Archive for April, 2011

Writing about your childhood

I don’t get home to the farm where I grew up often enough. It’s only about a two hour drive in the country from where I now live, but I find life gets far too busy at times. A few weeks ago, however, I did have an opportunity to visit my brother on a day trip. Sure, it was only a few hours but pleasant all the same. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit the farm where I grew up, and where my nephew now lives.

While visiting my brother he showed me some photos I can’t ever remember seeing. These photos were originally on slides but John had converted them to digital images and could show them to me on his television. Many of the photos were of John’s pride and joy: his tractors. He thinks he has a photo of every tractor he ever owned – except one.

While this was interesting, what really grabbed my attention was that several of the shots showed me aged between eight and fourteen. It triggered in my mind a desire to focus a little more on writing about my childhood days. Here is a largely untapped resource of experiences that I can use in my writing. It is a deep well of interesting and colourful incidents that can only enhance my writing.

A word of caution is needed. Approaching a topic like this in a dry, journalistic way would be of interest to no-one. Except perhaps immediate family. A more creative method is required if you are interest a broader readership. This is not a problem if you are only recording your experiences as part of your family heritage.

If you do desire a wider audience for these stories, why not try rewriting your life experiences as a child (or an adult for that matter) as fiction? Take that incident with the bull when you raided a neighbour’s paddock while picking mushrooms and turn it into an exciting escapade, complete with other characters who may or may not have been a part of the original story. Turning fact into fiction can release those creative juices and you will never know where the story will end up. It will surely be a more interesting read than a dry narrative account of the facts.

You never know: one or more of these stories might end up being the text for a children’s picture book, or included in a magazine or anthology.

Good writing.

I have graduated

After three challenging and difficult years I have finally graduated.

I now have completed my Master of Arts (Creative Writing) degree.

It has been an interesting journey of discovery. I’ve always regretted not having a higher degree to go with my basic teaching qualifications. I had resigned myself to the fact that such a lofty degree was beyond me. I limited my thinking, putting myself down in the process.

On reflection, I probably thought the same about my writing. I’d never be good enough to get published. I’d never make it as a writer. No one would want to read what I wrote.

Through sheer determination – and the encouragement of family and friends – I’ve proved myself wrong on all counts.

  • I have passed my degree – and with a distinction too.
  • I have a large and growing readership of my three blogs.
  • I have been published in recent years in a range of magazines, journals and anthologies.

The best is still to come.

Good writing.

Trevor Hampel, Master of Arts (Creative Writing) April 2011

Is it time to burn your manuscript?

Early last week I travelled from my home in Murray Bridge to Clare in the mid north of South Australia. I drove there to support my daughter who was having trouble coping with a health issue (she’s on the mend, we hope).

As I travelled through the beautiful wine growing region of the Barossa Valley I revelled in the wonderful autumn weather. Almost felt like stopping many times to write a few poems. As I moved away from the valley into the wheat and sheep country to the north the atmosphere changed dramatically. There was smoke everywhere. Every second farm was shrouded in smoke from paddocks being burnt by the farmers. This burning off occurs at this time every year as the landholders prepare their fields for sowing a in a few weeks’ time. The rubbish has to be dealt with first, hence the burn off.

It reminded me of how we must treat our manuscripts. Now, I guess we all have those moments of despair with a story, poem, article or novel when all we want to do is scrunch up the paper and heave it into the fire. The farmer is not burning the good earth into which he plans to sow the seed. The burning is to rid the area of weeds and other rubbish. Our first (and often subsequent drafts) usually contain a great deal of “rubbish” writing – words, sentences and paragraphs that need to be “burned off” to allow the good seed – the best of our writing – to grow, thrive and produce a bumper crop.

The first draft – with all the accompanying rubbish – needs to happen. In later drafts through careful editing and rewriting the beautiful words will grow unhindered by weeds and other rubbish.

Good writing.

Where will your writing end up?

I find it fascinating where my writing ends up.

Let me explain. Most writers, myself included, desire for our words to be read by others. Sure, some people write only for themselves and that’s fine. I would contend though that the majority of writers dream of having an audience for their words, preferably a large one. I like to know from my readers that I have written something that has intrigued, challenged, entertained, inspired or instructed them – not all at the same time , of course, though that would be great.

It always amazes me where my writing ends up being published. Sure, I’ve have had some small publishing successes. My stories, poems and articles have appeared in books, anthologies, magazines, newspapers and I’ve performed some of my poems in public too. One of my plays was featured on a national television programme. Last year one of my poems was set to music and performed at the ANZAC Day ceremonies in Belgium. Cool.

My latest publication success is intriguing. It’s always nice to be invited to submit something and that is what happened earlier this week. A simple little haiku I wrote some years ago has been published on the Ocean Portal site of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Why not head over there and have a look. They are celebrating National Poetry Week by inviting readers to submit their own poems celebrating their love of the ocean.


And if you are interested in reading some of my poetry, click here.

Good writing.

When is the best time for writing?

This question came to my mind a few weeks ago. When is the best time for writing? On reflection, I would guess that I could get as many answers as there are writers reading this post. We are all different, and that means we will all have individual methods of writing, including times where we concentrate on our literary pursuits. There is no right answer, nor will one approach suit everyone.

If you are a professional writer, say a journalist, you will have no choice. Your editors will expect your writing to be done on demand, usually with a non-negotiable deadline.  Even freelance writers will have strict time-lines for submission. Those who write for magazines or who are writing novels may have publishers ringing them asking when the manuscript will appear on their desk.

For the vast majority of writers – from hobbyists through to professionals like novelists – deadlines are usually not as pressing, or may be absent entirely. I’m certainly in this latter group. While I am trying to establish myself as a full-time, professional writer, I am not relying on my writing for financial support. Any income is a bonus. So I have the luxury of writing – or not.

Although I don’t have to produce income generating writing, I try to be as professional as I can in my approach to my writing life. I usually try to get a few hours in every morning, a few more hours in the afternoon and often several more in the evening. Several times a week I will relax and allow myself some television, or reading. I will also take time out to read during the day, especially when I take a break for a cuppa. With all the writing I have done over the last seven years (since retiring from school teaching) I find I can now generally write on demand. Doing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing over the last three years has certainly helped me develop this skill; it’s amazing how motivated one can be when an assignment is due the next day.

I used to say that I don’t do mornings. That attitude came from having a job to go to, where there was no option. Now I have the option to write, or not, I find that it is no longer an issue. I’ve even woken at 5am and have written over a 1000 words before breakfast. This is quite out of character for me, but the stillness of the early morning is very conducive to creative writing. Sometimes the words really flow late at night and I’m tempted to write on into the wee hours. At my age this becoming less and less attractive; I need the sleep!

I guess what I’m trying to say – in a very long winded way – is that we all have to find what works for us. Experiment with different approaches, and different times of the day and see what works best. The time of day doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are writing. Every day.

I’d love to hear what works best for you. Leave you suggestions in the comments, thanks.

Good writing.