Thursday, 14 December 2017

Edition 31 – August September October

Art

The Write Foundation – Unlocking Imagination

By Sandi Wallace

Whether you want to write short stories, poems, songs, genre or literary novels, or you don’t yet know what style and format is for you, the blank page should evoke excitement, not anxiety. Why? Because it’s your opportunity to experiment, dream big and unleash your imagination, and because it won’t stay blank for long.

 

Grab a fresh notebook and pen. On the first page write the date and ‘Today I stop thinking about writing and do it.’

Guess what? The monkey’s off your back: you have started.

Now that you’ve christened your writer’s journal, let me finish breaking the ice by introducing myself. I’m the author of two published rural crime thrillers, Dead Again (released in April) and Tell Me Why (winner of the 2015 Davitt Award Readers’ Choice), and a contributing author of the anthology Writing the Dream. My short crime stories have won prizes in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, and my articles and short fiction have been published regularly. I’ve been a writer for The Foothills for over a decade, but like the majority of Australian authors, I also have a ‘day job’.

In my other life, I’m a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, with a motto of ‘fun in fitness’—having it and giving it—and my mode of delivery is to ‘be me’ and lead everyone by example in ‘letting out the inner dag’. I also empower my clients to work to their own pace and capability and focus on their personal best.

That’s a great way to approach creative writing too. Be true to you by not trying to be anyone else or what you think others want. Find your unique voice and style, as much as actual stories and characters. Be unafraid to try different things. And remember there is no right or wrong approach to writing.

On that, some tutors and authors advocate ‘write every day’. And yes, storytelling tends to flow better without gaps, but life—work, family, illness, and more—can get in the way. However, and it’s the same for exercising, you need to identify what are reasons for not doing it versus excuses. What genuinely can’t be helped and what’s a cop out. Then think of ways to overcome the problem. Instead of skipping a sesdsion while you’re under pressure, make it an express one: short, sharp and effective. Instead of stressing about not being able to get to it every day, give yourself permission to aim for every second day. And realise that writing can be as simple as recording a snippet of overheard conversation, or a possible opening sentence for a story, or a description of the landscape, weather or people around you.

Take up your notebook again. Write a sentence or paragraph about what is around you now. 
It can be any style, but make it sensory (using some of the five senses:
sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch).

It won’t take long to fill your first notebook at this rate, will it?

Now, don’t worry if you aren’t sure what you want to write at this point; just do it. On the other hand, you may have a strong idea of what sort of writer you aspire to be, as I knew that I wanted to be a contemporary crime writer, but the more you play around with different voices and concepts at this early stage, the more empowered your imagination will become.

You could enrol in a course on writing, or you could look at this phase as similar to wanting to join a gym but lacking confidence and basic fitness, so you begin walking your dog the length of a few house blocks, before venturing around the block, then taking a longer walk with hills, by which time you’ve established a base level of self-belief and fitness or the foundation for signing up for that membership.

In coming issues of The Foothills, I’ll step you through building your writing foundation and at the right time, I’d encourage you to take classes (online or in person) specific to what you want to write, along with editing (every writer must also be an editor of their own work), join a writers’ group to bounce off ideas and exchange critiques, try your hand at contests, pitch your stories to publications, and more.

But when is the right time?

To answer that, let me take you back to my first novel, Tell Me Why. I didn’t research how to write a novel before starting. It’d been years since doing creative writing in secondary school. I didn’t start with a formal synopsis or chapter outlines, just a location, ideas about my main character, plot and that this novel was the first in a contemporary crime series. I winged it and wrote a full draft in the first-person, present tense.

Notebook ready? It might have been a long while between creative writing drinks for you too, so let’s brush up on narration and tense options. 
Person is the narrator (AKA voice, or point of view). First-person is I/we. Second-person is you/us (probably more suited to non-fiction than fiction). Third-person is he/she/it/they and can be omniscient (all-seeing, all-knowing about all the characters and what’s happening in the scene) or limited (similar to omniscient, but limited to the thoughts and feelings of one character in that scene).
Tense expresses time relative to now, the moment of speaking, and without overcomplicating things, we use past (things have already happened) or present (things are happening now or are continuous).
Think of a simple scenario, and write the same scene several ways: in
first-person and third-person point of view, and in past and present tense.

Did one flow easier for you? And does one read better, in your opinion?

Well, as a reader, I don’t mind first-person, present tense, and in fact, one of my favourite crime writers, Michael Robotham, does it well. But reflecting on that first draft of my novel, I decided it’s not for me as a writer, except for as inner thoughts or short sections limited to one character for emphasis. Yet, I had no regrets. I had a draft down, and I was finding my style and voice. Granted, there was a long way to go until that novel was publishable, which included study, entering and eventually winning short story prizes, and working with a mentor to take my manuscript from ‘almost ready’ to being contracted by my publisher.

Notebook time again. Until my next The Write Foundation instalment, focus on unlocking your imagination. You may like to use some of the ideas below as a springboard.

1.    Keep a journal for ideas. 
These might include story titles, opening lines, things you witness, feel or overhear, descriptions using your senses, strange occupations or events, newspaper clippings, photos of potential characters for stories, postcards, other visual triggers, anything you feel like writing…

2.    Keep a journal for what you read.
It’s helpful to record title, author, year of publication, publisher (traditional or self-published) and agent (if available). This research will go towards later decisions on self-publication or pitching your story to an agent or publisher. Also include a brief synopsis, your rating out of 5 stars and notes (particular stand-out points about why you did/didn’t like/love this book/story), as what works for you as a reader informs about you as a writer. Think of the saying, ‘Write what you want to read’ and then aim for uniqueness in what and how you do it. Admire others but don’t try to imitate them and don’t compare your style to theirs.

3.    Write about something that happened today or yesterday.
Take what you very recently saw or did, and write a short scene as a factual, personal account. Then write the same scene, embellishing (elaborating or inventing) as needed, with the aim to make the reader care about the characters and outcome. Try different points of view and tenses.

4.    Find the germ of a story from a newspaper.
It could be anything from a classified or real estate ad, news report, investigative feature, gossip column, horoscope, photograph, cartoon, headline…story ideas are everywhere!

5.    Write five different first sentences for any type of story that grabs you.

Enjoy unlocking your creativity until we catch up again!

About The Foothills

The Foothills magazine is truly appreciated by the local community. It covers business, community and tourisms news, events, local success stories and more. The site features electronic newsletters, feature stories, recipes, photographs and news, all from the Upper Ferntree Gully, Upwey and Tecoma communities.

From the Editor

Welcome to the first of the digital editions of The Foothills community news. Thanks to our wonderful team of volunteers that has put this edition together. Many are long term volunteers who you will have followed over several years and others are new writers inspired by the opportunities of the new digital edition.

We are keen to grow the Foothills with your contributions. If you have a club, a school or an interest that you’d like to tell us about each quarter then please contact me so we can arrange for your own column. We also welcome photos and quick news stories that we can use to update the Foothills between editions. Send those contributions and messages to thefoothills@coonarahouse.org.au.

Thanks and happy reading.

Regards

The Foothills Editor