“It seems like New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken – at least that’s what it feels like for me. 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, however, I somehow achieved a cluster of small goals I failed to recognize as accomplishment. In fact, as it turned out, many of my finest moments and triumphs in the last year were due to the surprising result of broken resolutions.”– J.G. Chayko, The Old Lady in My Bones.
Sometimes we accomplish more in a year than we realize. I hope that everyone can take a moment to celebrate the small victories hidden in the pages of our lives. No matter how big or small, every achievement should be celebrated. I look forward to picking up my pen, gathering my notebooks, opening a new word document and rediscovering the triumphs waiting in another year of broken resolutions – one day at a time, one word at a time, one story at a time.
Cheers to all for a very happy, healthy and creative New Year in 2017.
When do you call yourself a writer? This seems to be a complicated dilemma for many. Some people feel they can’t truly call themselves a writer until they’ve received some sort of exceptional endorsement for their work. I disagree.
There is no test, no exam, no screening method, no extraordinary circumstance that suddenly makes one “a writer.” When people ask me when I called myself a writer, I tell them I called myself a writer the first moment I picked up a pen. Before my first publication, before my first meager payment for a short story, I was a writer. A publication or a payment should never define you as such – short stories, poetry, memoir, novels, essays or blog posts – quite simply, if you write you are a writer. All you need to do is do it.
The 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.
“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.
It’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.
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.
It has been a scorching summer – the driest we’ve had on record in our temperate rain forest, a season of smoke and fire. It has been a season of drought, not only for the rain we crave, but also for the words I would bring to the page. I have lost my vision in the residue of a demanding few months, and like the rain that will not fall, my stream of words have evaporated to a trickle. But this does not mean I am not working. It simply means I must turn to another aspect of my job as a writer. I have found a reprieve from my own drought in reading.
Reading is essential to the writer. It is, in essence, the writers’ research. Reading helps me release my mind. It takes me out of my own head for a while, unlocking a fresh awareness to thoughts and impressions without the pressure of a deadline. I keep a notebook by my side while reading, because often ideas will come when I least expect them. It is the season of brainstorming, dreaming and exploration. I am training for the creation of my own road map. Reading reminds me why I write. It revives my dedication to the craft I love and helps me carve out my own style.
Just like sticking to a writing schedule, it’s important to find time to read. I am learning to incorporate reading as part of my work, dismissing the niggling voices in my head that tell me I have too many projects to complete, that I don’t have time for this. The fact is, I’m always going to have to too many projects. Being an avid reader will only enhance my skill as a writer. Reading allows my imagination to flourish, showing me all the hidden possibilities I hope to deliver to my readers.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
I saw an interesting question posted on a social media site: How many writers write in the same genre as they read? I took a moment to consider that – at first, my answer was “no”, I don’t normally write in the same category, but when I took a second look, I found the answer was not as simple as all that.
One my favourite genres to read is historical fiction and non-fiction – more specifically the history of Tudor England. I have a whole shelf dedicated to King Henry VII, King Henry VIII and all his wives, Mary Tudor and of course Elizabeth. I also have books on the Queens’ of England prior to the Tudor reign. I find Tudor England fascinating in all its horrific glory. There are more villains, heroes, femme fatales’ intrigue and mystery than in most fiction I have read. I love to escape to that tumultuous time during my break from writing.
I indulge in this historical world and yet, I write in the present. I blog about my life with RA, write guest posts for other sites and contribute to health articles. In writing about chronic illness, I always try to find the silver lining. My poetry bounces between shadow and light. In my fiction, I lean towards the dark and sinister side of human nature. I am attracted to characters I love to hate. I never connected my style of writing to history, but after some thought I realized that I tend to write about some of the same aspects – the survivors of Tudor England were untouchable in their exhibition of the darkness of human nature.
I suppose in answer to the question, “do I write in the same genre as I read”, I’d have to say both “yes and no”. I am influenced by some features as the things I read today, although, it doesn’t always fit into the same genre. And of course, I can’t overlook my younger years when I was drawn to the alluring stories of Stephen King – his influence lives on in some of the crime noir and supernatural thrillers I have produced. I think all writers absorb bits and pieces of the things they read and unconsciously adapt them to their own style – and that’s what makes writing a distinctive and fascinating occupation.