Lost and found

Writing at table

I have been quiet since 2016. I apologise. I went through a rather tough time in my life, losing three grandparents in one year, and changing careers the next. I’ve had to adjust to a very different pace, leaving little time or energy (or motivation) to write. It is also quite difficult to find inspiration when life is clobbering you with that many lemons. Stress and anxiety are a creativity killers (which is ironic, considering that my last post regards finding inspiration).

Despite everything, I managed to write a little; very little in terms of the bigger picture, but I wrote nonetheless.

A tiny glimmer of light became visible in 2016 when I self-published another short story, “Break Away”, in the Pretoria Writers’ Group’s anthology entitled Journey. The anthology was kindly compiled by Muses and Broomsticks. I completed the story during Camp NaNoWriMo in April of that year as both an escape and a purge from reality. If I remember correctly, I think I actually ended up enjoying writing this story.

I took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2016, and exceeded the minimum requirement of 50 000 words to win. I wrote bits and pieces of work, writing the majority of my material during write-ins with the local NaNoWriMo group. It was another great escape from reality surrounded by like-minded creatives.

I attempted to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, but like last year, it proved very difficult alongside work. (If you are wondering, I am now teaching and not editing as a day job. I am fortunate enough to be qualified to do either.)

I then took part in National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) in April 2017 and this year in order the complete the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge too. Two birds, one stone. You can read my poetry on my blog entitled Sea Foam and Citrus.

Other than that, I joined the Pretoria Writers’ Circle last year. We meet on the first Saturday of every month to share and critique poetry and prose. I have not contributed much as yet, but I have learnt much and made many new friends.

Speaking of which, a few university friends and I formed our own group last year too in order to critique each other’s work. We try to meet once a month, but it doesn’t always prove feasible. I have learnt much from these sessions too, as we all seem to take writing very seriously and know the importance of taking full advantage of our meetings to help each other. We can always get together for a casual social event another time. I appreciate this.

Lastly, one of my dearest friends Hernes and I wrote a historical screenplay last year which we entered in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. We did not make it to the next round, but we received great feedback which could take our screenplay to the next level. We are going to rework and tweak a few things before re-entering it next year. Hernes is doing the bulk of the actual screenwriting, while I am writing the novel version of the screenplay, hopefully to be released alongside the film when we eventually find a producer. Needles to say, we have both contributed research and ideas towards plot and character development. This is one of the most exciting projects on which I am working, and we have a few more ideas up our sleeves…

So, it has not been the best two or so years for writing volumes, or at least as much as I had hoped to write, but that which I have written has been enjoyable and, most importantly, meaningful. I have found that surrounding myself with other writers has been very meaningful too.

I now endeavour to take this summer holiday time (December in South Africa) to plan, write and – of course – blog more often, forming that habit of which I wrote a while ago…

Before I go, I’d like to thank you for your patience and understanding with regard to not posting for a very long time!

 

Finding inspiration

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I forgot to post this last week…I told you to keep me accountable. Hehe.

As any writer (amateur or professional) would know, it is often difficult to find inspiration, whether it’s to begin, continue or end a story.

As much as I love writing, ideas for stories do not come easily to me. When I do have an idea for a story, it’s influenced, mostly subconsciously, by things I have encountered in my life. These can be based on my experiences, my interests, or things I have seen, heard or read.

For example, I recently wrote a short story entitled The Unseen (watch this space), which reflects the likes of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (my favourite author), Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, Halem Foe by Peter Jinks, Fight Club (the movie) directed by David Fincher, and Homeland (TV series). My story is nothing like any of the aforementioned stories, but as Neil Gaiman states in his introduction to Trigger Warning, “We authors, who trade in fictions for a living, are a continuum of all that we have seen and heard, and most importantly, all that we have read.” The important thing about writing is to find your own voice to stand out as an author.

