The anthology ‘Not keeping mum‘ – Australian writers tell the truth about perinatal anxiety and depression in poetry, fiction & essay – edited by Maya Linden, has been named a Finalist in the Indie Book Awards (2020-2021). My short story ‘The New Baby’, first published in Quadrant magazine, is part of the anthology. All Winners and Finalists are invited to the award ceremony in Washington DC on 24 June. Very exciting news.
“Heartfelt, at times confronting and occasionally funny, this collection gives insight into how women navigate the profound changes that occur in their bodies, relationships and lives when they become a parent, and how they find the light at the end of the tunnel.”
– Anne Buist, perinatal psychiatrist, professor women’s mental health and author of the Natalie King trilogy and The Long Shadow
Have a read of my prose poem ‘Someone I Don’t Know Side-Swiped My Car’, first published in Quadrant magazine April 2021, Hope you enjoy it.
Someone I Don’t Know Side-Swiped My Car:
Bad luck recently, you could say, after surviving some extremely unfortunate luck. For hours I sat across from you in the Emergency Bay: your face dripping with blood. They gave you a compress to stop the flow of red from your cheekbones and your nose. Every time you touched your face, it opened up the wound. Punched in both eyes and the nose. A robbery as you walked home, I hear you tell your girlfriend on the mobile. And then you’re telling the emergency nurse you can’t wait any longer to see a doctor. ‘You may have concussion,’ she cautioned.
Did you find your way home?
For days I wonder how you are. I sniff the first spring jasmine hanging over the fence and your girlfriend whom I’ve never met crowds my thoughts, till one day, peering out my bedroom window, I notice someone has side-swiped my car. Not exactly what I’d expected to see but, man, the wisteria are showing their purple blooms. A nervous possum balances on the telephone line above the road and there’s a newspaper article about an elderly cyclist who died after a freak bike accident caused by a swooping magpie. Bad luck that a second vehicle crashed into my car while it waited at the smash repair place. Look up, take care, someone or something you don’t know may sideswipe you or punch you in the nose.
Have you tried writing flash fiction yet? What does flash fiction mean?
‘A flash fiction piece is a self-contained story (beginning/middle/end), 1,000 words or less, that can entertain, intrigue, and satisfy a reader during an F5 tornado. That’s it. No genre restrictions, age requirements, or prior experience needed. Just quick, clean stories.’ – Writer’s Digest
‘Part poetry, part narrative, flash fiction–also known as sudden fiction, micro fiction, short short stories, and quick fiction—is a genre that is deceptively complex.’ – The Review Review
‘Flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity that still offers character and plot development. Identified varieties, many of them defined by word count, include the six-word story, the 280-character story, the “dribble”, the “drabble”, “sudden fiction”, flash fiction, nanotale, and “micro-story”.’ – Wikipedia
I like writing in a short form. I’ve been told I have the sensibility of a poet because I have the ability to distill, so the short form suits me. You may be more of a long distance runner, rather than a sprinter, and prefer the long form of a novel.
Have a read of my flash fiction titled It’s Pot Luck When You Move Into A Unit, winner of the short short fiction UTS Alumni Competition a few years ago. Hope you enjoy it.
It’s Pot Luck When You Move Into a Unit
A nice quiet weekend? the woman downstairs said. What do you mean? I said, through the open back door, a bag of rubbish in each hand. She smoothed her ironing on the board and said, They weren’t around over the weekend—with the baby. She looked happy. I’m lucky living on the top floor, I said. She nodded towards the other side of the building. Jim isn’t so lucky—he’s got the woman upstairs, she said, When he plays the piano and she thumps on the floor. She put the iron back on its stand. She’s heavy-footed, that woman. Bang, bang, bang. I hear her coming down the stairs every morning at six, and the slam of the front door.
That night the wind knocked my vase off the window ledge. I lay awake wondering if the noise of the smash had woken up the people underneath—the ones whose barbecuing sends smoke and disgusting meat smells into my unit. Nothing clings to your furniture like the stink from last week’s burnt fat. Sorry about the crash, I muttered to the floor, It was the wind.
I’ve received final proofs from my publisher, Ginninderra Press for my first poetry collection, ‘The Cellist, a Bellydance & Other Distractions’. In the home stretch now for publication of my sixth book. Happy happy.
So what are final proofs?
