5 Ways to Recharge Your Creative Batteries

 

beach scene

Feel like you are running on empty? Take time to recharge. You do it for your phone. Why not do it for your self? Sometimes the best way to recharge our batteries is to unplug them. Take a break this holiday season.

Here are 5 suggestions to recharge your creative batteries by Audience Productions

1. CONSUME MEDIA

Sometimes, when you’re stuck on a creative problem, the  best thing to do is see how someone else tackled it. That might involve reading a scene in a novel that gets across a lot of exposition without being boring, or discovering how different line thicknesses makes comics come to life. In a film we’re working on, there’s a transitional scene where the main characters are walking through a park, that needs to show time has passed. So we watched a similar scene in The King’s Speech, which handled the problem in a really cool way. We won’t replicate it exactly, of course, but it has given us some good ideas on making our park scene work well.

2. GET PHYSICAL

If you’re getting restless or bored, go to the gym and bliss out with something physical instead of mental. On the treadmill or cross-trainer, you don’t have to look at emails or think about work. We like to rewatch a rugby league game that our team has won, but you might get the same effect from listening to music or a stand-up comedy album.

3. WORK ON A PERSONAL PROJECT

When client-based work hits a snag, or you feel you’re not giving it your best, turn to a project of your own. We came up with an idea in Sedona. The place we were staying had a litter of Hemingway kittens – who have six fingers on their paws instead of five. We came up with an awful image of them getting drowned in a bag, and that spurred the idea of how horrific it would be to find that, which led to a film idea. This week, we took a day away from other tasks to work on developing the script, which has given us some time to subconsciously reflect on other jobs in the queue instead of brute-forcing solutions.

4. GET A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

If you’re working on something, get other people involved indirectly by posing some specific questions related to their area of expertise. For example, our Sedona script’s main character is a little girl, who finds the bag of kittens. There’s a house number on the bag that spurs the story, so we needed to know how young kids are when they start recognising numbers. So we contacted a friend of ours, who’s a mother of three girls, through Facebook. We ended up chatting for most of the morning, asking questions like, “Would you let your daughter ride alone on a bike?” to find out what would be realistic. That was really helpful, took the story in different directions than we anticipated, and kept us enthused about the project.

5. GO TO THE PUB

Editing is a solitary pursuit, and it can be easy to wall yourself off from other people. The best solution is to go somewhere with friends – which doesn’t have to be the pub, of course – and take in some new experiences, get some fresh stimuli and soak up the outside world. Who knows? You might rescue a bag of drowning kittens and get a great idea for a film!

 

See you next year.

For further reading, check out my posts  Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich and Make Friends With Your Feelings.  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

 

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Small Fictions

man walks beside train

Have you tried the short short form yet? I might have mentioned before that I am working on a book length series of small fictions – flash fictions and prose poems, some already published in literary journals.

This is one of my flash fictions, THE BACK PACK first published in Quadrant magazine in July 2011. Hope you enjoy it.

The Back Pack

What can a man who meets you at the station and offers to carry your backpack mean to a woman traveling the world alone?

I was scared, like anyone who has no sense of direction.  The journey was a series of stops and starts.  Whether to use the Eurail pass or post it back home and ask the kids to get me a refund.  Giovanni appeared one European winter, thick padded jacket, woolen beanie, scarf and gloves, tall and imposing,  I’ll carry your bag.

I was small, the backpack the length of my spine, the zip-off bag on one shoulder, the daypack positioned in front like a nine-month baby bump.  That evening, as we climbed the steps of the Corniche – the wind bitter across the Mediterranean, the metal stairs covered with slippery ice, the railing melting beneath my hand.  Soon it would become my railway platform, my steps, and Giovanni my landlord.

We walked there in the crisp night air.  My own place.  It didn’t cost much.  No-one yet knew I was here.  I could ask Giovanni if I needed any help.  I knew my children would be pleased I had a base.  I didn’t want them to worry.  It was the thing I wanted the most secretly, studying maps, absorbing travel books.  To be safe, a desire whispered to the moon that moved behind my shoulder at night.  If you guide me to a safe haven I promise to be happy.  And the moon listened.  I did my best.

The winter sky closed down and the spring began its flowering.  I took photos and painted and rang the children every week.  Watch your money, don’t talk to strangers, be careful walking at night – you know the drill.  The pebbly beach, the weekend markets, it was all there for the exploring.  A glimpse of the sea between terracotta roofs – a vision in turquoise.  The cobbled streets could show which way to follow – and none of them wrong.  A room at the top of the stairs – till June I stayed reading the English books Giovanni had left in the bookcase, shopping for food, telling my kids and friends they should come for a visit.

