A Writing Sanctuary

20160604_133008Sometimes the only thing I need to inspire me is a quiet place to call my own; a creative sanctuary that unlocks my imagination and leads me to new possibilities. I am always seeking different places to stimulate my creativity – parks, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, museums – but in the spring and summer months, my creative refuge can be found in my own backyard – or in this case, my patio.

When the sun makes its reappearance and the mercury begins to climb, I often retreat to the comfort and harmony of my patio. Everything I need is at my fingertips, just by stepping over the threshold and back into my home, but my patio offers me a barrier against the distractions of daily life and technology. I can leave my phone inside, knowing it is safe from light fingers; I can make my own tea and get refills at my own discretion; I can absorb the beauty of the great outdoors without taking precious time to drive or walk anywhere else; I can arrive in seconds, leave and return again in the same moment. My music is the chirrup of robins and chickadees, the haunting cry of seagulls; my stimulus are the people in my neighborhood, my solace is the flow of words that trickle out with the hiss of sprinklers in nearby yards. The constant motion of the outdoors is the white noise I can tune in or out of at will. In my writing sanctuary, I can cultivate my words and watch my stories bloom alongside my garden.

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

― William Shakespeare

Vacancy

Aviary Photo_131047800285478307The blank page is the writers’ canvas. Don’t be intimidated by its stark whiteness, its vacant stare, its arrogant lines undulating across the page – know it is there to fuel your imagination and give you permission to write anything you desire. It is not there to restrict or impose rules but to inspire, to animate and excite. The blank page is the window to new worlds, new characters, new places, new happenings – it invites you to write down every emotion, memory, secret or vision. It is our friend, our rival, our therapist, our lover, and our companion. It plays devil’s advocate driving us to reveal our most intimate thoughts – and out of the jumble that gushes onto the page, we will unearth the stories we are destined to cultivate.

 

Paper Cups, Hands and Airline Bags

DSC_3303 (3)On stage, when an actor forgets their lines they must improvise in order to keep the dialogue and story moving. In live theatre, there’s no opportunity to go back and start again – actors must do their level best to carry on in spite of forgotten lines, costume mishaps and missing sound cues.

Writer’s also need to develop the skill of improvisation but in a slightly different manner. Much like an actor that must be prepared for anything that can happen on stage, writers must always be prepared to seize inspiration, at any moment, at any time. I have developed a habit of carrying a notebook and a pen in my bag for just such moments, but there are times when I am unable to access my notebook and must be ready to improvise in order to catch my ideas.

I was travelling on an airplane recently, and we encountered some turbulence. I had been happily typing away on my tablet, but then came the announcement for table trays to be returned to their upright positions and seatbelts securely fashioned. I reluctantly put my tablet away, and patiently waited to get through the turbulence. It was at this shaky and ill-timed moment that a tremendous idea came to me – one that would make or break the current article I was writing. I had to get it down, and so I grabbed the first thing that was available for me to write on – the airline’s disposable bag, with a lovely pictograph of a person suffering from airline sickness. I scribbled down my thoughts on both sides of that bag and was even offered an extra one from another passenger in the seat next to me (conveniently, my better half), and I even think the stewardess sitting across from me, who was fascinated by my writing frenzy in a moment of unpredictability, was ready to offer me another one.

Here are some items I have written on in a desperate moment:

A paper cup

My hand

A script

A book

A gum wrapper (a big challenge)

A work document (not highly recommended)

A transit ticket (over the small print)

A napkin

A receipt

These are just a few examples of what I like to call “necessary improvisation” for writers.

Regardless of what happens on stage, the actors’ adage is always “the show must go on” – and in the writing world, so must our words.

 

 

 

 

Catch and Release

FB_IMG_1455473428860The day is spent. It’s time to wind down into evening, to slow the constant buzzing in my mind, and most nights I can do this with a good book, a hot bath, and the occasional indulgence of a sip of bourbon or wine. It never fails that almost every time I lower myself into that hot bubbled water, a new door opens in my imagination and a flood of words pour through my head, tumbling over one another so fast I can barely grasp what they are saying. Some of my best writing ideas come when I am in the tub, at work, on the bus, in a meeting, on stage or out walking. It is often in the most inconvenient places when inspiration is ignited – being prepared to catch it when it is released is one our jobs as writers, but sometimes it’s not always meant to be.

