Writing from Within

Trees and shrubs leading to glass door of Brahma Kumaris Centre
Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning

I’m running a writing workshop this Saturday at the Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning in Wilton, New South Wales. It is part of the Society of Women Writers Retreat weekend. I’ve titled my course ‘Writing from Within’ because the aim is to tap into the right side of the brain, leaving aside that nasty critical left side, and really getting to the heart of what you want to write. I’ve run workshops like this before. Usually I use a combination of meditation techniques, and a guided colour exercise for relaxation and then spontaneous writing, or timed writing. It’s truly amazing what people write when they are able to get into the zone and not be held back by negative thinking.

These are the rules of timed writing according to Natalie Goldberg in ‘Writing Down the Bones’:

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)

  2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)

  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)

  4. Lose control.

  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

Should be a excellent weekend featuring publisher Catherine Milne and presentations from authors Emily Maguire, Susanne Gervay, Kathryn Heyman, Libby Hathorn, Beverley George.

book cover of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

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Writing Tip: A Sense of Place

writing desk with keyboard, screen and printer in front of window
My home office

I’m sitting at my writing desk this spring morning in Sydney thinking about the need to ground our writing in a sense of place, whether landscape or cityscape.

How often have you heard someone say of a book they loved:  ‘I felt like I was there.’

Even if you relocate the poodle tied to a fake-cane chair, the sound of a game of tennis, the table of older men after their regular Sunday match at the café overlooking the tennis courts at Cooper Park that you drank a lemongrass and ginger tea at in Sydney into a café in a story in another state and time, the story will have originality and believability.  ‘But that café was in Sydney, I can’t transport it to Adelaide.’  But you can.  You can have flexibility with specific detail.  The mind is able to transport details, but using actual places that you experienced will give your writing authenticity and truthfulness.  It grounds your work in place, giving life and vitality to your writing, rather than a whole lot of exposition that floats in the air.

trees and house seen outside French paneled window
looking out the window from my writing desk

 If you don’t create evocative settings, your characters seem to have their conversations in vacuums or in some beige nowhere-in-particular. –  Jerome Stern

Creation of the physical world is as important to your story as action and dialogue.  If your readers can be made to see the hand-knitted socks or the row of vitamins on the kitchen benchtop, the scene becomes alive.  Readers pay attention.  Touch, sound, taste, and smell make readers feel as if their own feet are warm under the cold sheets.

Place situates the story in your reader’s mind.  Fiction that seems to happen in no particular place often seems not to take place at all. –  Jerome Stern

I hope this tip on creating a sense of place is helpful. Do you have any suggestions you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.

I Wrote 5 Books Before Publication

fountain pen on page of writing

I wrote five book length manuscripts before one was finally accepted for publication by Ginninderra Press, a small but prestigious publisher. Rejection didn’t stop me from writing.

‘You write, you re-write, you edit, you tweak and when it’s perfect, you submit. And then you get rejected. Many times, maybe by a person who didn’t even read it. Rejection is painful because it instantly devalues your creation. Someone says this isn’t worth publishing. Rejectees, take heart. Many now-famous writers have been rejected before they made it big. Stephen King wrote his first novel, “Carrie,” and it was rejected 30 times. Rejections were so devastating that he threw the manuscript in the trash. “Chicken Soup for the Soul” was rejected 140 times. Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” was rejected by 38 publishers (and she did give a damn). James Joyce’s “Dubliner” was rejected 18 times and took nine years before it reached publication.’ – Ronald H. Balson

There are days when you feel like giving up and is seems that you are not making any progress. It’s during days like these, that sheer determination and persistence is all that’s left.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge

Some writers continually submit the same manuscript until it is accepted. Others chose to do a more polished draft before sending it out again. A few learn from the lessons of submissions, to write a completely new book. What we all have in common is a persistence to never give up on our dream. Some decide to self-publish.

I’m very happy to say that persistence has paid off for me, and a third manuscript has now been accepted for publication by Ginninderra Press . ‘The Usual Story’ will be available in bookstores and online in July 2018.

As the saying goes: a writer writes. Writers continue to write.

A dear friend, who is also a former mentor, wrote this to me recently:  Libby, I’m not sure how you found your way to Ginninderra, but what a blessing for you and for readers! I was thinking the other day of your commitment for so many years when the door to publishing a book just wouldn’t open, and how much I admire your resolve and, of course, your amazing talent! Wonderful that the books are in the world now.

I hope this reminder about persistence is 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.

 

 

3 Parts to the Feedback Sandwich

'The Crystal Ballroom' on bookshelf at bookstore

Yesterday, 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 is because we are 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

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 sentences.

I hope these suggestions 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.  

Jump Cuts: Novel-in-progress

notepad, fountain pen, coffee on table

Below is the first page of my new novel-in-progress. I jump cut from scene to scene. Hopefully this technique is not too confusing. Have you read other novels that use this structure? At the front of the book I’ll be adding a Character List and a Character Map to show how the major characters are connected, to help with the confusion issue. The working title is ‘Missing in Cooper Park’.

1.