Where had the months gone?  Almost two years on the road.  Summer approached. The rents would go up and the tourists arrive.  Time to move on.  I could only take with me what I could carry on my back.  A Jewish gypsy they said.  One more step into the unknown.  Pack up, give away what I couldn’t manage, but keep the palette knife and miniature easel.  There was stuff happening back home.    The boys were grown and earning a living.  Their sister turned twenty-one.  People were reinventing themselves all over the place then coming back home.  A thousand train rides later, my mother nearly eighty.  I won’t be around much longer, she cried.

His was a helping hand in a world that says, but what are you doing there?  What are you doing?

Copyright © Libby Sommer 2011

For further reading, check out my posts  What Is A Prose Poem? and Writing Tip: A Sense of Place. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Best wishes for the festive season, dear WordPress friends.

 

What does ‘show don’t tell’ mean exactly?

woman sitting on chair while reading book

What does ‘show don’t tell’ mean? It means don’t tell us about loneliness (or any of those complex words like dishonesty, secrecy, jealousy, obsession, regret, death, injustice, etc) show us what loneliness is. We will read what you’ve written and feel the bite of loneliness. Don’t tell us what to feel. Show us the situation, and that feeling will be triggered in us.

When you take your child to school on their first day you may find yourself teary and relieved at the same time. Put into words what you see: the child’s face, the wave at the gate, the other mothers saying their goodbyes, another child coming up to take your son by the hand. We will get what you’re trying to say without you telling us directly.

When you write, be conscious of the senses and how they connect to the experiences you are writing about. Use sight, sound, smell, touch to create concrete pictures. The senses allow you to get as close as humanly possible in words to the wedding, the sunrise, the dog, the suitcase. It’s the best way to penetrate your story and breathe life into it. Don’t tell us about something, drop deep, enter the story and take us with you.

‘Use strong, specific verbs, and avoid overusing adverbs. Provoke emotion through character reactions and vivid writing, don’t simply tell readers how to feel. Use well-placed details to bring scenes to life. Use expressive dialogue to show characters’ emotions and attitudes.’ – Creative Writing 101, Wright State University

For further reading, check out my posts  Have You Tried Flash Fiction Yet? and Is There A Link Between Spirituality and Creativity?. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Writing Tip: Endings

pen writing notes studying

Beginnings and endings are the hardest part of creating a successful story and the most important. More important than plot and character, in my opinion, especially in short stories. “Conclusions are the weak points of most authors,” George Eliot remarked, “but some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation.”

“As Jane Austen pointed out in a metafictional aside in Northanger Abbey, a novelist cannot conceal the timing of the end of the story (as a dramatist or film-maker can, for instance) because of the telltale compression of the pages.” – The Art of Fiction

The closer and closer you get to the ending, the more weight every word has, so that by the time you get to the last several words each one carries an enormous meaning. A single gesture or image at the end can outweigh all that has gone before. Choose each word carefully – even simple words like dark or down, light or up drastically affect the sense of the ending and therefore the entire story. Anything revelatory or portentous at the end of the story is very heavy indeed. Heavy-handed, in fact, is the way it’s likely to come out.

In beginning the story certain tensions, ideas, and characters have been launched. These themes then fly in intricate formations. The ending doesn’t have to provide a surprise. All it has to do is land safely. – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

I’m rather proud of this ending to my short story Jean-Pierre, first published in Quadrant in July-August 2016. It’s the last page of a 5,000 word piece.

During that last day she thought of nothing but Jean-Pierre as she packed and cleaned out her little apartment.

‘What do you do, you have a stopover in Dubai?’ Jean-Pierre said, standing next to her at the taxi rank in the early morning chill.  A bitter wind blew from the mountains.  He had come over to carry her bag down the stairs.

‘I go straight through.  It’s three hours on the ground in Dubai, so I walk around the airport then read my book.’

Jean-Pierre looked directly into her eyes.  ‘I’ve bought you a little gift,’ he said.

‘You have?’

‘Don’t unwrap it until you’re on the plane.’

She smiled.  ‘Okay.”  Then she looked at his face, to place him clearly in her mind.  He was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans under a padded coat.  She kissed him on the lips, then got into the taxi.

‘Something to take with you,’ he said, leaning in the window.  In his hand he clasped a small gift-wrapped box.  The sun, still low on the horizon, cast an amber glow on his precious face.

‘Thank you,’ she said.  She reached for his hand through the window and then put on her seatbelt.

And she thought about this all twenty-four hours of the journey across the Indian Ocean.  She would keep opening the little box to admire the marquisite earrings he’d given her.  She would catch a taxi from the airport and at home notice the house smelt musty; she would open all the doors and windows to let the air move through, the curtains blowing and air coming in and out.  From a far-away-place, and at night, he would ring to say, resignedly, ‘My mother is living with me now.’  His gift, when she’d take the earrings out of their black box, would remind her of something that had happened to her once.

