My top 10 tips for young writers

 

  1. Read a lot and read widely

Reading is the most important thing for a writer. You learn how to write well by reading good writing. Great writers are first great readers.

 

  1. Write what interests you, not what you think other people want to read

Write for yourself first, others second. If you don’t care about your subject, your reader won’t either (you need the reader to care or they won’t want to keep reading your story). Write the story you want to read.

 

  1. Make sure your characters have defined goals

Your characters have to want something so much that they seek to get that something. This makes your character active. Passive characters are boring and don’t make for good stories.

 

  1. Be mean

Your story has to have conflict or it won’t work. Give your characters the hardest problems you can think up, then make them even worse. Your characters need to face difficulties on the journey toward their goal.

 

  1. Get accountable

If you can, find a supportive writing buddy to set goals with. Spur each other on.

Closing dates for competitions are a great motivation to get your story finished. Enter as many as you can. The more practice you get at finishing your stories, the better you will write. And the bonus is that you just might win a prize.

P.S. You will get rejections – many of them – this is normal. There are many reasons why your work will get rejected but the important thing to remember is that rejections do not mean your writing is bad.

 

  1. Get help

You might need information about something you’re writing that you have no idea about. Be brave. Ask an expert.

You’ll need feedback on your stories from someone further up the writing ladder than you (sometimes, judges give competition entrants helpful feedback). You need feedback in order to improve your writing. Be brave. Ask someone you can trust who will be kind but honest.

 

  1. Give yourself permission to write a shockingly terrible first draft

Think of your favourite author. Got it? Right. Let me tell you a secret – that amazing author, whose work you love, writes terrible first drafts just like you. Awesome, right?

Get the words down, however they come out. Then you at least have something to work with and improve upon. If you let perfectionism stop you from getting a first draft done, all you’ll have is a blank page (or a very unfinished story at best).

 

  1. Don’t trash your stories

If you’re frustrated with a story that you can’t seem to get right or you’ve lost enthusiasm for, put it in a mental drawer and let it simmer in the back of your mind.

Your brain loves to solve creative problems for you when it’s given the opportunity. You just might get a brainwave. Then, when you open up your story again, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to wrangle it into better shape.

The important thing is that you go back to your story and try again. And again. And again. Good writing is rewriting. Every writer who produces great work has rewritten and edited their work until their eyes have bled (not literally, but you know what I mean).

 

  1. Get awesome at writing when it feels REALLY hard

Writing is a very difficult job. If you don’t write when it’s hard, you’ll never develop the stickability needed to finish your stories. Learn to face the page no matter how you feel. Don’t wait to feel inspired. Inspiration will come as you write.

 

  1. Don’t give up on yourself

Feeling disheartened is a normal emotion for a creative. Every one of us, at different points in our writing, feel like what we’ve written is absolute rubbish. And we sometimes feel like we are rubbish and not a real writer at all.

Get okay with this and don’t let it determine whether you will or won’t continue to write. Speak kindly to yourself, get up, brush off the disappointment and try again. Never give up and I promise you, you will succeed.

 

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Sometimes, Success Sucks

I often wonder why our world is so full of unrelenting standards – the expectation that we must do more, have more, be more.

Society teaches us from a young age that surpassing the bar set for us is a worthy pursuit. By the time we’re adults, the bar is set so high that we’re struggling to even touch it with one finger.

 

SUCCESS = HAPPINESS

I was an over-achiever all through my school years. My personality type, need for approval and inability to cope with life at a deep emotional level drove me to drown myself in relentless study. I believed that if I was successful, I would be happy and everyone around me would be happy too. The world told me: success = happiness and I didn’t question this until later in life.

Many influential adults gave me extra attention, affirmations and rewards when I excelled. So I drove myself to reach further and higher. When I excelled, I gained more than just approval and praise, I gained self-esteem and a sense of belonging. I gained entry to an invisible, elite club of which there were few members. It felt good.

For a girl who always felt inadequate and alone, over-achieving bandaged my wounds. By the time I reached my twenties, these bandages started unravelling. I discovered that success didn’t buy happiness at all; not the deep, lasting kind. I had believed a lie.

 

RETROSPECT

Now in my thirties, I look back and can see that the encouragement to excel, though wonderful, wasn’t what I needed most.

More than anything, I needed a break. I needed to be told that I was allowed to rest my chronically ill body and struggling brain. And I needed to have a social life.

I needed to know that failing was 100% okay; that my future was secure not because of achievement but because of everything I had inside me.

I needed to believe that ‘passing’ was enough. I needed to be told that, regardless of the standard of my work, I was enough for who I was, not for what I achieved.

 

WORTH BASED ON ACHIEVEMENT

I feel angry that my son is growing up in a world that says his worth is based on what he achieves, not on who he is.

Maybe it’s time to stop praising over-achieving children without a second thought. Maybe it’s time to scratch the surface and understand what’s going on in a person’s life (child or adult) and learn if, underneath, they’re coping.

Maybe it’s time to stop idolising success.

 

CHANGING OUR VIEW

What if we managed to redefine success? What if we lowered the bar, just a little?

What if we defined success as simply ticking off the basics and doing them well?

Would this be the antidote to pushing ourselves too hard, too far, too often?

Would we feel less like we’re failing all the time and more like we’re winning? Would we start to feel like we’re enough?

 

WISHFUL THINKING

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that we celebrate each other’s achievements. I’m all for praise and encouragement where it’s due. We all have dreams we want to see fulfilled and most of us have to work hard to get there. We all need to feel good about reaching goals, or we wouldn’t bother to achieve anything.

But how can we have a ‘one rule fits all’ mentality in this current age of diversity? The fact is we all have limitations that hold us back (both physical and mental).

I wish the world would reflect this reality – this diversity – and that it would portray success accurately by celebrating its many varied forms. I wish the world would stop propagating the epitomes of success; stop pushing standards that are improbable classifications of success.

 

MILLIMETRES & METRES

Our problem is not with failing or fear of failure, like we have been led to believe. Our problem is the definition and measure of success that’s been spoon-fed to us (and we’ve swallowed whole).

What if we made a world where success was measured by kindness? That would be fair. Everyone has the ability to think and act kindly.

What if success was simply being the best you could be at any given moment – that would be fair. What if every other achievement was just a bonus; a cherry on top?

What if we recognised the small, daily wins and celebrated those as ‘success’? Maybe then, every one of us might be considered successful.

What if success was just a word, not pregnant with cultural beliefs and expectations?

I think that could change our lives.

 

 

 

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Hi and Welcome to my new site

You’ll find some Motion and Musings cobwebs here but you’ll also find some shiny new content. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Click on the ‘Bio’ link in the menu bar under my site banner if you want to read a brief description about me and what I blog about.

Click the ‘Follow Me’ link in the menu bar under my site banner if you want to enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Or, follow me in your WordPress reader or on social media.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and another thank you on top if you have subscribed to my site.

I look forward to seeing you around,

Jodie

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Confessions of a Bibliophile #2

A year ago today, my husband joked that I couldn’t possibly stop myself from buying books. I told him I could… if I really wanted to. Our light-hearted argument ended in a bet – that I would refrain from buying books for an entire year. I had a point to prove. I was totally in control of my penchant for buying more books than I could read… wasn’t I?

I started out strong on my marathon of willpower and didn’t buy a single book for four months. I started using the library (what a novel idea!), borrowed books from friends and took books from my own shelves that I’d been meaning to read for a long time. Friends and family sent me books for my birthday in March and this also helped.

Then one morning in May, I drove to an unfamiliar library (to write) and walked straight into a book sale! I felt betrayed; libraries weren’t supposed to sell books!

I couldn’t help myself – I browsed. I thought, ‘I won’t buy anything, I’ll just have a quick look.’ Uh oh. Don’t look at candies in the window, unless you’re prepared to buy them. I convinced myself that I’d never find these books, in such excellent condition (for only $1!) ever again.

My husband raised his eyebrows. I told him this book-buying splurge didn’t really count – I was sabotaged!

I wiped the slate clean and continued my marathon of willpower… until October, when I was sent an online book voucher. I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I ordered a novel and paid the difference. (Oh the rush of glee that flooded my dried up, bookish soul when the parcel arrived a week later!)

Then I received another book voucher. Totally not my fault. Again, I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I grabbed two books from the shop shelves and paid the difference. (Oh how I missed this book buying therapy!)