The tennis courts at Cooper Park were flooded in the night.  One and a half hours of non-stop rain and hail caused a landslide down through the gully.  Gypsy, a Golden Labrador came along and splashed in fast-flowing Cooper Creek.  Later, the sight of the ruined courts covered in mud and stones, leaves and tree branches like a murky swamp was to shatter Steve’s morning.

2.

Kingston (Carol’s ex) turned up again on the morning after the storm.  He stood on the doorstep looking unbalanced.  His cigarette was burned down to the filter.  His unshaven face was flecked with grey and white.  Carol wouldn’t let him in.  She’d taken his key back.

Carol didn’t tell Steve about Kingston being back but Steve told Carol about the flooded tennis courts.

3.

The moon was high in the darkening dusk as Rosemary puffed past the tennis courts at Cooper Park and continued on up through the steep incline of the gulley swinging a curved stick with tennis ball.

‘Gypsy,’ cried Rosemary.  ‘Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy!  Come here.’

Rosemary had purchased Gypsy after overcoming her husband’s resistance.  They were still in mourning over having to put Buddy down.

She’d promised Philip she’d make sure Gypsy didn’t jump up on the newly-cleaned couches.

He knew Rosemary slipped into depression if she didn’t have a dog to love, even though she was the mother of three children.

They’d bought a puppy who looked just like a baby Buddy.  Rosemary would have liked to say it was Buddy re-incarnated but didn’t.  This was precisely the kind of talk that made her husband go red with anger.

It was he who had named the Golden Labrador Gypsy.         The day would soon be night.

4.

Steve lay in bed waiting for Carol’s alarm to go off.  Outside someone had slept all night in a car.

‘Don’t let anyone in,’ demanded Carol in a dream.

Obsession is Essential to Creativity

coffee cup, water, writing pad, pen on wooden table in cafe

Every once in a while, when I’m scratching around for something new to write, I make a list of the things I obsess about.  Thankfully, some of them change over time, but there are always new ones to fill the gap.

It’s true that writers write about what they think about most of the time.  Things they can’t let go: things that plague them; stories they carry around in their heads waiting to be heard.

Sometimes I get my creative writing groups to make a list of the topics they obsess about so they can see what occupies their thoughts during their waking hours.  After you write them down, you can use them for spontaneous writing before crafting them into stories.  They have much power.  This is where the juice is for writing.  They are probably driving your life, whether you realise it or not, so you may as well use them rather than waste your energy trying to push them away.  And you can come back to them repeatedly.

One of the things I’m always obsessing about is relationships:  relationships in families, relationships with friends, relationships with lovers.  That’s what I tend to write about.  I think to myself, Why not?  Rather than repress my obsessions, explore them, go with the flow.  And life is always changing, so new material keeps presenting  itself.

We are driven by our passions.  Am I the only one who thinks this?  For me these compulsions contain the life force energy.  We can exploit that energy.  The same with writing itself.  I’m always thinking and worrying about my writing, even when I’m on holidays.  I’m driven.

Not all compulsions are a bad thing.  Get involved with your passions, read about them, talk to other people about them and then they will naturally become ‘grist for the mill’.

quote about obsessions

What about you?  Do you find yourself writing about the same topics over and over again?

Jump Cuts on the Page

 

 

close up head & shoulders golden Labrador with pink tongue hanging out

by Libby Sommer:

After a big storm, a golden Labrador goes missing in Sydney’s Cooper Park. This is the scene that begins my new novel-in-progress. I use the search for the dog as a linking device for my characters who are all at a turning point in their lives. I jump cut between discreet scenes (not a continuous narrative) which, unfortunately, is very confusing to the readers in my weekly feedback group.

Transitions are important in fiction because you can’t possibly show or account for every moment in a character’s day, week, or life. A story may stretch over years—readers don’t need to know what happened every minute of those years. A scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view.

Scene transitions in movies are easy. The screen fades to black at just the right moment, and when it lights up again, you’re watching a new scene. But how do you write transitions on the page? How does your character get from Point A to Point B without too much boring detail and telling description?

One way to write scene transitions in novels is to Jump Cut. The term usually refers to Cinema.

‘When Jean-Luc Godard popularized the jump cut in 1959 when he made his breakthrough movie Breathless, it has since become a useful and intriguing editing tool. For those of you who don’t know what a jump cut is: (per Wikipedia): “A jump cut is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. This type of edit causes the subject of the shots to appear to “jump” position in a discontinuous way.”’ – posted by Tyler on Southern Vision

‘The quick-paced German thriller throbs with jump cuts, zoom shots and the speedy sense of an instinctual filmmaker.’ – Charles Taylor, reviewing Run Lola Run

If you want to keep the narrative moving at a fast pace, you can jump cut on the page from scene to scene. But each scene needs to have a beginning a middle and an end.

This technique can be confusing at times, but effective and very readable.

One way to make Jump Cuts on the Page less confusing is to have a strong sense of place. The place is the setting of the story, where the action is located. Setting can be the connective tissue. For me it’s Cooper Park with its cafe, tennis courts, children’s playground, etc.  So, the missing dog, the park and the cafe lessen the confusion, make the transitions smoother – hopefully.

golden Labrador and black and white cat on black leather couch

What about you? Do you find writing scene transitions to be one of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel?