Off With His Head

hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and meat patty

Yesterday afternoon in the Saturday-afternoon feedback group, we began talking about the ‘off with his head’ or ‘out-it-goes’ part of writing.  We acknowledged that as a group we’d always been very supportive and encouraging of each others work.  That was because we were all in it together.  Our critiquing was not telling lies; it was from a place of open hearted acceptance.  Everything you put on the page is acceptable.

Sometimes someone says, ‘I want a rigorous no-holds-barred assessment of my work.’  But what do you say to them when the writing is dull and boring?  Don’t give up your day job?  It doesn’t sit comfortably with most of us to be directly critical of someone’s writing.  It’s like telling someone how ugly their baby is.  All of us find it hard to separate our writing from ourselves, and are prone to take criticism personally.

The feedback sandwich is a widely known technique for giving constructive feedback, by ‘sandwiching’ the criticism between two pieces of praise or compliments.

 

hamburger with cheese and two beef patties

Yesterday, as we passed around copies of our work (just a page or two) we started to address what William Faulkner famously said:

‘In writing, you must kill all your darlings.’

First of all, we looked for the juice in each piece.  Where did the writing come alive?  ‘Get rid of the rest,’ we said.  ‘Off with his head—out it goes.’   It’s very difficult to be this honest, and not everyone wants to hear it.  ‘I simply want gentle support and a few corrections,’ some of us might say.

Be willing to have the courage to look at your work with truthfulness.  It’s good to know where your writing has energy and vitality, rather than to spend a lot of time trying to make something come to life that is dead on the page.   Keep writing.  Something new will come up.    You don’t want to put your readers to sleep by writing a lot of boring stuff.

 

Fortnightly Story: Michael

black and white photo of the back of a man as he stares into distance

He’s waiting at the bottom of the ramp, just inside the steel fence that cordons off the entry to the station.  He said to give him a ring from her mobile when the train passed Gosford.  She quickens her pace, adjusts the overnight bag on her shoulder. She is close enough to see the soft fold of his graying hair, the clear smooth glow of his skin.  In his white socks and slip-on loafers he looks very English. Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: Tango

a man and a woman giving a tango performance
Credit: Creative Commons Images

 Tango is a passionate dance.  A conversation between two people in which they can express every musical mood through steps and improvised movement.  (Source Unknown)

1.

Just before nine o’clock in the evening, Sofya gets out of her car and looks up at the sky.  She has sensed a shift in the weather.  There is another breath of wind, a whispering in the air, but the clouds are stagnant against the dark night.  She turns and moves downhill towards the club, ejecting the chewing gum out of her mouth with a loud splat into the bushes, feels the first drops of rain on her bare arms.  She passes the public phone box where frangipanis lie on the grass, picks one up, sniffs at it, throws it back, then quickly enters the club.  Continue reading

Turning Towards the Inner Critic

book cover: Mindfulness

It is essential to separate the creator and the editor, or inner critic when you practice writing, 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.

Continue reading

The Creative Process

Vivian Gornick's book, The Situation and the Story

At a literary lunch this week I overheard someone say:  ‘The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious.  Your brain will do the work.’

 

The thing is, 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.

Continue reading

After the Games

painting of reclining bronze naked woman
Painting by Erika Sommer 2014

1.

Anny saw him again today.  He looked older.  Their paths crossed on the cliffs between Bronte and Bondi.  He walked with a woman she had never seen before. The woman had long beautiful legs – bronzed a clear nut-brown.   She was wearing a man’s undershirt and brown shorts and had a crochet bag hanging loosely from a black nylon strap draped over her hips.  Her hair was long and it flicked out in golden corkscrews over her shoulders and down her back.   They were laughing.  He walked right past Anny and kept right on walking.

 

2.

The beach seems unusually quiet today apart from a yoga class taking place on the grassy verge behind the Pavillion.  On the ocean, surfers in wetsuits loll motionless on surfboards.  On the sand, a gaggle of seagulls stand rigid as Irish dancers.  And over on the rocks at the southern end of the beach other seagulls laze in the early sun in groups of three or four, or six or eight – their chests puffed out, feathers bristling in the spring breeze, as they nestle into the face of the rock. Continue reading

Book Launch

mother and daughter with book and signing pen

My daughter, Erika and me at the launch of my new book, My Year With Sammy.  Notice the fountain pen in my hand ready for all the book signings 🙂   The cover of the book is a painting by my talented daughter.

The book was well reviewed nationally in newspapers and magazines in Australia and internationally on Goodreads.  I am very happy, especially as it’s my first novel to be published.

Here is what Kerryn Goldsworthy said when she named the book ‘Pick of the Week’ in Spectrum Books.

“Eight-year-old Sammy and her long-suffering elder brother, James, spend alternate weeks in the home of their mother, Madelaine, and that of their father and his new girlfriend.  The story is mostly told by Sammy’s maternal grandmother, who helps out as much as she can, and Madelaine needs a lot of help because Sammy is wilful, stubborn, determined and strange, and given to tantrums.  Libby Sommer writes about this sort of child with more delicacy and intelligence than any other writer on this topic that I’ve ever read.  Without sentimentality, she explores the desperation of dealing with a difficult child while staying patient and open-minded.  There is no clear diagnosis, only day after day of struggle, all of it negotiated within Sommer’s sharp and subtle observations of Australian society.”

An excellent review.  And many more on Goodreads.  🙂