My Writing Wish for You

I was wandering through the floating markets in Thailand, soaking wet not because of an overturned longboat but because it was pouring rain. There’s a point you reach when you realise no umbrella will keep the rain out, so you resign yourself to the fact that you’re already wet and you’re going to stay wet for a while, so why bother trying to juggle umbrella, camera, and awe? I had reached that point – in fact, sitting in a paddle boat being taken down the canals and literally hooked into stalls (the stalls are actually boats along the side and the vendors have long wooden poles they use to actually hook the side of your boat and pull you in) while it’s pouring rain is an experience in itself, and my camera and awe were handfuls enough without having to add an umbrella to the mix.

By the time I disembarked, wallet lighter and bag heavier, I was wet. Very wet. Puddling through some of the outer stores, I was acutely aware that it was almost time to leave when my attention was caught by a little pot. Surrounded by pots in blues and pinks, this little green one stood out – not only for being unique but also because, let’s face it, green is my favourite colour and I do so love these little pots.

Of course, I don’t need another little pot. I don’t need yet another “thing” to transport when I leave Singapore.

And, of course, I picked it up. As I did, the familiar opening bars of a song I’ve recently made a “new favourite” crackled out of a nearby speaker.

Smile an everlasting smile …

I didn’t smile. I grinned. And I bought the pot.

Sitting on the bus (still wet and unlikely to dry before the day came to an end), I thought about all the things I could do with this pot. And then I thought of the song, of the meaning it has to me – not only to change my story but also to simply enjoy the pleasure of words.

It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.

I have returned home and filled my little pot with a thousand words. These are my favourite words, my favourite phrases; this is a celebration of words. Before I went away I had buried myself in a pile of tangled threads, dug a hole and covered myself with them. I had stopped writing.

Now, I have a little pot containing a thousand words.

A thousand words.

Every day.

My writing wish for you is for you to find your words. Maybe you need to keep them close by in a little pot. Maybe you need to store them in a journal. Find your words; find the well from which you need to draw words in order to write.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

It’s easy to obsess over bucket lists. It’s easy to think of all the things you want to do, to make plans and lists around what is yet to be accomplished. It’s terribly easy to focus on all the failures you’ve had, the “what ifs” that can keep you wide awake and immobilised with fear and regret.

Unfortunately, I do this a lot. Despite my firm resolution as a teenager to live a life without regrets, I have “what if” moments, often all at once. What if I didn’t listen to the Voice of Reason and kept studying philosophy and writing instead of switching to teaching? What if I did go travelling before I started Uni instead of going straight into tertiary study? What if I didn’t eat that block of chocolate last night? What if I did go to Scotland instead of Singapore? What if I did … What if I didn’t …

Believe me, you can lose a lot of sleep over thinking back on the things you did and didn’t do.

Apparently it’s good to have a bucket list. Good to have plans and ideas of what you want to accomplish. I’ve been writing lists like this since I was a teenager so writing another one over the past week has not been an unfamiliar process. I’ve been writing lists of all the things I want to do, because if I write them down then perhaps there’s less chance of me forgetting them. They become more than something on my “to do” list, and instead become something on my “I will” list.

So here I am focusing on all these things I want to do. They’re endless, really. Languages I want to learn, books I want to read, places I want to visit, stories I want to write … and I’m overwhelmed.

This list is huge.

Is it possible for me to learn fifteen languages? Should I narrow it down to five?

Will I ever write out every single story? Do I have the time and patience? The energy? The motivation to switch everything off and just write without distraction or self-doubt?

How can I read all these books if I have to set time aside to work? To earn money to fund these pursuits?

How can I travel to all these places when I have to rely on getting leave and holidays?

OH MY GOSH! IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN! I’M NEVER GOING TO ACHIEVE ANYTHING!

That was pretty much my thought process last night. Hyperventilating under the covers, I thought of the things I haven’t done and the things I want to do. There’s just too much!

And then my mind wandered. My mind often wanders.

I thought of the no-regrets-teenager I was, once upon a time, when people seemed to be as beautiful as the world they lived in and it seemed so easy to set a goal and achieve it. I thought of her bucket list, the things she wanted to achieve.

Backpack around Europe.

Write a novel.

Live overseas.

Fall in love.

These are the things I’ve done. I can already tick these off the list and know that I’ve achieved a lot already in my life. While I’m busy thinking of the overwhelming tasks that I’m setting myself and fearing for my failure, I forget about the overwhelming tasks I’ve already set myself and achieved.

It wasn’t luck. It was a few good decisions and a few bad ones. It was a touch of spontaneity and a dollop of impulse, mixed with equal parts “what if” and the potential for regret.

And for all the “what ifs” that have passed, all the paths I chose and didn’t choose, I think teenage-me would be pretty pleased with where I’ve ended up. And I’ve still got so far to go.

My writing wish for you this week is for you to focus on your achievements. Instead of writing a list of all the things you wish you could do, write a list of all the things you have already accomplished. You’ve already done so much, and you deserve to be proud of everything you’ve done.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

This world has lost its glory,
Let’s start a brand new story.

 РThe Bee Gees (Words)

This song popped up on my playlist this morning and I froze for a moment as the words sank in. Some days I really do feel like the world has lost its glory. I feel like curling up in bed and never emerging, or running away and never being found. But that’s probably not the best way to go about it; rent needs to be paid (otherwise where will I put my bed?) and running away … well, that’s the backup plan, so I’m not going to scrap that option just yet. So what now? Start a brand new story.

