My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?

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I’ve trod the rocky road towards the beacon of Living the Writing Life since childhood. At first it was easy, then work, family, and the basic job of surviving every day, got in the way. In the end, you have to trust yourself, and kill that critic in your mind. You know, the one that keeps whispering in your ear that no-one will want to read what you write, and ‘who are you kidding?’ Then I discovered I wasn’t the only one, and that wonderful writers like Natalie Goldberg , Kate Grenville, Patti Miller hold out helping hands. Slowly, I gained confidence, and the voice became fainter, only to revive on those bleak days when nothing seems possible. Here is some of the best advice that’s helped me become the writer I am.

Courtesy Harleysville Books Inc

First: Join a Writers’ Group. Better still, if you can’t find the right one, convene  your own. Which is exactly what I did, forming the Randwick Writers’ Group five years ago,and it’s still going strong. It helped me to complete one novel, and gave me the courage to start another.To find out more about my group, see the page ‘Randwick Writers Group convened by Dina Davis’ on the Facebook Pages. Watch this space for some exciting news about RWG!

Continue reading “My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?”

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Are you a Morning Lark or a Night Owl?

 

Tell me, do you sparkle in the morning?  In other words, are you a morning person, otherwise known as a Lark?

Or are you like me, an Owl, or ‘afternoon/night person? If so, please join me in the campaign for equality with those oh-so-smug morning people, who roll their eyes when you ask not to be disturbed before 9am. Don’t you just hate it, when friends say, with an air of virtue: ‘I’ve been up since 5.30am, it’s the only way to get things done’. Well, I vehemently disagree. I’m usually up till midnight, finishing a chapter (whether one I’m writing, or one I’m reading) while they’re snoring their heads off. For years, I’ve suffered discrimination from morning people. Just what is that worm they’re so eager to catch?

Like so many other Owls (including, may I say, such luminaries as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Gustave Flaubert) my brain slips into gear by midday, and I’m at my best when most ‘normal’ (i.e. morning) souls are sensibly turning in for their eight hours. Useless to tell them I’d rather meet for a catchup in the afternoon rather than at sparrow’s fart. Anyway, our world being geared for the early risers, all respectable cafes in my neck of the woods are well and truly closed after 3pm.

‘I’m not a morning person’, posts Australian writer Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, Truly Madly Deeply).’ I’d be fine if a maid glided in with my breakfast on a tray, drew back the curtainand asked if there was anything else madam required. Then I could gently ease myself into each new day, rather than having it slammed against my forehead with all its bright, shiny light.’ (lianemoriarty.com.au) At last a fellow not-morning person! And one whose nocturnal body clock has done nothing to stop the flow of her highly successful novels. As Liane suggests, we night owls may have noble blood, just like the Princess and who slept so lightly that she could feel a pea underneath a mountain of matresses. Now we noble night owls can thumb our noses at those holier- than-thou  early birders.

Other famous night-people include Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan.

Although morning types may achieve more socially and academically, night owls tend to perform better on measures of memory, processing speed and cognitive ability, even when they have to perform those tasks in the morning. Night-time people are also more open to new experiences and seek them out more. They may be more creative. And contrary to the maxim (‘healthy, wealthy and wise’), one study showed that night owls are as healthy and wise as morning types – and a little bit wealthier!

 

The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life

The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life

So here I am, as Abraham said to the Lord when offering up his son for sacrifice. “Here I Am” is the title of a wonderful new book by Jonathan Safran Foer, a monumental work close to 1000 pages, exploring themes of cultural identity, fidelity and betrayal, the ephemeral nature of love, families functional and dysfunctional, and what makes them so.

As for me myself and I, this post is in the nature of an apology to you, my readers, for my untoward absence. SInce I last posted back in April, life has overtaken me. There’s been illness, convalescence, slow recovery, as well as the joys of grandchildrens’ birthdays. and celebrations of their achievements, some sojourns in beautiful Darwin, home of my daughters and grandsons, and the minutiae of everyday life.

