Writing in the mountains

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It’s Sunday afternoon in a little house in Austria. The fire is burning. The children, their father and grandma have gone to the pool. After days of skiing, {indoor} swimming is fun for a change.

And guess what? Mummy’s at home, with her computer and hours in front of her to write. How glorious is that?

Work has eased off in recent weeks. Yes, it could be stressful, living in Europe with less money than planned.

But…the mountain air is good for creativity. And having time on my hands means time to spend with the children; time to play, and to homeschool, but also time to spend with my ideas and my computer.

Words are flowing thick and fast, I kid you not. On a typical work day, I write up to 8,000 words. These last weeks, I am channeling that energy into various creative projects.

When we visited Veere, in the Netherlands last month, my youngest and I puddled along behind the others. We walked beside the canal, where various houseboats came to rest.

‘I wish I lived on a houseboat,’ said my little Rosie. And so, a small idea began.

Here in the mountains, that idea has become a manuscript for a chapter book.

I set myself 1,000 words a day. Surprisingly, it was achievable, even when I was working and/or spending time with kids.

All day, little Rosie needs me. She’s three, and it’s understandable that she cannot leave her mummy’s side for a single second {right?}. She’s very cute and all. And fortunately, she goes to sleep easily at around 7.30pm. From that moment, my computer is on, and I am writing.

My eldest is happy playing board games at that time. And she doesn’t mind that I am not taking her to bed, because she knows in the morning there will be a new chapter to read. She tells me it’s the best story she’s ever heard {flattery will take her everywhere}, and many of her ideas have been directly incorporated into the story.

The last couple of Sundays, the others have gone off and left me for the whole afternoon. And I try not to waste a second. Last Sunday, I didn’t look at Facebook once and I was so proud of myself. Especially because I finished the manuscript I have been working so hard on.

All week, my best friend and best editor, Husband, has been reading the manuscript and giving me feedback. He is amazing at picking up incompatibilities, missing words and plot errors. So today, I am working with his suggestions, and trying to reconfigure the script.

I have written over 50 picture book manuscripts in recent years, but I have been less confident to try longer stories. I had a crack, last year, writing early readers. I think they still need some work. And who knows where this current manuscript will end up? It’s exciting, though, seeing a story form. To love the flow as it drips from the fingers onto the page. To meet the characters, and to dream about the world they inhabit.

Today, I am also working on two picture book manuscripts that have been a long time in the making. It’s funny how 500 word manuscripts take as much or even more time than it takes to write a chapter book. Today, though, I feel like I might have finally got to a place I am hoping to go with them. Hopefully, one day I can tell you more about them!

Anyway, happy times in this little Austrian cottage, with creativity and mountain air pumping through the veins. My children are benefiting too, with so much nature, and so much parental and grandma stimulation.

So yes, work is quiet. But other things, not so!

Hope your Sunday was happy too. Any creative or other projects on the go? What’s exciting you right now?

xx

Away from negativity

one a glassy river

I have to admit, I have slipped away from the computer and into nature more than once this week. And you know what? It felt good. I just had to get away from the screen, and all the other little bitty neurotic things that happen behind it.

We spent Mother’s Day weekend canoeing up the glassy Brunswick river, surrounded by mangroves. We stared into the open blue sky and felt connected and peaceful.

Back there, somewhere on the Internet, negative things were happening.

It’s not just the stream of news – earthquakes, devastation, human-less political decisions, executions… It’s the stream of negative comments on just about every news site. Head over to Mamamia now and read the comments on one of their posts if you want to know what I mean. I don’t want to pollute my little sunshine house by pasting them over here.

I do value opinion – sensible opinion – and the right to express it. But there is a difference between a clearly thought-out idea constructively expressed and horrible insult and slander. And it’s not just faceless trolls leaving murky, stinky trails of hatred. It’s ordinary people, assaulting the protagonist or author of the article in ways they would never do to their face.

Having never been assaulted online myself, I can only imagine how painful it must be. Or how thick-skinned the author needs to be to put up with such assault on a regular basis. Always Josefa and Mrs Woog have positively mastered this skill – Good. On. Them. I am not sure I would have the same ability.

I do wonder though about the likes of Belle Gibson. No matter how terrible her actions, how on earth is she faring in the face of such negativity?

