Archive for the 'The Writer’s Life' Category

Doing the Writer’s Happy Dance

Last week I had an occasion to indulge in the Writer’s Happy Dance.

Well – I didn’t actually do a proper dance – more of a geriatric gyration. With lots of clicks and groans in my ancient bones.

The reason for this joyous occasion was a notification that one of my stories has been accepted for publication in an anthology. It also means that I am in the running to win a prize in a writing competition. The competition was jointly run by Radio 1079 Life (Life FM) and Tabor College. Tabor was where I did my Masters Degree in Creative Writing; I can highly recommend their creative writing programme which can be studied externally.

The competition is called “Stories of Life” and are based on true-life experiences and must contain some element of one’s Christian faith. I initially found it challenging to come up with a viable story concept, but once I started, the words flowed easily. I must admit that I put myself under a little pressure, leaving my submission to the very last day and posting it the website at 11:35 pm, just 25 minutes before the closing time of midnight. I always say that I shouldn’t put myself under so much stress, but it happens far too often.

The story I wrote was based on one of my experiences while travelling in Nepal about ten years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday in Nepal and vividly remember many of my amazing experiences. You can read some my experiences here.

Competitions

Submitting stories and poems to competitions is an excellent way of improving your writing skills. I must admit that I don’t do this nearly often enough. By pitting one’s writing against other writers, you get to hone your writing, editing and proofreading skills. Some competitions even give feedback from the judges. This helps you to further improve your writing until you regularly get listed in the short list or get a commendation from the judges. Winning some prize money is wonderful, of course, but this should never be the prime reason for entering. A prize is a lovely bonus. Constantly improving your writing should be your main aim.

When writing for a competition follow these simple hints:

  • Write the very best story you can.
  • Rewrite, edit and proofread the story until it sparkles. Or grabs the readers’ throats.
  • Read – and reread – the rules set out by the organisers.
  • Stay within the word limits, not too short and never over the maximum word count.
  • Read your story out aloud, or get someone else to read it – this will help you to find typos and errors in grammar.
  • Submit before the due date.

Poetry

The same rules apply to poetry, except that the organisers usually stipulate the maximum length and sometimes the theme. A few years ago I was delighted to actually win a national poetry competition. I not only did the Writer’s Happy Dance, I think I also gave a yell of delight. The prize money was a wonderful bonus, too. I can now put “Award-winning poet” on my resume – how cool is that? You can read some of my poetry here.

A personal goal

As I said above, I don’t enter nearly enough competitions. I have hundreds of suitable poems and dozens of good stories ready to go. It is one of those things I always intend to do, but I need to enter far more regularly. I do have this as one of the goals for this year, but I am a long way off reaching my goal.

Good writing. 

Trevor

Some ways to improve your blogging

Blogging and writing

I am always on the lookout for interesting articles about improving my writing and blogging. I am sure that I am not alone in this; we all want to improve our writing and develop more readers.

In the last few weeks, I have managed to get back to more regular writing, including blogging here on this site and also several other sites which I manage or write for. I plan to write more posts more often in the coming months. I hope.

Over the last few months, however, I have been a sporadic publisher of new articles here on this blog. I have also been unable to add much to my other sites as well (Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels). Sometimes life just gets in the way. I could give you a long list of reasons why this has happened, including illness, family responsibilities, involvement in various speaking engagements and so on. I won’t bore you with the details. Life happens. And sometimes, writing doesn’t.

Increase in Readership

One of the best ways to increase the readership of your blog is to persist at your writing. If you are regularly adding new material to your blog, no matter what the topic or niche in which you write, your writing will attract more readers, Don’t be like me and only post every now and then! Like once every couple of months. By posting on a regular basis, you are more likely to develop not only new readers, but also loyal visitors to your site.

Regular posting of new material

Some bloggers are able to post a new piece of writing every day, and some are even able to post several times a day. I find that far too demanding, and most writers I know would be the same. Most of us simply do not have the time, nor do we have the material to write about. It is far better to set a realistic goal and persist at posting every three days, or once a week if that is all you can achieve.

Persistence

I mentioned above the importance of persistence. Success in blogging, it seems, is usually only achieved through long-term, consistent and persistent attention to the basics. One article I read recently was the transcript of a talk given by Darren Rowse of Problogger. You can read the transcript or listen to the 40-minute podcast here: 6 ordinary things can lead to extraordinary results with your blog. At the risk of stating spoilers here, his final point is persistence. Keep at it and you will be more successful than the vast majority of bloggers.

Further reading:

Over my nearly 12 years of writing blog posts here and on my other sites, I have written a number of articles about blogging. Here is a very small selection – or you can use the search facility at the top of each page:

Good writing. Good blogging.

Trevor

On hearing about Stephen King’s 70th Birthday

Just a few thoughts today about Stephen King, Writing, Reading and Life.

It happens to be the great writer’s 70th birthday. I, too, will also be 70 in a few weeks’ time, but the comparison ends there.

