Writing Tip: Turn Towards the Inner Critic

uncapped fountain pen on pageWhen you practice writing, it is essential to separate the creator and the editor, or inner critic, so that the creator has plenty of room to breathe, experiment, and tell it like it really is.  If the inner critic is being too much of a problem and you can’t distinguish it from your authentic writing voice, sit down whenever you find it necessary to have some distance from it and put down on paper what the critic is saying, put a spotlight on the words—“You have nothing original to say, what made you think you could write anything anyone would want to read, your writing is crap, you’re a loser, I’m humiliated, you write a load of rubbish, your work is pathetic, and your grammar stinks …”  On and on it goes!

Say to yourself, It’s OK to feel this.  It’s OK to be open to this.

You can learn to cultivate compassion for yourself  during this internal process by practicing Mindfulness Meditation.  Sit up straight, close your eyes, bring your awareness to your inner experience.  Now,  redirect your attention to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen … expanding as the breath comes in … and falling back as the breath goes out.  Use each breath to anchor yourself in the present.   Continue, concentrating on the breath for several minutes.  Now, expand your field of awareness to include the words of the inner critic.  Turn your attention to where in your body you feel the unpleasant thoughts, so you can attend, moment by moment, to the physical reactions to your thoughts.

 “Stay with the bodily sensations, accepting them, letting them be, exploring them without judgment as best you can.”—Mindfulness, Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

Every time you realise that you’re judging yourself, that realisation in itself is an indicator that you’re becoming more aware.

The thing is, the more clearly you know yourself, the more you can accept the critic in you and use it.  If the voice says, “You have nothing interesting to say,” hear the words as white noise, like the churning of a washing machine.  It will change to another cycle and eventually end, just like your thoughts that come and go like the shape shifting of clouds in the sky.  But, in the meantime, you return to your notebook and practice your writing.  You put the fear and the resistance down on the page.

I hope these ideas are useful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.

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Launch of WILD anthology

Libby Sommer reading from Wild poetry anthology

Last weekend I read my poem BRONTE BEACH at the launch of WILD anthology (Ginninderra Press), at East Avenue Bookshop, Clarence Park, Adelaide, South Australia.

More than 50 of us squeezed into the bookshop to read our poems and to listen to 30 different voices from New South Wales, Victoria, The Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and South Australia.

In the anthology a total of 159 poets from around Australia explore the many facets of ‘wild’ – human, animal, environmental and metaphorical.

Such an honor to be included. This is my contribution to the book:

 

BRONTE BEACH

The surf’s been hammered by rain,

and along the pavement open-faced cafes wedge side by side:

compact, glass-fronted, in flattened

Art Deco buildings, with competing blackboard menus.

Rain drips from the edge of the canvas awning,

and a smell of fried fish in rancid oil

through the mouth of the sliding door

as an oversized bus pulls in and blocks the view.

Marooned on the swell are wet-suited board riders,

unwavering as the cliff face above the rocks that define the beach.

Beyond the rock pool the waves

remain stubbornly low spreading a shallow calm.

The rain settles, rusting roof racks in the salt air,

and those expired meters will upset the fattened

people-who-lunch in the darkening afternoon.

All day the treacherous ocean scours

the man-made sea pool, where

all-weather swimmers scan the water

for migrating dolphins or whales.

A white-hulled speedboat appears

in the grey-blue, travelling north,

and the black-clad board riders wait,

grounded, legless pigeons who can,

in a heartbeat, fan their iridescent wings.

Squabbling seagulls swoop and dive

and chase each other between the palms,

each white slow and steady flap of wings

picked up by the whiteness of the backwash

of the speed boat out there on the pastel-pink ocean,

disappearing behind the haze.

© Libby Sommer 2018

East Avenue Bookstore, Clarence Park

red book cover of Wild anthology

Am very grateful that my poem is in this wonderful anthology of diverse voices.

Thank you Annette Kay Jolly for the photos of me reading.

 

Cover Reveal

a grey-suited man and a woman in a red fringed dress, red shoes and fishnet stockings, are in a tango stance, her leg wrapped around him.

Woohoo. Here’s the cover of ‘The Usual Story’ – a delicately fragmented story of memory, intrigue and passion. The book will be released on 25 July. Much excitement.

The cover image shows the fabulous legs of tango dancers and teachers Mimi and Teddy from ‘A Little Buenos Aires‘.  Mimi and Teddy, who run regular tango workshops and milongas, very kindly let me use their photo.

