Writing at Midnight

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I am going to indulge in a bit of magical thinking. I am going to be sitting at my computer writing at midnight and hope the act of writing in the first minutes of 2016 will be a portent for the rest of the year.

Truth is, I love not having to do anything ‘special’ for New Years Eve. My big kids have their own parties to attend. My husband is worn out after a hectic year and will probably just slump in front of Netflix sci-fi. That means I’m free! Not just to do what I like, but to do what I like without a pinch of FOMO. Yes, FOMO. My daughter taught me this acronym it means Fear Of Missing Out. I usually scoff at sms abbreviations but I find myself using this one more and more. Generally I apply it do my overactive, overcurious dog who wants to be everywhere she’s not.  At the neighbours when she is home, with every dog who walks past, outside when inside, inside when outside, upstairs when downstairs, eating your dinner when she has her own feast. She signifies all these longings by heartfelt crying. I’m thinking of renaming her FOMO.

I digress. New Year’s Eve is rife with FOMO. I don’t miss my younger years stressing over where to go and who with. You had to have a good time with drinking and shouting involved otherwise you felt like a loser.  In my experience this pressure to have  maximum revelry generally led to disappointment. Going out with friends on other nights of the year was less loaded with expectation and lecherous drunken strangers.

Later in life when the children were small we’d troop down to be beach close to Wollongong and watch the nine o’clock fireworks. Without small children to oh and ah fireworks are an anti-climax. Call me a Grinch, but nowadays I can’t help thinking about all that money going up in smoke and all the scared dogs and wildlife.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year’s Eve whether it be a noisy or quiet celebration or none at all. I’ll be sitting at my computer doing what I love – what better way to bring in the New Year.

 

Tree loss

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IMG_1878 thumbnailI am a little gloomy today. We have always had a lovely thicket of bottle brushes and paperbarks along our back fence. Now they are gone.

I used to pretend that we backed on to the bush, when we were, in reality, in a truly suburban block hemmed in on three sides. Even visitors used to believe there was no house over our back fence. They, and I, couldn’t see the house for the trees. This illusion is no longer plausible. I can see our back neighbours clothes line and the back wall of their house over the top of my bare back fence.

The problem is the trees were on the other side of the fence not on ours. For whatever reason our neighbours decided to take two bottle brushes (Callistemons) and two paperbarks (Melaleucas) down. I don’t know the back neighbours – partly because of the trees that gave us privacy and the fact they have a different street frontage. Maybe the trees were shading their pool too much, undermining their landscaping – who knows? I just know I  feel the need to post this small photo memorial to the lost trees. When I first got my SLR camera these trees and the birds that sheltered in them were my favourite subjects. I had planned to point my camera in that direction for at least a few photos for Seven Days of Wonder.* The picture of the silvereye in the bottlebrush is one of the first photos I took with my Canon and is still one of my favourites.

From Silvereye’s to silver linings. The loss of the trees means that our back garden bed now gets more sunlight. So I will grow my own native trees. I already have a grevillea there but want to chose some taller shrubs and small trees to eventually (very slowly) form another thicket.

Has anybody got a favorite bird-attracting tree to suggest?

*(Don’t forget only three days to start of SDOW photo challenge.)

 

Seven Days of Wonder: Share it.

 

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Here’s a challenge. Join me in Seven Days of Wonder with a little nature photography. This the proposal – At the beginning at the Summer Solstice (Tues 22nd December in Australia).*

  1. Take one photo every day for seven days with the last day being the 28th Dec.
  2. Photos for Seven Days of Wonder have to be of natural wonders. Tiny or large. Animals or plants (cultivated ones included). Birds or insects. Rocks or oceans. Sky or dirt. Nothing man-made (except backgrounds), No pets, No selfies, No people
  3. The 7 photos are posted at the one time on your own site/feeds (facebook, blog, twitter) anytime in the following week with title Seven Days of Wonder and tag #sdow.
  4. Comments on the final posts should contribute to our overall knowledge and wonder of the photos taken. For instance for the posted picture above – Tom could comment that the photo in the right corner was a Saunder’s Case moth which lives all its caterpillar life in its bag of silk, and plant material. Kim could relate some lines of poetry about lavender or its medicinal uses.

