Writing Tip: 10 Topics for Writing Practice

Sometimes we sit at our desks to write and can’t think of anything to write.  We face the blank page.  We sit there until blood pours from our foreheads, as one famous author was heard to say.

Making a list can be good.  It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life in all its richness.

10 ideas for writing practice:

  1. Begin with “I don’t remember”. If you get stumped, just repeat the words “I don’t remember” on the page again and keep going.
  2. Tell about sound as it arises. Be aware of sounds from all directions as they arise:  sounds near, sounds far, sounds in front, behind, to the side, above or below.  Notice any spaces between sounds.
  3. Tell me about last evening. Dinner, sitting on the couch, preparing for bed.  Be as detailed as you can.  Take your time to locate the specifics and relive your evening on the page.
  4. Tell me what boredom feels like.
  5. See in your mind a place you’ve always loved. Visualise the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.
  6. Write about “saying goodbye”. Tackle it any way you like.  Write about your marriage breakup, leaving home, the death of a loved one.
  7. What was your first job?
  8. Write about the most scared you’ve ever been.
  9. Write in cafes. Write what is going on around you.
  10. Describe a parent or a child.

Some people have a jar full of words written on pieces of paper and select one piece of paper at random each day and write from that.  Others use a line of a poem to start them off.  Then every time they get stuck they rewrite that line and keep going.

Be honest.  Cut through the crap and get to the real heart of things.

Zen Buddhist, psychotherapist, writer and teacher, Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake says the solution for her came via haiku (short unrhymed Japanese poems capturing the essence of a moment).

 “For several years I wrote one haiku a day and then spent hours polishing those I had written on previous days.  This tiny step proved increasingly satisfying,” Gail Sher.

She said it gradually dawned on her that it was not the haiku but the “one per day.”  Without even knowing it, she had developed a “practice.”  Every day, no matter what, she wrote one haiku.  In her mind she became the person who writes “a haiku a day.”  And that was the beginning of knowing who she was.

Gail Sher suggests writing on the same subject every day for two weeks.

“Revisiting the same subject day after day will force you to exhaust stale, inauthentic, spurious thought patterns and dare you to enter places of subtler, more ‘fringe’ knowing,” Gail Sher.

She writes in One Continuous Mistake that the Four Noble Truths for writers are:

  1. Writers write.
  2. Writing is a process.
  3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
  4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

So start coming up with your own list of ideas for practice writing.  Life happening around us is good grist-for-the-mill.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

My Short Story, ‘After the Games’

My short story ‘After the Games’ was first published in Quadrant magazine and is included in my collection of short fictions titled ‘Stories from Bondi’ published by Ginninderra Press. Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

After the Games:

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.

It is shortly after the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Anny is on a rostered day off from her job with the ABC.  She is also a poet but she doesn’t  refer to that unless it is something people know already.  She doesn’t think of making a living as a poet, not only because the income would be non-existent, but because she thinks, as she has innumerable times in her life, that probably she will not write any more poems.

On the grass a woman works out with her female personal trainer.  The trainer holds an oblong plastic cushion at waist height while the woman kicks the bag.

One, two, three, calls out the trainer.

Kick, kick, kick, goes the woman’s leg hard into the cushion.

Four, five, six.

Kick, kick.

That’s the way, the trainer encourages.

Nine, ten, she continues with a rising inflection in her voice.

The trainer is forced backwards slightly with each kick but makes a quick recovery to her original position.

3.

A man and a woman lie together kissing, sheltered by the shadow of the rocks at the southern end of the beach.  Anny came here at night with Howard and they sat over there near the rocks with their arms around each other into the night. The pull of the tide kept bringing the waves closer to their feet.  Anny saw the froth advancing and retreating and her own toes digging into the sand.  All the time he spoke she saw her feet and when they started to go numb in the damp sand she  knew without looking up what he was going to say;  the whole of her seemed to be in her toes.  Her love was in the waves.  For some reason she thought that if the waves reached her, things would work out between them.  The waves advanced and retreated but never quite reached the rock where they sat:  never quite bridged the gap, the space between them and the ocean.

4.