Then several friends launched debut books and I had to support them by ordering a copy, didn’t I? It would have been unkind not to. And anyway, I was well into the spirit of spending in the lead up to Christmas and, well… it didn’t really matter that I bought a few books for myself, after such a long time without, did it?

Okay, so I think maybe my husband won the bet but for a bibliophile, I think I did pretty darn well. One day soon my pride will heal. The point is that I learnt a lot.

I learnt I didn’t need to buy so many books all the time. And the savings were significant and useful.

I rediscovered the great well of books at the local library, which I’d somehow forgotten about (but now make use of once again).

I discovered that true book-loving friends are generous in their loaning of books.

I read many books that had been sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile for far too long and that felt mighty fine. (Who would’ve thought that I already had multiple shelves of unread stories under my very roof?)

The forced self-control to refrain from book buying was uncomfortable and difficult – I often argued with myself – but the end result was that I now have greater control over my book buying habit. Before, I couldn’t say no but now, I can.

Would I take on this challenge again? No thanks.

I’d love to hear about your book buying habits so feel free to share by commenting on this post.

Happy reading for 2018!

P.S. You can find Confessions of a Bibliophile #1 on my Instagram account.

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Letter to a Friend About Mental Illness

Dear Friend,

You’ve often said to me that nobody is normal and we all have our problems. I completely agree – and I appreciate your efforts of trying to make me feel acceptable – but I think that perhaps you don’t really understand.

It’s true that everyone has their issues; we’ve all experienced traumas; we’re all broken. What we share in common are our human natures and the whole range of human emotions. What we are less likely to share in common – diagnosed or not – is mental illness.

Someone who is sad may say they’re depressed when they have no clue what real depression is like. It is not sadness – it’s worse.

Someone who is particular might say they’re OCD about something when they have no real understanding of the brutality of the disorder. In its most destructive form, OCD is oppressive and relentless.

You lack motivation? Sure, everyone does but do you know that tight grip of depression that feels like 20kgs of weight strapped to your feet? You can’t move, no matter how hard you try.

Someone who is feeling stressed from having too much on their plate may not truly know what real sensory overwhelm feels like – that state where your anxious mind meets a barrage of overbearing stimulants. The result is internal chaos.

You say you feel anxious. Everyone experiences anxiety – true – but not everyone understands the extreme stress response that comes in the form of a panic attack. It is truly awful and can be extremely hard to prevent, even after all your best efforts.

Someone whose brain has checked out for the day due to busyness, may not know what real dissociation feels like – that state in which you lose all sense of yourself. In fact, you don’t even know you’ve ‘left’ and so have no idea when you’ll be ‘back’.

Someone who feels lonely for a spell maybe doesn’t understand the feelings of abandonment and despair that you have to deal with as a person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

These examples are just a few of the ‘not so ordinary’ issues I – and many others – have to deal with, on a regular basis.Whilst BPD, depression and anxiety don’t define who I am, they follow me everywhere. They are more than mere labels, simply because I have to live with them day in and day out. Relief is hard to get.

BPD, depression and anxiety – like all mental illnesses – are serious and can’t be equated with all manner of human nature and human experience. (Did you know that the most common reason why people engage in self-harm or attempt suicide is to escape unbearable emotional pain?)

So sure, no one is normal. Normal doesn’t exist. But one person’s ‘not normal’ is different to another person’s ‘not normal’. And mental illness is the most debilitating ‘not normal’ out there.

So now that you understand the difference between the things we share in common as humans and a few of the symptoms of mental illness, dear friend, please stop comparing me to everyone else and telling me that my suffering is no different.

Perhaps you will never fully understand, and that’s okay, but I’d really appreciate it if you continue to try and as you try, be careful not to dismiss the gravity of mental illness.

Love Jodie x

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Getting a Grip

It’s been some time since I’ve blogged, mainly due to a lack of vision and direction for my site. I haven’t written much of anything in general, due to poor health on a variety of fronts. I had to loosen my grip on writing for a while in order to ‘cut myself some slack’ and concentrate on getting better. So I guess you could say I found myself in a prolonged writing slump.

