On this very desk in Chania, Crete, I finished the last scene of my shitty first draft of my first novel on 27th September, three days before my deadline.

Last year I found out about The Writer’s Studio online First Draft Novel course which insisted that I start all over again (I had a part-finished another draft one and mooshed together a second incomplete draft one – so two draft ones if that makes sense. No, not really!). So I started all over again and eleven months later, I made it!! That’s 93,947 words. Just under 24,000 this writing holiday which started 9/9.

Now, to get cracking with the Writer’s Studio Draft Two course. I believe there will be lots more rewriting. So Sisyphus-like, I’ve started rolling that boulder up to the top of the hill!

But first, I celebrated with beer, olives, feta and anchovies. A sweet snack! Chania will always have a place in my heart.

It’s that time again – author interview time! I will be honest, my day job was extremely busy at the end of April and I have only just gotten the audio of this engaging and supportive interview with the lovely Samantha Bennett up.  Since Good Friday when this was recorded until today, there has been a lot of stuff happening. A lot. A boulder’s worth of things (see below).

But enough of that. On with the show! For those of you who don’t know Samantha, she is an author of two books, Get It Done: From Procrastination To Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day, and her latest. The title needs a new sentence of its own. Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make A Big Difference. For Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists.

It’s going to be my longest hyperlink all year! So let me start with a breath. Inhale for four, hold for seven, exhale for eight. That’s how our interview starts, and that is just one of the many super-practical, easily implementable tips that Samantha shares in the interview. You can hop on over and listen right now, or keep on reading to find out a little more before you commit!

Samantha has spent many years helping creatives to get unstuck, through her Organized Artist company, and with great intrepidity has put together a career’s worth of sensible and supportive advice into a book. And the right Little Changes Action Step that end each chapter. Things you can try for yourself to make changes in the area of your life where things aren’t working so well for you.

When I was reading the book in preparation for the interview, I started turning down the corners of the important pages. (I know. I am an absolute vandal. Do not loan me your favourite book.) After a short time I realised I had turned down the corner of every chapter, and with only around a 15 minute allotted interview time that was never going to work. But it highlighted to me that this is the kind of book that you read through once, then you keep handy, like a favourite pack of Angel cards or similar. You pick it up and wherever it falls open, that’s the right page with the right wisdom for you.

What I like about this book is that it is funny. For people like myself with a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for self-development, it is refreshing to stumble across paragraphs such as ‘”What does my inner wisdom want me to know right now?” You could end up with with a clear desire for a grilled cheese sandwich – or perhaps an idea for a whole new direction in life.’

What I also like is that some of the meditations and concepts are on the website for you to enjoy as an audio or short video.

Of this vast panoply of good ideas, I am going to choose the ones that fell open for me. Happy Naked Grown Up Time, Time Boulders and the You in the Centre of You. In no particular order, except that Happy Naked Grown Up Time got your attention I’m thinking?

Time Boulders are things like a massive day job, new baby, sudden illness of self or other – the sorts of intrusions on time that are definitely and legitimately going to impact on how much time there is for creative pursuits. But – these time boulders won’t last forever. And this is the reassurance I cling to with my current creative schedule in a life (positively) impacted by my massive, amazing, challenging, enthralling day job. One day this too will pass, and I will have a different, post-job life. More noodling time, more white space and bigger margins of my life to devote to writing. (Hang it, I might even have a whole page!) But still. I’ve got 15 minutes a day. We’ve all got 15 minutes a day. Or in my case, oodles of time on the weekend. My novel can still progress, slowly. What can you do in 15 minutes a day to forward your creative dreams?

Another key theme in the book is The You in the Centre of You. It’s a core concept for life really.

“When you are centered in yourself, you are the still center around which the wheel of your life spins.”

Sam also uses the term “The Net” to express the fundamental inter-connectedness of all things (as Douglas Adams would say). “You are an inextricable and essential part of an Infinite Net of energy. You are one intersecting element in the larger picture of the whole universe. You are both much less significant and much more powerful than you may have been led to believe.”

And Happy Naked Grown Up Time? Get a copy and read it yourself!

Listen here for my interview with Sam.

Samantha Bennett is also the co-host of the Beautiful Writer’s Group, with Linda Sivertsen. I have been Beautiful Writer for 2.5 years.