Or what about when you share a vulnerable part of yourself in a public forum, and you are ripped to shreds?

I worry too about the person leaving the hate-filled comment. What does it do to the commenter?

I know for myself that being negative and bitchy in the privacy of my own home has but one outcome – I feel crap. Sharing my negativity with my husband doesn’t ever have the intended effect of relieving me of my negative feeling – it just compounds and accentuates it. I am just creating a big, ugly snowball of negativity.

When I first got together with Gregor, he had just come from spending seven years as a Buddhist. He lived in retreat centres, meditated on a daily basis and spent a lot of time studying Buddhist literature.

One of the key things I got from those early conversations was him was the Western Order of Buddhist’s understanding of karma. Karma is not the eye for an eye magical thinking I had thought it to be. Karma is the accumulation of actions. You feel what you feel, but how you act on your feeling results in your future emotion.

Leaving a negative comment doesn’t just insult the person you intend to insult. It becomes part of the fibre of the future you. It begins to define you.

I shelter myself from ingesting such negativity by turning away. I head to lovely, happy places like Pip’s blog or Foxs Lane. Or I simply switch off my computer.

At home, I am doing something practical about addressing my own tendency to occasionally be negative. I have assigned five minutes a day to negative talk – if you have something to get off your chest, do it now, or forever hold your peace until the next five-minute block.

Some days, there is nothing negative to say. The five-minute block sits empty and alone. And sometimes, it’s just a minute or two or not-really-very-negative chit-chat.

The negative spill is contained. I feel cleaner, like that river we canoed on. Glassy. Reflective. Fresh.

And there’s more room for much nicer things.

How do you feel about the constant stream of negativity on big news sites? Is it just me, or is it getting worse?

Linking with Essentially Jess

The relationship between self-worth and creativity

catchingfish

I was feeling glum yesterday. It was lack of sleep. The weather. A general feeling of glumness.

In the glum haze, I felt glum about my writing and all things creative. I do that – turn on myself, and feel negative about what’s going on.

I needed to reset the dial.

Coincidentally, I read an article last night by Jennifer at Enjoy Life For Once about creativity, and how we relate creativity and production to self-worth. Jennifer talks about how someone else’s appreciation of your art often regulates how you feel about yourself.

Brene Brown quote

I relate to this.

If a like drops off my Facebook page, or nobody comments on a post, I suddenly feel like a failure.

It’s not rational.

Nor is it rational to feel hopeless about writing, when, for the first time in 18 months, I have no paid work at the ready.

But I was that kid at school who worked desperately hard for a gold star, and the approval of my teacher. I needed her praise. I needed my parents’ praise. If I didn’t get immediate and positive feedback, I felt like a failure.

Do you relate to this too?

And then, the man I married stepped in to set me right. That is why I married him. He helps me keep perspective.

He made me realise that my logic doesn’t make sense. Facebook likes, blog comments and new work opportunities do not correlate with self-worth. I just need to enjoy what I do for the sake of doing it, and if I don’t enjoy it, then I need to take a break.

We also talked about creativity, and how to kick start it.

Creativity, like anything really, requires attention to propel it into action. You can’t expect creativity to spring from a dry well. You have to dig. You have to apply yourself to your craft, and then, maybe, creativity will flow.

I’ve had trouble, lately, feeling motivated to be creative. I am tired. I’m under-resourced. I am feeding a baby way too many times through the night.

But I don’t want to abandon my craft. I am just going to prioritise. My children’s books are where I really want to put my energy, so they are going to get first dibs. If I have spare reserves, my other writing will get a look in.

So if you don’t hear from me as much here, I am probably exhausted, trying to keep it together. Imagine, I am holding a hot cuppa, talking crazy children’s adventures with my three-year-old.

Is your self-worth wrapped up in what you do, or how people receive what you do?

How do you prioritise, when your energy is sparse?

Image source

Linking with lovely Jess from Essentially Jess for Tuesday.

My first love

This was my first love.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

This was a close second.

blanky

My baby blanket. Blanky. Stitched with love by my god mother. A patchwork of satin and cotton scraps, patched and re-patched when it was love-worn. I would move it around, while in bed, trying to find the cold bit. The corner that hadn’t been clutched. When that part was warm, and I would circulate blanky to find a corner still to be loved.

That was my first memory, though I am still sure Mum was my first love.