As far as the ‘meat’ of my stories is concerned, I always find it amazing how tiny bits of my subconscious slip into my writing. They’re mostly seemingly insignificant things that I may have found of interest at one stage, but left to gather dust in the recesses of my mind, placing the priorities of daily life on the more accessible shelves. Even more amazing is when I have a ‘eureka moment’; that moment when I realise how I came to write something somewhat obscure.

For example, in The Unseen, fireflies play a significant role. At one stage, several fireflies form a mini swarm, so to speak, creating a ball of light. It struck me later like a ton of bricks that my grandfather once told me a story of how, during his childhood on an apple farm, a great swarm of fireflies seemed to roll down a hill. I always imagined farm workers scattering in several directions, away from the ‘ball of fire’.

Many times, my writing is also influenced by my mood. I’m sure most writers would agree. I write my best work when I’m feeling slightly melancholic or nostalgic (I just may be one of those stereotypical starving artist types). However, if I’m in a great mood, I write rubbish. I generally avoid writing when I’m in a good mood. On the contrary, when I’m so blue that all I want to do is sleep or watch TV (or sleep in front of the TV), I struggle to write, although I’ve always thought that this kind of solemn mood would produce my very best work. But it’s difficult to write your deepest thoughts and emotions, and place them on display for the world to scrutinise. That’s my excuse and I’m going to stick with it for as long as I can.

Many writers find inspiration in music. Weirdly enough, I prefer to write in silence. I need to be focussed, dive head first into the world I’ve created and become part of it. Any sound is too distracting, and if there is any, my mind shuts it out. I’ve often been so focussed while writing that my own family members have just about made me jump out of my skin when they enter my work space. Warning: approach this writer with caution. Bring coffee.

Artwork has inspired me on occasion. Ironically, I’ve written two poems based on artworks, both of which were created by English Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse; one of which was based on a poem entitled The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson, the other based on a poem by John Keats entitled La Belle Dame sans Merci. I did not know until after I wrote my poems that the artworks were already based on poetry. Freaky…

As an aside, one of my poems, in turn, recently inspired a local artist, Elsa Cornelissen, to create a series of profoundly emotional portraits. I’d forgotten that one of my poems, Waiting for the sun to sing, was published in local arts and culture magazine, A Look Away, about ten years ago. Cornelissen found my poem while paging through old issues of the magazine for inspiration. She then found me on Facebook and the rest is history. Her artwork was launched on Sunday 8 November 2015 at the Velmore Hotel Estate and Spa, Centurion. It’s such an honour!

Back to inspirational things… I get stuck most often at the end of my stories, ending up with something soppy, cheesy or too spoon fed, leaving nothing to the imagination. When I do hit on a great ending, it’s what most of my readers don’t expect. I kick them in the emotions, or so I am told. I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

So my experiences, interests and fluctuating mood mostly influence my writing; not necessarily anything tangible, except the occasional work of art. What inspires you in your craft?

Technological glitches and writer’s block

Typewriter

The last few months have not been kind to me in terms of writing. My laptop gave up the ghost (the motherboard or CPU died), so I had to work on an iPad while I waited for a new laptop to arrive. Touch screens are the bane of my existence, so not conducive to writing lengthy pieces, including blog posts. Then, my sister’s boyfriend, who is fortunately a computer engineer, turned my old hard drive into an external hard drive so I could access all the bits and pieces of stories I’d started, as well as my beloved writing tool, Scrivener. As much as I love to jot down ideas and plan stories on paper, I try not to double my workload by having to retype lengthy pieces of written text. You may now understand my frustration in this situation.

I also had to figure out how to use Windows 8 after using Windows 7 for years. Furthermore, I had to sign a new data contract to connect to the Internet, as my last contract was cancelled by accident (it’s a long story, involving a silly misunderstanding between my dad and me).

It all took a great deal more time than I’d have liked to sort out. However, I am back online, on a laptop with a decent keyboard, so I am dedicating time to write at least one blog post a week from henceforth. Please hold me accountable.

