Benefits of a Writing Workshop

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I have become distracted. Somewhere along the way my original purpose for writing this blog lost its way and, instead of writing about writing, I’ve used this space for sharing some of my writing projects, such as memoir writing and social history. But hopefully I’ve remained faithful to the whole idea of writing stories – my stories, your stories, the stories so many of us like to read because we can relate to them.

This morning I attended a two hour creative non-fiction writing workshop, the writing I spend about half of my writing life doing. This was the first writing workshop I’ve attended for a few years. I came away with more than I expected.

A writing workshop ideally offers us opportunities to write, to put into practice what we’re focused on. Yes, I came home with a piece of new writing developed at this morning’s workshop. But I came home with even more.

Perhaps even more stimulating was the contact with other writers, all writing different stories, all having something valid to say, most of whom I’d never met before. I enjoyed being exposed to different styles of writing and discussing them. I also listened to how each writer faced challenges in their writing lives.

Writing tends to be an isolated task. A writing workshop brings us into contact with other writers. For me this was more powerful than the piece of writing I produced.

If you have the opportunity to be part of such a session, grab it. There’s something quite powerful about thinking about and talking about writing, while producing the start of a new piece of work and receiving feedback.

Have you had similar experiences?

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Sometimes It’s Okay Not to Write

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We went to the tiny seaside fishing village with good intentions, not to fish, but to simply relax, enjoy some time away from daily life. It was our 46th wedding anniversary and in recent years we’ve enjoyed taking such a break on this occasion.

The view above was taken from the beach house balcony early on our first morning after arrival. Believe it or not, rather than inspire me, this view restricted my writing. I wanted to write, believe me. My intention had been to write about 1000 words while there. I thought the surroundings would be perfect.

It seems they were too perfect and I needed relaxation more than I needed writing. I spent most of the four days enjoying the view. Sure, I achieved some journal writing, but nothing more serious than that. In fact at the end of our first full day there I wrote:

My brain is like a hyperactive child after an overload of sugar. It is flitting all over the place, nothing productive. Maybe I need this quietness to enable my creative mind to have a rest, empty, then leave room for new ideas.

I eventually accepted that it was okay not to write. My brain fell into the peaceful rhythm of the sea and I chose to not disturb that rhythm as it became absorbed into my being.

Now I am home again, refreshed, and ready to start writing again.

Sometimes it’s okay not to write.

Listening Through Closed Doors

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Image courtesy of https://pixabay.com/

I’m sure many of your parents, like mine, told you that no good comes of listening to conversations not meant for your ears. But when you’re a bored teenager sometimes listening to an adult conversation can be quite revealing. How else were we to learn about life?

On one occasion my parents’ saying proved to be wrong and what I heard became a turning point in my life. The conversation unfolded between my father and a woman who often visited us, the very woman written about yesterday with the silver grey hair and the pink volkswagen car.

Said woman disapproved of the freedom I was given since I had started competitive swimming. She’d apparently seen me biking home from training with some boys.

‘You give that girl too much freedom,’ she said. ‘She’ll end up getting herself into trouble.’

Now I was at an age where girls getting into trouble meant only one thing, they found themselves pregnant. I was about to burst through the door in protest, but my father’s reply stopped me. His answer was simple.

‘We trust her,’ he said.

They were such powerful words and even though he never said as much to me personally he didn’t need to. His trust always came to mind when I found myself getting involved in teenage shenanigans.

So, conversations listened on through closed doors are not always a bad thing.

Painting My Writing With Colour

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Image courtesy of  https://pixabay.com/

Falling into familiar patterns is easy. They creep up on us without our noticing and we find the excitement in our writing slowly goes into hiding. That’s what it’s like for me anyway.

I’ve done more factual than creative writing over the past three years, but now I’m trying to kick start my creativity. I have a few go-to books I enjoy when this happens and I pulled out one this morning. I randomly opened at a chapter about including the detail of colour in writing.

This was exactly what I needed. I’m currently writing a piece about ‘That Woman’ for my memoir group. My writing was drab, even though I was describing a woman vibrant in both the colours she chose and in her personality. Just being reminded of colour enabled me to revitalise my writing, bring more life to it.

The woman’s grey hair became silver grey hair, so silver the light bounced off it like sparks. Her pink volkswagen car became a car so pink it shocked the drab neighbourhood around it.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into lazy habits, but they are not impossible to turn around. Today I’m looking forward to painting the piece I’m writing with colour.

Why Daily Writing Practice Matters to Me

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Ever since I read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ I have been a prolific filler of journals or notebooks as I go about my daily writing practice.

Each month I start a new journal, filling the pages with thoughts, ideas, inspirational quotes, whatever takes my fancy. Sometimes the pages are filled exploring ideas for my current writing project, other times the pages are filled with absolute rubbish. But still I write.

It’s the writing that matters, the moving the hand across the page as Natalie Goldberg puts it. Just as a sports person trains for an event and warms up before both training and competing, I warm up for my writing day.

Without this warm-up I fear I’d be facing a blank screen or  blank page, the ideas refusing to flow. I try to not miss a day of writing practice in my journals, whether I intend writing that day or not. After all, a successful sports person doesn’t miss a day of training just because they have no event coming up. Smooch the Cat often looks on, wanting to be part of the action.

April is coming to an end, now is the time to venture out and buy a new journal for May.

Imagining the Past at the Manawatu Estuary

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On a recent trip to our nearest beach we spent time enjoying the estuary at the river mouth, where my local river eventually flows into the ocean. These days the estuary, not shown here in the photo, is a protected heritage area, where many of New Zealand’s native water birds can be found at various times of the year.

It wasn’t the birds that captured my attention on this trip though, but the river and how it served in the opening up of my region in the 1870s when New Zealand was being settled. The river has changed its course over the years since then and definitely doesn’t seem as wide nor deep as it once must have been.

In the beginning, before the region was cleared of forest and before roads were established the river was the major means of travelling inland to where I live. Settlers arriving to the newly established town had to travel up river in large sailing boats for some distance to a nearby thriving port town, then onward in smaller river transport.

I tried imaging the big sailing ships carrying arrivals, people who had been on board for months, eager to reach their new homeland. The river shown here at low tide just didn’t seem to be capable of being navigated by a large sailing ship. However, I enjoyed imaging the presence of so many ships arriving at was back then a thriving port, that I was on board one of them arriving at a strange destination.

This river mouth of the Manawatu River played an important role in the development of my region.

Even Non-Fiction Books Have Sequels

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The book launch is over, the books are continuing to sell and although I’m still my own promoter and marketer I’m ready to start writing again.

I knew the right next step would present itself and yesterday, as I was working on an article for the local history journal, I realised what my next project will be. In fact, I’d already started on it without realising.

At the book launch and during the period prior to it many local swimming stories were emerging that were not connected to the baths I wrote about, but were local social history stories that deserve to be told. Just like the driftwood above, stories can find a second life, continuing their journey on a different course.

Consequently, I am about to embark on a continuing story, a sequel to Down at the Baths. The story is not yet named, but will be about children and swimming places in our city prior to about 1970.

Have you ever noticed that once you set your focus things start happening? Within a couple of hours of making the decision to write a sequel to my book I was given two independent stories of an old swimming hole I’d previously known nothing about. That was definitely a sign this next book is meant to be.

So, my way forward is now clear and I’m rather excited. It seems the next couple of years of my life have now been taken care of.