Archive for the 'Quotes' Category

Have a great big creative life

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.”

Anne Lamott

Reading this quote yesterday brought me up with something of a jolt. Do the words of Anne Lamott refer to me and my creative life? Have I procrastinated about being a writer far too much? Will I squirm on my death bed with far too many regrets about not having written?

I hope not.

In fact, I know I won’t.

Me – the writer

All of my life – even when I was on a side track teaching for 35 years – I considered myself a writer. In fact, I have independent proof that most of my students regarded me as a writer too because I often shared my stories and poems with them. People in my church regard me as a writer, as do some of my family and many of my friends.

Into retirement

As I neared a certain age I began writing more and now eleven years into retirement I write almost full time. It has been a steep learning curve and an intensive few years. Included in those eleven years was time set aside to complete a Masters degree in creative writing which has helped me tremendously. Also in those 11 years I have written hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories and articles and thousands of blog posts here and on my other sites Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels.

No regrets? Maybe some

So while I will have no regrets about reaching 75 years of age – and I’m getting there far too quickly – there are still some areas of concern. It is true that I have had significant portions of my writing published over the years. On the downside, however, is the vast amount of my writing still left unpublished in any form. It languishes unloved and unread on my hard drive. I wrote about the issues surrounding this on a recent post called My life is a work in progress.

A big juicy creative life

So , while I have written vast numbers of words, and tasted the rewards of limited publication success, I feel that there is so much more to enjoy in this “big juicy creative life”. I press on. I keep writing. I keep submitting. And I keep hoping.

I just do not want to experience a broken heart at the end of my life.

What about my readers? I would love to hear from you, either in the comments via in the contact form.

Good writing.

Trevor

Writing rules and secrets

I have read many books, magazines, blog posts and articles about writing rules and secrets to successful writing. A few years ago I completed my Master of Arts Creative Writing where some of the lecturers gave hints and clues to good writing and “how to” suggestions. All this advice can get a little overwhelming.

Then one comes across classic quotes about writing. I love the one from W. Somerset Maugham:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”

Then there are  numerous lists of “secrets” of success as a writer. I tried doing an internet search on the topic “writing secrets” and the results returned ABOUT 10.4 million references. That is one huge mountain of reading to dig through to find the occasional nugget. It would take a lifetime to read them all. (Actually, about 98 years reading one article every 5 minutes and never sleeping – or doing anything else.)

And when I post this, I imagine that the search engines will record 10,400,001 articles… well, maybe not.

On a brighter note, there is something to be gained from reading a few quotes from well-established, universally successful and respected writers. That is why I continue to read books and articles about writing. The cumulative effect of all that tuition has to help.

Today I came across the following article: 25 Writing Secrets of Famous Authors.

I particularly like the first one which is from Stephen King:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

That is very encouraging, because I have done a great deal of both reading and writing over the years.

Good reading – and Good Writing.

Trevor

Rules of writing

Books about writing

Over the years I have read a growing number of books and articles about writing. I still have quite a pile to finish; some I haven’t even started. Funny thing is that the pile never seems to diminish. When I was doing my Master of Arts (creative writing) degree I devoured many quite wonderful books about writing. Here and there I picked up little gems of wisdom from great practitioners of the craft.

The key to success

Over the last decade I have also trolled the internet for that magic bullet, a priceless pearl of wisdom, or the key to open the door to success as a writer. I am still looking. I am slowly coming to realise that I should have looked in the dictionary first. Work – hard work – is the only real key to success.

That is not to play down the importance of reading about the craft of writing in books and on the internet. Much can be learned from these sources. Every now and then I come across a sentence, or a paragraph and even a whole chapter or article which makes an immediate impact. Putting that wisdom into practice is the hard part.

Lists, lists and more lists

One thing I have noticed about internet and blog articles in particular is the love of lists. It seems like hundreds, maybe even thousands, of writers are making lists. 10 ways to be a better writer. 7 sure ways of getting published. 9 methods of securing an agent. The ‘list’ could go on and on.

No; I am not going to write a list. (Confession: I have been known to – see here.)

Instead, I am going to reflect on a list I read a few days ago. The article is called Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing. I will comment on just a couple of them.

Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

I understand what the she is trying to say. Sometimes a group of fellow writers can muddy the water, and they will make suggestions which are not only not helpful, but are downright harmful. An example occurred with one of degree supervisors; she didn’t understand the climate of the country where my novel was set. Generally however, I find that belonging to a writers’ group can be very beneficial. Many of my reasons are included in articles here and here and here and here.