Rashida Murphy with her first novel, The Historian’s Daughter

I have recently signed up to to Marie Forleo’s B-School, and was inspired to refresh my Fabulous Women Podcast. This latest interview features Perth Author Rashida Murphy, who has recently published her first novel, The Historian’s Daughter.

The book’s blurb reads “In an old house with ‘too many windows and women’, high in the Indian hills, young Hannah lives with her older sister Gloria; her two older brothers; her mother, ‘the Magician;’ a colourful assortment of aunts, blow-ins, and misfits; and her father, ‘the Historian.’ It is a world of secrets, jealousies, and lies, ruled by the Historian but smoothed over by the Magician, whose kindnesses and wisdom bring homely comfort and all-enveloping love to a ramshackle building that seems destined for chaos.

And then one day the Magician is gone, Gloria is gone, and the Historian has spirited Hannah and her brothers away to a new, and at first bewildering, life in Perth. As Hannah grows and makes her own way through Australian life, an education, and friendships, she begins to penetrate to the heart of one of the old house’s greatest secrets-and to the meaning of her own existence.”

The Magician and the Historian – why those names?

The magic and beauty of having a podcast is that you can ask authors about what they meant. The Historian is the father figure, and the Magician is the mother figure. I was still intrigued about this one month after reading it, and Rashida shared her insight as to the detachment of both parents, although so different.

What about the sisters, Hannah and Gloria?

The warm relationship between the sisters Hannah and Gloria is cut short when Hannah moves to Australia, and the impact of living apart tells on their relationship. Rashida confirmed this is an enduring theme in her writing, and that no matter how long you live in a country and develop new relationships, you can never replace the sibling relationships where you have lived each others’ history.

Are “extra branches” on a family tree a key theme?

The opening line is “The hills towered, range upon range, behind the house with too many windows and women” Rashida shares the insight that as she grew up there were silent women who were visible but whose stories were never told. This novel provides one story at least for one of the silent women inspired by her childhood in India.

I wonder if you could share something about the experience of writing this novel?

Rashida talked about the germ of an idea of this novel – actually the Iranian Revolution – which would not let her alone. It transformed into The Historian’s Daughter over several years and drafts.

I loved the insight she shared about writing about places – she needs a place to become strange to write about it, and all the Perth scenes of the novel were written in Shimla. I love that!

And are you able to talk about what’s next?
Another germ of an idea is currently taking shape. Despite swearing off novel-writing, this draft is already up to 25,000 words… We talked about how you have to be crazy to write a novel, but at some point it starts making sense and then you can’t leave it alone!

Meet Rashida
Perth people can meet Rashida in person as she will be at Duncraig Public Library on 5th April at 6pm. Copies of Rashida’s book will be available for purchase and signing on the night. Check UWA Publishing’s Facebook page or call the City of Joondalup on 9400 4751.

I hope you enjoy this Podcast. Please feel free to like and share!

6weeksDo you know how it is sometimes, where you keep on getting the same message? Like the red car syndrome, where once you purchase a red car, suddenly you see them everywhere? The red car message for me has been all about time. Things worth doing, take time. Time. Lots of it.

The same message kept appearing in so many unrelated podcasts, blogs and conversations this week that I had to admit, this was the red car message for me.

Nothing worth doing can get done in six weeks.

There was a time, three years ago in fact, when I thought I could get a business going in six weeks; “Six Figures in Six Weeks” was one of the many online courses I had signed up for. Well I had my doubts, but I thought the smart thing to do was to learn from other entrepreneurs, reduce the amount of time it took to learn how to grow your business. I wanted the quick and easy, paint by numbers, tried and true way to gather a list of people’s emails, adoring Facebook and Twitter etc. followers, and then magically become a hugely successful online entrepreneur. I believed that all I had to do was to understand how other entrepreneurs had done it, heck even use the same scripts as they did, and somehow, magically I would be able to walk away from paid work and still be able to meet all my expenses, within, say, six weeks.

I was already lost, because the business coach idea was just a diversion from the sheer terror of publishing my first book. I could have gotten behind my book and done that interview series on trauma to triumph, but instead I wimped out, opting for an Abundance summit. And perhaps being so lost encouraged some magical thinking. I would commonly be found up at 3am on the Q&A call with another American coach calling their Pied Piper tune about how to build a business instantly.

Here’s the deal

There are no quick and easy steps to build a business. There is no quick and easy way to find your voice and market yourself an entrepreneur, a writer, a creative. “Six kilos in six weeks” sounds almost identical to “six figures in six weeks”, and both are a lie. Six week weight loss programs have not stood the test of research, as study after study indicates all those kilos will find their way back onto your body after the diet, most likely joined by a few extra ones.

