Take Hold of Your Nerves and Jump

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This morning I started reading a delightful little book called, “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day”, written by Arnold Bennett in 1910. Sexist? Definitely! But you have to read it aware of the time the words were written. I found this little treasure amongst free books on Amazon and, being the sucker I am for time management books, (most of which advice never gets put into practice), I couldn’t resist grabbing this free read.

I’d only read about a third – it’s only 52 pages – when an appealing little gem of a quote captured my attention.  The  quote can apply to anyone contemplating doing anything, but I think is especially applicable to writers. It reads …

There is no magic method of beginning. If a man standing on the edge of a swimming-bath and wanting to jump into the cold water should ask you, “How do I begin to jump?” you would merely reply, “Just jump. Take hold of your nerves, and jump.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a good idea I wanted to write about and sat staring at the blank screen or page, not knowing how to start. Of course, once I’ve convinced myself I should start writing, ideas flow and as often as not the beginning jumps out at me half way through. If I hadn’t started I’d still be sitting there, like the man wanting to jump into the pool, wondering how to do it.

So, my advice to you all, whether writers or not, when deciding to do something for the first time, don’t worry too much about how to begin. If you’ve decided to do something, be bold, take the plunge and do it.

As Arnold Bennett says, “Take hold of your nerves and jump.”

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Saturday Morning Unexpected Visitors

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Saturday morning is the day I lie in. This Saturday morning I’d received two visitors before 9 a.m.

The first slunk in unnoticed. He drove his van up the drive and left his calling card in full view by the front door. I discovered this at 6.45 a.m . when I got up to make coffee to take back to bed and unlock the front door in case our son dropped by on his early morning run.

The surprise delivery sat there, delivered by the courier man in darkness without any fuss, a carton of 14 bottles of wine ordered from the Wine Society two nights before. I never considered how much 14 bottles of wine weighed before. I struggled inside, wishing I had octopus  arms, hoping I wouldn’t let the contents fall with a smash to the floor.

There was nothing discreet about this delivery. The carton had New Zealand Wine Society and Passionate about Wine printed on the outside.  No doubt the courier driver realised I must be too by ordering so many bottles. But it was a bargain I couldn’t resist and my wine supply needed replenishing.

The second visitor arrived right on the dot of nine. My husband, dressed, was watching TV. I, still dressed in my dressing gown tied with an old purple scarf and with a head of unbrushed hair, sat on the couch reading from my new Kindle. Anyone coming to the front door peers straight into our lounge, so hiding isn’t an option. We can be seen before we see the visitor.

This early visitor was a friend, who’d offered me a pumpkin she had no need for. Its winter here in NZ and she’d kindly braved the cold, wet  morning to drop it off for me on her way to the local market. I was mortified at the sight I presented as I went to the door. It’s a wonder she didn’t drop the pumpkin and run in fright!

After her departure  and I’d recovered from my embarrassment I started laughing. Thank heavens the wine wasn’t still on the doorstep. Thank heavens I was at least out of bed, even if not properly  dressed. Thank goodness last night’s dishes weren’t still on the bench as they sometimes can be Saturday morning.

Quite respectable for me at nine on a Saturday morning I thought.

Have you ever been embarrassed by unexpected visitors? Why not share your embarrassment with us. I need to know I’m not the only Saturday slob in the world.

Uncovering Treasure through Journal Writing

We’ve all heard more times than we care to remember how daily Journal Writing is essential for any writer. I love writing in my journal, pencil to paper, but until about two months ago was never consistent. Now I write two or three pages of random writing on a regular basis and I’m surprised at the potential writing ideas emerging. Take last night for example, for some reason I started thinking about clocks as I wrote.

Clocks ticking can add suspense. Tick, tick, tick into the silence. Breath held, waiting in anticipation. What will happen next?

Those few words enabled an image of a clock to appear in my mind, a clock that would have probably been ticking at a meeting of important people I’ve just written a short scene about for my writing group monthly piece. Great, I’ll add a little clock detail into my piece today and at the same time throw a portrait of a previous Mayor on to that same wall as well.

Then I remembered the large timing clock high on the wall at the swimming pool. This will add more detail to my Work in Progress.

There’s no indication in my journal as to how I moved from writing about an incident that happened during the day to clocks. But I’m glad my mind made the transition, as the image of clocks will improve both pieces of writing.

I started my journal writing last night thinking that many of the words tumbled onto the empty pages were wasted words, never to be used. I now know writers are like gold miners. They have to dig through a lot of rubble and discard it before uncovering a tiny gem.

So keep up the journal writing, you never know when your next little treasured piece will reveal itself to you.

Peeping Through Knotholes – What Was Revealed?

A well-known and respected writer once told a group I belonged to, when you’re writing don’t share your ideas with anyone. Hug them to yourself until at least the first draft is written. This helps retain the energy of the ideas as you write, rather than allowing them to become weakened by leaking out into the universe.

The idea seemed to make sense at the time. We were a group of budding children’s writers and we all aspired to write like the person running the workshop. However, now I no longer write fiction, but write memoir and life stories, I’ve changed my mind.

In an earlier piece I mentioned the role of conversation to ignite the memory when remembering detail from the past. By talking with others they share their memories and as often as not you are reminded of something similar that would add even more depth to the piece you’re writing.

I experienced a strong reminder of this over the weekend. I’d shared a piece I’d written with a writing group I belong to, a group where once a month we share and discuss our works in progress. My little piece was an experimentation in writing style for me, about the dressing sheds at the old swimming baths in our town over fifty years ago. I hoped it showed a little of the social activity of local kids back in the 1960s.

The women in the group are all of a similar age and much to my amazement my piece triggered off a few memories of their own. One in particular held a lot of memories for me. As the other writer talked of the knot holes in the walls of the old wooden changing sheds I smiled at the daring memories of my own. Knot holes in the walls were something I’d forgotten.

I too had peeping through knot hole stories from my teenage swimming days. Two delicious images floated before my eyes and I quickly scribbled them down. The others laughed when I related them and said the stories must be included in the piece of writing. They added flavour to the piece.

Now, while I’m not yet ready to reveal in writing what I saw through the knot holes, I was reminded memoir and life stories writers must share their ideas as they write. It’s difficult to remember details when locked away in seclusion. Use the memoires of others to ignite your own and you may be surprised at what small snippets of detail surface.

It’s rather like peeping through the knot holes in the swimming pool dressing sheds. You never know what to expect.

Do you have memories of peeping through a hole and seeing something not for your eyes? What did you see? What were the consequences? Please do share them with us.

A few Beers Shared with a Circus Star

In the 1950s my Dad liked to stop off at one of the local pubs for a beer on his way home from work. Pubs closed at 6 o’clock in those days, so there wasn’t any problem of having too much to drink or coming home too late for dinner. What he did at the pub didn’t interest me, until he came home filled with the story of having a beer with one of the circus stars.

The circus train trundled into town once a year, bringing with it all the excitement of the big top. The train ran through the centre town, arriving late afternoon. And it always stopped a few hundred metres from the railway station, quite close to the Grand Hotel. A small entourage left the train at that point, workers keen to throw back a few drinks before they started setting up for the next day. The group on its way to the hotel included one very excited fellow, one circus star who looked forward to throwing back his beer more than any of the others.

Dad arrived home that day at the usual time, quite animated and with a story to tell. We thought he’d had a few too many at first, but no, while the beers may have helped in the telling, his story focussed on who he’d been drinking with – one rather hairy, beer drinking orang-utan.

Now remember, those were the days when no one considered the rights and wrongs of animals working in circuses. And this old orang-utan loved his beer. No doubt he’d have refused to perform without it.

When the train rolled to a halt, the orang-utan’s work mates pulled out a pram, one of those old cane ones, and he leapt in, ready for the short ride to the pub. He clapped and waved his hairy arms in anticipation. He knew why the train had stopped and where he could swill back his nightly allowance.

No doubt this stunt was an arrangement between the hotel owners and the circus, as the event always attracted quite a few locals eager to share a drink and a few stories. Dad certainly enjoyed telling his story of the night he drank with an orang-utan for many years to come.

At the circus the next day we enjoyed all the acts, laughing at the clowns and oohing over the trapeze artists. But the highlight was the beer drinking orang-utan. It was our Dad’s drinking mate we’d come to see. After all, once you’ve shared a few drinks with a friend he almost becomes one of the family.

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My Pencil Sharpener and I

As a writer, I often prefer to write with pencil first, onto a fresh page, before transferring it to the computer. My pencil sharpener, at these times, becomes my best friend.

How odd you may think, a pencil sharpener is an odd thing to be listed amongst my favourite belongings. What does that say about me? Who knows and I don’t really care …… and, I’ll tell you what, this is not the first time I’ve written about pencil sharpeners.

I blame my second teacher, Mrs Foster, who had an aversion to blunt pencils. And now, so do I. As a teacher I shudder when a child tries writing with a thick, fat, blunt lead. I throw up my hands in horror, snatch the pencil from unsuspecting hands, whip out my pencil sharpener as my weapon of choice and start my attack.

But how does this relate to my writing life? While much of my writing is done at the computer, I prefer to write with a pencil. In my more creative moments I enjoy feeling the words flow across the page. There is a serenity that enables creative thoughts to flow more easily. Like all good working people, I need to ensure my tools are in the best possible shape to carry out the task being asked of them. We’ve been told  a poor tradesman blames his or her tools. I have this perception a blunt pencil contributes to blunt writing.

If I want to keep my work sharp and crisp, if I want to feel ideas flowing onto the page, I need one simple tool – a reliable pencil sharpener. I couldn’t live without mine.

What about you? What is your tool of choice when wearing your writer’s hat?

A Writing Quote Many Writers Relate To

Sometimes when I’m staring at a blank page or screen, I choose from my collection of books and read one about writing, written by people with a vast range of talent and experience. When particular words of wisdom spark my interest I add them  to my section above, Favourite Writing Quotes.

I came across one last night that left me thinking ‘Great! I’m not the only one.’  Have you ever showered, walked around or driven along with your character talking to you? Maybe you are immersed in the setting, picturing it and describing it to yourself in your head. Or you think of a great writing idea and explore it in the silence of your mind.

I knew exactly what Joyce Carol Oates was talking about when I read this quote:

If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework … you can still be writing, because you have that space. – Joyce Carol Oates

As I’ve slowly immersed myself in my new Work in Progress I’ve found myself more and more in this state lately, as if trapped safely inside a bubble, hoping no one will dare try to pop the bubble and invade my thinking / writing space.

At times it isn’t a safe space, as I become oblivious to the world around me, not really fully in tune with traffic on the road, other pedestrians or a chair in a room I’d forgotten I’d rearranged.

But, that space is where I go to get lots of writing done before I actually put anything down. What about you? Do you find yourself inhabiting your own little world?

And, don’t forget to check out my favourite quotes above, there may be one or two there that help you along the writing path.