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There are a handful of blogs I have been reading, when I can, for a few years now. They are written by people who I knew were going to be amazing writers. Not that they weren’t already writing really well, but the writing was technically fine, mostly factual, holding the writer’s voice yet somehow separate from the person. It was sort of like observation from a near distance. But, I could tell that these people had stories and the personalities to tell them so I knew the wording would come over time. Of course, I am not any great holder of knowledge or writing ability or in any way in a position to judge, but this was just my own feeling. The words did come. And they did begin to make beautiful formations and express the most amazing stories. They are the type of stories that you feel lucky to be reading. You feel lucky that you saw the writers getting ready to write great things…and then write them. And then that writing has led to more self-reflection and further writing ad infinitum. It’s like being a teacher when a student hits their own goal, only I had no more experience than these particular writers at the time I first came across their writing. But while I can still enjoy losing myself in that writing, I wonder what will become of my own. I’ve been on a bit of a break.
Creative non-fiction. Is that my genre? Who knows, but I am not talking about the small bits of writing for work I have been doing since I have become a Mum. I am talking about this, this not fiction creativity that I used to like, well, need to indulge in. My mind continues to indulge in it because a brain like mine is doomed to indulge. Any person labelled as ‘creative’ knows this. The thoughts and ideas do not stop coming just because you can’t write them down.
But can the ability to form the lovely sentence disappear from disuse? Because it feels like it. It feels like there is a slow leak somewhere in my brain where the ability juice is sneaking out. I almost don’t even notice because I don’t have time to stop and indulge in thoughts of what I’d also like to be doing these days besides raising my cheeky son. But then I catch a lucky evening when he’s fallen asleep in good time and I have enough energy left to read something. Wow. This is what I miss, I think to myself. I know how the writer felt when they were writing this. Not the feeling in the story, but the feeling of the story whooshing through the body and out the fingers.
Sharp black letters.
I want to get there again. I want to find a way to tap into my adult language use that I’d built up of all those ridiculous academic years. No, not ridiculous. I loved those academic years! But where has that mind gone? How can I get my mind back? More specifically, how can I get my writer’s mind to open up the doors and let everything flow out into the orderly channels that make sense to others?
Be assured that sheep in New Zealand are free ranging.
In our daily activities and rhythms we often forget that where we are is a foreign place to others. It looks and smells different and there are very different things that punctuate our day. After dropping my son off at day care, I wanted to go out for a run before settling down to work for the day and so pointed the car in the direction of a place I knew I could don my headphones and listen to some travel podcasts and forget that my legs were annoyed with me for making them move at this hour.
I’d slowed my car to a halt and was waiting to get through when it suddenly struck me that my windscreen framed what some might call “a New Zealand scene”. I was in Corwall Park at the base of One Tree Hill, one of Auckland’s 50 odd volcanic cones. It was fully my intention to run around the cone if only I could get to the car park and set off. But I was stuck, waiting for three sheep to decide which way they wanted to go. One was halfway up a hill and already tucking in to a fresh patch of grass doused in morning dew. I’m thinking this is like a power breakfast for sheep, greens and hydration in one. I had a lot of time to think. Another of the sheep was just looking at me and chewing , like they do. “What are you doing here?”, he seemed to be thinking. The last one was contemplating the cattle stop but finally decided that what lay beyond the stone gate was not something worth treading over narrow metal strips for, at least not today. When they finally inched over a bit I slowly rolled forward enough that they got the idea a flitted up the hillside.
Much of a travel writer’s job is to take up the challenge of describing a place without the dreaded “commodification”. Like salt has pepper, Japan has geishas, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, England has Beefeaters (I never understood that one), and California has the flashy cheesiness of Rodeo Drive (never understood that either). Places get stuck with images, often not actually very representative, and then they are copied and pasted ad infinitum. This is how we package things up to sell the story and sell the place. Perhaps some people actually still want this kind of writing. Perhaps they want to have critical mass of a particular image in their mind so they can tick it off on their list when they arrive at the destination, you know, for reassurance that all is as we believe it to be in the world. Indeed, I’ve had clients request this kind of writing. If that’s what they need, who am I to refuse? But I can say that it is difficult to spin that story in a new direction for the ten millionth time and it still be interesting. Very difficult.