Inspiration strikes at the most inopportune times and through our writing journey, we have to learn to be crafty enough to grab it by its tail and hang on – if it’s meant to be caught. There are always times when an idea hits and I am unable to snag it. Sometimes hours can pass before I have an opportunity to write it down. If the idea is sturdy and robust, it will be trapped in the creative net of my imagination, patiently waiting for me to claim it; if it’s weak and fragmented, it will slip through the webbing, leaving me with an empty awareness of what could have been.

I have come to accept that if the idea was strong enough, if it was meant for me, it will always be there waiting – if I don’t remember it later, it has moved on to someone else. The world is bursting with ideas, and I take comfort in knowing that if one of them escapes from me, another one will soon come to take its place.

 

Happy New Year

untitledNew Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. Every year I envisioned these grand sweeping dreams and every year those dreams floated away from my reach, bursting like delicate soap bubbles. Lost in the shadow of my grand promises, I somehow achieved a cluster of small goals I failed to recognize as accomplishment. As it turned out, many of my finest moments and triumphs in the last year were the surprising result of broken resolutions. I look forward to the small triumphs of another year of broken resolutions – one step at a time, one day at a time, one story at a time, one victory at a time.

Wishing everyone a Happy Healthy New Year – may you find unexpected stories and victories in small things and marvel at every achievement, because in every small goal there is always cause to celebrate.

Writing My Life

Screenshot (12)“Is there a blanket ban on writing about my life if it involves anyone else?” – Brooke Wyeth, Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz

I began writing stories in my childhood. It started with writing in my diary, then graduated to the more intricate skills of writing poetry, essays and short stories. I wrote about anything my imagination could conjure, but when I look back now, I see most of those stories and poems evolved from moments in my daily life. My characters were shaped from the people I knew. Plots and stories evolved out of the things I observed. Real life seeped into my writing whether I was aware of it or not.

My first real introduction into the surprising and complicated world of creative non-fiction was about five years ago. I published my first story about my great-grandmother’s farm and the struggle to keep it out of the hands of developers. I found it was easy to write from my memories, enjoying the challenge of painting a picture from a possibly bland topic. After I was diagnosed with RA, I created a blog that described my journey through the day-to-day management of living with chronic illness. From those stories arose the desire to expand and write more about other aspects of my life, and I discovered that it’s sometimes impossible to write my own truth without grazing the lives of others.

It’s a complicated business writing about other people. We own our stories, but we don’t own the stories of others. I have a responsibility to be as honest as I can in my work, but I need to know where to draw the line. No one else can see my truth, just I can’t see someone else’s truth. In my fiction and poetry work, I draw on my own experience and borrow behaviours and personas from the people I meet, disguising them in a hybrid of my own imagination, but in non-fiction, it can be difficult to disguise them. I know that without them, my story would be dry and colorless, so I need to tread carefully, and find a way to respect them without compromising the strength of my work.

It’s a fine line to tread and full of controversy – whether writing about our life or the lives of others, we face the possibility of encountering criticism and objections in how our version is presented. It is the risk we must take as storytellers. We can write the truth or create our own, but we must do it with responsibility and integrity.

A Celebration of Words

DSC_2563It’s that time of year when summer is slipping silently into fall and I am slipping into the world of writing festivals. I have attended two festivals every year for the last five years, soaking up extraordinary days filled with all the passions of a writer’s heart – author’s, books, inspiration, revelation and workshops.

Tucked away in the arms of an intimate park on the sea-kissed Sunshine Coast, is the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. An outdoor stage patiently waits for the clusters of people who gather each year to meet their favourite writers or discover new ones. Familiar faces flow through the crowds, nodding at one another as if we are old friends, drawn together by the love of words. For four stimulating days writers eagerly share insights about their current and future projects, their process, their struggles, their triumphs, what motivates them, and what inspires them. It’s a perfect time to let my work simmer for a few days while I savour the captivating philosophies of others, learn from their experience and envision the day I will be up there on the stage to talk about my work. Between presentations I meander through the book tent, scooping up stories to chill out in – sometimes I have already read an author’s work before I see them, sometimes it is their presentation that compels me to buy their book.DSC_2574

Every year I take my notebook, prepared to write down a fresh writing secret, a wise quip, the name of a book; often in the midst of their dialogue I am struck with a new stimulus I can apply to my own projects. More often than not, it is something completely unrelated that sparks and idea – a random gesture, an electrifying word – it’s one of the many joys of writing festivals.

At the end of the day I sit outside beneath an inky sky with a glass of wine, a bag full of books, and my pen hovering over an empty page, relishing these moments of comfort and simplicity drawn from the heart of the challenging and demanding work we have as writers – and I would not trade it for anything.