I am also taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) at the moment, so I hope to update you on my progress. I exceeded the recommended daily word count the first five days, but I was ‘week two-ed’ early, during the evening of day six. I hit a brick wall near the end of one of five short stories I’m attempting to write to reach the 50 000 words challenge set out by the event. I hope to submit this first story for Phoenix Fire, an anthology to follow The Flight of the Phoenix, sometime next year.

I began writing the second story on the morning of day seven, but went shopping in the afternoon. That night, I watched the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet. Not only is Hamlet my favourite Shakespeare (Hamlet is my spirit animal. Of this I am convinced), and inspiration for my second short story, but Benedict Cumberbatch did Hamlet’s character so much justice, I broke down into a pile of snot and tears on arrival at home. It triggered something deep within me that’s left me somewhat of a mess, even though I’ve read the play at least three, if not four, times. I’ve also watched three other interpretations of the Bard’s longest work. Let’s just say that my emotions were brutally kicked by Cumberbatch’s most extraordinary, genius performance. I may be a masochist (especially because I went to watch it again), but thank you, Mr Cumberbatch, thank you.

So, day eight, as well as most of this past week, was a bit of a write-off (excuse the pun) as far as NaNoWriMo participation is concerned, as I’m trying to process the phenomena that is Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. I wonder if the word count for blog posts count towards the goal…

Before I struggle to find a suitable ending for this post, as I did with my first short story for NaNoWriMo, let me leave you and wish you happy writing for the week to come, whether you are writing towards winning NaNoWriMo or not. Write on; don’t let a lack of technology or inspiration, or an overdose of unexpected emotions make you lose sight of your goals. Now to practice what I preach… To the grindstone!

I have an inkling…

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So, I’ve tried to practice what I preach, but I somewhat failed; only somewhat though. Life happens and one must never blame oneself for what life sometimes mercilessly pummels at one. Either way, I did manage to scribble a few illegible thoughts on a payslip envelope while waiting for my yoga class to begin one late Friday afternoon. I really must remember to carry my notebook with me. The ‘stolen’ time I consciously took to make those notes, gave a half-baked inkling for a short story a bit more meat. Although I did not take another opportunity to pen ideas for said story since, I have at least spent some time milling over this next venture into fiction writing. I’m glad that I took the time I had at my disposal, albeit it sporadic and brief, to think about my next story because I feel a bit more prepared for the next Camp NaNoWriMo challenge which begins only a few days from now.

I also managed to pen the first draft of this post (and this very sentence, in fact) during my lunch break today. It was glorious, roasting in the winter sun with a notebook and pen, and a mug of chicken and mushroom instant soup. Writers should always have a mug in their immediate vicinity. If it is empty, fill it. Fill it with inspiration at the very least. But I digress…

I’ve also spent some free time thinking about and jotting down topics for blog posts. I’ve even wondered about a specific topic for this very post. Let’s just say that when I sat down to write this post today, it took a completely different direction to that which I intended. One must always allow for this to happen while writing. You may just find that you end up with something better.

The reason I’ve waited so long to write this post is because my laptop’s Internet browser zoned out. My laziness drove me to get it seen to about a week later… It did, however, give me more time to think about post topics!

To be honest, I’ve found that I have the most time to think while driving to and from work. My car radio needs mending, so I listen to music on my phone. I listen to the kind of music that makes my mind wander, which in this respect, is great. Also, I cannot write or type while driving, so it is the perfect time to think.

So, I guess that even though I did not literally write much during my ‘stolen’ moments, I did use the time to think about writing. The time taken to think helped me to develop ideas. I, for one, think it is a great start, and perhaps not such a failed attempt at practicing what I preach after all.

In the Land of No Time, Habit is king

'Girl writing in her Moleskine Diary' by Viktor Hanacek

I could blame my lack of posts over the past three months on having no time to sit down and write. I could use the same excuse for my severe lack of any creative writing over the past three months. To be honest, there was only a brief period when time was not on my side (I was editing a Masters thesis for a friend). What I really lacked was energy and enthusiasm.