I just wrote that he is a ‘great’ writer. Many people would undoubtedly agree with that statement, but I don’t agree – or disagree – with that assessment. I can only go on what other people have said and written. This is because I have only ever heard or read about his written works. I cannot recall ever having read any of his stories, so I really cannot pass any kind of judgement.

Not a fan

I should also say that I am not about to race out and buy any of his books.

There are two reasons for this:

  • I don’t particularly enjoy reading the kinds of books that he writes, so I am not a fan.
  • I have far too many unread books on my bookshelves and on my eReader to justify buying any more. At this stage.

I am sure that he is a fine writer. His popularity and his impressive number of major awards testify to this fact. He has the track record to show that he is a highly regarded writer by many people. I have no problem with that. But now I must come clean with a confession: I have actually bought one of his books and it has sat unopened, unread and unloved on my bookshelf for more than 4 years now. I speak of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftI bought it with the view of studying the writing craft as seen by one of the greats.

And so I will. Soon, I hope.

Great Stephen King Quotes

Today I came across a list of 70 great Stephen King Quotes on his 70th Birthday. This is a great list of wonderful quotes about reading, writing, life and a whole range of topics. While I don’t particularly like some of them, many of them are great, and some of them are very well known, like this one:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”—On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I agree wholeheartedly. These two things I have been trying to do over the last 13 years since I retired from being a classroom teacher. All through my life, I have been an avid reader, but much of that reading was classroom based. I would voraciously read children’s books, always searching for the next great book to share with my students. For eight of my 35 years of teaching I was a teacher-librarian, so books have always been foremost in my professional life.

Me – the writer

All through my teaching career, I struggled to find the time to write. While I always regarded myself as a writer, my writing was largely confined to weekends and school holiday periods. Since retiring, however, I have given myself permission to write every day, and during some periods have considered myself to be a full-time writer. Life has a habit of getting in the way, and there have also been lean writing times – like the last few months caring for my ill wife. (She is improving – thanks for being concerned.) During these years of my second career, I have had some publication success, and I have written nearly three million words, many of them published on my various blog sites. ( Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels.)

Me – the reader

Now that I have the time, and the freedom, to read whatever I want to, I am finding so many great writers and books to explore. My family is convinced that I will die with a very high pile of unread books alongside my bed. This is probably true – and they will find many unread books on my eReader as well. Still, I love the freedom of reading whatever I want to read, and exploring the works of authors and genres I didn’t have time to read in earlier years.

So – Happy Birthday Stephen King.

Good reading and good writing to you all.

Trevor

On this day my life changed forever

Ama Dablam, Nepal

Ama Dablam, Everest region, Nepal

March 26th, 2004

On this day thirteen years ago my life changed forever.

That sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true. For the previous 35 years – in another life – I had been a primary (elementary) school teacher. Eight of those years I enjoyed being a teacher librarian; I loved buying books and using the school’s money and not mine. I loved the relationship I had with the students in my classes over the years. I still keep contact with many of them, either on Facebook or in the town where I live. It’s great to see them developing as adults and to see their own children growing up.

What happened to change my life?

On that momentous day in March 2004, I clearly remember hearing a voice inside my head saying, ‘You’ve left your classroom for the last time.’ Now, I must clarify that I am a Christian and believe that God ‘speaks’ to us in many ways, but my experience of His audible voice has been very infrequent. I can really only recall one other occasion. During the first few months of 2004, I had been seriously struggling with illness. Teaching became an almost impossible struggle. On this day, March 26th, I had endured a meeting arranged for me with a counsellor. It was not easy acknowledging that I needed some serious help.

More struggles

The voice was right. That was my last day of teaching in a primary school. I was granted some sick-leave by my doctor – I had plenty in reserve – and took several months off while I recovered. The process was long and emotional; I won’t bore you with the details. I didn’t want to give up a calling to teach, something I loved doing but a task which had become so hard in the face of my illness.

Release

As my health improved, I was able to consult my financial planner. She looked at my situation with great compassion and understanding, just as my doctor and counsellor had done. She asked whether I would rather teach for a few more years to build up my superannuation, or cut loose and get better. ‘Do you want the extra money, or do you want your health?’

It was a no-brainer, really. especially when she told me that to teach for several more years as I had planned would only increase my super payout by a few dollars per week – $15 was the figure, I think.

I resigned forthwith.

And that’s when my life changed forever.

Life after teaching

For many months I struggled with coming to terms with my sudden retirement. It took me a long time to adjust to not fronting up at school every morning. It took me a while to get over my illness. One thing is certain: during the winter months that year, when the rain was pouring down outside, and the wind was howling around our home, and I was reading a good book in front of our fire, I did NOT miss venturing out to supervise the children during after-school bus duty. I didn’t miss it at all.

Alhambra Castle, Granada, Spain

Alhambra Castle, Granada, Spain

Travel adventures

Over the subsequent years, I have experienced many wonderful times. Some of this has related to travel. I have been free to enjoy the delights of Thailand, Nepal (see the photo above of Ama Dablam, just a few miles from Everest), enigmatic Ethiopia, mesmerising Morocco and scintillating Spain. My wife and I have also travelled extensively in Australia in that time. We are planning more travel in the coming years. I have written about many of my adventures on my travel site called Trevor’s Travels.