As much as I hate reading the same bloody exclamations of “There are more sheep than people in New Zealand” and “They even have sheep in the middle of the cities” over and over, I have to admit that, in this case, it is absolutely true. There ARE sheep in the middle of Auckland. I’m sitting in my car, the rainy mist is hanging low, the stone walls are grey and the grass is green and covered in sheep. This doesn’t happen in London or Beijing. There may be some people who might want to know. Sheep in cities is sort of interesting… I guess. I suppose I should write about this. Oh, I just did.
I’ve been flirting with running off and on for a couple of years and every time my pre-programming, the one that started when I was growing up and it was uncool to be sporty, talks me back into the idea that running’s just not my thing. In my mind I am a runner. I am completely in love with the idea. My body just doesn’t let me follow through on that vision.
But recently I’ve been getting messages, well examples, of people who are like me and have moved past the programming. First it was my friend from high school. We used to be in the “alternative group” at school which meant that we were not jocks or cheerleaders or in any way associated with exercise or bodily self-improvement. We made art. We weren’t so shallow as to worry about outward appearance (Yeah, right.). Gym class was uncool and, quite frankly, a nightmare. When I found out that my friend had been running it was almost like everything I’d ever known had changed. Some things you just assume will always be the same, right? Right. But I think this kind of shocker starts to set in once your friends all start to reach a certain age (not you, of course, just your friends). You start to realise that you can’t drink 6 pints of beer and then dance it off in some sticky-floored club as long as the evening is punctuated by a dodgy kebab at 3am. If you’d told me this in my 20s I would have walked away from you, you mad person, you. And, it seems, my high-school friend thought the same. She asks, poetically, if “a bear is chasing” her. Why else would anyone run? Why else indeed. And since there are no bears in Auckland, save for a couple in the zoo, problem solved. Stay away from the zoo and there is no need to exert oneself.
Oh, but wait. Yet another of the diehard, formerly leisurely people has fallen. Sally over at Unbrave Girl goes and does a freaking run on the Great Wall of China. “Show off”, I say, “She was probably one of those track meet geeks at school”. Well, slap my face and call me a throbbing shin splint…she wasn’t. She informed me in a Facebook “conversation” that she was never into it at all. She’d hit that point in life that my friend had and just felt the call. I mentioned my flirtation with the idea of running and that I had even downloaded a Sofa-5k running programme, you know, just because I like charts, and she said, “Yes, do it! I know someone who’s done that and it was successful.”. Dammit.
About the writing thing…although I’d been writing for years, I’d never planned to actually show any of it to anyone until one person mentioned to me that I could maybe get some of it out there. Hmmm, I said. I don’t know about that.
“But I’m not a writer so how could I do that?”
“You just hit send”
I had to tell myself to stop messing about and recognise who I wanted to be, who I was. So, I called myself a writer and just kept writing. And people actually wanted to read some of it. And they still do, it seems. Weird. Problem solved!
So, now I’ve applied the same logic. No second guessing. No wishy washy “well maybe I’ll try it for a bit”. I’m a runner. I’ve bought the running tights.
Come on, people.
P.S. I’m two weeks in and I have been out in all manner of crappy Auckland winter weather save one day that was a cyclone. I know. I won’t let it happen again.
I’ve been off my game. Writing, but not really writing, if you know what I mean. Working but not achieving. Running in place. And the things that have distracted me are creative and beautiful. For example, when looking for a photo of the Queenstown gondola for work, my eyes get distracted by a photo of a local tree taken from a new angle. This, of course leads me over to the person’s photo stream where I’ll see a cup of tea…and then need to make tea. But, oh, I can not just make tea! I have about a dozen sorts so I need the right tea for the mood. And, of course I need the right cup and pot. I’ll need to find the right sized strainer for that teapot, you know. I can enjoy the brewing process for the full 3-5 minutes before sitting back down with my tea in front of the screen.
But the idea of tea with work makes me sad. Tea is for breaks, so I can’t work yet. I make deals with myself. If I have my tea and a real break, I’ll surely feel refreshed and be able to get back into production. So, it’s OK to just enjoy the moment and then it’s back to work! Flickr surfing, cooking things to write about, staring out the window and wishing it would stop bloody raining. Winter is depressing in New Zealand, I find…until the sun comes out again, then it’s great. I mean, who else gets to sit out in the warm sunshine in the middle of winter (for 10 minutes, anyway)? I am deep in distraction.