Most indie writers have day jobs. Most day jobs demand more from you than you can give, which leaves you drained by the time you get to drag yourself home. After you’ve had dinner and you’re done with all your personal admin that you don’t get to do at work (fair enough), you don’t really find it appealing to sit in front of any screen except the television. While you relax on the couch, the masterpiece you’re writing remains incomplete.

So how do you use the time you really do have, wisely? How do you motivate yourself to write every day, even if you feel like that last tiny morsel of energy you have left is only enough to help you brush your teeth before you fall into bed? One word: habit.

Hear me out. I despise exercise. I believe that we were made to be able to run from danger and not for fun. However, I took up ballet classes again about three years ago, after not doing ballet for about twelve years. It was difficult at first, but I got into the habit of attending lessons every week, and felt myself growing stronger. Now, I also go to contemporary dance classes and yoga, and I can’t get enough. I feel happier, healthier and stronger.

I know that if I apply this same mindset to writing, I will hone my writing skills, feel more confident, and eventually not be able to go a day without writing.

Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and author of No Plot? No Problem!, also believes in habit. He states that the “chief tactic in formulating a winning battle plan for your noveling schedule is to try a variety of approaches early on, discover what works best for you, and use it relentlessly thereafter.” He also states that the “best way to approach your scheduling is with a light heart and an open mind.” Why? Because life happens. Form a good habit, but don’t beat yourself up about it if you take a day or two off. Read more of Baty’s great advice on the NaNoWriMo blog.

Richard T. Wheeler, author and avid blogger, advises us to ‘steal time’ to write. The good news is that he advises to ‘steal time’ during lunch, while waiting for appointments, or while travelling on public transport, for example – the times during which I still have energy! If I make it a habit to whip out my pen and notebook during these times, I’ve spent both my time and energy well. I need not then feel guilty if I want to relax after a hectic day at work, while watching yet another episode of MasterChef Australia (my obession, not a habit!). Read more of his Wheeler’s tips on his blog, Dauntless Writing.

So, this is my realistic plan that fits into my daily schedule: to make it a habit to write when I’m waiting for friends at coffee shops (I always arrive early), and to write for half an hour every evening after dinner. I hope to find that I end up writing for hours every day without noticing!

Once upon a time…

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My writing journey began when I was eight years old. My mom had bought me a journal as a Christmas present, in which I wrote almost every day. My first entries mostly began with the phrase, “Today was fun” until my writing skills became more sophisticated and I could spell more difficult words. I filled many more journals over the years, mostly with teenage dilemmas, followed by the new-found freedom and adventures of university, and my working-holiday in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I also grew fond of writing poetry around the age of twelve, and was praised for my creative writing abilities by English teachers. I developed my writing skills further while studying journalism and hosting creative writing workshops on behalf of the University of Pretoria’s Literary Society, The Inklings.

During my early twenties, I dabbled in freelance writing and editing until I became a part-time publishing assistant at BK Publishing. I am now the editor of a bi-monthly general interest children’s magazine, Supernova, the mag for curious kids, to which I also contribute. I also edit self-published manuscripts for the publisher.

My real passion, however, still lies in creative writing. I strive to finish the final draft of a young adults’ fantasy novel which I began in my second year of studies, but only sat down in earnest to write during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2013. I reached the goal of 50 000 words in 31 days, and had the first draft of a story that had gathered dust in the recesses of my mind for years.

I also strive to write more short stories, and enter as many challenges and competitions as possible to motivate me and hone my skills.

This site is dedicated to those goals. Here, you will find the struggles and the triumphs of a passionate writer. You will also find tips and motivation for your own writing along the way.

The writing process may indeed seem to be a lonely journey, but I believe that it is only lonely if you shut yourself off from the world around you. I am inviting you in to share my world. It is beyond words…