10 writing tips for new authors

10 writing tips for new authors

10 Writing Tips for New Writers

The internet abounds with writing tips for new writers and everyone has a take on how you “should” write your book. Always plot. Never plot. Write at the same time everyday. Don’t wait for inspiration. Grind it out. There are thousands of them. In this post, I’ve narrowed down my favourite writing tips for new authors. But, take them with a pinch of salt because your process may be different.

My biggest tip? Don’t let other people’s ideas of how you should write get in the way of your writing. Build your process to suit the way you like to work. However, if (like me) you like to dive into other people’s processess or need a gentle nudge, read on.

The first draft is where you tell yourself the story; the second is where you tell it to other people

Thanks Neil Gaiman.

If you’re struggling through your first draft, this tip will change your life. When you approach your writing with this mindset, it becomes easy to reconcile the bumps, inconsistencies, and banality of those first efforts. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that your character’s name changes halfway through, or a new antagonist seizes the reigns at 50,000 words. It’s your story, run with it.

The second draft is where it’s at for actually crafting your work. And the third. And the fourth…

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” — Richard Bach

This is a fundamental truth of writing (and everything else). New writers are rarely told that writing, more than anything else, is an exercise in dogged determination. It’s a willingness to fix what you hadn’t seen as broken and change what you thought was perfect.

Your first draft isn’t ready to send out to a publisher, and it’s likely your second won’t be either. And while it’s tempting to send your shiny new story out into the world, you’ll be grateful you persevered through a round or two (or three) more of edits.

Don’t edit while you write

Don’t. You’ll go round and round in circles making a few pages perfect that you’ll end up cutting out later. See tip #1.
Over time, you’ll find that the quality of your early drafts will improve. You’ll subconsciously edit your work as you go and make fewer obvious mistakes. Let this kind of self-editing develop naturally.

Plot your story

This is a surprise addition to the list because I’m a pantser from way back. As a new writer, I never plotted. I hate plotting. It gets in the way of writing. Whenever I start, I get excited about the story and can’t resist diving into the writing way before I’ve worked out any of the details that a traditional plotter would be across. However, lately I’ve found that pants/plot hybrid works well for me (you might be different). I don’t need to delay gratification for too long, but I don’t stumble around blind for months on end either.

Life is about compromise, right?

I’ve also done a few time-based, subject-restricted writing competitions and found plotting invaluable when there’s a tight deadline, a word count limit, and a set of parameters that have to be met.

Kill Your Darlings

You’ll hear this piece of advice from every writer you’ve ever met and as a new writer it can be a near impossible feat.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”—William Faulkner

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”—Stephen King.

Your darlings are those beautiful bits of prose that came to you in a moment of inspiration and made you feel special. They flow and flutter, dip and dive across the page in a flurry of whimsy and playfulness. Kill them. Do it. They’re dragging you down. Lock them away like Bertha Rochester if you must, but they’ll burn your house down if you don’t (oh wait… she did that anyway didn’t she?). See advice #2.

Be a reader; you can’t write in a vacuum

One of the best writing tip for new writers isn’t to write at all, but read. Reading other people’s work is the best way to educate yourself about writing. You know a well-written book when you see one, the next trick is to figure out how they did it. This means that you need to read as a writer. Look at language, structure, voice, plotting, setting, characterisation—all the ‘ations’. Many new writers worry that their work will be derivative or that they need to ‘be original’. Your words are always original and every piece of work is derivative, so put that fear aside and get reading.
And, who doesn’t enjoy reading?

Never trust anyone who does not bring a book with them. Quote by Lemony Snickett

Aim for rejection

This may seem an odd tip for successful writers because who wants to expereince that sinking, disappointing feeling over and over? But aiming for rejections means you’re writing. The more the better. After all, a rejection is a ‘not here right now’ response rather than a ‘this is no good’ response.

Write

You can’t fix it if you haven’t written it, and like anything, writing takes practice. Not only does your writing improve the more you do (who’d have thought?), but you build a body of work that shows you what kind of writer you are. Plus, publishers like writers who have a publication history (a real Catch-22, thanks Joseph).