On the sand a one-legged seagull hops towards the water laboring over the crumbs of loose sand which break away and roll down as he passes over them.  The one-legged seagull seems to have a definite goal in sight differing from the high-hopping tangerine-footed bird who attempts to cross in front of him, and who waits for a moment with his black beak trembling as if in deliberation, and then hops off as rapidly and strangely in the opposite direction.  A line of seaweed with deep green lakes in the hollows lies between the seagull and the water’s edge where the other gulls are pecking for food.  The seagull waits, undecided whether to circumvent the mountain of seaweed or to breast it.

Anny stops and watches the struggle of the seagull.

5.

The ocean is grey and flat today.  It is so quiet in fact that she can hear the tiny whisper of the breeze, the rustling of the waves approaching the shore, the creaking of the wings of a gull-like bird which flies low over the Promenade and the flapping of her own thin skirt as it blows against her legs.  But there is no wind, nothing but a steady pressure forward as she progresses along the beach.  Somewhere behind the veil of clouds there is a pale sun which can be seen, in the far distance, that casts a white gleam on the water.

Who would know there had been a Beach Volleyball Stadium here on the beach at Bondi?  She bought tickets for the preliminaries for herself and her son.  They hadn’t been out, just the two of them, since he was a little boy when she took him to a Kiss concert.

After the game they’d walked back to her place and he’d come in briefly for a glass of water before saying goodbye.  She’d  kissed him on the neck – on that soft groove that she used to know so well when he was a little boy.

When he’d left she couldn’t think of anything for the rest of the afternoon except that soft part of his neck and the kiss.

6.

Near the end of the Promenade a woman cradles a baby in her arms.  Anny can see the baby’s face clearly as it is lit by the sun.  She can almost smell the baby’s soft hair, that familiar baby smell she once knew so well.  The woman strokes the baby and looks down at it and the baby looks back up at her.  She looks up again with a faraway gaze that all new mothers seem to have and rocks slowly from side, to side, her feet shuffling against the cement.  The light picks up the woman’s high cheekbones and glints off her glasses.

Anny moves to the left as a woman pushing a three wheeled stroller runs past.  The baby clutches the sides of the pram, the front wheel lifting as the woman negotiates the corner.

7.

Anny first met Howard at a dinner party at a mutual friend’s house.  He’d talked business with the host and she hadn’t really connected with him.  It was only towards the end of the meal when he’d passed her the chocolate-covered strawberries and encouraged her to eat one that she’d warmed to him slightly.  Go on, he’d said.  Have one.  Chocolate is good for you.  He was a chunky sort of a bloke, a thick head of brown hair, greying at the sides.  She had to admit that she wasn’t attracted to him when they first met. You were disappointed I could tell, he said later. A week after the dinner he’d rung and asked her out for dinner.  He’d come over to pick her up and they’d walked down to Bondi.  Coming back to her place later he told her he knew she was interested in him because she kept brushing into his arm as they walked up the hill.

8.

Anny trusts what she makes of things –  usually.  She trusts what she thinks about friends and chance acquaintances, but she feels stupid and helpless when contemplating the collision of herself and Howard.  She has  plenty to say about it, given the chance, because she likes to explain things, but she doesn’t trust what she says, even to herself; it doesn’t help her.

Because everything and everyone else in his life came before me, she might say.  His two businesses, his children, his ex-wife who lived across the road.

9.

The one-legged seagull has now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the line of seaweed or climbing over it.  Aside from the effort required to climb the seaweed, he is doubtful whether the slippery texture will bear his weight.  This determines him finally to creep beneath it, for there is a point where the seaweed curves high enough from the ground to admit him.  He inserts his head in the opening and takes stock of the high brown roof and is getting used to the cool brown light before deciding what to do next.

10.

Howard had said he uses his air rifle to kill birds.  He said he’s proud to shoot introduced birds around his house – and has no hesitation in killing dive-bombing magpies and noisy possums.

She remembers his house well.  Big, two-stories, red-brick, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a swimming pool out the back. Black leather and chrome, art books on the coffee tables.  Huge original paintings on the walls.

He’d stay in the family room when his children were visiting, which was seven days out of fourteen – everyone in their own special seat at a computer or watching television or talking on the telephone.  There was no spare seat for Anny and not enough light to read by.

She bought flowers.  She bought presents for his children;  clothes for the girls; she talked music with his son.  She learned pathways around the house and found places outside where she could sit.

She’d felt flattered when he said that he wanted her to move in with him. He offered to build her a studio out the back.  A dog house, a friend had said.  He wants you out the back in the dog house so he can keep an eye on you.  So you can be on hand whenever it suits him.