She felt like someone who she had always known, that old friend of herself, grounded in home, decisions already made, and behind her somewhere, like the shadow of an identical twin, her other self, who must remain in the far-off distance,  never to be exposed to the light.

Copyright © Libby Sommer 2016

For further reading, check out my posts  My 3 Favourite How-To-Write Books and Why Do You Write?. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

 

 

Will my story resonate with anyone?

a man and woman dancing tango

When you write a story, you never know if it will resonate with anyone. Then a person like Dr Beatriz Copello writes a review and you find yourself dancing with joy, thinking how blessed you are.

Beatriz Copello’s review was published by The Compulsive Reader and you can read it below:

A review of The Usual Story by Libby Sommer

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

The Usual Story 
by Libby Sommer
Ginninderra Press
Paperback, ISBN: 9781760415792, July 2018, $27.50, 80pp

The Usual Story by Libby Sommer takes the reader into the life and mind of Sofia.  Sofia is a middle-aged woman, a writer and very much involved in dancing, particularly Tango.

Tango, a dance that was born in the 1800s around the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the dance of port workers and women of the night. Nowadays, this complicated and elegant dance is very much in vogue and danced around the world. Tango gives some sort of skeleton to a large part of The Usual Story. Other sections deal with relationships from the past and the present.

The reader gets to know Sofia as she dances and relates to the other dancers who participate in the Tango classes. In an interesting way Sommer mixes in her text Sofia’s tango adventures and lessons with her thoughts and love experiences, as well as evocative descriptions of her surroundings.

There is something in human beings that makes them ponder relationships. Sommer, with a very fine narrative, engages us in Sofia’s analysis of the past, particularly in her relationships with her parents and with two of her younger lovers J and Tom. The writer has the ability to create very believable characters. She handles feelings in a measured and unsentimental way. The author says about J:

Little by little, I’d learned new things about J. Once, when staying with him in that first summer, I found him lying on my bed with so pitiful a look on his face that I couldn’t see into it. It was very painful to realise how utterly defeated he looked; everything about him was different to what I’d seen before, out of sync, closed down, remote, his very guts hanging out in front of me.

Every now and again we encounter in the narrative some profound thoughts from Sofia. She reflects: “I think that when you are really stuck, when you have stood still in the same place for far too long, it’s almost as if a bomb needs to go off, to get you to move, to jump, and then to hope for the best.”

The Usual Story contains many things about the every day, the mundane, the routine of living but it is presented in such an engaging way that the story becomes real. It is impressive the ability of Sommer to fragment the narrative when we encounter Sofia’s visits to the psychiatrist. We read about her participation in Milongas, asking relatives about her past, and about love and its many facets. All of these interspersed with poetic descriptions of place. Sydneysiders will recognise many areas of the Eastern suburbs in Sommer’s vivid imagery. The following is one of those descriptions that has cinematic qualities:

The sea looks different every day. Today it’s a mid-grey tone, its surface moving in a gentle tugging motion as a container ship moves south along the horizon. A moist breeze brushes my cheek as the waves make a hushing noise as they curl into the sand of the beach. I watch the colour creep slowly into the clouds. A flock of lorikeets balances on the bare branches in front of me.

There is a certain melancholy in The Usual Story which I believe stems from the relationship of Sofia with her mother and her daughter. Relationship between parents and children can be very complicated. As sons and daughters we tend to arrive at a different view of them according to our age. As children, our parents are like gods; as adolescents they can be our enemies; as adults we tend to be more objective but we are too busy with our own children to spend time analysing these relationships. We may also depend on our parents to help with our progeny and this clouds our assessment. A different thing is when we get to that same period of life:  our third age. It is then, when we have lived and experienced life, that we can be more objective in the evaluation and appreciation of our parents. Sofia is at that stage and she can see clearly her mother’s distant and cold behaviour, but there must be in her a grain of insecurity so she wants to check what she thinks she knows. She wants to be sure. So she searches through memories, analysing them, confirming facts with other relatives.

Sofia’s relationship with her daughter is not perfect either. After seeing a mother and a daughter embrace each other with love she says: “They embrace and then walk to the door, still entwined. I feel a pang of wistfulness for my own daughter as I watch them walk away. My daughter who hadn’t wanted to spend a weekend away, just the two of us. She’d said we make each other tense if we’re together too much. But she’d said it in a kind voice.

‘You don’t mind, do you?’ she’d asked.

I did mind. ‘At least you’re honest with me,’ I said.”

