Blending Your Stories with those of Your Community

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As we know, writing life stories is popular at the moment, recording stories from our past so they are not lost to future generations. We may all think we have nothing special to tell but, from experience, what we find everyday and uneventful, others find fascinating.

Have you ever considered blending your stories with those of your community? Social stories give a reader so much information about the past. Take the hotel in the photo above for example. There are many stories I could tell about this building, from my own family and personal experience back to fascinating things I’ve learned about its history.

All communities have buildings that have been demolished, replaced with more modern constructions. There are also buildings that may be in danger of vanishing some time in the near future. If the stories relating to these buildings are not recorded, part of your community social history is lost.

Why not blend your own stories with those of your community. Start writing them down while you can.

What Do Driftwood and Writers Have in Common?

The last few weeks I’ve wandered a few deserted winter beaches here in New Zealand, letting my thoughts wander where they will. As I sat in the car one rainy day, looking over the driftwood on the stony beach, my mind started thinking about the stories of the wood. Each of those pieces had their own story – their own starting point and the adventure they’d taken down the river into the harbour.

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I picked up my pen and started to write, having no idea where my thoughts would take me. I imagined how each piece of driftwood had cast it’s story into the ocean before being washed up onto the beach.

Isn’t that what we do as writers? We release the stories that lay deep within us, letting them free to find their own landing place in the world. Don’t hold of your stories too long. Cast them out for others to read before it is too late and you too become beached in your final resting place.

Make a start today, start writing your stories. There are others out here who would love to read them.

Memory Prompts are Everywhere

Quite often people think they don’t remember much about their past, but that could be because they are out of practice. In my experience, the more I write my stories down, the more twice as many memories come flooding in.

If you think about it, memory prompts are everywhere. No matter what you do, or where you go, it’s likely you did something in your childhood or younger life, or maybe a family member did something, similar to what is happening now.

Take this afternoon for example. I’ve just been watching the women finishing in the World triathlon Series race here in New Zealand. This not only made me remember my days as a young competitive swimmer, but also in adulthood as a Masters Swimmer. Then there are the memories of women’s triathlons and fun run and walk events I’ve participated in.

If you really want to write your life stories but don’t know where to start, I recommend you start looking at the things around you. Then, consider whether anything similar happened in your own life. Open your mind to memory prompts and start writing your stories.Image

Myself and two friends, after our first team triathlon effort, about ten years ago.

The Opposite of Writers’ Block, What a Problem

Writers, read on at your own discretion. You may find the following content upsetting, infuriating and totally insensitive. You may feel like throwing bricks at me across the world. You may become so envious you vow never to read my writing again. I’m sorry, I have a problem and I need to share it with you.

I’m experiencing the opposite of writers block. Too many ideas are rushing at me, too many projects demanding my time. Why can’t ideas pace themselves, take their turn in line, rather than fighting for my attention?

My long term book project graciously agreed to go on hold for a week or two as I experiment with a short story competition entry, for which the deadline looms. I’m like the turtle getting closer to the finish line, word by word.

A 2000 word essay for my online writing course needed a possible topic to emerge. Of course, now I’m swamped with ideas, taunting, calling to be written now. So much for the competition entry, I now have two projects on hold and an essay I want to write.

Next writing challenge, another deadline, a picture book workshop I’m attending next weekend. I do have stories to take, but …… they were written some time ago and my writing has changed. Which of the three possibilities shall I work on?

With all these ideas calling out to be written, you may wonder what my problem is? Let me tell you, time and my lack of ability to focus on one thing at a time. I want to write them all – now! This is quite bewildering. What happened to my old friend, writers block, allowing me time to write but with any possible ideas hiding under a rock.

I know, you’ll tell me I need to be strong, get focused, choose one idea and run with it. I’m exposing myself as a scatterbrain without self-discipline. You’re right. I need to set priorities. The first priority is the short story competition. I hope the other ideas don’t mind and will wait patiently for me.

A Writer in Training

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In the 1960s competitive swimming took over my life. We only had an outdoor pool, so water training took place during the summer months. That didn’t mean we allowed our fitness to lay idle during the winter. Instead we participated in an intense land programme to maintain our fitness and strength in the months we were out of the water. Our endeavour to become the best competitor possible was a year round commitment.

Writing is the same. We go through the same year round process as any competitive sports person. In order to maintain our writing fitness we need to practice writing, even when we’re not working on something important. Whether this takes the form of blogging, journal writing or merely playing around with words in other ways, we need to keep our brain conditioned to enable it  to serve us well.

And, just like an athlete, we need to warm up before our daily output. While some writers say they can take the plunge and dive straight into a new piece, I wonder if they’ve ever considered how much better their writing may be by doing a little warm-up writing first.