Howard talked about all the women his friends had lined up for him – waiting to be introduced.  He spoke about a former girlfriend and how he wanted her to move in with him but she wouldn’t, so he ended the relationship.  Later Anny found out that Howard had kept on seeing the former girlfriend even ringing her from Paris from the conference Anny had foolishly agreed to attend with him.  She’d stupidly insisted on paying her own business class airfare, which she couldn’t afford, in order to be by his side.

She didn’t know any of this until it was too late –  until she’d  become needy and dependent.

You just want a handbag, a doormat, a warm body in the bed, she’d accused him.

I have a fatal flaw, he’d explained.  I only want what I cannot have.

And what are Anny’s flaws?  Angry, demanding, unco-operative Anny.  Anny, the unsatisfactory poet.

11.

Two pigeons waddle along the concrete in search of food.  Their tails wag back and forth, their necks jut in and out like finely linked springs moving to the rhythm of their webbed feet.  On the grass the men and women practicing yoga twist their bodies into unimaginable knots and drop into breathtaking back bends, seeming to hang suspended in the air as they jump from one position to the next.  The clear measured voice of the female yoga teacher calls out instructions:

Push down through the buttocks

Pull up through the rib cage

Relax the head down

Spread the fingers out wide

Toes under

Push the hips up

Keep the mind focussed in the moment

Roll over on to your back

And come into the corpse position

If you live alone and you can’t close your hand, it makes life very difficult as you get older, says the yoga instructor.  Not being able to open a jar or turn a key in the lock.  Every morning when I wake up I take the time to stretch out my body, she continues.  I rotate my ankles, stretch out my feet and arms, and then I stand up and stretch out my neck.  How many of you stretch in the mornings? Living in the city takes a toll on our health.  We sit at a desk writing or sit at the computer – but we need to stretch the hands, the wrists, the hip flexors and to keep our bodies moving.

Anny wonders if the early morning stretches are only for people who live alone – for  people who don’t wake up with their lover beside them.

12.

The last time she saw Howard they sat in her car near Ben Buckler in the rain.  She rested her hands against the steering wheel, then leant back and listened as the windscreen started to fog.  She felt the rise and the fall of her own breathing but she couldn’t hear her heart or her breath.  She knew without seeing that the waves were colliding.  Below, the swells rolled against the brown cliffs that she couldn’t see.

When she drove back to her apartment she sat down on a chair in her bedroom.   She sat for an hour or so, then went to the bathroom, undressed, put on her nightgown, and got into bed.  In bed she felt relief, that she had got myself home safely and would not have to think about anything any more.

In fact her only memory now is of the sound of the windscreen wipers swinging back and forth as she and Howard sat in silence in her car.

After the Maccabi bridge collapse in Israel she rang to see if his daughter had been involved.  She left a message on his answer machine but he never returned her call.

He wrote to her care of the ABC, to say he’d pack and send her things.

13.

The grey underside of wings flap as a triangle of seagulls fly past in perfect formation above the rocks.  They climb to a thousand feet, then, flapping their wings as hard as they can, they push over into a blazing steep dive toward the waves.  They pull sharply upward again into a full loop and then fly all the way around to a dead-slow stand-up landing on the sand.

14.

Effortlessly the one-legged seagull spreads his wings and lifts into the air. In the light breeze he curves his feathers to lift himself without a single flap of wing from sand to cloud and down again.

He climbs two thousand feet above the sea, and without a moment for thought of failure and death, he brings his fore wings tight in to his body, leaving only the narrow swept wingtips extended into the wind, and falls into a vertical dive.

With the faintest twist of his wingtips he eases out of the dive and shoots above the waves, a gray cannonball under the sun.

He trembles ever so slightly with delight.

15.

She had his sweater draped over her shoulders. They were laughing.  Anny watched their backs move away.  She waited by the sea until the sun went down.

16.

The swell is up, the Pacific Ocean expressing its power across the rocks below Anny in spectacular explosions of spray.

It is colder now and the day is fading. A little wind has blown up.  The wind tears at her hair.  With a wild gesture she pulls her hair loose from its side combs and lets it stream across her face and then lets it fly back in the wind.

A weak sun emerges.  She stands still and lifts her face.

17.