Almost nobody who starts a business will be earning anything like six figures in six weeks, unless they have been at the game for more than 15 years, building a profile through face to face interaction and plain hard graft. It is the usual story of the 15 year overnight sensation.

Tim Grahl said it well –

Social media is not a place to “grow your fame.” It’s a reflection of the fame you’ve created elsewhere.

Sure, you need to have a website, social media presence etc. so people can find you, but then you need to get out into the world and work hard in building up your “offline” fame.

Another of my red car moments was listening to Marianne Williamson talk about grief on Marie Forleo’s weekly program. Marianne said that the point of grief is not to anaesthetise ourselves to it through use of pharmaceuticals or other numbing substances, buying more “things”, and ignoring the feelings. The point is to feel the feelings and take them as our teacher.

To continue the analogy with being an entrepreneur, or a creative, the whole point is to find out for yourself what success is going to look like. No-one else’s scripts or formulae are going to get you there.

And, it’s going to take time.

out-of-the-longest-winterI have vowed never ever to travel to Europe as early as July. In my hemisphere, Winter is technically from June to August, and while traditionally our Winters here in Perth Australia are not that bad, this one has seemingly gone on for ever. And Ever. And Ever.

After three weeks in Greece in July this year, one of which was a blissful week of a writing retreat in Delphi, I returned to Perth, escaped jet lag and felt smug. Then the rain and Winter stuck around for all of August. All of September. And now, a week into October and today is another perfect inside day with endless rain. Even an ex-patriot Canadian recently remarked to me that she too had found this Winter endless and cold.

The Second Winter of My First Novel Project

2016 will be the second year I have declared with incredible bravery that I am writing my first novel. The writing project is a drumbeat of anxiety, setbacks and frustrations waxing and waning audibly in the background of my ridiculously busy life. It has been an endless circling around of what I think I need to be doing, what I am doing, what must be thrown away so something can be built from its ashes.

I spent six months doing an online Write Your Novel course. At that point it was entitled “Without Consent”. Based on my memoir, the core idea of the novel project is to write from both the perpetrator and victim perspective. The inspiration came from an agent I met with and the idea has taken hold.

So the Six Months to Write Your Novel course came and went, and I dragged the “Without Consent” idea along for the ride. While I had some misgivings about whether the course was really the right fit, I ploughed on. It certainly helped a lot, and I worked hard at it when I could, but at the end of the six months I had only gotten three quarters of the way through the first draft. And the amount of commenting on fellow students that was required was completely overwhelming.

After more desultory mucking around after the course finished, I declared Draft 2 open. By then I had come to the realisation that the course had taught me how to write best seller genre fiction, or preferably a young adult fiction. Only I don’t want to write a best seller. I want to write literary fiction. While it was a useful if drawn out process working out what I didn’t want, what I wanted to create still felt elusive. It seemed that when writing literary fiction, you were on your own.

I then floundered on for more months, setting completely unrealistic deadlines for finishing draft two, given my heavy day job. I got terrifically excited after reading Mothering Sunday for Book Club in June. “That’s the kind of book I want to write!” I thought excitedly. I planned to weave the two storylines in and out, back and forwards in time, creating something circular, even labyrinthine and wonderfully clever. By now it was going to be a novella called Shakespeare Street.

During the Delphi Retreat in July I didn’t really make much progress on the draft, although my writing skills were challenged and expanded. I made another little breakthrough about how I was going to edit and once again, made very desultory progress. And… bit by bit the focus and the certainty faded away.

There was also a computer malfunction in this time, and a return to Scrivener which I often bore people with but had somehow stopped using.

I also got excited when I read the term “roman a clef”, to quote Wikipedia “French for novel with a key, is a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction.” Then of course I had to read The Sun Also Rises and realise all over again what a blokey bloke Ernest Hemingway was and how I possibly didn’t really like him all that much and certainly didn’t like bullfighting. Or fishing.

None of this seemed to be really “getting the pants on the baby”. But I have clung to the suggestion of a fellow Delphi Retreat attendee, and have now discovered The Writer’s Studio. I started an introductory course this week and finally, finally feel that I am getting the sort of assistance I need to write something unique. Not genre, not best seller, but something unique. My unique.