Then, there’s a nutritious diet giving the energy to train and compete. Good writers remember to feed themselves regularly with the written words of others, with good conversation and by getting out and about to experience life away from the computer.

Most athletes have a coach to guide them on their way to success. A writer gathers up trusted friends and other writers, those who understand. These could be blog buddies, writing group buddies or others in the writing and publishing world. All writers need to be told when they’re on the right path and when they’re straying from it.

Finally, athlete’s burn out if they work too hard without rest. Not only do they need to give their muscles time to adapt to new work loads, they also need regular sleep to refresh them from one training session to another. So it is with writers. Too much writing without regular rest and time for recovery can result in stale ideas and lack of enthusiasm.

So come on writers, we’re all athlete’s really and need to make sure we’re on the best training programme we can cope with. What sort of writing programme do you participate in? How do you keep the writer within you conditioned and maintained? Practice may not make perfect but it can certainly make the writing process easier.

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.”

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.

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?

Saturday Morning Journal Writing

It’s Saturday morning again and the first day of winter here in New Zealand. Mind you, winter didn’t wait this year, but slammed us a week early. Our summer was long and hot and I have a funny feeling winter is going to long and cold.

I awoke early, probably because I told myself I’d sleep in this morning. Things never work out as I plan at the weekend. When I realised I wasn’t going to get back to sleep I started reading, re-reading actually as I chose to read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’, from the beginning.

As always happen, whenever I pick up this book, I get as far as when Natalie tells her readers:

“Sit down right now. Give me this moment. Write whatever’s running through you. You might start with “this moment” and end up writing about the gardenia you wore at your wedding seven years ago. That’s fine. Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving. “ Goldberg, Natalie (2010-08-31). Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

And, so I did. I sat down and started writing. Here, in more or less unabridged form, part of the thoughts that flowed through my pencil onto the page of my journal.

There’s so much writing running through my head, chaotic, disorganised, like the wild flow of a river in flood. I have no idea how to tame the wild natural force of a river. Like the river my writing needs to rush onward toward its destination – not the sea, but a recognisable chunk to be added to my work in progress.

Yesterday I completed the piece on the pine grove I’ve been working on. It’s not quite as long as I  hoped for, but I’m pleased with the finished product. I felt immense satisfaction from feeling I’d grown a little as a writer.

Sometimes giving yourself permission to simply write thoughts in a journal leads to other pieces of writing. I had no idea where I was going with this. However, the writing picked up on threads I’ve been thinking about lately, writing about my local river in different contexts, as preparation for a small piece that will eventually sort itself from the chaos and appear in my work in progress.

Natalie Goldberg tells us to keep practicing writing and that is what I do. Every now and then something of greater importance emerges. But, right now I’m still gathering facts and stories and mapping out the direction my new work will take.

How about you? Do you follow Natalie’s advice and practise writing every day, warming up by just writing before you get on with the serious stuff? Do you find the thoughts written randomly written in your journal take you places you hadn’t previously thought of going?

Writing Prompted by the Words of Others

Last night I sat down to write, having not written for almost a week. My writing brain took fright at being expected to think, to come up with something, to produce some writing. The blank page stared up at me, like all good blank pages do, chastising me for my neglect.

Something had to be done, so I wrote the following at the top of the page. “Open the book I’m reading at a random page. Choose ONE SENTENCE from the page and write it down. Then keep writing for ten minutes.”

The book I grabbed was “To the River” by Olivia Laing, the story of the River Ouse in Sussex in England. The first page I randomly opened contained a historical story of no help at all. I tried again. Still no sentence appealed. The third attempt offered several gems and I chose the following:

‘And there was the Ouse, all of a tumble, the sun skating off it in panes of light.’

A vision immediately came to me of the swimming pool I spent so many years of my teenage life in, the pool my latest writing project is telling the story of. I noted the time – after all I needed to write for ten minutes – and started writing with ease, describing the atmosphere on the night of an important swim meet, with the lights beaming down on the water and the darkened sky above the outdoor pool. I wrote for about 20 minutes.

My short piece of writing wasn’t brilliant, but the pool at night wasn’t something I’d thought about including as part of my work in progress. I made a few reflective notes to myself at the bottom on how to make improvements, turned off the light and went to sleep.

A few hours later – as often is the case with writers – I awoke, my brain having processed my scribbling while I slept. There was nothing to do but turn on the light and write down the wonderful ideas drifting through my brain. I jotted down a few interesting words, a couple of possible metaphors and a few more surprising images I recalled. That was it, lights out and back to sleep until morning.

The prompt of a random sentence from another’s writing hadn’t occurred to me before. Although the book I read spoke of a river and my book is about a swimming pool, the water and reflection of the light gave me enough similarities to get started. I’ll certainly use the words of others as a prompt again if my writing is shy about revealing itself to me.

What about you? What tips do you use when the words refuse to come?