Tag Archives: Creative writing

The words arrive

It has been six months since my last post on this blog, in fact, it has been almost six months since I have written anything at all – no short stories, nothing on my novel, no journal writing, note-taking or even scribbles.  Two years ago I started a legal proceeding against my father and the last six months have almost completely been focused on trying to get through all of the legal hoops leading up to trial and retain at least a small thread of sanity.  This, combined with medication for anxiety, completely dissipated my desire to write.

A week ago the trial was set down for the District Court sittings commencing 3rd September, 2012. On Sunday, 1st July, 2012 my father took his own life.

Needless to say, the days since Sunday have been a bit of a blur.

But now, after a 3000 kilometre journey of closure, I am sitting in a motel room in the town where I was born, which I have not seen since my parents left here when I was six weeks old.

Driving into the small country town, it felt like the mountains were hugging me and welcoming me home. It has been an emotional return for a number of reasons and the urge to write has been overwhelming from the moment I saw the mountains in the distance.

I have no idea if the desire to write and the creativity that is enveloping me at the moment will last very long, but I am hoping the absence of fear and feelings of freedom that have resulted from my father’s passing will translate into many more words on the page in the coming weeks, months and years.

[Fiction] Friday Challenge #241

The people over at Write Anything have a weekly writing challenge called[Fiction] Friday. The rules can be found on their  [Fiction] Friday page. The following is my first, (albeit belated), attempt at their challenge, but I hope it will become a regular part of Writing From The Ashes. This week’s challenge was:- Include these characters somewhere in your story–a weasel, a priest and a spinning wheel.

“Father, please, I’m begging you. Please officiate at Sam’s funeral. I can’t bear the thought of having a stranger do it. It has to be someone who knew him, who loved him.”

The priest stood silent. He had known Sam for a long time, that was true, but he wasn’t sure it was appropriate for him to take part in Sam’s funeral. Besides, he was having great difficulty keeping his composure in the face of this request. If he was on the verge of hysterical laughter now, how would he be able to keep a straight face during the ceremony?

On the other hand, how could he deny such a serious request from Jim? Dear Jim, who he had loved for ten years, and who meant as much to him as a son?  Jim, whose innocence was such a rare thing to find in this day and age?

It was the thought of hurting Jim while he was devoured by grief that caused the priest to hesitate and consider agreeing to the request.

“Jim, it might be better for someone else to conduct the funeral. Have you considered doing it yourself matey?”

Fresh tears flowed from Jim’s blue eyes. His nose became redder as he attacked it with a handkerchief, and the freckles on his cheeks seemed painted on his face because the spaces in between were so incredibly pale. He opened his mouth to speak, but was overcome by wracking sobs that left him bent over double and choking.

The laughter the priest had felt bubbling to the surface dissipated in a heartbeat. He walked to Jim and knelt next to him. He placed his left arm around Jim’s shoulders and gently drew Jim into a hug. Feeling Jim’s body shudder against him, the priest chastised himself for treating the impact of Sam’s death so lightly. He waited for Jim’s choking sobs to subside and then said, “Jim, just for you, and just this once, I will step away from my better judgement and agree to your request. But Jim, you must promise not to make a big deal of the part I will play in Sam’s funeral, and I will not be able to wear my robes.”

Jim’s cheek rubbed against the priest’s rough shirt as he nodded his head in agreement to the conditions. He closed his eyes and leant a little harder against the priest, drawing comfort from the embrace.

The priest allowed Jim to remain in his arms a few moments longer, then carefully drew back, placed his fingertips under Jim’s chin, and tilted Jim’s face so he could look directly into his eyes.

“Now Jim, you need to go and make the necessary arrangements. The funeral’s tomorrow afternoon, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. It will be under Sam’s favourite tree.”

“I will see you tomorrow then.”

Jim threw his arms around the priest once more and whispered, “Thank you.”

******************

The mourners gathered in the shade of a large oak tree. Before them was an open timber coffin. Jim was at the front of the congregation, and in one hand h held a small blue and silver, toy spinning wheel. In the other hand was an extra-long, green woollen sock. The front of Jim’s shirt was wet from the tears dripping from his cheeks.

The priest cleared his throat and started the ceremony.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to farewell our friend Sam. Sam has lived a full and active life, and has brought a tremendous amount of joy and love into the life of his closest friend, my nephew, Jim. When Jim asked me to conduct today’s ceremony I was hesitant to do so, but now I understand how important it is for Jim, and Sam’s other friends, to have the opportunity to say a proper good-bye.”

Looking skyward, then bowing his head and closing his eyes, the priest continued, “Dear God, please find a place close to your heart for Sam’s soul and keep him safe and well until we meet him again.”

