March: Everyday creative challenge 

A new month means a new challenge and this time I’m giving you an excuse to buy snappy new stationery. 

Every time I teach, I see at least one student stressing themselves out over a writing exercise. I might have asked everyone to write a paragraph that brings their story setting to life. 

I never force anyone to share their work. But there is always that student who wants to get the exercise so right that their face scrunches up and they scratch their arm and look around in despair as they see everyone else writing away.

Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves that we suck the fun out of our art. (What if I try this thing and I’m terrible? What if I’m the only one who can’t do this exercise? What will everyone think when they realise I’m hopeless at this?)

From my experience between adult and youth writing classes, I have to say we definitely get worse with age.

Pressure, perfection, the inner critic – however you want to phrase it, it’s just our fears getting in the way of our art. And while that feeling won’t disappear, you can train that response to sit in the back seat.

How? By starting a journal.

March challenge: This month I’m asking you to free-write for 10 minutes a day. Use your phone as a timer and write anything that comes in to your head without stopping until the time is up.

This exercise feels weird at first. Sometimes you’ll write that the exercise is ridiculous, or jot down your dreams from the night before, detail a recent argument or problem or you might even begin brainstorming new ideas.

Once you’ve been free-writing for a few days, I think you’ll find it calming and you may even notice that it frees up your mind to daydream and create. It’s meditation with your favourite notepads and pens.

If you’ve ever wanted to write, this is a great start to a regular creative practice and could help you find your next project.

Good luck!

Short story workshops – Goondiwindi & Brisbane

Winter seems to be short story season for me,

This week I’ll be heading out to Goondiwindi to teach a short story workshop on behalf of the State Library of Queensland Young Writers Award and the Queensland Writers Centre. It’s free! So if you are based nearby, please book in and I’ll help you become submission-ready for the big comp!

If you’re not sure if you should submit or not for the Young Writers Award, all I’m going to say is be brave and send a story in. This competition is a real career boost – trust me.

In July, I’ll also be teaching my Short Story Workout for the Queensland Writers Centre youth program in Brisbane. This is a full-day workshop, so you’ll definitely have leaky-brain by the time we hit 4.30pm. Last year we had some amazing young writers meet up and work on their stories, so if you’re keen you can book your place now. I’d love to see you there.

In the meantime, you can read my post for the Queensland Writers Centre on editing your short stories.

Puppies are terrible writing buddies

Actually, over the last 7 weeks since we’ve had a furball at home, I’ve started to realise why so many writers have a cat instead of a dog.

Mostly because cats don’t care what you’re doing unless you’re feeding them. Which works well for the solitude and long bouts of thinky time.

It’s different with dogs.

Henry is in his ‘terrible two’ stage, so he’s understandably crazy. But I find my writing time at the moment is broken in to 5-10 minute fragments and I’m usually distracted by one of the following scenarios:

  • Henry has weed somewhere in the house
  • Henry has pooped somewhere in the house
  • Henry has disappeared from sight and is therefore, weeing or pooping somewhere in the house
  • Henry is barking and jumping on me like a mad thing
  • Henry is eating a shoe, book or handbag.

The only time I’ve been able to keep him in the study with me is when I’ve put him back in his crate where he promptly got bored and fell asleep.

I feel like I’m gaining an understanding of how new mothers feel when they’re trying to raise a young thing and get on with their life. It’s a total nightmare, but (99% of the time) I’d never consider giving Henry up.

The main pup-baby difference so far as I can tell is:

Negative: He can sprint waaaaaaay faster than me (and is occasionally impossible to catch without bribery), whereas human babies can’t move without you carrying them from room to room.

Positive: Human babies eventually learn to understand what you’re saying, but Henry will never understand when I’m swearing at him, especially if I keep my happy-face on.

2013 SOYA Written Word shortlist

I’m so thrilled to be a finalist in this year’s Spirit of Youth Awards Written Word category.

I’ve had my head down for most of the year, developing my arts teaching business and going through a lot of upheaval in day job land, so I had entered in hope of receiving some encouragement for my writing.

Before I entered, I asked other writers about ‘being ready’ and ‘being good enough’ to submit for certain competitions and grants. We came to the conclusion that no one ever feels that confident and the best way to discover if you’re ready is to submit.

So, I’m glad I submitted to SOYA. (Despite looking through the other entries and deciding I didn’t have a chance.)  And being shortlisted has made me realise that I’m a harsh judge when it comes to my own writing.

It’s an honour to be listed alongside such talented and experienced writers and I’m enjoying reading their work on a rainy Friday afternoon.

Luckily, I have plenty of distraction from the rest of the judging process. I’ve started editing a YA manuscript that I love, I’m preparing for my first in-class show with my junior drama class and after that I’m heading for a few weeks of adventure in the UK and Europe.