On the writing side, I’ve been hard  at work on my new novel, ‘A Difficult Daughter’, and preparing my first novel. ‘Capriccio’, for publication. This entailed a major rewrite, mostly in appeasement to Faber and Faber, publishers of the works of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and the Hughes Estate. Like Jonathan Bate, I fell foul of the Estate when requesting permission to quote thirteen lines of Hughes’s poetry, fully expecting dispensation for such a small amount of material. The lines I quoted were used to introduce chapters, each of which was given the title of one of the ‘Capriccio’ poems by Hughes. Titles, I know, are not subject to copyright. However, to be on the safe side, I have removed every syllable of Hughes’s poetry, and, in order to comply with the other request by the Estate, changed the name of  every character. The astute reader will no doubt recognise my novel, “Capriccio”, as the tragic story of Assia Gutmann Wevill, the lover of Ted Hughes, who came between Hughes, and his wife, Sylvia Plath.  My novel ends with one of Assia’s poems (quoted with permission of her sister, Celia Chaikin), a final clue to the true identity of my protagonist.

Now for the Joy of the writing life: my company of writers, the Randwick Writers Group, continues to flourish, with all four of us preparing to submit novels or memoirs to publishers. Without my fellow-writers, I would never have achieved the completion of one novel and the development of another. Their constructive feedback, wise insights, consistent encouragement, and friendship, has been the motivating force which keeps me going.

In Darwin, I was lucky to join the talented playwright Sandra Thibodeaux for her weekly writers’ workshop, which helped me develop ideas for ‘A Difficult Daughter’, my novel-in-progress. Then there was the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May, the Jewish Writers’ Festival in August, and only last weekend, the St Aubin’s Writers’ Festival. More on this bucolic festival in my next post!

Brushes with (Writerly) Fame

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While waiting for my novel to be published, and for the hoped-for fame its undoubted brilliance will bring (if only!) I must content myself by rubbing shoulders with the already famous. Even though these chance meetings are mere brushes with fame, perhaps they may magically transfer a whisper of their glory to my humble self.

Last year I was honoured to meet the Honourable Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, after the launch of her book ‘My Story’.  I have long been an admirer of her strength and courage in the face of such mysogyny. Here she is signing her memoir. I was impressed by her grace.

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One of my favourite writers is Gail Jones, author of many wonderful novels, including my favourite,  ‘Sixty Lights’.  It was a thrill to meet her at the Darwin Writers Festival, and recently at the launch for her acclaimed novel, “A Guide to Berlin”. img_2499img_0340

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Darwin I met the playwright Mary Anne Butler, whose play, ‘Broken’, has won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature. was a hit at the Festival. Here she’s sharing a few words while signing my program for her previous play, “Highway of Lost Hearts”.

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After seeing Alana Valentine’s drama, “Letters to Lindy”, I was moved to congratulate her for writing about one of the grossest miscarriages of justice in Australia: the incarceration for over six years of an innocent, grieving mother. Lindy Chamberlain has been fully exonerated, yet nothing could make up for the cruelty of that sentence. Alana told me she hopes her play will help people who are still affected to let go of anger and imagegrief. img_5204

On a happier note, I spent some time with Marieke Hardy of ‘The First Tuesday Book Club  fame, when helping out  at the Darwin Festival. Her session,’Women of Letters’, in which women in the audience read letters they have written on a set theme, was a sellout. As you see, she was great fun.

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Five non-rules for Writing a Novel

These are some tongue-in-cheek non-rules which are even harder to follow than the real ones! Adapted from Elizabeth Percer’s article, Harper, March 25 2016

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1. Don’t write a novel

Every time I sit down to write a novel, I get next to nothing done.  You may write 79,000 words and realize in the last 1,000 that the novel is not what you want to put out there, but those 80,000 words will inform your next work immeasurably.

2. Keep your publishing dreams in check

Not giving up when the going is ho-hum and uneventful for days or months or years is one of the sweetest joys alive, not because of the tantalizing reward that waits forever in the distance, but because of the complexity and intimacy that develops when kindness, humor, and good intentions are invested in a craft or purpose or person that constantly requires the best of you.

3. Writing doesn’t always look like writing

When I’m trusting myself and not judging a first draft with nasty little tattle-tale voices, I find my patient, daydreaming, curious, wondering selves to be essential and complementary playmates to the one who can sit down at a computer and punch out a couple thousand words.

4. Books do not respond to timelines, spreadsheets, or graphs

Because I am now a writer and not a physicist, I can say that I don’t believe writing always follows the laws of space and time. It’s amazing how much writing can get done in short, optimal windows cushioned by patience, thoughtfulness, self-care, and faith, and it’s equally amazing how little writing gets done during months of “free” writing time hemmed in by expectation, disparagement, self-loathing, and a diet of Snickers and Vitamin Water.