After a moment’s silence, the priest said, “Everyone, please say a silent prayer for our friend, Sam, and then feel free to approach the coffin to say your final farewell.  Tea, coffee and refreshments will be available in the kitchen.”

Jim approached the coffin first. He carefully placed the sock in the coffin and stared at the spinning wheel in his hand. Slowly, he raised the wheel to his lips and kissed it. As he placed the toy into the coffin he whispered, “I love you Sam. I will miss you always.”

Jim walked away from the coffin and the other mourners approached in single-file.

Meanwhile, the priest stood with his head bowed and looked at the inscription on the lid of the coffin. It read, “Fare Thee Well my Dear Sam. The best ferret a boy ever had.”

The last mourner winked at the priest as he approached the coffin, and said, “Bit over the top for a weasel, ain’t it?”

Thank you Mr Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway circa 1937

It has been the most productive day I have had in quite some time. I have been revising the first seven chapters of my novel and the feeling of being alive has returned.

It’s probably obvious to regular readers of this blog that my motivation for writing ebbs and flows and I go through periods of manic activity which then give way to periods of procrastination. If it was possible to pinpoint one thing that turned procrastination into action, those periods of not writing would probably not worry me so much. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any connection between the things the seem to revive my writing motivation.

So, who or what was it that brought about a resurgence of motivation and activity this time? Believe it or not, it was reading Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.

This might not be considered such a strange event, especially since Hemingway is considered one of the greatest writer’s of all time, but it’s not exactly what you might think. The reason Hemingway’s book motivated me is not because it was a fantastically well-written novel, in fact, it was the exact opposite.

This was my first Hemingway. I plunged into it expecting to be blown away by some mystical power of amazing literature – boy, was I disappointed. Part 1 was okay, nothing totally amazing, but it wouldn’t be the first book I have read that took great persistence to get really involved in the story.

The change of perspective in Part 2 was when I started to have doubts about the greatness of Mr Hemingway. Although, in truth it wasn’t just the change in perspective, lots of novels do that, it was also the disconnected and disjointed feeling that came through reading it.

When I started on Part 3, I wondered out loud if the book wasn’t really a collection of short stories.

Then, I was overcome with complete confusion as the whole thing seemed to take a major detour from the original idea. I was seriously starting to question why this guy was supposedly considered to be some kind of writing God. Hope and motivation for my novel were starting to return.

I finished the book, and straight away started to research Mr Hemingway. I discovered that To Have and Have Not came 8 years after his previous novel, although he had published some short stories in between. I also discovered that this novel started life as two short stories and a novella, so some of the change in perspective and disjointedness started to make sense. But then, according to some contemporary reviewers from the late 1930s, disconnection seems to be a common theme through all Hemingway’s work (that and the lack of distinction between characters in his dialogue).

To Have and Have Not has been referred to as a ‘bunch of junk’ although there seems to be some confusion as to whether this comment should be attributed to Hemingway, himself, or to film director, Howard Hawks, who made the novel into a film of the same name. However, once you start looking into the novel a little deeper than words on a page, and start to question Hemingway’s motives for writing it or what he was trying to explore, then you can start to see that, as a piece of literature, and as an author, Ernest Hemingway was bordering on brilliant.

Regardless of whether this is Hemingway’s worst book or indicative of his work in general, if a great writer can produce a novel like this, there is hope for me yet. That is not to say that I, in any way, shape or form, consider myself in Hemingway’s league (heck, I haven’t even finished writing 1 novel yet, let alone published 7 of them!), but if readers of my novel are not left scratching their heads or having to resort to Google to work put the story together then I will consider myself successful.

Procrastination sets in

Procrastination sets in

As most writers know, NaNoWriMo is upon us, and at the beginning of the year I had planned to participate this year. However, ‘life’ got in the way and I also found myself a good way into writing a novel by the time November rolled around. So, instead of putting my work-in-progress on hold and write an entirely new novel during NaNoWriMo, I had set myself a challenge to have the first draft of the original novel completed by November 30.

All was going well until I turned 40.

In the few weeks leading up to the big four-oh, all of my spare time was focused on party preparations, (because you only turn 40 once, I was happy for it to be a ‘big deal’).  Anyway, my writing stopped during this time and now, after the partying has come to an end, I turned my attentions back to my manuscript.

But nothing happened.

I sat at the computer, checked my emails, read the news, listened to music, played a game – everything other than write. Then today, when I was having a coffee trying to psyche myself up to write, I thought I should do some sewing, clean the house, go shopping etc.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, I have been in this position before, so I know what is happening – I’m procrastinating!