You can read through my portfolio or view the other finalists on the SOYA website.

Save your soul with simple pleasures

I love the word pleasure. It sounds kind of naughty but I think that’s more because it’s not a word we commonly use in our day to day lives.

But this week the words I’ve been hearing are more like, ‘hate’, ‘over it’, ‘have to’, ‘no choice’, and ‘weekend’. (Yes, weekend is a positive word but how can loving only two days out of seven be a good thing?)

It’s true that 2012 seems to be showing us all some tough love. Whether your relationship has broken down, or you’ve lost your job or you’re living in the… ahem… rapidly changing state of Queensland.

But it’s not true that you have to give up on your happiness, your beliefs and your dreams because of this change and uncertainty.

There’s a line from the film, Midnight in Paris, that I think a lot of people like me should write down and stick to their study pin board, bedside table or fridge as a daily reminder.

In the film Gertrude Stein says, “The artist’s job is not to give in to despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence”.

I believe this whole heartedly but I’m seeing too many wonderful people sinking into despair. If this is you, then you need to listen to me right now.

Never sacrifice your happiness, your beliefs and your dreams.

Never give anyone the power to strip these things from you.

You must stop mewing with misery and woe before it destroys you. There will always be people who want to crush you under their heels. Never do it to yourself. Reclaim your joie de vivre! Do something that you love today. Do that thing as often as you can. Surely you’ve noticed that when you’re high on life, new people and opportunities find you so easily?

If you’re struggling to remember what makes you happy then steal some of my ideas.

A few of my simple pleasures are:

  • gardening (I’m using the term loosely – I’m hopeless at it)
  • reading in bed
  • walking along the waterfront
  • pilates and stretching
  • drinking tea
  • cleaning: musical style (basically me singing and dancing around the house while I clean it).

Maybe none of these things will change the world. But they’ll make you happy and more aware of the beauty around you. And don’t you think that being happy and aware might change your life right now?

Yeah. I think so too.

So reclaim your happiness, your soul and your dreams! Do it now! And let me know what your simple pleasures are. I’m always willing to try something new.

As for me, Lady Gaga’s playing and it’s time to clean the house. Better get my dancing shoes on.

A FEW THOUGHTS FOR JUNE

I’ve been a little distant on the interwebs lately. Unfortunately, the real world smothered me and any post I attempted to write was so dull or nonsensical that I thought it best to lay low rather than announce my insanity. However, during my absence I’ve learned a few things that I wanted to share:

  1. If I don’t have time to daydream, then I don’t have time to think clearly. My constant daydreaming is a necessary part of my scattered brain figuring itself out. Without it I don’t actually make a lot of sense, in real life or in my imaginary worlds.
  2. Sometimes the ‘writers’ that brag the loudest are actually just insecure and terrified.
  3. There is no possible way to write a good writer’s bio without sounding like a bit of a douche. (Trust me, I asked my friends on Facebook and they agreed so it has to be true.)
  4. Every time I get good news about my writing, I blab it to my friends and then spend the rest of the day re-reading the email or the phone conversation notes I took, hoping that it’s not some cruel trick of my imagination.
  5. Glee is the best television show in the world. I did dancing and acting classes as a kid and I’m telling you if I could sing, I’d give up writing in a heartbeat. There is something about musicals that make me feel completely alive.
  6. Having said that, I actually feel angry and stressed when I’m not writing. I’m not saying I don’t get those feelings at certain stages in my projects but they’re much, much worse when I’m not telling stories.

I’ll let you know when I get my groove back…

THE EVIL INNER CRITIC

Back in my earlier blogging days, I told you what I thought my muse might look like. I like to think I have a few different muses – not because I believe in the idea – but more because it makes sitting down at my computer for hours and hours a little more fun.

The last few days, I’ve had my evil inner critic sitting on my shoulder obliterating every sentence I write before I’ve even reached the full stop. Yeah. Some writing days are torture.

(This is the part where people say ‘but you love writing’ and ‘isn’t that the fun of it?’. Are you crazy? Does re-writing the same paragraph for an hour and a half sound like fun to you?

Writing can be fun. Apparently roller coasters are too. Though, I’m guessing that you’re going to hate that ride if it malfunctions and leaves you trapped in an upside down loop for a couple of hours. See, sometimes even fun things suck.)

I wanted to put a face to my evil inner critic and this is what I chose.

Oh yes. My inner critic is a blue meanie. They always freaked me out in the Yellow Submarine, so it seems fitting that my inner critic looks like one of them (but is also something I can defeat). If I had chosen something more terrifying than that, I’d probably never write again.

Let me know if you’ve put a face to your inner critic, or if you have another way of squashing that evil voice back to the shadows where it belongs.