5. Make space for what comes

At least you know how to get comfortable in the field for the next day, and notice as you do that some other, far smaller and stranger creature has come to wait beside you?

6. Procrastinate

Creativity often thrives as a result of the very behaviors that others label as lazy or self-indulgent or some other horrid judgment that might be appropriate were you a cog in a wheel that cannot turn without your constant and unimaginative presence. Creative work demands that you stop hovering, allow your fields to go fallow occasionally. It demands that you procrastinate…..

 

 

 

Writer’s Block

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No wonder I’m having trouble putting pen to paper, or bum on seat. Here in tropical Darwin a strange soporific haze hangs over me, and what seemed once imperative now gets relegated to the ‘maybe later’ pile. Somehow the joyful and terrifying task of writing recedes into dreamland. You might think this is a good thing, drifting around in Lotus Land, yet its very pleasantness scares me – just not enough to face that blank page or screen. Yes, I have a bad case of Writer’s Block. In spite of some unsympathetic writers telling us ‘there’s no such thing, it’s mere laziness, so get the finger out etc. etc.’ I and others swear it exists. Here’s what some writers have to say on the subject:

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F Scott Fitzgerald Photo: Wikipedia

‘Let’s start with one of the most famous examples of writer’s block ‘ writes Lee Kofman, in her post Alcohol, Insanity & Other Methods for Unblocking Writer’s Block’ – that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose frequent bouts of this condition are forever imprinted on the history of modern literature. In response, Fitzgerald consumed alcohol liberally, often going on a bender (gin was his favorite medicine). But then, it is also possible that it was his drinking that caused much of his blockage, which intensified in his final years. Still, this isn’t a cautionary tale. I suspect that more moderate amounts of booze may prove useful to some for seducing our inner muses.’

Lee  writes: ‘Another strategy to prevent the onset of writer’s block comes from another famous sufferer – Hemingway. A bullfight aficionado who fought in the First World War and reported on the Spanish civil war, when asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, Hemingway said: ‘A blank sheet of paper.’ And here is his advice how to conquer this terror:’

Ernest Hemingway, photo from Google images
Ernest Hemingway, photo  Google images

Stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next… and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it… But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

Re-blogged from Lee Kofman’s post ‘Alcohol, Insanity & Other Methods for Unblocking Writer’s Block’ from her Blog ‘Lee Kofman: Author, writing teacher, mentor’, at www.leekofman.com.au

 

 

Procrastination: a cautionary tale


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PROCRASTINATION

Disclaimer: All persons in this story are the product of my imagination.

Today’s my writing day, I say to myself: Wednesday, my only day with no work and almost no commitments. By the late afternoon I should have a thousand words, at least, to show for myself. As advised in my latest self-help for writers book, I start with a brisk walk. An early start means I can be back before nine. Setting off at eight, I plan to think about my writing on the way. Several successful writers I‘ve read about start their day like this. Like them, I should be at my desk at nine o’clock, the perfect time to begin the working day.

It’s a brilliant day, the ocean spread out blue and wrinkled, sparkling where the sun hits it. Several times I have to stop to admire its vastness. There’s a cold wind, bringing tears to my eyes. When I get to the cliff I call mine, I stop. I know it’s mine because there’s a hollow in this cliff that exactly fits my bottom. I sit in the hollow, in the lotus pose, and do my morning meditation. Essential for a writer, I tell myself as I watch my thoughts drift past.  This will surely save me time by making me centered and one-pointed, able to be fully in the moment. Several good writing ideas float off into the universe from where they may, with the right karma, return. I arrive back just before 9am, calm and refreshed, to the insistent ring of the phone.

“Hi, Dina! It’s Helen. Don’t forget our date today. It’s the third Wednesday of the month, remember?” I had forgotten. Weeks ago my friend and I had agreed to meet once a month to exchange writing news. I don’t dare break our date, as Helen is far too sensitive to cope with a last-minute change of plan. Mostly the coffee mornings are for moral support particularly towards our common goal: to become “real” writers.

“Of course I haven’t forgotten,” I lie. “Let’s meet at that little outdoor place you liked so much last time. Oh, by the way, I’ve heaps to tell you, but this news can’t wait. Guess what? I got into that writing course I told you about! They must’ve liked the pieces I sent in.”