Tsk! Tsk!

Oh, well, at least I have managed to sit here for the last few minutes and write a blog post. Now, if only I can transfer this concentration and get back to my novel…

6,000 words!

6,000 words - done!

Woo Hoo! Who said it couldn’t be done? Well, I for one definitely had my doubts.

No, I haven’t completely lost my mind, (although I am working on it), but I did achieve something amazing today.

I haven’t written much on my novel for the last couple of weeks, thanks to ‘life’ getting in the way, so this afternoon I set my goals high and set about trying to achieve them.

My goal was to write 6,000 words today.

Considering I didn’t sit down to start writing until 1.30 this afternoon, I was expecting my goal would be quite out of reach, but there is nothing like a challenge to give my motivation a bit of a kick-start.

With no incentive, other than to reach the magic 20% mark of my first-draft by writing 6,000 words today, I sat down and let my fingers do the talking, (so to speak).

Anyway, almost 10 hours later, I have just completed 6,112 words!

I am exhausted, I have to go to work early in the morning, and my only sustenance today has been coffee, but I am so excited that I have managed to get so much written. This bodes well for the rest of the week, because, having been so engrossed in the story for so many hours in one sitting, I am keen to keep the momentum going.

It feels so great to have pushed myself beyond the goals I would normally set for myself, I just had to share.

Fell free to let me know of any writing goals, big or small, you’ve achieved recently so we can celebrate together!

If you want to write, then write

I have read a number of articles recently claiming to provide ‘expert’ advice on ‘how to write’.  If I was going to rely on all of this ‘expert’ advice, I would achieve nothing other than becoming totally confused.

The majority of the articles I have read appear to fall into two main categories – the first advocating a fully structured approach to writing where endless hours are spent outlining themes, plots, characters, scenes, conflict, resolutions etc, and the other category advocating a ‘write first, structure later’ approach.

With two equally earnest camps expounding opposing points of view, how is anyone interested in writing but not feeling confident about their abilities supposed to get past reading all of this ‘expert’ advice and write their stories?

I don’t for a minute claim to have any expertise in the field of writing – but it is definitely something I enjoy, and more and more it is something I can’t live without.  From countless conversations I have had since I embraced my need to write rather than ignore it, I have come to the conclusion that writing is a very personal thing,  everyone’s experience of writing, and with writing is very different.

With this in mind, I would argue that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to write.  Rather, if you want to write, or need to write, then write – anywhere, anytime, anyhow.  If you get into a writing habit, without trying to meet the expectations of so-called ‘experts’, eventually you will find your own style of writing that works for you.

In fact, the one thing that all of the articles I have read recently agree on is developing a daily habit of writing.  For some people this might be first thing in the morning, for others last thing at night.  Some people will make a definite time to write, and others will steal five minutes here and ten minutes there throughout the day.  I personally don’t think it matters – whatever works for you.

So, if you are one of the many people out there who have a story or stories to tell, or one of the many who have said, “One day I’d like to write a …”, then the only advice this non-expert can give you is start writing.  A story will not tell itself, you have to write the words – even if it is only 50 words a day.

Alive and writing

Alive and writing!

It has been months since I have posted anything here.  My loss of creativity, written about in my last post, seemed absolute.  Try as I might, no words would come as I sat down to write, and then after a while I just stopped trying.

All that has changed over the last few weeks.

Even though I have two novels and one non-fiction piece that I had been working on previously, inspiration struck like a lightning bolt out of the blue, and I have been regularly working on a new novel ever since.

The writing of it is quite different to my usual method, so I am not sure if this has helped keep the creativity alive, or if the act of writing daily has something to do with it.

When the inspiration came, I was afraid it would leave as quickly as it had arrived, so I wanted to limit as much self-imposed pressure and expectation as I could.  As I sat down to write on that first day after having felt deserted by creativity for so long, I decided to write just 1000 words.

At the time I wasn’t sure if the writing would be a short story or something more, so I thought 1000 words was achievable either way, and by then I would have a better idea.

I also decided not to think about the creative spark too much.  Instead I just sat and tapped away on the keyboard.  Whatever comes, comes, I thought, and decided not to try and direct the story in any particular direction, but instead let the story go wherever it pleased.

The result, so far, has been fantastic – not in the sense of what has been written – but in the sense of freedom I have felt as I have been writing.  No pressure,no limits, no trying to make the story fit into any particular mould.  If it doesn’t make sense at this stage, that’s okay – after all isn’t that what editing is for, to make the story make sense?

So, I am still alive, and I am busy writing.  Hopefully my next post will not be so long away as this one was from the last 🙂