So I am heading, “once more unto the breach” as Shakespeare himself would say, with Shakespeare Street/ Without Consent rattling along behind me.

Nobody said the creative process was straightforward.

 

 

Brian Eno Creativity QuoteThis week I barely drew breath from the demands of my day-job, the day-job that was somehow going to magically leave plenty of room for novel writing. I sustain my creative flame against the extinguishing breath of procrastination and plain over-work by listening to podcasts that light me up as I drive to and from work or appointments.

This one appeared on some feed somewhere and I saved it for later. I’m so glad I did. Brian Eno’s John Peel Lecture. I’m sure my life has subtly shifted on its over-hyped, administrative axis and slowly tilted again towards the creative world.

“Creativity is everything we don’t need to do.” That’s what Brian Eno has come up with. Yes we need to eat. But we don’t need to have creme brulee or flambeed duck. Yes we apparently need to wear clothes, but we don’t need Dior.

How this beautifully captures the creative impulse that weaves through all of humankind.

Have a listen. It’s great stuff.

IMG_2385Wagga – it’s not a name to conjure with and I held little positive anticipation of its pleasures. A 72 hour stay was scheduled in Wagga in New South Wales, Australia so that my husband and I could see his son graduate from basic army training. Attending the passing out parade if you will, where I hoped I would not pass out from the exertion of standing around watching incomprehensible marching formations.

But Wagga proved to be a quiet delight, with a number of pleasant features such as plentiful Victorian architecture, a main street rather than ghastly impersonal shopping malls, and a river winding on the edges of the town.

I did not pass out during the Passing Out Parade, and neither did any of the graduates. The ceremony itself was a largely incomprehensible display of marching but at least we were seated fairly comfortably to watch it; and see our dear boy get the physical training award for his platoon. And to see him so happy in the choice that he has made in his life.

It is a pleasure tinged with melancholy to see your young people moving into the world to try their hand at independent life.

The parenting job done well requires a painful redundancy.

And so we waved him off, with not even a tear although I must admit there was a little crying on the inside, on my part at least. I am sure more than a little part of it is selfish; the privilege of watching young people move into the world, see out the physical reality of their choices, causes me to reflect.

IMG_2405Were my young adult choices the right ones? Did I follow what I wanted whole-heartedly? Why am I still feeling so blocked with my writing? Is the answer reading books like Mrs Dalloway, where I come across the sorts of quotes about time that give me a further painful kick up the arse about its rapid passing? That remind me my time studying Literature at University, is now half a lifetime ago? I seem to have the bit about reading lots of books to develop one as a writer, but what about the actual writing, huh? It is interesting to recollect that going through a creativity nurturing process like The Artist’s Way is not a one-off thing. It needs to be re-visited when “blurts” emerge, what The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron calls negative self-talk about your creativity. So Wagga has seen some interesting mental loop the loops around my choices, my past, my creativity, my future. I have had to resort to getting a glue stick and some collaging materials. When in an artistic funk, collage can work wonders!

Shadow ArtistYou may be aware I am quite a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a 12 week program, and I have created a freebie email series that sends you a weekly email with a check in from the previous week and a list of the next week’s tasks. I am just starting the 12 week series and this is what is leaping out at me in Week One; the Shadow Artist.

Of all things, it’s making me think again about my parenting. When my daughter was a young infant and then toddler, I had a horror of disciplining her. I suffered from the illusion many parents seem to; that if I disciplined my child, she would no longer love me. The reality was, without discipline, I would no longer like her. And that is where the danger grew and blossomed until eventually, at some point, I was able to shift gear from a mother who nurtured to a mother who could provide discipline and nurture. I am happy to say we have had a wonderful relationship for at least the last decade and she is a glorious teen.

Aside from that irrational fear that she would not like me, what also stopped me from disciplining her was a fear of squashing her creativity. With the benefit of hindsight I now realise that when children are 5 and under their creativity is not yet under much threat. Painting, drawing, play doh, singing, dancing – all of these are regular activities for children at home and at school. And boundaries and creativity are very good friends, after all.

The real risk to creativity starts to occur as children move from primary to high school and creative tendencies are starting to show green tendrils of potentiality. However the rigidity of the peer environment where no mistakes or stupidity can occur make for a very hostile environment for creativity to flourish. The power of the recognition of the description of the Shadow Artist in Chapter one highlights that this is what happened to me. That was why I had such a horror of injuring my daughter’s artist.