“Oh my God! You didn’t! I heard on the grapevine that even Eva, who’s actually been published, didn’t get in. How amazing!” I held the phone away from my ear as she shrieked into the receiver, hurt by her obvious lack of faith in my talent.

“Helen, I must go. Have to get the first thousand words for the story competition finished today. Can we make it a quick coffee today, say about midday?”

The bed’s not made and last night’s dishes are still in the sink. A prolific writer once told me he couldn’t put pen to paper until the bed is made and every dish is washed. Even a dirty coffee cup can block his creativity. On the other hand the author of “The Writer’s Way” urges struggling writers to ignore housework, so I decide to go with this mentor’s sound advice. She also advises us to look after our bodies. A quick swim in the local pool should set me up for the day’s writing.

In the pool at last, swimming releases me. As I strike out smoothly down the lane I start to count the laps, breathing rhythmically. On the last lap I silently affirm: “I am a writer. I write every day.” I swim only twenty-four laps instead of the usual thirty. I don’t feel quite right if I haven’t done thirty laps.  Perfectionism is the curse of the frustrated writer, one I have not escaped.

Pale and windblown, Helen arrives half an hour late at the coffee shop, with a breathless apology about broken down buses and other improbable excuses. She has different phobias to me; about being bumped into by people and inhaling smoke from a distant table. We change tables three times. By one-thirty we have ordered. I’ve read somewhere that the secret to sanity is eating breakfast out, and believing sanity is important for a writer I try to do this every day. As we talk about our respective neuroses and I keep thinking “this is all material.” The woman at the next table looks at us as if we were mad, which confirms my belief that we writers, quite simply, are not ordinary people. While Helen is still describing some claustrophobic experience in an airplane that happened to her six years ago, I extricate myself by inventing a dentist’s appointment.

It’s almost two by now. My backpack is heavy with books, including my half-written stories, my journal, and a spare memory stick in case I actually write anything.

We writers should clear the way of any practical worries as much as possible, so I go to claim a much-needed refund from Medicare.  I have to stand in a queue for at least thirty minutes, which I pass by making notes for a new story in the tiny notebook I now carry with me, should inspiration strike. Opposite Medicare there’s a bookshop, and remember I owe it to myself as a budding writer to check out the latest best sellers for their literary merit. A new book from a woman writer stops me in my tracks. It’s all about her experiences in childbirth, written in the first person and giving intimate details. I find myself quite drawn in. This is the sort of thing I could write, I realise, and I making a mental note to add it to my list of ideas I whip out my notebook and jot down the title.

With a shock I realise it’s after four as I finally walk the half-mile to the library. The euphoria of my swim has long since worn off, and now I need another coffee. I look longingly for a coffee shop. Even a takeaway would take away this sinking feeling. I resist.

‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ I remember an aunt telling me years ago.  I’d never fully understood the one about procrastination until now, as my morning’s goal fades into the afternoon’s dying sun. Nevertheless I will not give up. I stagger into the library. The clock’s hands point accusingly to five. I phone my partner, knowing how he worries about me when he doesn’t know where I am. The librarian glares at me and points to the sign: “please switch off your mobile.” It appears he wasn’t at all worried, and suggests we go to a movie. No, I say in a panic. I’ve got work to do. Give me an hour.

 In the library I look up some references from my last writing course; research is always easier than writing. I sit at the computer catalogue, exhausted. How I wish this day was over. I’m so tired I can’t move, which is ridiculous considering I’ve done practically nothing all day. I look for a place to sit with a panicky feeling fluttering in my stomach. Now I know it’s not just the act of writing I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of failure, of letting everyone down, of never being able to produce anything of worth…

At six I open my notebook and start to write. The sinking feeling lifts. The first line appears and I start to feel better. My energy returns, and I forget about the coffee and the bills and the clock. There’s a compulsion to get the words out. I write some more and then before I know it, I’ve written five pages. Over a thousand words!

A shadow looms over me. I look up to see the man himself gazing fondly over my shoulder, just as I pen the last words of the first draft of a chapter. “Been writing all day? That’s the way! I’m starving! What are we having for dinner?” I look up at the clock. Its hands show seven-thirty.

“I’ve actually finished a first draft!” I reply virtuously, stretching with relief. I smile at him and gather up my books. “I’ve been far too busy writing to cook today. Let’s go out for dinner?”

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