This tip is also a variation on the ‘don’t edit while you write,’ and ‘the first draft is where you tell yourself the story’ tips above.

Hang out with other writers

Seriously, they’re the only ones that get it. That doesn’t mean you have to join a writing group if that’s not your thing, but just being able to talk to someone who understands the ups and downs is incredibly helpful.

Use less words

This is one of those tips for new writers that isn’t true for everyone. Some people love flowery, poetic language. I prefer simple, straight-forward language with details expressed in as few words as possible. This is as much a reflection of personality and preferences than a steadfast rule. However, as a reader, I often skim the sections of description and jump to the action and dialogue. I know I’ve found a gem when I gush at the beauty of a simple sentence that still portrays the complexity of place and emotion.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, these tips will help you get stuck into your writing. Take out of them what works for you and throw away anything that doesn’t. Writing is a mix of black magic, stubbornness and luck, and you never know what tip or trick will be the one that gets you through your next piece of work.

Looking for more inspiration?

The internet is a veritable rabbit-hole of ‘how to’s’ and ‘rules’, and ‘tips’ for new writers. Here are a few I think are useful.
Louise Allan’s ‘How to write a book’ series.

The Guardian’s ‘Ten Rules for Writing Fiction‘.

The Write Life is a great general resource.

Writers’ HQ have heaps of resources to support your writing journey.

And if you want a laugh, Writers Write post loads of memes and charts that capture the enigmatic world of words.

Sign up for my newsletter to get all the latest info on events, books and other writerly stuff.

Review of Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

Review of Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

3.5 Stars

This week I review Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth, released January 2020.

I picked up  Adults because the vague stare of the scruffy dog on the cover piqued my interest. The word ‘Adults’ in bold, black lettering felt like a challenge to my adulting abilities. Was this a book that would validate or undermine my sense of competency? No. In the end, Adults is a book that provides forgiveness and empathy.

Adults explores the relationship between social media and trauma through the story of Jenny, a columnist more invested in her online presence than her real life. It’s an extreme representation but not an unfamiliar one. We’re led through Jenny’s story by a mixture of traditional prose, email and text messages. The differing styles offer insights into the different facets of Jenny’s personality and history.

The story begins with Jenny agonising over an Instagram post of a croissant. How many likes, shares and comments has the post attracted? Was the post banal? Will her favourite influencer follow her?

We cringe as she performs the obsessive rituals of virtual life, all the while pretending we don’t recognise them as a part of our own routine. Secretly we soothe ourselves, dismissing Jenny’s pathology as far-fetched.

Yes, but this book is over the top. I’m not as bad as that.

The need for online validation overtakes Jenny’s daily life to the detriment of her professional life and relationships. She crumbles at work, loses friendships and battles with self-doubt. Yet, we see her at her strongest when she’s constructing a self-image in the artificial realm of digital communication. Her online persona is dry, quick-witted and sardonic.

As Jenny’s physical life unravels, we see a darker side to her social media addiction. Adults leads us beyond the shallow self-obsession portrayed at the beginning of the book in a way that is reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fabulous Fleabag.

The flippant parody of the book’s early chapters transforms into a shared experience of grief and loss until we’re left staring at her vulnerability as it mirrors our own.

Adults is a modern take on a modern life. Addiction, self-preservation and camouflage come in many forms and are not easily teased apart.

 

Don’t want to take my word for it? Here are what a few other people thought of Adults:

Anatomy of a Novel: Part I – The Idea

Anatomy of a Novel: Part I – The Idea

Part I: The Idea

Over the coming series of posts, I’d like to take you thought the stages of how I wrote The Place Between. What was involved, what it takes to write a book and the kinds of decisions that need to be made along the way.

We all have sat watching a movie or reading a book and thought: ‘Why did they do that?’ or ‘Why didn’t they do this?’ If you are anything like me these niggling thoughts are rapidly followed by the deadly and all too easy: ‘I would have done it this way’ or ‘I could write that in my sleep.’

As a person who has sat and criticised the work of others for perhaps not thinking through their plot points or creating work that is derivative, it is interesting to reflect on the process from the other side.

I want to begin with this. Writing a book isn’t easy. It’s not (for the vast majority at least) a matter of coming up with an idea and then writing it. Well it is. But let’s say, its’s not a straight forward matter of coming up with an idea and writing it. Have you every seen the swamp in The Never Ending Story? You know, the one where the horse dies? It’s like that. You enter into it imaging a great adventure and find yourself stuck in a sucking pit of mud that you have to get out of (because not finishing isn’t an option) but it’s claggy and sticky and could overwhelm you at any minute. At least it was for me.

Over the next set of posts, I’m going to take you through MY process for writing THIS book, rather than a ‘how to’ for writing in general.  I don’t quite know yet if this is my process for writing all books but I have an inkling that the general vibe will be the same, with each book having its own specific trajectory.

I am going to try and be as linear as I can as I walk you through from the spark of an idea, to the moment I held the physical book in my hands. Bear with me. There was a twelve-year gap between those two things and I may get a little muddled along the way.

I want to share with you some of the changes and the sacrifices (writing wise) I’ve made to get to the end. And also, to give you an insight into ‘Why I did that’ as best I can. I will show you some small sections of early drafts and some sections of late drafts that were changed right at the end of the process so you can see that the idea was the same but the execution and the structure changed significantly.

I might even bore you (suckers) with some snippets from my thesis that helps quantify and discuss what I was trying to achieve in writing this book.

I committed to doing a PhD in creative writing before I had an idea for the book that would one day form the creative practice element of my thesis. I spent the first few months (while pregnant) searching for an idea. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, or toying with many different projects to see which one settled. I had to find a story and once I’d find it, ideally, I had to stick with it.

I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t had the pressure of deadlines and milestones at University this book would not exist.

The Idea

The idea for The Place Between began as a small kernel centred around character. Specifically, the protagonist, Sarah and her mother Beryl. It grew from a single conversation overheard at Perth airport between a couple in their sixties. The woman (who later became Beryl) was complaining to her husband (who became Bruce) that their daughter (who became Sarah) never made them pudding when they went to visit.

That’s it.

That’s the entire basis of The Place Between.

This is something I think we all do. We all hear conversations or see a scene play out around us and our minds explain and contextualise what we are seeing through the lens of our own experiences and viewpoints.

In my next post I will talk about how this single snippet of daily life grew from an observed snapshot of strangers to become a set of constantly nattering menaces in my head for the next ten years.

Perth Fringe 2020

Perth Fringe 2020

The 2020 Perth Fringe Festival has been a blast. I have had the pleasure of seeing comedies, deeply moving drama, musical performances, satire and loving reconstructions of lost figures from history.

What always amazes me about the Fringe Festival is the quality and variety of performances on offer. It’s a rare thing for me to walk about of a performance disappointed. Most of the time I’m marvelling at the intelligence and immense creativity of what I have just seen.

This gets me excited. If this is what I’m seeing in Perth (not to forget that the Perth Fringe is one of the largest in the world) then what else is out there? What other gems are waiting to be discovered? What new mind-blowing classics are in the making?

I said that this year was all about finding the good. The Perth Fringe most definitely delivered.

Here are links to all my reviews for this season, though I saw more shows than I reviewed.

Chameleon

Kafka’s Ape

Styx

Bite Me

Talk Back

Ellipsis

Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music

The Oracle

The weekend saw the Perth Writer’s Festival and it was incredibly exciting to see Neil Gaiman. And next week? Margaret Atwood. What an amazing start to the year. I’m getting my fan-girl on.

Why.

Why.

Why do I blog and post on social media?

As a budding author it may seem like an easy question to answer. Why else but to build and audience for that book that will one day (in March 2020!) hit the shelves? People like to buy books from people they know, voices they’ve heard before. It’s hard to limit yourself to just that little blurb on the back cover and feel confident that your money is well spent.

But entering my third year of blogging and social media for business, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can’t sustain the self-promotion at the heart of wanting purely to build an audience.

It’s boring.

It’s boring to write, and it’s boring to read.

I feel myself zone out as soon as that friendly tone on the page winds into promotional mode. Oh! I say, I get it. You want to sell me something.

And I switch off.

Blogs that are adverts in disguise are the online equivalent of those late night (or mid-morning) infomercials on TV. They sound like they’re talking to you, but they’re not really.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t want people to buy my book. I wrote it to be read. My publisher has invested time, money and faith in me to get it out into the world hoping people will like it and it will be a commercial success. I want to write another book.

But I don’t need to write a blog just to sell books. Lots of authors don’t.

So why then?

As I ran through a series of prompts designed to help me understand why I blog, it struck me—communicating online is separate to my work. At its core I blog, post on social media, share photographs and this year (yay!) will start a book podcast with one of the most fabulous women in the world all because…

I want to talk to people.

Many of you will know about my early career as a veterinarian. It’s a social job. Vet nurses are hilarious. Other vets are equally weird and clients come into the room with raw emotion and concern for their beautiful pets. You spend a lot of time talking, consoling, explaining and reassuring people. You talk for twelve to eighteen hours a day (depending on the luck of your shift, or if you’re called in after hours).

Then one day, I wasn’t a vet anymore.

I was at home, pregnant and lost. Then I had my daughter, and less than two years later my son and I was still at home. I went from spending every minute of the day talking in an action-packed, highly skilled job to spending years where I was by myself ninety percent of the time.

It made me go strange (honestly).

Now that I’m out the other end, I’ve realised that I don’t blog to sell books. I don’t blog to get followers. I blog to talk to people. To share ideas. To connect. All for myself (a bit selfish really). 

Ideas are the thing that make me most excited. Whether it’s a great idea from a story, a science article about a new way treating arthritis or an amazing new business that is changing the world. It doesn’t matter.

For me it’s about sharing ideas, engaging in a conversation with the world about books, story, images and each other’s lives.

That is my why.

I dont’ want to talk into the void for the sake of speaking. Instead, I would love you to join me in an exchange of ideas.

Writing Alone  – Part II

Writing Alone – Part II

Writing in isolation, tucked away in a cabin in the woods, slaving over the burden of a manuscript.

This is what writing retreats are, right? Literature and film has done much to portray the tortured artist – be it writer, sculptor, painter, musician. But is that actually the case?

I’ve been home for two weeks from my great adventures in Japan and have had time to reflect upon the experience and how it will change the way I work.

Creativity – and I don’t limit the notion of the creative to artistic endeavors because great scientific thought, social works, good parenting, great management (all facets of life) require creativity – is by necessity sparked by others. I think we all recognise those moments in our lives when a great idea hits, when the solution to our problem presents itself and the way through the tangled path clears. They might come in the shower or the bath, but does that mean that the solitude is the tinder to the spark? Or is it that the physical and mental space give us time to process and articulate something that was already brewing?

The idea that isolating yourself – either socially or intellectually – doesn’t work is not new. There is a saying in the writing world that goes roughly like this: you can’t write in a vacuum.

I believe you can’t do anything in vacuum – it’s impossible. You need a space suit and and a whole complicated mechanism for survival, tools, tethers, points of reference and so on. And all of those things weren’t created in a vacuum but rather through collaboration and teamwork. (Don’t worry, I know I’m not meant to take the saying literally.)

From a writing perspective, I’ve always taken this to mean you can’t write if you don’t read. You have to study the masters, so to speak, to know where you fit into the world, like any apprenticeship. It would be ludicrous to expect a carpenter to design new furniture with no prior exposure to the craft, or a CEO of a company to just ‘wing it’ with no prior experience or advisers to rely upon.

But it’s more than that. You can’t write if you don’t watch, listen and experience. Obviously it doesn’t mean you need to literally experience everything you write about because our brains are exceedingly good at extrapolating one experience to imagine another. I can imagine (roughly) what a rocket launch might feel like because I’ve ridden a roller coaster … and so on.

The next saying that most people will be familiar with, is: there are no new ideas. If you’ve thought of it, chances are someone else has already written it, thought about it, discarded with the compost and made a self-deprecating joke to their family over dinner with it. So why bother? You can’t insulate yourself from repeating the same idea by isolating yourself.

What you can do is bring something else to the table. The idea might be the same, but the execution can never be identical (unless you plagarise). Why do people continue to read crime fiction? Why do I gorge on every science fiction TV show? The concept (woman found murdered, crew stranded in space) is the same, but every new perspective brings something unique to the story. If that wasn’t the case, there would be no differentiation between individuals in any job. We all know from experience that one person can be an amazing leader, while another – maybe even more qualified – flounders.

What does any of this have to do with writing retreats?

I learned a great deal about my personal process by taking the time out to be alone. And I like to think that what I discovered about myself is applicable to more than just writing.

I’m a social person. I get lonely and grumpy if I’m left out of things and have found years of motherhood and study psychologically challenging. I’ve lost the knack of being in a group, yet at the same time I crave company – in the right doses, at the right time, for the right duration and with the right people. (I’m a difficult person.)

Yet, at the same time I crave the freedom and solitude to follow my pursuits without distraction – writing, photography, reading, craft (yep! I like sewing and spinning wool.) However, often I find when I do get the time, I wander around listless and lost as though unable to focus.

When I set out for Japan I was terrified that I would squander the opportunity to do some deep, meaningful work. I didn’t want to edit old material because I felt like I could do that at home. I wanted to create something new and fresh in the luxury of isolation.

I did write new material and the time was helpful to immerse myself in a new world of thought. I found these times were where I floated the most. If I’m honest, the most productive element of the trip was spent editing. This was a surprise. I’d imagined an intense and steamy love affair with my new material (insert writing montage here). Instead I had a nostalgic and wistful anniversary trip with my old work – and it was incredible.

The take-away? Isolation only works if you’ve done the groundwork beforehand.

Would I go again? In a heartbeat.

What work would I plan? A mix of old and new – but do some solid prep work in the company of others to generate all those juicy ideas. I need a mixing pot of life to get everything working, then the focus of isolation to hone it.

Length? Ten days. Two and half weeks was luxurious but exhausting and I’ve come home with no reserves at all.

Collaborate? Definitely. Shared time sparks creativity no matter what work you do.

Recommendation? If you get the chance – do it. No matter what field you work in, you will benefit from the head-space and intensity of solitude. It will make you appreciate both your own company and thoughts, and the positive contribution other people make to your creative life.

When a pantser plots: the weird world of think first, writer later…

When a pantser plots: the weird world of think first, writer later…

The divide between plotters and pantsers is well known within the writing world. To the un-initiated, these terms indicate a writer’s underlying approach to their first draft. Plotters meticulously lay out their entire story – index cards, cork boards, timelines, character profiles, story arc, subplots, B characters, turning points … – I’m exhausted. Pantsers on the other hand, like to throw caution to the wind and let the story take them where it wants.

I’m a panster. I get an idea, bounce up and down in my chair for a bit, bore my husband to death with it, then (just as his eyes start to glaze over) I go away and start writing. I don’t have time to waste worrying about plot consistency or whether the story actually makes sense.

I’m an artist, damn it, and I’ll find a way. The story will grow organically, and bloom like a beautiful, vibrant sunflower – tall and elegant. (Visualising readers gasping with delight…)

As an example, the novel I’m currently editing started from an overheard conversation at the airport where a couple in their sixties were complaining that their daughter never makes them pudding when they go to her house for dinner. By the last draft, I’d written a story about a woman who time-travels through her mother’s memories to unravel a family secret.

Pantsing in action.

Some writers use a combination of both approaches.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you write so long as you write. We all get there in the end. Only writing creates writing. You can’t fix what isn’t there. A bad draft is better than no draft. Do the work and fix it later. Write. Just write. Be a slave to the desk. Be a slave to the process … and so on.

Apparently, no amount of downloading the latest writing app, reading books about the writing craft, lying in a hammock with a glass of wine imagining your new universe, or telling your long suffering partner about your great idea will put words on the page. (Neither will writing about said method in a blog post.)

So, I find myself away on my writing retreat, wanting to get the most out this precious solitude. I have aspirations that I’ll come away with a chunky body of work to show for the expense and inconvenience I’ve put my family through.

I arrived with about twelve thousand words of ‘pants’ work for a new novel that has been swirling around in my brain for the past 12-18 months. Swirling is about the sum of it. It’s a mess. There are contradictory plot lines, overlapping characters, and it appears I’ve written the same events more than once, but for different characters. And no, not the specky same event from different perspectives trick, but literally the same thing happening to different characters.

In the past, I’ve found pantsing works well. I often ‘hear’ my characters chatting in my head. Most scenes start from a conversation and I find building a scaffold of dialogue lets me get the backbone of the story out. Once that’s down on the page, then I worry about fleshing out the backstory and spending time on world building.

But this approach has its limits. Particularly, as this time I’m writing a science fiction novel which requires a large amount of world building in order to understand how the characters act, move and live. The environment directly affects every element of their lives and needs to be carefully considered first. In other words, the world needs to make sense.

Therefore, I have embarked on the audacious quest of plotting this novel. (Cue dramatic music. Some applause would be quite nice right now too.)

The jumble of plotting devices I’m using to wrangle this story…

Wow.

My brain hurts.

Plotting is really hard. I have a new-found respect for those writers out there that can build a whole universe in their head and see their story from start to finish – even loosely. So far, my plotting hasn’t been the best. I’ve done a lot of staring out the window under the pretence of thinking (not sure who I’m trying to fool, because I’m alone), I’ve consumed a tremendous amount of coffee (that burns up a few minutes in the making), and already I’ve changed my plot at least ten times because I’ve realised my ideas don’t make sense. Hence the need to plot.

But that’s a good thing, right? Maybe these plotters are onto something.

In the past I’d plough on, hit a roadblock, come up with a patched solution, then blunder ahead hoping it’ll all work out in the end.

To a certain extent that’s still going to happen. It’s inevitable, because the thing I’ve discovered in my feeble attempts at plotting is that I’m not capable of micro-managing the nitty-gritty of the story. I freeze up, and those character voices still jabber away inside my head with their own ideas about where the story needs to go.

What I do have after hours of contemplation, however, is the skeleton of a plot. It’s not pretty and it’s not perfect, but I think I’ve ironed out the worst of the pitfalls (famous last words anyone?) Who knows?

I suspect that I’ll always be a pantser. I love the high you get when you’re writing and the solution presents itself – as if unbidden – on the page. But I don’t love the writing in circles, the repetition, the rabbit-holes of no return, and the inevitable re-drafting and systemic repair that’s needed to fix my short-sighted bursts of enthusiasm along the way.

Maybe this new venture into plotting will bear fruit. Maybe it won’t. But at day 8, I’m ten thousand new words into the novel and I know what I’m going to work on tomorrow. So, something is going right.

Writing Alone

Writing Alone

Long time no blog. There’s lots of good reasons for this which I won’t bore you with. Suffice to say it’s been a manic couple of months leading into my trip to Japan. I feel like I’ve fallen off the end of the travelator and I’m not going to lie … it’s amazing.

Before I left, I wrote an angsty post about coming to Japan on my own. If I’m honest, I was a little frightened that I’d be lonley. I was a lot frightened that I’d squander the opportunity to become immersed my writing. I had visions of me binge-watching Netflix, drinking endless cups of tea and trolling facebook to spy on everyone else.

That would be a woeful trip indeed.

So here’s what’s happened so far:

  • I’ve completed revisions on a short story and entered it in a competition.
  • I’ve hit my daily target of at least 1,000 new words on a project that has been brewing for about a year.
  • I’ve completed the revisions on the first half of my novel and sent them off (THAT was intense).
  • I’ve done yoga.
  • I’ve gone for a walk everyday.
  • I’ve cooked healthy meals AND let myself have a glass of wine every night.
  • I’ve read everyday.
  • I’ve watched a bit of Netflix in the evening.
  • I’ve slept like a log.
  • I’ve discovered that writing is an amazing excuse for staring out the window and enjoying the way that morning light illuminates the trees.
  • I’ve logged into wordpress and written a post.

Winnng.

I’m spoilt. I have all the comforts of home up here: my own bed, a coffee machine, a desk with a monitor and a keyboard so I don’t have to squint at the laptop screen. But I have those things at home, so why is this so special?

I think it’s partially the peace. No one to talk to, no washing to, no dinners to cook (for other’s that is). But I think it’s more than that. I literally have NOTHING else to do. My brain isn’t pre-occupied with daily life, it’s in holiday mode AND work mode. The two together are some kind of magic.

I WANT to write. I WANT to read (okay, I always want to read). My brain is completely immersed in creative mode and there’s nothing to pull it back to reality. There’s literally no one to talk to – if you’d seen me pointing and speaking jilted Japanese to the plumber when I arrived you’d believe me. Add to that the unique peace that overcomes you when get to this place and it just works.

It’s day 5 today and my only concern is that I might get addicted to this writing retreat malarky.

P.S. Husband and kids, I miss you 🙂

Promise.

Here are a few (Iphone) pictures taken from the upstairs window showing some of Mt. Yotei’s many moods.

Say ‘chick-flick’ again, I dare you

Say ‘chick-flick’ again, I dare you

Last week I ventured out to our local cinema with my family to see the new Spider-Man movie. I wasn’t particularly interested but the kid’s enjoyed it. These are the things you do for your kids.

In the pre-amble, as everyone opened their crisp packets and jostled in their seats, the preview for the movie “Late Night” came on. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s about a late night talk show host whose name is NOT Jimmy (played by Emma Thomspon rocking a blonde cropped hair-cut), and the new young female writer in the room (played by the irrepressible Mindy Kaling).

Thompson’s character is informed that she is being axed from the show at the end of the year, and she turns to her young new writer to help her keep her job. It looks funny, topical and potentially insightful about the transient and fickle nature of fame and celebrity, particularly around aging women.

Just as I leaned into my husband to whisper we should go see that, a man a few rows back yelled out “chick-flick!” in a derogatory, possibly even disgusted, but certainly not complementary, tone–accompanied, of course, by rumbling accord around the cinema.

Cue my temper.

***Rant disclaimer here*** Go no further if you think the guy was funny.

I scowled, said a few choice–not repeatable–words under my breath that made my husband smirk, but I didn’t express my desire to watch the film.

But the slight stuck.

Especially as the next two trailers rolled on. One, a war-movie about Australian soldiers in Vietnam, the other yet ANOTHER movie in the never-to-get-tired Fast and Furious franchise.

My blood turned sour. I whispered something else that can’t be repeated to my husband, along the lines of compensating for something, as the man behind guffawed in delight at the antics, car chases, token female, and all-round men-are-so-badass action of the F&F preview.

I seethed a little longer. I wanted desperately to yell back at the man behind me that these were ‘something that rhymes with chick-less flicks’ but my husband suggested that was a bad idea. So I didn’t.

Why?

There are so many why’s in this little vignette of my afternoon out at the cinema.

Why? Are films starring women, about women:

  • Ridiculed
  • Sidelined
  • Written off as “chick-flicks”
  • Considered “less” than movies made to make men feel big
  • Stupid
  • Boring
  • Not for men?

Why? Are films predominantly starring men, about men:

  • Seen as the litmus for normal
  • Not considered: compensatory, vain, superficial, annoying, boring, devoid of substance… (I told you I was going to rant)

Why? Are women expected to watch films like the F&F franchise? (For that matter what is Idris Elba DOING in one of those films?)

Why? Are films about women’s experiences seen as niche?

This holds true for all areas of shared creativity: fiction, theatre, art, comedy.

I don’t watch the F&F franchise for many reasons–BUT I don’t openly ridicule (except today) men who do. It is so normal to see films for and about men that it’s a delight to see a movie that is about women’s lives beyond romance (that is, beyond their need to please men.) It’s also a delight to see it in a mainstream cinema.

To then have your experiences, interests, and concerns mocked in public and feel powerless to retaliate–partially from social conditioning and partially from the deep, depressing knowledge that it would only lead to more mocking and no change–is beyond frustrating. I have no idea if “Late Night” is a good movie or not. I have no idea if it is a light-hearted peace of fluff, or a comedic masterpiece, or just a bit fun. In the end the movie itself is irrelevant.

I’m tired of gun-toting, car-crashing ‘something that rhymes with chick-less flicks’ and want more variety in the stories out there.

Want to know what women think? Start watching, reading, hearing their stories.

The Beauty of Being Alone

The Beauty of Being Alone

Have you ever travelled alone? What was it like? Did you find out something new about yourself? Did you come home with a new perspective?

I’d love your advice and insight into what to expect when being alone for the first time.

It’s a poorly kept secret that I have a love affair with Japan. Specifically Hokkaido. Even more specifically Mt. Yotei. She is a mountain (a volcano to be exact) that stands taller and more beautiful than everything around. She is utterly mesmerising in her solitude.

My family has been travelling to this paradise for over twelve years and I feel my heart swell with emotion every time the plane touches down.

Kids enjoying an autumn hike

Yet, Japan has always been a place I’ve enjoyed with other people. The kids love the outdoor lifestyle and variety of adventures we go on at different times of the year. We love catching up with the friends we have made and those who are discovering this magical place for the first time.

Kids skiing at Rusutsu Resort with Mt Yotei in the far distance

At the end of August I am heading off again. This time on my own, with the hope that the beautiful scenery and solitude of the mountain landscape will facilitate some intensive writing– because working from home with a family is easy… said no one ever.

As I ponder how I’ll structure my days it occurs to me that this is a very different trip from anything I have done before. I will be alone. Of course, I’ve travelled alone before. Spent a few days here or there exploring a city before catching up with family or friends. I’ve travelled without my husband and kids (a guilty treat), but I’ve never, not ever in my entire life, spent two and a half weeks completely alone.

(Think: child living with parents–grow up and move in with partner–get married have kids and voila! 40 and never been alone.)

On this trip I will live alone, eat alone, walk alone. I don’t speak the language in any meaningful way so my interactions outside the house will be limited to asking for food, thank you and smiling gratefully.

The view of Mt Yotei as the sun sets and the moon rises from the A-bridge in Niseko Town

The prospect is both exhilarating and terrifying. I have a romantic notion of going for long walks, writing all afternoon, maybe having a glass of wine in the evening while I read… A running montage of all the things I fantasise about when I’m trying to squeeze in time for a blog post, short story or edit a photograph between work, taekwon-do, kids, pets, house…. you know the drill.

You all live the drill because, well, that’s life.

BUT will it actually turn out that way? Will I get lonely? Will I sleep in all day? Will I wander aimlessly around the house fidgeting, too restless to settle down and work? And if so, what does that say about me? What if I CAN’T write now that I’ve been given this amazing and luxurious opportunity?

Worse! What if I love it so much I don’t want to come home?

My husband eating breakfast at sunrise on Mt. Yotei

Okay, so the last one is unlikely. They’re all unlikely. Chances are it will be a little of all of these things. I’m hoping the isolation will force my creative hand. There are a surprising number of hours in the day all you have to do is look after yourself.

What’s wrong with sitting for an hour watching the woodpeckers from your family room window? In Japan, nothing. That’s why it’s so special.

I decided to break it down into positives and negatives:

Positives

The sun rising behind Mt. Yotei from my living room window
  • No human/pet distractions
  • No “care” work: school, sport, homework etc
  • Beautiful surrounds
  • Completely selfish: what I want when I want it
  • Many empty hours
  • No apologies/juggling

Negatives

  • No human/pets
  • No one to “care” for me
  • Beautiful surrounds: walking, photography, staring out the window
  • What I want, when I want: less pressure to triage my time
  • Many empty hours: see above
  • Loneliness?

Hopes?

  • To write. Everyday. Serious, hard-core blocks of writing
  • Enjoy the change of pace
This waterfall is about a 5 minute drive, then 20 minute walk from my place

Fears?

  • Loneliness
  • Boredom
  • Time wasting

Strategic plan

  • Walk, Write, Read – Everyday

It’s not the travel that weighs on me. I’m a confident traveller. It’s the isolation. While many years at home with small children has made me self-sufficient and happy with my own company, this is an entirely different (and incredibly exciting) prospect. Then I think of Mt. Yotei. Her isolation sets her apart, and above, the world around her.

I’m hoping to look across the landscape at that amazing moutnain and find beauty in my isolation.

Few people get blocks of time to truly do whatever they want. I’m determined to love it.

Fukadashi Park