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Guilty as charged.

I spend – often it is waste – too much time checking and reading my email, Facebook updates and Twitter feeds. I guess I should regard that wasted time as lost income from writing.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Dealing with this one is far more difficult for me. While my wife encourages me by giving me the time and space to write, most other people regard me as retired. Sure, 10 years ago I retired from classroom teaching. Now I try to be a full time writer. That has been very difficult over the last few years when my wife was caring full time for her mother and left me to deal with the housework. We were also without a pastor at church, so I was spending 10 – 15 hours or more running the church. Both of those situations have now changed, so I am without excuse.

Further reading:

The photo below has nothing to do with this article. I just think it’s a lovely flower.

Grevillea flower

Grevillea flower

 

 

 

The benefits of writing short stories

This morning a friend posted on Facebook a quote from another writer, inviting comments in response. The quote went:

Writing 20 short stories of 5,000 words each will teach you more about writing fiction than writing a 100,000 word novel. And they’ll make more money for you too.

The quote is from an article “Writing short stories: 3 tips for creating characters readers love

I certainly agree with this statement.

Instead of one set of characters and one setting in a novel, you will have multiple settings, you can experiment with different voices and points of view, and include various types of characters in 20 or so stories (unless the stories are in a series written about one character).

Dealing with a diverse range of characters, settings and so on would certainly hone one’s writing skills. For beginner or emerging writers this would be particularly helpful. And to those writers my advice would be “Just write” – anything and everything. The more you practice any skill, the better you should become. Of course, mentoring and getting advice from experienced writers helps too; that’s why I did a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) a few years ago. I would also encourage the devouring of as many books and articles about writing as time allows.

Ray Bradbury (Science fiction writer) once told an aspiring writer to go away and write a million words – then come back and he’d mentor him. Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers“) says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop expertise in any field of endeavour.

I never had much published until I had passed both of those marks. Once a writer has achieved those benchmarks, THEN it is time to tackle that 100,000 word novel – if that is what you want to do. By then you will know how to write, how to develop a character, how to plot and have a fairly good grasp of what it takes to be a writer. As an aside, I spent 35 years in elementary classroom teaching; it was only in the last few years that I caught myself saying that “now I know what this teaching thing is all about.”

By the way – later this year I should pass the 3 million word mark and next year the 20,000 hour mark. Despite this I have so much more yet to write about, and the more I write, the more I discover and imagine to write about.

I’ve only covered on small quote from the article my friend found. It has far more to say, especially about turning those short stories into e-books to make more money than a novel might ever produce.

Thanks to Jade for the inspiration to write this post.

Good writing.

Writing is like breathing

“Writing is like breathing.”

Julia Cameron in her book The right to write.

Breathing is essential to life. That’s  given – try existing without breathing and you’ll see what I mean.

Likewise, I agree with Julia Cameron. I am at my most alive when I am writing, carving words and ideas out of the air, my imagination shaping them into sentences, stories, poems and articles. Many times the writing becomes so automatic, so involuntary that, like breathing, I am unaware of the processes at work: I just write.

When this happens I find it exhilarating. The words flow, the ideas come galloping into scene after scene and before too long I discover I’ve written 1500 or even as much as 3000 words in a day (though a figure that high is rare).  I’ve even had occasions when the characters take over, demanding things happen their way – forget that there is an author at work. They almost demand to be heard. I find this fascinating. It’s almost like the oxygen I’m breathing in has given my characters life. (There is a spiritual analogy embedded in that last sentence, but I won’t go there.)

This all sounds very exciting, but the reality is that I also have days when I am drowning. One of the hallmarks of drowning is a lack of air. When the ideas don’t come- or won’t come, when searching for the right words – or sometimes, any words – is like gasping for air, the sense of drowning is very real. Like a drowning man, the panic soon sets in and flailing of arms is replaced with frantic grasping at anything. The swimmer quickly sinks into despair, the shore beyond reach. The writer wonders if the story, poem or novel will ever be written.

How to prevent drowning: learn to swim. No guarantee, but it minimises the risks.

How to prevent writer’s panic: learn to write, and keep on writing. The more I write, the easier it becomes. The more I write, the more the ideas and words flow. It is never easy and it is hard work. Swimming isn’t easy either; one has to work hard at it – and learn to keep swimming if you don’t want to sink.

Keep writing.

And it might also help to keep breathing too.