Halfway through the cup, what do I discover on the interuniverse but Tumblr. I’ve never looked at it because I’d assumed it was just another blogging platform. That was until I noticed that one of my photos had been used on there without permission. While that situation was rectified (I asked her to take it down and she did) another came up. Hmmmm, Tumblrrrrrrr. Tumblr is basically procrastination crack for creatives. It’s something akin to Stumbleupon in that one thing leads to another, but you get to build it yourself with all the lovely things you come across and make it beautiful. Grrrrrrrrr. Keep this away from me! Before my last sip of tea, I have built a page like only an addict could do. And I love it, but I will not be passing on the link. Not because I am secretive or hiding my addiction, but because doing that means I would become involved in another network and networks feed the procrasti-monster. No more networks. Except the one I am building, of course.
Here’s the funny thing. Since then, my productivity and focus has improved tremendously. What does it all mean? Isn’t it obvious? It means I need some sort of creative outlet. Or maybe it just means the sun is out today, but I’m quite sure that I can’t go long without creating something or I lose it. ‘It’ is my focus, my drive and my joie de vivre. So, here’s the plan. From now on, I will take more tea breaks.
It is Auckland Day. Each city in New Zealand has its own day and nobody has to go to work. I love that. I’ve been so busy with work (Hooray for work!) and having parents-in-law to visit from England that I haven’t had time to write on my blogs or read other people’s. Rest assured I’ll be back!
Hello December! How is it that December is the quickest month to arrive? I’m already getting my pre-New Year jitters, this weird feeling I have that I was supposed to do something just as the countdown begins on New Year’s Eve. Or, perhaps there was something else I was meant to accomplish. There’s always that! I have been busy though.
Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo which is a month long attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. Well, I knew I couldn’t have a 50,000 word goal in mind while I’m simultaneously writing a textbook and doing my other work on top, but I wanted to see what I could do. My goals were as such:
A) Try writing fiction for the first time
B) Try writing freely, without editing as an experiment to see if it can light a spark in creativity
C) See how far I can go
What I’ve learnt :
A) Yes, I can write fiction (although I won’t know how good it is until somebody reads it, obviously) and I quite enjoy it.
B) Yes, it’s true that more writing breeds more writing!
C) I have realised that I am not a very good free-writer although I have cut down on my urge to constantly edit quite a bit. I didn’t get very far wordcount-wise, but something exciting has happened.
I am keen to write a book. Yes, write a book! I have plotted out chapters and scenes and characters and everything. And, now that I’m into this idea, I want to spend time doing it the best I can which means timetabling book-writing within my normal work day. I guess I’m just not a one-month girl.
So, I’m writing a book…and, possibly another book only this other one is going to be non-fiction. For some reason my muse is making me split my loyalties between fiction and non-fiction. Both projects are about travel (obviously!) and both are from a woman’s perspective since I’m subscribing to the addage ‘Write what you know’. It’ll be a race to see which one reaches the completion line first. My bets are on the non-fiction, but time will tell.
Apart from my mother, Koangirl, and one or two others who aren’t ‘out’ yet about their books I don’t think I know anyone else writing a book at the moment. If you are out there and writing please get in touch and let me know how it is going because I’d love to hear from other people doing this.
Have a wonderful holiday season!
Finally, finally it is spring here in Auckland. Windows have been flung open, jandals have been dusted off, ice is being frozen into small squares in the freezer for my green tea. As I type there is even a haka going on somewhere outside that is being carried on the breeze into my office window. I wonder what is going on? After what has felt like a long, slow winter, this past week has flown by. It was Labour Day weekend and my husband took an extra day off so we’ve been hanging out and doing some small bits of tramping here and there and generally enjoying the sunshine and the trees for four days. So, with only Wednesday- Friday to achieve anything I’m chasing my tail like a confused puppy trying to make some leeway on a couple of projects.