Writing

After I had recovered sufficiently from my ill-health, I set about establishing my second career as a writer. I had always been a writer, but my writing was confined to weekends and school holiday periods. In the 1990s I actually published six books; two teacher curriculum books with four accompanying student workbooks, all of them sadly now out of print.

On my son’s encouragement, I started writing three blogs, this one you are now reading, plus Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels. I would love it if you visited them and left some comments. Both sites feature hundreds of photos of Australian birds and scenery shots of places we have visited. In total, with these three sites and two other sites I write for, I have published nearly 5000 articles since retiring. I feel tired just typing that!

During my retirement, I have also written several – as yet unpublished – novels and picture book texts, along with dozens of articles, short stories and poems. (Click on the sidebar to read some of my poems and stories.) Nearly 100 of these stories and poems have been published in a range of newspapers, journals and magazines.

Masters Degree

Not content with just writing all of these blog posts, novels, stories and poems, a few years ago I also completed my degree. I now have a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. You can read about that process here. This has led to some lecturing and speaking at conferences. What I learned during this course has equipped me to tackle some earlier novels I wrote back in the 1990s. I am now in the process of rewriting them. Stayed tuned; I hope to publish these very soon.

What’s missing?

On occasions, people ask me if I ever miss teaching. It’s a very valid question, especially in the light of a lifetime – 35 years – in the classroom. The short answer is ‘no’. I do not miss the long hours of preparation, marking and professional reading required. I do not miss the unending staff meetings and the politics of the staff-room. I do not miss the parents who make life hard for teachers to do their job; thankfully I experienced very few of them.

I do miss the children. I do miss seeing children develop their skills, especially children like Jennifer. She astounded me with the progress she made under my care and guidance.

I do miss building relationships with children and seeing them go on successfully in life. I actually keep a list of successful former students, following their careers.

And above all, I miss the fact that they all used to laugh at my ‘dad jokes’. Now my longsuffering wife is generally my only audience, though my 8-year-old grandson thinks I am hilarious.

What next?

It’s time to roll out a list of what I hope to do in the coming years:

  • Many more blog posts here on this site, and the other sites I mentioned above.
  • Continue on a wide-ranging reading programme, something all writers should do.
  • Rewrite and publish as eBooks my novels, collections of stories and poems.
  • Publish as eBooks several non-fiction books as spin-offs from my blogs.
  • Write more novels; I have ideas for at least six more. Coming up with ideas is easy; writing the books is hard.
  • Continue to travel here in Australia as health and finances allow.

Mmm… looks like I have a busy time ahead.

Good reading,

Good writing.

Trevor

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Crested Pigeon

Crested Pigeon

Life’s little blessings and a mulberry tree

In my saner moments, I really appreciate life’s little blessings. And a mulberry tree.

Let me explain.

Life can be tough at times and, like many people, I’ve had a few tough moments. Still, when I compare my life to that of many others, I’ve got it really easy. Sure, I may have a few serious health issues – like diabetes, for example, a condition which is a beast to manage and keep on top of. I have also had a few aches and pains in recent years, and arthritis is becoming my daily burden. Still, this goes with the territory of advancing years. I try not to regret the passing of time; reaching my age is a privilege denied many. Sadly, too many people die well before my age, and I am still going strong. For now.

We live in a peaceful country with a relatively stable government (with all its faults). When I see the television news and watch what is happening in other countries, I realise what a blessing it is to live in Australia. When I go travelling like I did recently to visit my son and family in Sydney, I experience what a blessing it is to live in this beautiful country of ours. Just being able to travel freely, unhindered, without any hassles is a great blessing. The wonderful scenery is an added bonus.

Then when I spend a few weeks living with my grandchildren, I once again realise the blessings that come from the little things in life. Like when my five-year-old grand-daughter leans over and hugs me, telling me that she loves me. Or when my eight-year-old grandson meets me at the bus-stop with a huge grin and begins relating the events of his day at school. These are precious moments and truly a great blessing.

“But what about the mulberry tree?” I hear you ask.

Good question.

My son is not a gardener. Despite that, he and his family have a magnificent old mulberry tree in their back yard. Right next to the kids’ trampoline. At the moment it is loaded with fruit. Delicious fruit. Yummy, good for your tummy fruit. Sweet, dribble down your chin kind of fruit. And while I have spent many happy hours watching the children do all kinds of  gymnastic tricks on the trampoline, I have been drawn magnetically towards the tree for a morning or afternoon snack. Another of life’s little blessings.

And it’s no use denying having eaten the fruit. The evidence is quite plain to see on my fingers. Talk about being literally caught red-handed. Memories of my childhood have come flooding back too. I remember climbing up my uncle’s huge mulberry tree to eat, and to collect the fruit. My cousins and I would come down from the tree, fingers, hands and arms stained and clothes in need of a good soaking. What blessings there are in such memories.

Good writing,

Trevor

PS: for the health and nutritional benefits of mulberries click here.