Keep your hips still, swing your arms, keep your lower abdominals tight to protect your back.  Try to keep your chest high, a nice long neck.  Keep your arms out nice and long.  Relax the shoulders.  Stand tall.  Go over to the right side, keep your knees soft.  Very slowly.  And the other side.  Forward roll.  Drop the chin into the neck.  Hold it.  Keep your knees soft and come back up.  Really concentrate on spinal articulation here – vertebrae by vertebrae slowly roll it up, shoulders relaxed.  Chin in, roll it down.  Keep those knees soft.  Bend your knees as much as you have to.  Go down for four, push it in. Stretch out the shoulders there.  Hold it and release the hands on to the ground and roll it back up. Take your right leg out in front.  Hands on the hips, keep the hips square.  We’re going over in a nice square line.  Should be able to stretch the hamstrings there. 

 And … coming back up.

 The End

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

Writing Tip: Exercise the Writing Muscle

Writing as a daily practice is a way to exercise the writing muscle. Like working out at the gym, the more you do it, the more results you get. Some days you just don’t feel like working out and you find a million reasons not to go to the gym or out for a jog, a walk, a swim, a bike ride, but you go anyway. You exercise whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around till you feel the urge to work out and have an overwhelming desire to go to the gym. It will never happen, especially if you haven’t been into health and fitness for a long time and you are pretty out of shape. But if you force yourself to exercise regularly, you’re telling your subconscious you are serious about this and it eventually releases its grip on your resistance. You just get on and do it. And in the middle of the work out, you’re actually enjoying it. You’ve felt the endorphines kick in. When you get to the end of the jog, the walk, the bike ride, the swim, the gym workout or the Pilates, Yoga or Zumba class, you don’t want it to end and you’re looking forward to the next time.

That’s how it is with writing too. Once you’ve got the flow happening, you wonder why it took you so long to turn up on the page. Bum on chair is what I say to my writing students. Through daily practice your writing does improve.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s book on discovering and recovering your creative self, she refers to daily writing practice as the morning pages. She recommends writing three pages of longhand, strictly stream-of-consciousness—moving the hand across the page and writing whatever comes to mind every day.

Author of Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg refers to writing practice as timed exercise. She says you might time yourself for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or longer. It’s up to you, but the aim is to capture first thoughts. “First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”

Her rules for writing practice are:

1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Don’t cross out.
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation , grammar.
4. Lose control.
5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
6. Go for the jugular.

In Creative Journal Writing, author Stephanie Dowrick refers to the same process as free writing; writing without judging, comparing and censoring. “Continuing to write when you don’t know what’s coming next and especially when you feel your own resistances gathering in a mob to mock you.”

Daily writing practice has been described as clearing the driveway of snow before reaching the front door. In other words, it’s what we do as a warm up before the real writing takes place.  And it’s a way to loosen up and discover our own unique writing ‘voice’.  That’s what publishers are looking for when they read through the slush pile.  The storyteller’s voice.  The authentic writing voice of the author is what engages the reader.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

My Prose Poem ‘Someone I Don’t Know Sideswiped My Car’

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.

Copyright 2021 Libby Sommer

.

Writing Tip: Use the Inner Critic


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.

The thing is, the more clearly you know yourself, the more you can accept the critic in you and use it.  If the voice says, “You have nothing interesting to say,” hear the words as white noise, like the churning of a washing machine.  It will change to another cycle and eventually end, just like your thoughts that come and go like trains at the station.  But, in the meantime, you return to your notebook and practice your writing.  You put the fear and the resistance down on the page.


Do you struggle with an inner critic?  Any words of wisdom you’d like to share?

Writing Tip: Start Writing

typing writing on a pink background

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.

My Flash Fiction ‘Sober Sixty’

Libby Sommer and 'Grieve" anthology

Have a read of my flash fiction ‘Sober Sixty’ first published in the Grieve Anthology, August 2020, Stories and Poems of Grief and Loss.

Sober Sixty

Samantha’s single women friends were envious, although she assured them Johnny wasn’t perfect. Mood swings, challenging stuff like that.

Nobody messed with Johnny. Nobody knew better than he did, he was always watching YouTube and learning new facts and figures. Also, he rode a motorbike and practiced shooting at weekends. There were Facebook groups for bike riders and a rifle range nearby. Johnny was proud of being a rev-head and a good shot with his gun, and not many people could disagree that he had unusual interests for a man his age.