Proofs created by the printer for approval by the publisher before going to press are called final proofs. At this stage in production, all mistakes are supposed to have been corrected and the pages are set up in imposition for folding and cutting on the press. To correct a mistake at this stage entails an extra cost per page, so authors are discouraged from making many changes to final proofs, while last-minute corrections by the in-house publishing staff may be accepted.
In the final proof stage, page layouts are examined closely. Additionally, because final page proofs contain the final pagination, if an index was not compiled at an earlier stage in production, this pagination facilitates compiling a book’s index and correcting its table of contents.
So much advice out there on writing process but these three books, old ones but good ones, are my favorites. You can see how well-loved they are by how many pages are marked with stickers. I’ve used the books many times when teaching my ‘Writing from Within’ course where we try to harness the unconscious by falling into an artistic coma.
Have you ever longed to be able to draw or paint, write or compose music? In ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron you can discover how to unlock your latent creativity and make your dreams a reality.
‘The Artist’s Way’ provides a twelve-week course that guides you through the process of recovering your creative self. It dispels the ‘I’m not talented enough’ conditioning that holds many people back and helps you to unleash your own inner artist.
‘The Artist’s Way’ helps demystify the creative process by making it part of your daily life. It tackles your self-doubts, self-criticism and worries about time, money and the support to pursue your creative dream.
In ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, the secret of creativity, she makes clear, is to subtract rules for writing, not add them. It’s a process of “uneducation” rather than education. Proof that she knows what she’s talking about is abundant in her own sentences. They flow with speed and grace and accuracy and simplicity. It looks easy to a reader, but writers know it is the hardest writing of all.’ – Robert Pirsig
‘Writing Down the Bones’ Natalie Goldberg’s first book, sold millions of copies and has been translated into twelve languages. For more than thirty years she practiced Zen and taught seminars in writing as a spiritual practice.
‘Becoming a writer’ by Dorothea Brande is a reissue of a classic work published in 1934 on writing and the creative process. It recaptures the excitement of Dorothea Brande’s creative writing classroom of the 1920s. Decades before brain research “discovered” the role of the right and left brain in all human endeavor, Dorothea Brande was teaching students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, how to call forth the inner writer.
‘Refreshingly slim, beautifully written and deliciously elegant, Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer remains evergreen decades after it was first written. Brande believed passionately that although people have varying amounts of talent, anyone can write. It’s just a question of finding the “writer’s magic”–a degree of which is in us all. She also insists that writing can be both taught and learned. So she is enraged by the pessimistic authors of so many writing books who rejoice in trying to put off the aspiring writer by constantly stressing how difficult it all is.
‘With close reference to the great writers of her day–Wolfe, Forster, Wharton and so on–Brande gives practical but inspirational advice about finding the right time of day to write and being very self disciplined about it–“You have decided to write at four o’clock, and at four o’clock you must write.” She’s strong on confidence building and there’s a lot about cheating your unconscious which will constantly try to stop you writing by coming up with excuses. Then there are exercises to help you get into the right frame of mind and to build up writing stamina.
‘This is Dorothea Brande’s legacy to all those who have ever wanted to express their ideas in written form. A sound, practical, inspirational and charming approach to writing, it fulfills on finding “the writer’s magic.”‘ – John Gardner
I hope these recommendations are helpful. Do you have useful books on writing process you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.
I’ve corrected the first proofs of my first poetry collection, ‘The Cellist, a Bellydancer & Other Distractions’ and posted them back to my publisher, Ginninderra Press.
So what are first proofs?
According to Wikipedia:
In printing and publishing, proofs are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders, often with extra-wide margins.
Proof, in the typographical sense, is a term that dates to around 1600. The primary goal of proofing is to create a tool for verification that the job is accurate. All needed or suggested changes are physically marked on paper proofs or electronically marked on electronic proofs by the author, editor, and proofreaders. The compositor, typesetter, or printer receives the edited copies, corrects and re-arranges the type or the pagination, and arranges for the press workers to print the final or published copies.
So now I’m waiting for my publisher to send me final proofs. A proofreader will check the final proofs before I post them back.
Also front and back cover images and information are now being finalised.
Then comes printing of my new book. A very exciting time.
It will be about a month until release of ‘The Cellist, a Bellydancer & Other Distractions’. In the collection there is a poem about a cellist, another about a bellydancer, and one about distraction. 45 poems in total.
I’ll let you know when I’ve got a publication date.
If you are a writer, rejections aren’t just inevitable, they are a way of life — no matter who you are. Unfortunately, dealing with rejection is part of becoming successful as a published author.
