When I used to teach classes to beginning writers, it was good. It forced me to think back to the beginning to when I first put pen to paper. The thing is, every time we sit down and face the blank page, it’s the same. Every time we start a new piece of writing, we doubt that we can do it again. A new journey with no map – like setting off towards the horizon alone in a boat and the only thing another person can do to help is to wave from the shore.
So when I used to teach a creative writing class, I had to tell them the story all over again and remember that this is the first time my students are hearing it. I had to start at the very beginning.
First up, there’s the pen on the page. You need this intimate relationship between the pen and the paper to get the flow of words happening. A fountain pen is best because the ink flows quickly. We think faster than we can write. It needs to be a “fat” pen to avoid RSI.
Consider, too, your notebook. It is important. The pen and paper are your basic tools, your equipment, and they need to be with you at all times. Choose a notebook that allows you plenty of space to write big and loose. A plain cheap thick spiral notepad is good.
After that comes the typing up on the computer and printing out a hard copy. It’s a right and left brain thing. You engage the right side of the brain, the creative side when you put pen to paper, then bring in the left side, the analytic side, when you edit the print out as you settle back comfortably with a drink (a cup of tea, even) and read what you’ve written.
Patrick White said that writing is really like shitting; and then, reading the letters of Pushkin a little later, he found Pushkin said exactly the same thing. Writing is something you have to get out of you.
Whether writing a story or writing a blog, start writing, no matter what.
The news reports:
at watch and act today total fire ban
smoke haze poor air quality asthma sufferers
and other respiratory problems stay indoors.
Hot north westerly winds
west and southwest of Sydney
properties cleared and prepared
an anxious night distant sirens confusion
to leave or to go?
rescue our animals and get out of here
a new fire break
it’s always your family that’s more important
pack up your photos that’s all you can do
photos are what you’ve seen and experienced.
On amber watch today
200 houses destroyed so far
hoping and praying for the best
containment lines will they hold?
Exhausted fire fighters
people’s lives are the most important
fire crews keep back-burning
what else can you do?
Despite ember attacks on homes
Rural Fire Service to link up bushfires as winds drop.
Today has started off cool.
First published in First Refuge Poems on social justice
Ginninderra Press 2016
Copyright © Libby Sommer
Header Image: Creative Commons
I’ve posted the corrected first proofs of ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ back to Adelaide publisher, Ginninderra Press. Final proofs next step in the publication process. In the meantime, we are putting together reviews for the back cover.
I love this one received recently from Jan Cornall, Writer’s Journey:
“Libby Sommer lays bare the foibles of human nature in her finely observed stories of love and loss in the singles dance scene. Brilliantly drawn with wit, compassion and poignancy, the characters you meet in the Crystal Ballroom are sure to remind you of someone -maybe even yourself.”
Jan’s quote gives a good description of the contents of the book. Such a hard thing to do in just a couple of sentences.
Would you, or someone you know, be interested in reading a book about this topic?
p.s. this picture is not the book cover.
Header image: Creative Commons
Sounds, sights, and smells are all part of creating an atmosphere.
‘The creation of the physical world is as crucial to your story as action and dialogue. If your readers can be made to see the glove without fingers or the crumpled yellow tissue, the scene becomes vivid. Readers become present. Touch, sound, taste and smell make readers feel as if their own fingers are pressing the sticky windowsill.
‘If you don’t create evocative settings, your characters seem to have their conversations in vacuums or in some beige nowhere-in-particular. Some writers love description too much. They go on and on as if they were setting places at the table for an elaborate dinner that will begin later on. Beautiful language or detailed scenery does not generate momentum. Long descriptions can dissipate tension or seem self-indulgent. Don’t paint pictures. Paint action.’ – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction
Bringing in sensory detail is a way to enrich a story with texture to create the fullness of experience, to make the reader be there.
What about you? Do you use the senses, apart from sight, to create atmosphere?
Her Amber Necklace
my mothers dead
my mothers dead my brother said
he jumped in the air and
clicked his heels together
her children and grandchildren
and great grandchildren all came
jumping and bouncing
on forbidden chairs
we all laughed
distant lights scatter black night
a bus rumbles up Bondi Road
clock ticks in the empty kitchen
only the ticking
a dog barks outside
her woollen jumper warms me
her amber necklace hugs my neck
Copyright © Libby Sommer
First published ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ XIV UTS Writers Anthology
Header Image: Creative Commons
First proofs and mock-up of the cover of my second book, ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ have arrived. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t looking forward to rereading the manuscript. It had been rejected by publishers so many times I’d lost confidence in the story. That is, until Ginninderra Press, a small but prestigious Australian publisher said ‘yes’ in April, 2016. Anyway, I sat myself down yesterday to quietly reread the story and, surprisingly, I liked what I had written. I could see what I was trying to say and the themes I’d woven through it.
The mock-up cover looks great. As good as (or even better than) ‘Dancing Backwards in High Heels’ (pictured here) by Australian author, Christine Darcas published by Hachette in 2009.
And now that the movie ‘La La Land’ has won so many awards, there is a renewed interest in dancing. So my new book may be timely: the story of the hopes and dreams of the characters who dance at a fictional dance hall in western Sydney.
A couple more months till publication of ‘The Crystal Ballroom’.
Looking good 🙂
A fantastic example of this writing advice is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement. – The Boston Globe
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor. – Goodreads
Highly recommended. A masterpiece.