Sober since forty and counting, he said about his sobriety. They didn’t talk about his twenties and thirties.

There’s a photograph of the two of them from Christmas day. Johnny had tried to lower himself to Samantha’s height for the photo so they’d be on the same level. Stand up tall, she’d said. Stand to your full height. That’s right, he’d said. You like things big.

What does ATP in ATP Cup stand for? was the type of thing Johnny would call out while she poured him a glass of water before setting out on a stroll around the block.

Samantha thought she knew the answer, but didn’t want to risk being wrong. She’d learnt to tiptoe around his wildness and dreaded the fighting when she wasn’t attentive enough to his needs. Dry drunk, AA called it. The unpredictable rages were doing her head in. She knew she needed the courage to walk away.

Now she’s getting by a day at a time.

Her friends say she’s one of the lucky ones. She’s dodged a bullet.

Copyright Libby Sommer 2020

Grieve 2020 Anthology available from Hunter Writer’s Centre website or Booktopia https://hunterwriterscentre.org/bookshop/

My First Published Short Story in 2000

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

I’m very happy to say that I have been publishing short stories and poems in literary journals for 21 years.

‘Around the World In Fifty Step’ was my first published story. It appeared in Overland Literary Journal Autumn, 2000. Since then, more than 40 have been published.

Have a read of this first one. Hope you enjoy it.

Around the World In Fifty Steps:

  1. Joanna lives in a Sydney suburb with her two sons. It’s 1992 and Australia is in recession.
  2. “I’m sick of licking arse in a service industry,” she says of her marketing business. “And I’m fed up with financial insecurity, the feast or famine of too many projects or not enough and chasing new business and getting clients to pay their bills.”
  3. “I’m thinking of renting the house out and travelling,” she tells her grown up sons after reading “The Pitter Patter of Thirty-Year-Old Feet” in the Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. “You’re ready to leave home are you mum?” said one son.
  5. “Why don’t you just go on a long holiday instead,” said the other.
  6. “I want a new beginning, a change of career, a new home, a community of people, an intimate relationship with a significant other, that sort of thing.”
  7. “You could always get yourself a dog,” suggests a friend.
  8. Her son moves out when she puts his rent up.
  9. “Are you going to wait till he buys a new house for cash before you ask for a decent rent?” her mother had said.
  10. “I’ve decided to go and live with Dad for a change,” says the other son.
  11. “I’ll be away for six to twelve months,” Joanna says as she throws her client files on the rubbish tip.
  12. She spends the spring in Italy. The summer in England, Scotland and Ireland. The autumn walking the gorge country of the Ardeche in France.
  13. In the winter she rents a studio apartment in Villefranche on the French Riviera. The studio belongs to a friend of a friend so she’s able to get it at a good price. She works as a casual deck hand on one of the luxury cruisers in dry dock for maintenance. “The first thing I want you to do,” says her boss when she arrives at work on the first day, “is blitz the tender.” After a backbreaking morning of hard physical work cleaning the small run-about she goes to lunch. She orders a salad nicoise and a coffee and realises her lunch will cost her a morning’s pay.
  14. A young and handsome French man who lives in Paris but comes to Villefranche to visit his grandmother most weekends, pursues her. Joanna comes to realise that French men love and cherish women as much as they appreciate good food.
  15. She shops at the markets, paints and reads and falls in love with the light and the colours of the south of France.
  16. “I’m able to live contentedly alone without a regular job, without a car, without speaking the language,” she writes to her friends back home.
  17. In the summer she moves on again before the tourist masses arrive and the rent goes up.
  18. She gives away to her new friends in Villefranche all the things that won’t now fit in her backpack but keeps her paint brushes and pallet knife.
  19. On the Greek island of Skyros she joins a group of landscape artists led by a famous English painter.
  20. “My purpose in leading this group is to help everyone find their own unique style,” says the woman.
  21. Joanna spends the autumn in London meeting with other artists from the island and the woman becomes her mentor and they meet for a cup of tea every week and talk about the isolation of being an artist as well as many other things.
  22. “It’s important to stop and regenerate before the creative battery runs flat,” she says.
  23. Joanna paints every day and goes out with an English man named Clive.
  24. “Your painting is vivid and alive,” says the famous English artist. “I’ll write you a letter of introduction to my contacts in Australia when you’re ready to exhibit this collection.”
  25. Clive has a strong face with chiselled square cheekbones. Dark brown eyes and dark hair that falls in a square fringe on his forehead. His fingers are long and sensitive for playing the piano.
  26. “What are you doing there?” her mother asks on the phone from across the ocean.
  27. “I’m painting,” says Joanna.
  28.  “But what are you doing?”
  29.   “My mother is like a poisonous gas that can cross from one side of the world to the other,” Joanna says.
  30. Joanna dreams about her sons every night and Clive tells her she cries in her sleep.
  31. She yearns for the bright Australian light and for the sound of the ocean.
  32. She returns to Australia for her eldest son’s wedding.
  33. In Sydney, Joanna supplements her income from the house rental by getting a job as a casual for a clothing company. She unpacks boxes and steampresses the garments. Her back, neck and shoulders ache and she suspects she’s getting RSI from the steampresser.
  34. Clive rings to say he’s coming to visit her.
  35. In preparation for his arrival she moves all her furniture out of storage and rents a small place near the beach hoping that he’ll love it in Australia and decide to stay.
  36. Two weeks before his arrival Clive rings to say he’s not coming and Joanna finds out through a friend that he’s met someone else and is moving in with her.
  37. She tears up his photos and throws his Christmas present at the wall.
  38. Joanna stops painting.
  39. She reflects on the past and all that she’s lost.
  40. I thought when love for you died, I should die. It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on. Rupert Brooke.
  41. Joanna stays in bed most days but still feels so tired that she can only remain vertical for four hours in any twenty-four hour period.
  42. The phone stops ringing.
  43. She rehearses her own death by going to the edge of the cliff.
  44. From the edge she sketches the waves breaking on rocks, the lone seagull on the shore at the water’s edge.
  45. At home she fills in the drawing, blending black charcoal and white pastel reminding herself the darkest hour is before the dawn.
  46. And, after winter spring always comes.
  47. Joanna sells the house where she lived with her children and spends half the money on a home unit overlooking the ocean and the rest of the money on Australian shares.
  48. Her new home faces the east and she can smell the salt from the ocean.
  49. “It takes twenty years to be a successful artist,” echoes in her mind.
  50. On a new canvas she drags the colours of the sunrise across the blank white space.

