at Skyrim this morning and screwing up my save point, which of course meant I had to procrastinate on youtube for another two hours, and naturally I was obligated to kill another half hour on the awesome Despicable Me: Minion Rush app. Yeah, he really didn’t. Except he might’ve noticed me challenging him to rushes.

So um, you might want to rethink that, honey. At least, I was about to text him that. Then I thought about it for another millisecond.

Sometimes there are things about yourself that others know better than you do. Quite often it’s because you’re so in tune with yourself that the small details fly off your radar, and even more often it’s because we don’t want to self-praise ourselves and end up with twice the disappointment afterwards. Then again, I might really be as bad as I think. But at least my favourite boy doesn’t think that, and I’ve got some good friends behind my back. I boldly tell my parents that I’m writing a novel when they ask what I’m doing. It’s out there. I can’t imagine living with myself if I gave up, either. That means I’d better get my act together.

So I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I had no work ethic.

Instead I noticed he had bought a limited edition costume on Minion Rush without telling me and I keyboard smashed out a capitalised reaction that changed the topic quite subtly.

(But really, the moral of the day is to try believing those who believe in you. Let’s start of with me, who believes in you guys – YOU CAN DO IT! Make the munchkin proud!)

WORD SAVANT

Congratulations!  You are now the proud owner of a writer!  Your writer will perform amazing tricks for you, such as spending hours and hours by themselves working on something that they may never finish. Or, accumulating a small collection of editors who thank them for their work but it’s just not right for this publication.

You may be wondering how to feed and care for this moody and reclusive creature, who is “writing a novel” but won’t tell you what it’s about.  Writers need specialized care, so here are 10 easy Do’s and Don’ts to take care of this special breed.

  1. Do give them a minimum of 1 hour of writing time per day.  For many writers it may be more, but this is the minimum for a writer to stay healthy.  Also do not make your writer feel guilty about this.  It is really hard for them…

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Doing Camp NaNoWriMo. For real this time.

NaNoWriMo and I… we’re like two acquaintances who always notice each other on the same train and awkwardly exchange glances, hovering between pretending we don’t recognise each other, and saying hi. Recognising each other would probably mean obligatory awkward conversation between two almost-strangers. Not recognising each other is awkward anyway, but it saves the talking. For years NaNo has smiled shyly (or is it slyly?) at me from across the carriage. Oh, it recognises me alright. But it waits; it waits for me to make the first move.

It knew I was scared of it.

Let me make totally legitimate excuses for myself, before I tear them all down and give my train self a good “Gosh, just woMANly it up and get over there!” throttling.

National Novel Writing Month traditionally chose November to be the month (I almost wrote Novelber…). That’s cool. I was born in November; it’s my favourite month. Only I live in Australia, down under. I’m nearly always in exam period when NaNo comes around, and even if I’m not I’m never quite prepared enough in October to tackle the monster head on. I’ve never done NaNo properly. I’ve never felt that rush or exhilaration of dashing madly for 1,667 words a day. To be honest, I don’t think I ever tried.

Then came Camp. And guess what?

It’s in July.

I just finished my final exam today.

I’ve got nearly six weeks of winter break.

I have a 5-book series idea that I’ve spent a year building brick by brick.

That’s right – it’s time to cross that carriage and chat up a relationship my boyfriend can be jealous of.

Camp feels a lot less intimidating because you can set your own writing goals, instead of standing in that mountainous 50,000 shadow from the outstart. You can count on me to wimp out. Instead, I’ve sold my soul to the devil for 1,000 words a day. That’s 31,000 words by the end of July. This feels a bit weird because I’m so used to NaNo as “30 days and nights of literary abandon”… July does have 31 days, right? Or are my knuckles a lie?

I used to write 10k of fanfiction in a school week. Then life happened. So this holidays, I’m slamming the door in life’s face. No matter what I’m doing that day, I’m giving myself a curfew to go home and write. I don’t think my boyfriend knows what he’s encouraging me to do. Sorry honey. Work calls.

I’m starting my novel from scratch – right from chapter 1. My previous attempts got me up to chapter 4 before I sighed and admitted it wasn’t working. Back to the drawing board. Scrivener got a workout, mindmapping happened, and so did this blog. I stepped into the writing community. And it’s pretty awesome.

Typing ‘writing’ into the wordpress reader and seeing so many aspiring writers out there with their own frustrations and joys is like tumbling through a certain wardrobe. I’d comment on fellow writers’ posts, cheer them on, whinge with them, and quite often just say ditto (in a more verbose way). Somewhere in between, it made me realise something.

“Dudette,” I said to the mirror, “You get so happy for other writers because you pretend you’re living through them. Let’s face it – you’re scared to bring your own story to life. You’ve been sheltered by the conveniences of fanfiction; original stories are hard for you. But until you do it, you’re just writing empty excuses for yourself in other people’s comment boxes. Can you really tell them to ‘write on’ when you’re not even next to them on the battlefield?”

My defensive reflection hid a wince. It knows I’m right. “And?” it asked flatly. It looked me in the eye and for just a second, I think I saw the naive writer we used to be. We’d written terribly and eventually we learned to write not-so-terribly. It was fun. At that moment I realised that my reflection was the writer inside me – it was that naive writer with simple desires. It still was; it had just grown up. Alone, neither of us can become that young happy writer again, and now I’m trying to remember when we even separated into two. But it’s about time we made up our differences.

My reflection crossed its arms like a final threshold. Stubborn. I liked that. We used to be good at it. “And?” it repeated with a glint of challenge. “What do you want to do about it?”

I stared back for a while, thinking. Then I grinned. My reflection blinked slowly. Finally, it began to smirk. It knew. We wanted to be stubborn again, naive again; young again. We wanted to do something that made us feel amazed by ourselves, all over again.

I crossed my arms as well. Now we looked exactly the same. Just like old times.

“Do NaNoWriMo,” I said. “For real this time.”