*If anybody is reading this in the Northern Hemisphere. Then your #sdow can start on the Winter Solstice (either the 21st or 22nd of December 2015.)

It is not about taking brilliant photos -but great if you do. It’s about noticing and learning. Some of you may be holidaying to exotic locations and post spectacular photos with an SLR but others may concentrate on one corner of your backyard. Some may live in the city and take a picture of a dandelion struggling through the pavement on your phone or an ibis in the park. Wherever you are and whatever you do I have a vision of us all learning amazing things about the world around us by looking at and commenting on each other’s photos.

 

Seven Days of Wonder: Why?

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I have an idea for a campaign. It may go nowhere. It may begin and end with me. It’s been niggling at me for days. And every time I try to ignore it somebody posts something or says something that pushes it to the forefront of my mind.

If you want to read the short version of my proposal or want to share on facebook then go to my next blog post.

Here it is – I propose that beginning at the Summer Solstice (Tuesday 22nd December in Australia.)*

  1. Take one photo every day for seven days with the last day being the 28th Dec.
  2. Photos for Seven Days of Wonder have to be of natural wonders. Tiny or large. Animals or plants (cultivated ones included). Birds or insects. Rocks or oceans. Sky or dirt. Nothing man-made (except backgrounds), No pets, No selfies, No people
  3. The 7 photos are posted at the one time on your own site/feeds (facebook, blog, twitter) anytime in the following week with title Seven Days of Wonder and tag #sdow.
  4. Comments on posts should contribute to our overall knowledge and wonder of the photos taken eg If Kelly takes a picture of a spider as one of her pictures. Joe’s comments may add the name of that spider, Tom could quote a line from a poem about spiders. Emily could say what the habitat of that spider is.

*If anybody is reading this in the Northern Hemisphere. Then your #sdow can start on the Winter Solstice (either the 21st or 22nd of December 2015).

I know this is the busiest time of year for many but I think that’s what makes it even more important to stop and smell the roses, or, my own version, if your like – watch the tadpoles. The worst of the Christmas rush will be over before you actually have to post your photos. It’s not about taking brilliant photos – but great if you do. Its about noticing and learning. Some of you may be holidaying to exotic locations and post spectacular photos from an SLR camera. Others may concentrate on one corner of their backyard. Some may live in the city and take a picture of a dandelion struggling through the pavement with their phone or an ibis in the park. Wherever you are and whatever you do I have a vision of us all learning amazing things about the natural world by looking at and commenting on each other’s photos.

Why what is the point? To explain this I want to explain what has prodded me to come up with this campaign. Some of the references are rather oblique but stay with me.