Copyright © 2000 Libby Sommer

9 Tips for Managing Writers’ RSI

Repetitive strain injury often starts gradually but can soon become severely debilitating. But there are ways to nip it in the bud – and alleviate the worst symptoms.

1. Take Frequent Breaks

Take short, frequent breaks from repetitive tasks such as typing. A 10-minute break every hour. Use the computer only as much as you have to. Small hand movements, like scrolling on a screen, seem to set off RSI.

2. Type using both hands

It’s like playing the piano; correct fingering is essential. We tend to overuse one side of the body.

Become ambidextrous, e.g. use the mouse in your other hand, lift the kettle with the other hand.

3. Move

Get up from your desk every 30 minutes and move your neck and shoulders to release tension.

4. Use a Fountain Pen

When writing by hand, use a thick grip fountain pen that flows really well, rather than a ballpoint pen. Needing to push down on the pen, even lightly, makes the inflammation of RSI worse.

5. Check the ergonomics of your work station

Keep wrists straight and flat when typing. Sit with thighs level, feet flat on floor (or on footrest), sit up straight, shoulders relaxed, upper arms at sides, not splayed out, forearms horizontal or tilted slightly downwards, so knees and elbows are at a right angle. Keep the top of your screen at eye level and adjust the position of your keyboard, so it’s easy to reach without stretching or hunching. Don’t slouch. Use good posture. To keep wrists straight and flat use a gel wrist rest for the keyboard and the mouse.

6. Keep wrist straight when sleeping

Don’t curl your hands into a fist when sleeping. Some people wear a brace to keep their sore wrist straight.

7. Strengthen the supporting muscles

A physio will give you exercises to do to strengthen the arms. e.g. bicep curls

8. Stretch

Stretch neck, shoulders, arms, wrists. I find yoga is excellent for a full body stretch. The downward facing dog pose can cause discomfit in the hands, but I try to remember to flatten the knuckles to reduce pressure on the wrists.

9. Massage

Like yoga, a regular massage helps keep the body aligned and pain free.

Hope you find these tips useful. Good luck.

Writing Tip: Finding the Writer’s Magic

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.

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

‘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.