Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pink Mousse and Scrambled Egg - A Dessertation

The place was busy and I watched as lunches arrived. A commotion erupted from one of the tables.
"I didn't order PINK MOUSSE," shrieked a woman. A colleague of mine stopped and enquired what was wrong.
"I'm not eating it. I didn't order it and I'm not eating it... you take it away right now and bring me what I ordered..." she demanded. Her face took on a shade that complimented the mousses pinkness as she poked at her free Unhappy Meal.

 I wondered if she considered just pushing it to one side and not eating it, opposed to blowing a gasket over a bowl of pink mousse. I had visions of decorating the bowl with antlers and eyes and a cute little elkish mouth - perhaps make the mousse more endearing but I value my job so instead,  I watched her react, and began to wonder what makes us flip out when we don't get what it is we think we deserve. 

Why do we incite a mini riot and throw tantrums that would make a two year old proud? I wondered in her case, what lay beneath the pink mousse? What past experience drove her thoughts to make her behave this way. Was it about control, or having her desires ignored? Was it the colour pink? Did that remind her of some horrible childhood incident that dredged up unexplained angst at the mere sight of pinkness? Or was it all over nor getting her own way? She clearly had an agenda, and pink mousse was not on it. 

This got me thinking about personal agendas. Everybody has one - that fragile basket of eggs we carry around each day; each egg a delicate thought, a seed of potential being that we have conjured from the marketplace of our mind. I wonder what drives the thoughts we fill our heads with from moment to moment. My day to day thoughts roll around in my basket, knocking together trying to get out of each other's way, each vying for pole position as my ego swaps and sorts and deems which thought is more important. And the more thoughts I entertain, the less present I am to the moment and the more likely I am to end up with a head full of scrambled egg. If I can't be present in the moment, can I create characters that are present in their story? 

I watched the pink mousse scenario pan out into a semi happy ending but the experience had me thinking about the stories I create, and how I could use this experience as a way to delve deeper into the lives of my characters. I started asking myself what is driving the thoughts of my main character, Max? What are his past experiences? What could make him flip out like the woman had over a bowl of pink mousse? I may never know the reasons behind the woman's aversion to rose coloured wobbling desserts but I can see how important it is to be able to recognise what pushes my character's buttons. To not know him at such a deep level may lead him to become a flat and flawless being. No flaws=no cause. No Cause = no claws to fight for what is important to him - even if it is just a free unhappy meal. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Un-Deadly Deadlines

I have been thumbing through Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem ! book.  Chris is the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which formed back in 1999 when he was working as a writer in the San Francisco Bay area. During this time, he decided to write a novel. He had no idea how to write a novel but that didn't stop him. His plan was to write a novel of 50,000 words in  a month. He decided on 50,000 words after pulling the shortest book from his bookshelf, doing the math and coming up with the magical figure of 50,000. The book was Huxley's Brave New World. Quite a serendipitous title, given that NaNoWriMo is all about creating brave new worlds - all in a month. 
"We were in our mid twenties, and had no idea what we were doing. But we knew we loved books. And so we set out to write them," he says.

During the first year that NaNoWriMo ran, twenty one people signed up to undertake the task. NaNoWriMo is now celebrating 10 years with 1,643,343,993 as a total collective word count for 2008. In his book, Chris highlights a quote by writer and champion figure-skater, Ralph Waldo Emerson, "In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed." 
And speed is the thing Chris swears by. Speed underpins the NaNoWriMo concept. You see, it's all about deadlines. 

He proved this theory by taking three months off work, to live that dream we all dream of - to write full time and uninterrupted by the vexations of work. He failed miserably.
With nothing to do all day but write, he found himself doing everything but writing. He had no deadline. He claims a rough draft is "best written in the steam cooker of an already busy life." He also points out Isaac Newton's observation; things in motion tend to stay in motion.

I glance back over my own writing journey and I can see there is validity in his claims. I perform best when there is a deadline to beat. Over the past several Tuesday evenings, I have been heading into the Australian Writer's Marketplace online.
AWM run a friendly and supportive writing race from 8pm - 9pm and often have special guests along for the ride. It's not so much about racing against each other. It's more about setting a writing goal and for an hour, going flat out to achieve. 

During that hour, I can crank out between 1200-2000 words. And I am coming to realise, it's all because of the deadline. I have an hour to perform so it's lights camera action. For one hour, I can block out the world and focus fully on words pouring forth. I have worked on my novel in progress during this time and I have also written first drafts of short stories.  The short stories would probably never have surfaced had a deadline not been in place that made me think fast and write furiously, trusting that stream of consciousness writing that our inner critic loves to bully into submission. During a writing race, that kick boxing critic just doesn't have time to get a leg in. 