When I was rushed to emergency back in July, I left the early stages of my novel and research at home, along with everything else. I haven’t picked up my novel length project again because the thought of committing to such a huge goal remains overwhelming. I couldn’t afford not to do anything either, because hearing ‘critical Jodie’ berate me for not writing was crippling. My lack of progress was also depressing me.

So last month, I got back on the riding bike; it’s been a slow, wobbly ride. I started tinkering with a short story a few times each week and wrote the odd poem. I had to do something but I didn’t really know what to do.

Still in recovery mode and needing to be kind to myself, I started thinking about what I was doing with my writing and where I’d like to go with it in the near future. I wrote a short list of specific writing tasks to carry me through to the end of the year. This downsizing of my viewing panel to a one inch frame (coined by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird) has been helpful. I feel like I can achieve the tasks I’ve set myself; they’re within my ability to grasp.

I needed to encourage myself more than ever. I printed out all my poetry (no matter what state it was in) and put each poem in one of two new display folders. I grew delighted at discovering just how many poems I’d written over the past five years; having a file full of my work made me feel great. Here was proof – I hadn’t been so lazy, after all.

I printed out all my short stories (no matter what stage each was in) and put them in the second display folder, along with notes and feedback with the relevant piece of work. I discovered I’d written loads of words. Now I had all these stories to work with and they felt more real than when they were just saved files on my laptop.

I also printed out all evidence of my writing achievements and filed them to look at as required; the email offering me a place at the KSP Short Story Retreat, the letter which announced I’d won a flash fiction competition, etc.

The third thing I did that helped me find my mojo: I created a work log. In the log I wrote down all the work I’d had published, including online. I also sorted out my writing files (ideas, notes, handouts etc).

The affect all these activities had on my psyche was so helpful. I created a tangible reference of my hard work and threw out all the crap.

So if you’re in a slump like the one I found myself in, I encourage you to make your work tangible. Maybe you’re not in a slump but feel overwhelmed; do what I did and reduce your ‘viewing panel’ by narrowing your goals to a specific list of tasks. Whatever you do, just don’t give up.

 

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KSP WEEKEND

I was given an amazing opportunity, by the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers Centre (KSP) and Laurie Steed, to join Bindy Prichard and David Allan-Petale at the Short Story Retreat held last March at KSP in Perth. Why? Because the third winning writer of the competition pulled out and a space opened up for me.

I didn’t realise, when I accepted the offer, that I’d have to overcome three challenges if I was to get the most out of the retreat.

Challenge number one was the medical cum political saga I had to deal with the week of the Short Story Retreat. If the medical powers that be hadn’t finally allowed me to swap malfunctioning medical equipment with new equipment, before I was due to leave on the Friday, I wouldn’t have been able to attend KSP. It was a hard week on a number of fronts but thankfully, I left home with working medical equipment in tow.

Challenge number two was overcoming the anxiety of separation from my husband and son for two nights after a stretch of bad depression.

Challenge number three was the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe because I was initially not offered a place. Maybe because I was the only ‘officially unpublished’ writer in the group. Maybe because I didn’t feel my writing was literary enough. Or maybe just because I’m hypersensitive and often feel unworthy of rewards like this.

Had I earned my place at this KSP Retreat? Apparently I had and boy did I soak up every blessing poured out to me that weekend – just like a crusty sponge.

For the first time, I was privileged to receive one-on-one feedback with an editor. And not just any editor – the one and only Laurie Steed. (What an absolute gem he is, particularly within the WA writing community.) Laurie, who also often climbed to a higher step on his career ladder via ‘lucky opportunities’ that landed in his lap.

The weekend was intense for me, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. I had become so unaccustomed to taking so many study sessions in such a short amount of time. By Saturday afternoon I think all I was giving back to Laurie and my peers was a questioning stare with a mouth slightly agape.

We had a lot of fun over meaningful conversations, food preparation in the tiny KSP kitchen and a few too many glasses of red wine. Dave even broke a chair as we watched the sun set from the gorgeous KSP grounds – haha!

By the time Sunday rolled around and we had read our stories in front of a small audience, I felt like I was saying goodbye to family. I was the last to pack up my cabin, hand in my key and as I waved goodbye to KSP, it was with much reluctance and a tear in my eye.