 …It takes nurturing to make an artist. Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow

That really, really makes sense to me. Your artist is a tender, vulnerable creature who needs encouragement and nurturing. Your teens need you to give them the “go on, give it a go and learn!” message, not a message of fear and caution. That’s exactly what I can do right now with my talented teen. And while I’m at it, I am re-nurturing my artist with Artist Dates, Morning Pages and making my way back through the 12 week program to see what I missed last time.

I will finish with another two quotes from Week 1 that I find very inspiring:

In order to recover as an artist, you need to be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps over time, a very good one.

…and

“..do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/writ a decent play?” Yes … the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.

Here’s to a New Year filled with plenty of bad art, good art and brilliant art.

VirginiaWoolf

If you want to write, write.

Virginia Woolf

It’s been one whole month of Morning Pages. At the risk of boring those who are already doing it, the Morning Pages is a keystone undertaking of the Artist who undertakes to be part of the 12 Week Artist’s Way program.

It’s really, really simple. You get up half an hour earlier than normal (ok already not so easy) and you write three pages, longhand. You just do. It is a bit like tuning up; washing away all those things that are bugging you and clearing the pathway.

For me, the hardest bit is the half an hour earlier bit- and making sure I have time. But I figure having gone to Julia Cameron’s site to be reassured over and over that that there are no rules, no right way, it’s also ok to do Morning Pages when juddering along on a bus. It’s best if you do them when you first get up, but if that is not possible well you do them when you can. Or you might even skip them. The sky will not fall in.

But why skip it? What a glorious space to have! You can write absolutely anything you wish. Whinges, dreams, externalising those incredibly annoying circular thoughts when trying to work out the logistics of the day; “I’ll take the bus just in case there’s nowhere to park my car at the train station. Oh hang on, I’ve got a meeting across town and I’ll need my car. If I leave before 8.10 I think I will make it” etc repeat and fade. I’m sure you know it well!

The handwriting seems to slow me down enough to notice that my mind has wandered mid-sentence and I’ve spliced together two competing or just plain random concepts.

It’s definitely a different process to typing. It just is.

Morning Pages are for Artists as a broad concept, not just writers. We all need an opportunity to vent, clear out the pipes and forge a new path for whatever will come.

I love getting James Clear’s blog in my inbox, recently he posted a blog with his book reviews of five and four star books (below four stars books were quietly forgotten.

One four star book reviewed a book written about a large variety of artists and what means they use legal and illegal, to be creative.

All of them, despite the huge variety of modalities and strategies – all of them made time to be creative. Uninterrupted creative time.

Can we find space in our lives just to be creative?

imageI thought I would absolutely hate it. The Morning Pages; three pages of long-hand every morning. But I was willing to give it a go, especially if it meant that I could justify a trip to Officeworks for some stationery.
My previous experience of writing a daily journal, which I did for recovery purposes every day for the first six months after surviving a home invasion and assault (see more here, with respectful trigger alert) was torture.

The Morning Pages are nothing like that! There is something so comforting and meditative of scratching pen over paper, writing whatever you like. And because it’s not a journal, it’s not an anything, it gives great freedom.
If you don’t know what on earth I am talking about, it’s Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a 12 week course for anyone, as we are all artists.
There are two tools that she created for us to enjoy forevermore; The Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

So what the heck are Morning Pages?

Three pages, written long hand every morning. It’s 30 minutes that you give yourself. It doesn’t have to be neat, or make sense or be sequential or be pleasant. It’s best you don’t read or share them. They are a way to keep on clearing everything out to allow the space for creativity to come through.

I’m talking here about the creativity in all of us. Not the specific skill of writing or painting or drawing – but the skill of being here,  being playful, being responsive to this marvellous experience called life.

And Artist Dates?

They are a weekly excursion you take by yourself-no taggers along mind- no children, lovers, partners, friends; just you and your inner artist. Your inner artist has been looking for your time and attention and will not thank you for bringing another person, so they have to be, yet again, gooseberry.

Dates can be anything at all. Not necessarily a virtuous trip to the Art Gallery to see some serious art – although if that is what your heart yearns for, then do it; but really anything that takes your fancy, including a lovely walk somewhere beautiful.

Are you feeling the call?

Is there something in you that is feeling the intense urge to let out your creativity? I have found this to be a painful urge many, many times. There is nothing like the relief of letting it flow. Do yourself a favour. Get a copy of the Artist’s Way and start to let it loose.