The beauty of racing is that you can do it anytime. Whilst it's nice to do it with friends and it's nice to have that support, there really is no excuse not to do it anyway. All you need is a clock, some time telling ability, a notepad or computer, a realistic writing goal and of course that all important ingredient - the deadline- be it an hour, 30 minutes or whatever time you can spare. For me, an hour works really well. Longer sessions see my mind wandering and my fingers itching to click on that time sucking icon that leads me into that wicked wide web. 

An hour gives me the chance to follow Emerson's lead; to skate over thin ice, knowing my safety is in the speed that I go. If I stop, the weight of my hesitation will sink me. And, I have to agree with Newton - things in motion really do stay in motion. Racing, either alone or with friends is a sure way to get black on white. The once dreaded deadline is now an exciting and brave new world in which to create. 

To join in the fun at AWMonline, follow this link;
Subscriptions start at $19.95 and you will be rewarded with a wealth of support and information to help you along on your writing journey.

NaNoWriMo runs from November 1st -30th. 
Details can be found at

Friday, April 10, 2009


I so wish inspiration could come in a bottle. I would keep a vat of it sitting under my desk, a syphon attached and ready to pour forth over the page when required. If it were only that easy. Instead, when I seek inspiration, I turn to people and places that inspire me to write. Here are some;

A Change of Scenery:
To escape cabin fever, I venture down to the local library. Here I can churn out words amid toddler screams, old friends catching up over coffee, community announcements over the P.A system. For some reason, the sounds and the sights of the library feed my creative spirit and I always achieve amid the hundreds of surrounding tomes. 

Reading inspirational work by others:
I am presently reading Julia Cameron's Walking in this World. It is a wonderful book about nurturing your creativity. She suggests a weekly walk some place special and an Artist's date once a week - part of a day set aside doing something that will feed your creative side. I practise both - and they work. They take me outside the box and let me live in a space that is new and bright. When I go back to my work, it always seems so much more manageable. 

Going Somewhere I Love:
When I head anywhere near water, I feel my creativity surge to the surface. There is something about paddling through water that connects me to some bigger, brighter source. It's akin to the feeling I get when I am actually writing. I resonate with a force I can't fully grasp nor wish to question. It just is and it works and it makes me happy. And it makes me write.

Friends Who Get It:
As much as we all love our friends, many friends just don't get what the fuss of a writer is all about. You burst at the seams with excitement over a new plot point and they look at you with that little half smile, wide-eyed and expecting the rest of the conversation - you know, the important bit that they are sure must be following anytime soon.
"And?" they say, ever so politely, waiting patiently for you to finish the sentence. Except you already have. You can tell straight away who they are, with that unmistakable expression that creeps over their face. They just... don't... get it. 

But then there are the friends who do. The writing buddies who know every inch of your angst and excitement without you barely even having to open your mouth. I am so blessed to have several writing friends - I treasure their friendship. They offer their undying support as they wade through their own writing journey. You know you can call them or email and rave about the good, bad and ugly of writing, and that they will listen and council and guide you gently back into some safe little harbour where you can rest for a while before returning to uncharted waters. Without these people, I am certain the writer in me would wither and die. So to all of you, and particularly Arienne, Marie and Katherine - I thank you from the bottom of my inspirational vat.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

QWC- AWM Writing Race - The Great Unblocker

It's official...I am now unblocked. I attended the QWC-AWMonline writing race last night and cranked out 2307 words of a short story from scratch - all in an hour. I can feel the winds of change rushing through me! I finally out-stared the Big White Blocky Page... and won.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Writer's Block

It's official. I'm blocked. Not literally. Just literarily. I have been opening this blog daily since the last entry and sitting and staring at a blank screen. I've felt like a captive stuck in a room with white walls.  Walls I can't see beyond or around. It's been a cold and unwelcoming place where no matter what I do, I can't get a grip that enables me to pull the walls down. And it feels like I have been stuck here for ever. I'm almost finished my Year of the Edit course. Kim has been a fantastic teacher but I feel I have failed her. I have failed myself. Because instead of carving my manuscript into pieces that I polish like gems, I sit down every day to write and nothing comes. Not a thing. My fingers walk their way across the keyboard and engage the Off switch of my mac and once again, the big white block on the screen wins the staring comp. 

So what does one do, when blocked beyond all comprehension? When the project you loved with all of your heart lies abandoned upon the desk in a dust gathering pile of no hope? I have no answers to offer, and when I can't find words of my own, I turn to the words of others and I read. And in a way, I use it as an excuse to read for hours in a day - because somewhere amid the words of another, I will find my voice lurking behind the ink on their page. It will niggle and jump up and down and demand my attention, like a small child whose mother is on the phone talking. Eventually, after I ignore it enough by spending time with others, my muse and my motivation will edge its way back and demand I give them the attention they think they suddenly deserve. Eventually. 

Until then, I will read. And when the magic returns, so will I. And judging by the noise in my head as I write this, exposing my muse's resistant behaviour, I am guessing that I will be back at it sooner than I ever imagined.