“Tango is a dance of passion. It draws partners into an intimate relationship. Sofia loves to tango but, as she dances, she is confronted by society’s infatuation with the young and the beautiful.”

Pre-release copies available from publisher Ginninderra Press or you can order a copy from your favourite bricks and mortar bookseller, online retailers or on Kindle, etc.

I’m so excited about ‘The Usual Story‘, a prequel to ‘The Crystal Ballroom.  And thrilled my books are out in the world where people can read them.

If you’d like to write a review of the book on Amazon or Goodreads it would be fantastic.

Counting down to launch.

ThreeBookCovers3

 

 

The Writing Process

alone animal bird clouds

At a literary event recently I heard someone say:  ‘The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious.  Your brain will do the work.’

That’s the thing. It takes time for our experience to make its way through our consciousness.  For example, it is hard to write about a journey while you are still in the midst of the adventure.  We have no distance from what is happening to us.  The only things we seem to be able to say are ‘having a great time’, ‘the weather is good’, ‘wish you were here’.  It is also hard to write about a place we just moved to, we haven’t absorbed it yet.  We don’t really know where we are, even if we can walk to the train station without losing our way.  We haven’t experienced three scorching summers in this country or seen the dolphins migrating south along the  coast in the winter.

“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.  I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast  (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964).

So we take in experience, but we need to let things make their way through our consciousness for a while and be absorbed by our whole selves.  We are bower birds, collecting experience, and from the tThrown away apple skins, outer lettuce layers, tea leaves, and chicken bones of our minds come our ideas for stories and poems and songs.  But this does not come any time soon.  It takes a very long time (three to ten years in the case of literary fiction).  We need to keep picking through these scraps until some of the thoughts together form a pattern or can be organised around a central theme, something  we can shape into a narrative.  We mine our hidden thoughts for ideas.  But the ideas need time to percolate:  to slowly filter through.

Rumi, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet, summed up what could be the creative process when he wrote ‘The Guest House’:

This being human is a guest house.

Each morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite

them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Jalaluddin Rumi, in The Essential Rumi,

Translated by Coleman Barks, 1999

Our work is to keep rummaging through the rubbish bins of our minds, exercising the writing muscle, in readiness to answer that knock at the door when it comes.

I hope these thoughts on the writing process are helpful.   Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. 

 

Publication Update

a man and woman dancing tango

On Tuesday I posted the corrected final proofs of THE USUAL STORY back to publisher Ginninderra Press.  Am now in the home stretch for July release of the book, a prequel to THE CRYSTAL BALLROOM.  Have finalised the blurb for back cover and obtained copyright approval for front cover image.

The primary goal of proofing is to serve as a tool for customer verification that the entire job is accurate. Prepress proofing (also known as off-press proofing[4]) is a cost-effective way of providing a visual copy without the expense of creating a press proof.[5] If errors are found during the printing process on press, correcting them can prove very costly to one or both parties involved. – Wikipedia

I’ve been working on the back cover Book Blurb for the last couple of months – rewritten it maybe 300 times. But I think it reads well now, so well I hope readers won’t be disappointed when they read the book itself. Hopefully the story lives up to its promise.

Like THE CRYSTAL BALLROOM, THE USUAL STORY is written in stand-alone discreet chapters. Versions of several of the chapters were first published as short stories in literary journals. I connected the stories by using segments as linking devices: the main character’s telling of the aftermath of a painful affair, her search for understanding of what went before, and the tango. It’s not an easy thing to do. My proof reader said the manuscript reads like a novel, rather than as a collection of linked stories. Am very happy to hear that. Another term for the structure of the book is novel-in-stories.

‘While the short story pauses to explore an illuminated moment, and the novel chugs toward a grand conclusion, the novel in stories moves in spirals and loops, a corkscrewing joy rode.’ – Danielle Trussoni

So corrected final proofs are now with  Ginninderra Press in Adelaide, a small but prestigious publisher.

The next step towards a July release of THE USUAL STORY –  a delicately fragmented story of memory, intrigue and passion –  is the uploading of the files to the printer.

An exciting time.

 

Writing Tip: To Plot or Not to Plot

portrait of beautiful young woman over white background

Plot means the story line.  When people talk about plotting, they mostly mean how to set up the situation, where to put the turning points, and what the characters will be doing in the end.  What happens.