This week I have been thinking about story structures. I have been thinking about the stories we build our lives around, the plot structure of our journey through this life (thank you, Joseph Campbell) and the complications that arise, the thresholds we cross, the tests and allies and enemies we encounter, the elixir some of us may never obtain.

In contemplating the plot of my life thus far (which has had some minor climaxes and quite a few chapters most readers would skip through), I’ve also been contemplating the plots of the stories I’ve written – and the plots I’m yet to write.

What books do you love? Do they have complicated plots and two-dimensional characters who are challenged by the world and who allow that challenging world to define them rather than challenge themselves to re-interpret the world? Do they have complex characters put in somewhat simple situations, situations made complicated by the various characters, their assumptions, and what can neatly be described as the human condition?

Often, the stories I write are complicated. And by complicated, I mean that sometimes I give up on them because I can’t keep track of where my characters have wandered off to, or what names I’ve given the various characters who pop in and out with a lot to say but not much to really contribute. You know the ones. The charlatans who appear and you think they’re going to be important but they aren’t. They take up chapters and chapters, but then they vanish and you realise those chapters are better off removed – the story is better without them.

Am I still talking about the stories I write or have I shifted to the stories of my life? Gosh, if only I could be certain …

Wherein lies the problem.

Plots are simple. Let’s face it, you start the story, you end the story, and stuff happens in between.

What makes the story interesting is how the characters deal with that “stuff”. The complications come from our characters whose beliefs are challenged, who are forced to do things of which they didn’t think themselves capable, who are influenced by other complicated characters who have their own motives and beliefs and “way of doing things”.

We are complicated. The world, however, is really very simple. In fact, if you stay in bed for a whole week, the world will keep turning (I have tested this theory several times).

Our stories are not supposed to be complicated; the world is always as it should be and the plot is fairly straightforward. Our characters are the complicated ones, the ones who throw in plot twists. The story comes from how they navigate their way through this world and interact with the other complicated characters they meet.

Campbell was on to something when he made the hero’s journey circular. We don’t tick off a list of things to do in this single story that is our life. We have a story that moves, and another story that builds onto that, and then another, and another, and … we keep going with our stories, around and around.

The world hasn’t lost its glory. The story has become over-complicated.

And what do you do if you don’t like the story?

You’re the writer.

Change it.

My writing wish for you this week is for you to change your story. Maybe it’s the one you’re writing. Maybe it’s the one you’re living. Which one has lost its glory?

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

Slowly but surely, as the tortoise would say; that has been my approach this week. And I have been astonished by how much work I’ve actually completed just by organising my tasks into bite-sized pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the kind of girl who can (proven) demolish a whole cake without hesitating, fork optional. But this week has been a gentle week – and I feel like I’ve achieved more because of it.

I’m accustomed to ploughing on, marching forward at a brisk pace with my line of sight distracted only by quick glances to check for snipers (when I remember). I just move, move, move because if I stop moving … how am I going to get anywhere?

This week I didn’t stop, but I did slow down. I was kind to myself, an art I’m still mastering, and I set myself a simple task to complete each day. Most days I completed two or more, because the feeling of triumph when I completed the first motivated me to keep going.

Some days I forget there is a middle ground. Some days I’m marching on at such a speed that the snipers do sneak up on me – and then I am forced to stop. And I don’t go anywhere.

Going slow this week has calmed me. My writing continues – slowly. My work continues – slowly. And I’m feeling better about my approach to my writing because I now have the time to recognise what is working and what is not. Slowly but surely.

My writing wish for you this week is for you to review the pace at which you write. Are you going too fast or too slow? Have you stopped altogether? What pace will work best for you? Pace yourself – and pay attention to what’s going on around you.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

I’ve had about a month of simply not writing – barely even writing for the blog, too. As the end of term two approached I was more interested in keeping my head above the water, and then a trip home to Australia ensured my time was occupied with family and friends and food (not necessarily in that order). The days rushed past and I paddled, paddled, paddled to stay moderately afloat.

It was hard work.

It is hard work, because I am still paddling, but things have changed and the paddling is getting a little easier.

On Wednesday something funny happened. A friend said he was writing and I thought why not, so I opened a little novella I’ve been working on and examined the 12,000 words I had compiled.

It was slow-moving. Boring. Ack.

But there was something there.

I stripped it back. I added more. I stripped it again. I repeated this process and now have about 4,000 words of the original content and 6,000 words of new content which, let’s face it, will likely be stripped down again.

Sometimes I feel like there’s a great concern among writers – especially we of the NaNoWriMo ilk – to produce content. We have to hit 50,000 words to have a novel. So we write and write and push and push and when we have the 50,000 words we say: “Yes, I have written a novel.”

We are discouraged from editing during that process, discouraged from not counting every word we produce regardless of how ridiculous a scene might be or how mundane the dialogue exchange. “Keep everything because every word counts!” we chant. I certainly believe that NaNoWriMo and its techniques have a role for writers who simply need to produce and get their ideas out, but what about the stripping down and revising? Have we forgotten that part? The thing is, every word does matter – each word matters in either its presence or absence. Some words need to be absent from the page to best serve your writing.

I’ve been editing, revising, and streamlining my story. Most importantly, after a month of thinking I might drown, I am starting to feel buoyant again. My words have been drowning me, and now I’m choosing which are the bricks of my writing and which are the life jackets.

My writing wish for you this week is for you to choose a story you’ve written or are writing and strip it down. If you’re scared to lose all those words you spilt on the page, don’t be. We need to strip the excess away so we may appreciate quality, not quantity. If you love your words, you’ll know which ones you need to set free and which ones you need to keep so your story can stay afloat.