Thank you Laurie, Dave, Bindy and KSP for your wonderful company and this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will never forget it and I’ll never forget you all and everything you gave to me so willingly from hearts of true generosity.

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It’s Official – Mystery Mail is Published!

After months of emails flying to and fro between me and Raging Aardvark Press, an ultimatum supplied by me (marinated in a splash of dispirited annoyance) and a fuckload of waiting, the anthology Twisted Tales 2016 is finally here, IN PRINT!

My gut is misbehaving badly today and I woke with the blues. Add to that the frustration of trying to order thirty copies of Twisted Tales from the states and I’m only now sitting back to take in the good news.

I don’t even know how I feel about my first story being properly published, on paper, in an actual book. There’s definitely excitement but I’ve waited so long for this anthology to be published that the actual win feels rather like a lifetime ago.

My emotions are all mixed up with disbelief. I feel disconnected from today’s amazing news. Hopefully, the feeling of joy and a sense of achievement will catch up with me. How should I celebrate?

This morning, I created an author account on Amazon – because now I have a published story to my name. That was a surreal experience. I sure don’t feel like an author yet.

If you’d like a copy of Twisted Tales 2016, you can order it here: https://www.createspace.com/6652118 or here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0994525206 .

Or I can send you a copy for $15AUD (I gain no profit) to anywhere in the world. I’ll even sign it for you, if you like.

Thank you, again, for following my writing journey. I can’t wait for you to read Twisted Tales 2016 and tell me what you think of my story, “Mystery Mail”.

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Review: Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

Atmospheric scenes and constant tension stoke the fire of mystery in this collection of short stories. ‘Aha’ moments are delivered with skill and precision.

Alan Baxter’s work can’t be confined to a single genre, or even a known fusion of genres. His stories are a kaleidoscope of colour; of piercing light and darkest shadow.

In Baxter’s world, fantasy is woven tightly with realism. Dive in and you will be transported to believable scenarios in magical settings. You’ll meet supernatural characters that feel as real as people.

I’ve never encountered such a diverse range of stories written by an author. Baxter’s unclassifiable work enables him to successfully play an unexpected card at any point.

Within the fantasy, I found genuine depth and meaningfulness in each story. Baxter is a masterful short story writer – a true word alchemist with a strong, enthralling voice.

4.5 out of 5 stars for Crow Shine. Thank you, Alan, for drawing me into your ethereal world of dark beauty, where unfamiliar subjects were made accessible to me; the reader.

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Most Twisted Tale 2016

The month of August brought me a pleasant surprise. As I untied the bow on the unexpected gift and peeked inside the box, my heart thudded with equal measures of excitement and disbelief. Could it be?

Earlier this year, I made the goal of getting a piece of my work print published by 2017.

The small Australian publisher, Raging Aardvark Publishing, was running a flash fiction competition called Twisted Tales. I heard about the opportunity from a friend. It dawned on me that a particular story I had on the back burner would fit the bill. So I redrafted it, got feedback from friends and polished it up. I submitted the story just before the competition closed.

I was attached to the story that I entered. It had been living in my subconscious for well over a year, after all. I had an empathy for my mentally unstable female protagonist and wanted to know how this ‘moment in time’ would play out for her. I called the story Mystery Mail.

I was pleased with the finished version of Mystery Mail but I hardly thought it winning material. So when I learned that I’d won both the People’s Choice Award and the Judge’s Choice, I was shocked. I even considered replying to the email of notification with, ‘Are you sure?’

I didn’t feel my story deserved first place. I was invested in Mystery Mail but not the competition (I’d learned early on in the writing game that you really can’t hang all your hopes on getting published or you’ll be nothing but depressed).

Interestingly, I didn’t spend as much time with Carrie as some of my other protagonists and I didn’t spend as much time working on Mystery Mail as I had on other stories.

Holding this surprise box of kudos in my hands, it dawned on me that I’d achieved my goal for the year. What was I going to do now? I thought.

I’m so glad my story was so well received by a publishing house. Mystery Mail has that ‘aha’ moment that I’ve found infinitely hard to achieve in writing a great story.

The 2016 edition of Twisted Tales will be out soon and I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hot little hands.

Thank you to everyone who voted for my story and consequently won me the People’s Choice Award. You guys are the best!

 

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