Some fiction writers write organically, not knowing where the story they are writing is going.  These writers say it would be boring to know what’s going to happen next and they lose their enthusiasm to tell the story because they know the outcome already.  They prefer throwing themselves over the edge and into the void.  This method can be very anxiety-producing.  It means you need a lot of faith in your process.

E.L. Doctorow describes the process like this:  “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Other writers plan the story before they begin.  In crime fiction the story definitely needs to be worked out beforehand so information can be drip-fed to the reader.

In the past, when creating my stories, I have worked organically and not known where my stories were headed as I wrote them. Sometimes, when I’m feeling despicable about  writing, I think I really should plot to put me out of my misery. But, in the end, I just keep going, one tiny step at a time.

The shorter the piece of fiction, the less need for plot.  You can write an interesting story in which not very much happens.  A woman fights with her neighbour, a man quits his job, or an unhappy family goes out for a pizza.  Simple structures work better than something too complicated when the story is short.

A plot can, like a journey, begin with a single step.   A woman making up her mind to recover her father’s oil paintings may be enough to start.  The journey begins there, as it did for Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment when he decided to commit his crime,”  Jerome Stern Making Shapely Fiction

The plot grows and develops out of what helps and what hinders the characters’ progress toward their goals.

The Writers’ Workshop   http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/plot2.html  ask:

  • But how do you know if your draft plot has the right amount of weight to carry an entire novel?
  • What kind of structures work?
  • Is there a quick way to design your own plot template?
  • And how do you handle a book with multiple points of view?

“A good plot has a clear motivation.  It has a clear structure.  It has an outcome.  It has subplots.  A good plot looks something like the plot structure template below,” The Writers’ Workshop.

 

Motivation Lizzie Bennett wants to marry for love
Plot structure She meets Darcy & Wickham. She dislikes Darcy, and starts to fall for Wickham. Wickham turns out to be a bad guy; Darcy turns out to be a good guy. She now loves Darcy.
Outcome She marries Darcy
Subplot 1 Jane Bennett (Lizzie’s nice sister) loves Bingley. Bingley vanishes. He reappears. They get hitched.
Subplot 2 Lydia Bennett (Lizzie’s idiot sister) elopes with Wickham. She’s recovered.
Subplot 3 An idiot, Mr Collins, proposes marriage to Lizzie. She says no. Her friend, Charlotte, says yes.

Of course, there are a lot of things that the above plot template doesn’t tell you.  It doesn’t say where the novel is set, it doesn’t tell you anything about plot mechanics – it doesn’t say why Lizzie dislikes Mr Darcy, or how Lydia is recovered from her elopement.  It doesn’t have anything to say about character.

The Writers’ Workshop strongly advises us to build a template much like the one above before starting to write.  “If you’ve already started your MS then, for heaven’s sake, get to that template right away.”

So that’s all we need:  a beginning, a middle and an end.  Aristotle defined it like this:  a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.

Easy peasy.  Not.

I hope these ideas on plotting, or not plotting, are helpful.   Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. 

 

Writing Tip: A Change of Pace

adult book boring face

I’m very excited to have my poem BETWEEN THE ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC in the June 2018 Quadrant  alongside some great poets including Les Murray, Barbara Fisher, Craig Kurtz, Geoff Page, Dan Guenther, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Graeme Hetherington. Just received my copy.

It’s refreshing to have a change of pace. I’ve been having a break from working on long narratives by working on shorter pieces: prose poems, flash fiction, micro fiction, etc. Very gratifying to have one (so far) accepted for publication.

The poem was inspired by a cruise I did earlier this year with my family. At the time I thought I could write a book length story set on a ship, but, as things turned out, couldn’t find enough material to write a long fiction. But I was able to write a poem instead. For this I am very grateful.

Writing poetry, a synopsis or a book blurb are all good things to have to do in terms of improving our ability to compress or distill an idea. Having to get our message across in just a few words. Instagram is a useful for this too. One sentence to connect with our followers. And Facebook.  The very short forms are a good discipline for us writers.

I belong to an excellent weekly feedback poetry group. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to get my poems to that next level of being at a publishable standard. From good to very good. Many gratitudes.

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What about you? Do you experiment with different forms or genres? I find it helps to keep the feeling of desperation at bay. Will I ever be able to write another word? Do you have a perspective you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.