As a psychologist, I found The Usual Story fascinating because the characters are so interesting and authentic. As a reviewer, I enjoyed the book’s clear narrative, perhaps a little leisurely at times, but the pace picks up engaging the reader with a beautiful text.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.

Print and ebook editions of The Usual Story available from Ginninderra Press, Amazon, Book Depository and other online booksellers.

Writing Tip: Small Fictions

 

Libby Sommer with her book The Crystal Ballroom in book store
At Harry Hartog Bookseller

I love writing small fictions, also known as hybrid fiction:  flash, micro fiction, prose poetry.  The form is gaining in traction and you can enter your stories in various competitions like the New Flash Fiction Review.

‘New Flash Fiction Review has chosen to honor master storyteller Anton Chekhov through holding an annual award for excellence in flash fiction— or as they might have said, back in Chekhov’s time, “very short fiction”. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. Chekhov’s mastery for saying a lot with a little makes him one of the flash fiction’s spiritual inspirations. Over one-hundred years before the term “flash” was invented, Chekhov himself was writing short stories in under 1,000 words, stories such as “After the Theatre”, “A Country Cottage”, and “Bliss”. In 1886, Chekhov wrote in a letter to his brother, “… you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”’ – New Flash Fiction Review

My small fiction titled Undulations was first published in Quadrant magazine. Hope you enjoy it.

Undulations

So we’re sitting in Melbourne in a vegan restaurant reminiscing about our school days spent mucking-up in the back row and Jane (her hair still red, short and frizzy, like childhood) remembers daring me to ask our fourth-grade Geography teacher how to spell ‘undulations’.  What?  “Because I wanted to write her a message,” Jane says.  “An unsigned message saying, ‘The way you run your hands over your boobs to demonstrate undulations is disgusting,’ but didn’t know how to spell it.  So I told you that if you were my friend, you’d ask her.  You know how she always said to speak up if we couldn’t spell something?  For some reason she wrote the word down on a piece of paper, rather than on the blackboard.  Maybe she thought you couldn’t see properly from our eyrie.  So you got back to your desk and passed it to me under the chair.  I wrote in my best handwriting, ‘Your demonstrations of undulations are gross,’ blotted it carefully, and placed it furtively on her table after the recess bell had cleared the room.  When we filed in after lunch, I saw her open it up.”  Jane taps me on the arm enthusiastically.  “What happened then?” I say.  “Was she angry?  Did she think it was me?  Did I get punished?”  How forgetful was I?  Jane had mastered the art of getting the ink from the inkwell to the pen nib to the paper—no ugly blotches—her cursive as good as a professional engraver’s.  Even after all this time, she still prefers a fountain pen and has a proclivity for setting wrongs right.  “She threw the chalk in the bin, reached for her cardigan and draped it over her shoulders,” Jane says, grinning.  “Yes, that’s what happened.  And she didn’t demonstrate undulating landscapes on herself or on any of us ever again.”

Copyright © 2018 Libby Sommer

Or you can study this growing-in-popularity short form by getting a copy of Best Small Fictions by Sonder Press:  ‘The Best Small Fictions is the first ever contemporary anthology solely dedicated to anthologizing the best short hybrid fiction published in a given calendar year.’

“If you are a writer of any kind, this book is also a must read because it will only enhance and inspire your own work, particularly through models of stellar openings/endings and meticulous editing.” — JMWW

 

Why Do You Write?

woman lying on green grass while holding pencil

It’s a tough gig being a writer. Lots of isolation, lots of intense concentration, lots of rejection from publishers and agents.

Why do I write? It’s a good question to ask yourself.

  1.  Because I’m a fool.
  2.  Because I want to impress my old school friends.
  3.  So people will like me.
  4.  So my friends will hate me.
  5.  I’m no good at speaking up.
  6.  So I can invent a new way of looking at the world.
  7.  In order to write the great Australian novel and become famous.
  8.  Because I’m a nut case.
  9.  Because I’m an undiscovered literary genius.
  10.  Because I have something to tell.
  11.  Because I have nothing to tell.

One of my favourite books on the writing process is The Writing Life by Pullitzer Prize winning Annie Dillard. It’s a small and passionate guide to the terrain of a writer’s world.

Dillard begins:

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year. You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.

There is a famous story in the Zen world:

The student, newly arrived at the monastery, asks the master, “What work will I do as I seek enlightenment?”

The master replies, “Chop wood, carry water.”

“And what work will I do once I achieve enlightenment?” asks the student.

“Chop wood, carry water,” says the master.

So how does this stay apply to the writing life? A writer writes. That’s all there is to it.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” —E. B. White

What about you? Why do you write?