One fun thing that has happened, however, is that Liz from A Girl in Asia has interviewed me on her lovely blog. I was honoured to be asked and, although it’s a bit scary to talk about myself, I really enjoyed the experience. Liz has been living in Cambodia and Vietnam for a few years now and has just had her second baby in South East Asia. She lives in Saigon where my husband and I used to live so I love seeing the changes in that quickly growing city from her photos and reviews.
After a friend persuaded me to join in on the Nanowrimo fun I, in turn, have cajoled Mary-Anne at A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai to join as well as my own mother. Apart from my mother, I don’t believe any of us has written fiction before so this will be interesting. My goal is just to see how far I can get and not to let it interfere with my work. My hope is that I can do a few pages each morning before work and it will get the writing juices flowing. Anyone else care to join? If you do, please look for me under the name “Marie in NZ”.
I’ve also been back in the nightmare that is HTMhelL while trying to make and load a new banner for my food blog. You can see the link badge, which is a mini version I’ve put over here somewhere>>>>>>>>>>
I think it’s going to look great if I ever figure it out. If anyone knows how to adjust the size on a “custom” header, I’m all ears. I can’t find the dimensions in the coding anywhere, grrrrrr.
Other than that I’ve been getting into power walking to burn off those winter stores, continuing to write at Nileguide and Pocketcultures, reflecting on time in Thailand and Japan and thinking (as per usual) about chocolate. What’s everyone else up to?
Sorry for the silence. I’ve had a run of work (which is good!) and now I’m chilling out for a bit out in New Zealand. Well, you know I live here, but I mean that I’m out of the city for a short while to get some fresh air. See you soon and hooray for freelancing!
being a writer.
Sometimes it means that I’m not here even though I’m here. I’m at my computer, but some (graciously accepted) project is taking me away from my blog or other writing. Sometimes, I have to do the money-writing when I’d rather be doing the more exciting and beautiful creative writing. Sometimes I have to look at the sunny day out the window instead of going out and sitting in it. Sometimes I have to tell my friends to have a good time, rather than join them for an afternoon coffee and cake session. But that’s par for the course and I accept it. I love being a writer.
It’s time to say goodbye to July and hello to August. To me this means that we are on our way to spring. I know I’m a little bit early but I am crossing my fingers, closing my eyes tightly, holding my breath, and wishing for more sunny days to come our way. With so much cold wind and rain, even the smallest spot of sunshine can lift spirits during Auckland’s winter. When the sun comes out, everyone comes out of hibernation and the beaches become full with walkers and the parks enjoy impromptu rugby matches or even barbecues. It’s cold, but we don’t care because it’s all about the sunshine. And in honour of this happy mood I want to give a couple of shoutouts.
Our friends Tina and Matt have finally taken off back to Tina’s home country of Norway to live for a while. The good thing is that they are doing a few months of travelling through South East Asia on the way so my husband and I will be following them on thier blog to see how they are enjoying the places we love so much.
Some other blogs I follow have been putting up interesting news. Liz at A Girl in Asia is having her second baby and, judging from the silence on her blog something exciting could be underway in Bangkok as we speak. Niamh of Irish Wanderings has started up a great new blog called Inspiring Sports Women. Julie at Cuaderno Inedito has returned from a trip to Cuba and is getting ready for a big revamp of her blogs. I can’t wait to see what it’s all going to look like. Over at Bearshapedsphere Eileen is talking about my favourite subject, food, complete with a vocabulario lesson. Two colleagues from Pocketcultures, Bec and Arwa, have joined us over at Nile Guide (where I’ve been writing about Auckland. Have I told you?), which is very fun. And my high school friend, Shiela at Design Sparxs, has actually jumped out of a plane! I won’t be topping that.
I’ve also met a few new people this months who have very nice blogs indeed. Please check out:
Breathe Dream Go
Discover. Share. Inspire.
The other exciting thing is that the team at Pocketcultures is gearing up to write a book. Oh yes we are! It’s going to be about children’s games around the world and we’d really like your help with some preliminary research. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in a book of this nature we’d love it if you had a couple of minutes to do a short survey on the subject. We really want our book to be something that fills a need and would be interesting and engaging to people. So, lend us a hand! Many, many thanks in advance:-)
The Pocketcultures survey will be open until the 14th of August.
Here’s to a productive and fulfilling August!
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