It’s really hard to handle rejection, to keep a lid on crippling self-doubt and to keep going.
We can easily play down just how hard it is to write through fear. Fear is made much louder and much larger by rejection.
Rejection feels like a kick in the gut. We have shared our writing and shared are deepest thoughts and so it hurts like hell when we are told it is not good enough.
Writing, of course, is subjective. It may only be one person’s opinion of our work. So we have to keep putting our writing out there in front of different readers, publishers or agents.
Tell yourself as often as you need that you’re not the first writer and won’t be the last to have had a book, a short story, or a poem turned down.
Here is a list of authors who have been treated almost as badly as you have been. It’s sure to make you feel heaps better. It comes from the American literary publisher Knopf’s Archives at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre at the University of Texas:
Jorge Luis Borges
Isaac Bashevis Singer
‘It’s Poland and the rich Jews again.’
‘There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.’
‘His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.’
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence
‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
‘an irresponsible holiday story’
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’
Watership Down by Richard Adams
‘older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.’
On Sylvia Plath
‘There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.’
Crash by J. G Ballard
‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.’
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
‘This will set publishing back 25 years.’
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
‘Do you realize, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.’
The Diary of Anne Frank
‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
(rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)
‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
‘The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a “lady” or “gentleman” amongst them.’
Carrie by Stephen King
‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’
Catch — 22by Joseph Heller
‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny — possibly even satire — but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’
The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
‘You’re welcome to le Carré — he hasn’t got any future.’
Animal Farmby George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’
Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
‘My dear sir,
I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.’
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’
So remember, ‘For writers, rejection is a way of life.’ – author, Erica Verrillo.
How many wonderful ideas have we had in our lives that never became anything more than ideas? What stopped them from becoming reality? Probably lack of drive, or fear, or both.
If the idea of writing a story, writing a memoir, or writing a blog lights a spark within you, sets off a signal, causes you to drool—or fills you with unspeakable anxiety—then you are ready to write. What is holding you back is not lack of drive, but fear. Unadulterated, stark fear.
Fear of what?
Fear of being unable to write well and being criticized by others?
Fear of being unable to stay on track long enough to get to an ending?
Fear that you just don’t have what it takes to maintain focus to tell a good story?
Research into the way the brain operates has revealed that there are two sides to the brain, left and right. Much of our fear of writing comes from the way these two sides do or don’t work together.
“We might term the right brain ‘the creator,’ for apparently it allows us to do creative things—make connections, manifest ideas, imagine situations, see pictures of events. The left side analyses, categorizes, recalls words, and performs its learning functions in a step-by-step manner,” Bernard Selling, Writing From Within.
The analytic left brain has a compartment that houses the “critic.” He or she is the person in us who says,
You can’t do that!
You’ll fail, so don’t even try.
You know you’re not good at that!
“If those two voices in you want to fight, let them fight. Meanwhile, the sane part of you should quietly get up, go over to your notebook, and begin to write from a deeper, more peaceful place. Unfortunately, those two fighters often come with you to your notebook since they are inside your head. So you might have to give them five or ten minutes of voice in your notebook. Let them carry on in writing. It is amazing that when you give those voices writing space, their complaining quickly gets boring and you get sick of them,” Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.
It’s just resistance.
Sometimes, the harder you try, the more you become stuck in your own negativity. It can feel like car tyres spinning in a bog and you just can’t move forward with ‘the work’. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write. That’s when you need to say ‘stop’ and put it aside for now. Look for another outlet for your energy before starting again. Take a break and read books by wonderful writers. When I get stuck I turn to contemporary poetry for inspiration – thoughtful and passionate poems about living in the modern world. Some of my favourite poets are: Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Les Murray and Joanne Burns.
Sometimes I start another writing project before going back to the original one to get more perspective on things. Other times I will study the beginning and endings of books to get inspiration for a new beginning or a new ending, or sometimes work backwards from the ending as a way to restart.
But don’t get caught in the endless cycle of guilt, avoidance, and pressure. When it is your time to write, write. Put yourself out of your misery and just do it.
At a literary event I heard someone say, “The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious. Your brain will do the work.”
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 thrown 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 those 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.
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.
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 honorably.
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
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
As the author Vivian Gornick said, “The writers life is the pits. You live alone and you work alone, every day I have to recreate myself.” She paused and laughed. “But when the work is going well there is nothing that compares.”
What about you? Are you ready to answer the knock at the door?