My thumb was a close third. My orthodontist didn’t call this love. Nor did my parents, when they saw the bill for squillions of dollars.

Soon after those early loves came this:

T435 PL REP  FC

and this

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and this.

winnie-the-pooh

 

These books, among others, gave my little thoughts words and my little ideas pictures. I would take these little words and little ideas and weave magical worlds, where things happened, and people talked. These stories kept me company down the bottom of the paddock, and tucked up in bed with blanky and thumb.

Later, these stories found their way into a typewriter. I can’t quite remember, but can imagine six-year-old me sitting straight-backed at Dad’s typewriter, giving form to my stories. The paper fed out the bottom of the grey machine. The letters clunked heavily under small but conscientious fingers.

When I was six, I published this:

fairystory

fairystory1

fairystory2

 

fairystory3

 

There were others stories. On finding this anthology last week, I was sucked back to the mind of that girl, sitting at her dad’s grey typewriter. This is the closest I get to feeling what she felt and thinking what she thought. An imprint. A trace. An icon from six-year-old me, carefully filed away in a green plastic ring binder.

Those were my loves. That was me, clinging onto a blanky, sucking my thumb, thinking stories. Loving my mum.

{Linking with Josefa for Conversations With My First Love and Grace for FYBF}

{Disclaimer: Although my mum was my first love, I am sure Dad, rather than blanky, was a close second. Maybe even equal first. But then that would be a different story.}

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Putting on writing shoes

Writer's Shoes

I feel estranged from my little girl. For this last week, I have diverged from my life as a mother into my other life…I have not only studied this week, but I have also attended a Life Line interview to become a telephone counsellor, a fiction workshop with MJ Hyland,  I spent today at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival and my husband and I went out to a movie…on our own to see the final Harry Potter instalmentAll with the help of our wonderful Granny Annie.

For those of you who also love to write, I want to share some of my experiences from the fiction workshop and from the festival. I am fortunate to live near Byron Bay and have access to this great event once a year.

Doing the workshop with MJ Hyland made me realise that I have never really been given any writing tuition. I don’t know what syntax is, or exactly what passive voice means. Apart from one class in Year 5, I have never formally been taught grammar. I have learnt to structure an essay simply through osmosis, and have applied the same learning technique to creative writing. All I know about the structure of a story has come from reading books.

We were asked to send a 1000 word piece to Maria (MJ Hyland) by email, and she and all the other class members would critique it. Usually, my short stories are received very positively by friends and the writer’s workshop I attend regularly in Bangalow. I was certainly flattered by Maria’s use of the word ‘talent’ when describing my work…for she was ferocious when it came to dishing out criticism. If I was getting a little concerned, all was relieved when she then ripped into me for using stuffy high diction, amorphic adjectives, over summarising and words like “Hellish” instead of explaining what was so hellish about the situation. She told me I need to trust my writing style, and trust my narrative, and then I would have a good story. Above all else, avoid clichés.

The workshop was fantastic (amorphic adjective). For the first time, someone gave me straightforward advice about how to improve as a writer. And she’s a famous author.

At the festival today, I went armed with pen and paper, instead of nappies, and got as much from every session as humanly possible. I saw MJ Hyland speak again, Fiona McKintosh, Paul Kelly, Stephanie Dowrick, Bob Carr, Wendy Harmer, Benjamin Law, Richard Glover, Kate Vietch, and many others. From every session I took something, whether it was how the author plots their narrative, constructs their character, finds inspiration, investigates the dark side, utilises comedy or overcomes writer’s block. I learnt I need to read more (I don’t read at all) and if I want to be a writer…surprise surprise…I need to write more. My brain is fried banana this evening, but I am full to the brim with inspiration and excitement about all the possibilities that can come when these little fingers begin tap tap tapping away at the key board.

We live in an age when there is so much more to being a stay-at-home mum. Life is rich, and full of interest. Mummies have talent, skills, run businesses…They might not clean as much as they used to, but somehow still manage to be caring attentive mummies. Full to the brim.

[Note} You may have noticed a significant drop in blogging activity recently. The ability to sit down at a computer to write waxes and wanes. For the next week particularly, my blogging will certainly be waning, as two Psychology assignments and their impending due date have reared their heads, and any time spent blogging (as is my addiction) will be accompanied by extreme guilt. Stand by.

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