    • Jamie Oliver’s Ted Talk: At one point in this presentation he plays a video of a group of infants kids from US who cannot recognise common vegetables. Even the ubiquitous tomato is mistakenly identified. This shocked me. But I was impressed with Jamie Oliver’s passion in trying to change this sad state of affairs by education. The theory is recognising whole foods will make kids appreciate them. Make them curious to want to try them. My passion is nature. And I feel the same as Jamie does about food. If people can name things and know them a little better our appreciation and willingness to protect them will increase.
    • My realisation that my own sense of wonder had waned: As a child I collected gumnuts and eucalypt leaves and sticky-taped them on an index card system. I wanted to be an expert on gum trees, to be able to identify every tree in the bush around our place. I loved eucalypts and cried when one was chopped down by our neighbours. I know that girl is still inside me somewhere but this girl doesn’t reliably know even one species of gum tree. When I scuba dived in my 20’s and 30’s I regained that sense of wonder for a while when I fell in love with the underwater environment. I took underwater photos of marine life and afterwards would identify and classify the various creatures I’d encountered. This was before the age of the internet so I used my collection of marine life books. I finally gathered enough knowledge to run underwater environment courses with my instructor husband. I had pushed that to the back of my mind until a new facebook friend posted a picture of a nudibranch from a scuba dive she had done several years ago. I had a special interest in these colourful slug-like creatures and I had forgotten about it until that picture was posted. It made me sad that that part of my life was a distant memory.
    • Concern about our blinkered existence. Are we so busy looking at screens and absorbing pop culture that we have become ignorant of the world around us. I wonder if I did a little test like Jamie Oliver but instead of vegetables I took in picture of birds. How many children would be able to tell the difference between a peewee (magpie lark), a currawong and a magpie. I suspect not many. And yet if we were paying attention many of us would see these birds every day and we would know they have very different habits and calls. Much has been written about the narcissism of individuals in the selfie generation but are we as a whole race becoming so narcissistic that we don’t recognise other living beings (apart from our own domestic pets).
    • The process of writing my middle grade novel. The people in my fantasy world are much more in tune with nature and the cycle of the seasons, the moons and reading the skies. This was my prompt for choosing the summer solstice to start #sdow. This is the day when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and daylight hours are the longest. But how many of us think about that? Here in Australia our seasons are scheduled for our convenience ie Summer starts at the beginning of December and ends on the last day of February. The true season beginnings and the midpoints of the seasons – the equinoxes and solstices are not taught in schools and pass by unnoticed. We rely on our devices to tell us the weather. Many of us cannot see into the distant skies because man-made structures block our views. We do not see storms approaching or the full sweep of sunsets and sunrise. We barely notice the moon’s cycle. Many of our homes, offices and transport are air-conditioned and heated. Heat, cold and rain are only minor inconveniences. Many of us do not understand the true struggle and the adaptations of the flora and fauna who are subject to the elements or even the struggle of farmers, outdoor workers or peoples in less comfortable living conditions. My aim is to have seven days of wonder to coincide with each of the two solstices and the two equinoxes. I hope our photos will help us get a sense of the changing of the seasons and bring us more in touch with the elements.
    • Memories of tadpoles. One summer day when I was about seven I noticed a few of the tadpoles I had in the blue plastic container under the verandah had grown legs and their tails were stumpy. I was determined that I would see the very moment when the tadpole jumped from the container and became a frog. It frustrated me that my tadpoles were dwindling in number and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I sat by that container for hours and hours (at least that is my memory) Finally I was rewarded. I saw a tadpole crawl onto the rock and flop out onto the ground. That may seem a waste of a day to some but I still feel privileged to have witnessed that moment of transition. We can’t all afford to sit for hours but if #sdow forces us to slow down just a little and notice something that we have never or rarely noticed or appreciated, that will be worthwhile.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo -I’m a Winning Loser

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My first NaNoWriMo is over and I didn’t make it to the 50000 words required to call yourself a winner. I crawled and clawed my way to 35595. This untidy figure is an indication of how tired I was the last night of November that I couldn’t do that extra five words to take it up to a more rounded number. Also an indication of how NaNoWriMo makes you a little obsessive about word count. The NaNo graph; the status updates from more prolific writers; the sprints where you race to get those words on the page, all make you very aware that the word count is ticking over in the bottom left of your word document (No. Not a Scrivener convert yet) Punctuation bah! Forgotten character names just put xxx. Chapter breaks – I’ll work them out later. This was my month of letting go of old habits. My practices of waiting till I was in the mood, editing for half an hour before I start each session, fiddling with each sentence, being distracted by pinterest clips of castles and costumes (for my late middle ages setting) – these had to be curbed.

So is the barrelling ever onward habit of writing better than my old ways. I have come to a conditional conclusion about that, but one thing I know for sure is that NaNoWriMo was good for my writing. Here’s why:

  1. The practice of writing every day is habit forming. I couldn’t make the 1667 daily word count that was required for a win. I started off quite well but then tapered off as my plot became more difficult to navigate. But, with the exception of two days, I wrote every day. Before November I would often only write once or twice a week. It is now December and I am still writing everyday. No Zero Days is my new motto and I reckon I can sustain that (I might give myself a break on Christmas day)
  2.  Immersion in the one project. I don’t write for a living. I do part-time work unrelated to writing. So during NaNoWriMo my head was in my middle ages fantasy (ok I still had to be a mum taxi, cook, washerwoman gardener, dogwalker, holiday planner etc) but most of my waking thoughts were with my characters. This was all-consuming at times and I had to listen to a comedic podcast or blast loud music to give myself a pause from my own thoughts. But there was no extended breaks. I didn’t have to warm up to my characters or reacquaint myself with the plot by rereading previous chapters. My project was like a member of the family rather than a friend you meet for an occasional coffee. When you are immersed in a story there is more opportunity to come up with off-the-plan ideas. And I did. I think a few of these ideas really strengthened my story.
  3. Engaging with a community of writers. I have a long-standing writing critique group who I value immensely (later post) But NaNoWriMo connected me with a wider circle of writers via on-line platforms. I joined two facebook groups and connected with some local writers to do Skype sessions. These groups served a  different purpose to my critiquing group. They focussed on encouragement, engaging in word sprints (word wars) and tips from NaNoWriMo veterans.  Members bond over  triumphs and struggles (I had nil obstacles compared to some) and the general craziness that is NaNo (what was that weird shit I wrote at 1.00am?). I particularly enjoyed the sprints with my Skype group. I was always the slowest but it was still fun and challenging. Many local areas organise write-ins and you can participate in twitter and NaNo website initiated word wars at various times. There is no end of advice, from planning in the pre-NaNo period, to how to stay motivated in the middle, to how to go forward post-NaNo. One of the closed facebook pages I am in has decided to continue as everybody seemed to enjoy it so much.
  4. Pushing forward. Turn off that inner critic that wants to change every sentence and go back and read the beginning of the last chapter. This was a lesson I really needed to learn. There is time for editing and time to just finish the damn book. I didn’t finish my book in NaNo but I am confident I will now – by my estimation I have only three chapters to go. I have no intention of editing or even printing it out until I write that last sentence. NaNo taught me that. Yes, my story is a mess but editing is mostly mechanics. I don’t lay awake at night wondering whether I will be able to edit a chapter into shape – I do lay awake wondering whether I will be able to tie up a plot or whether I have even got it in me to finish at all. Get the creative, scary part out of the way first.
  5. Writing at every opportunity. I fitted 500 words in while at my son’s swimming lesson, 800 words in a hospital waiting room, 200 words in my morning tea break. I became unfussy about whether I had my computer or not. I kept a note book in the car and my bag and if I had a pen I could write. Of course I had to transfer my terrible scrawl to my computer when I got back to my desk. But strangely I found hand-writing freed me up and I was able to get past difficult plot points this way. I am going to use this method when I get stuck in the future. Of course this was always difficult previously because I didn’t have Point 2. I wasn’t immersed in my novel, so I at any one time I didn’t know where I was up to. With a daily writing habit this problem is solved – you always know where you are at in your story. Some of the people in my facebook group said that dictation worked for them. I tried it briefly and couldn’t operate without being able see the sentences laid out. Maybe it is a skill that has to be developed.

    westmead edit

    Hospital waiting room writing

As I said at the beginning I have come to a conclusion about the barrelling forward approach. In the heady days of the first week of NaNo I was able to write at a pace I have never achieved before. This was because I had my world’s calendar mapped out and the research required for those first few chapters had already being done. As I got further into my novel I realised I had to stop and do a few more weeks on my calendar I had to look up aspects of middle ages life eg the effects of poisons, herbal remedies, foods etc. Some may say that for the purpose of NaNo you should have just glossed over these and done the research later OR should have done all my research first. The problem with the first suggestion is sometimes a plot point is determined by the research eg Can they even make that journey if it is a new moon? or did they have ‘take-away’ food shops in middle ages? (turns out they did). You don’t want to waste time on an unfeasible premise. The problem with the second suggestion is you never know quite know what research you are going to require until you start writing. I didn’t know my main character was going to stop for a fish meal by the seaside. So altogether it is more efficient to do much of the research as you go. Which of course can slow you down.

My book is a fantasy so historical facts and timelines are not absolutely critical but I do want to stay true to the middle ages theme of my world. There are other genres such as non-fiction, true historical fiction or even some science fiction where research would be even more rigorous. This is where the barrelling forward method has its limitations.

I feel NaNo is more suited to contemporary fiction and pure fantasy but if you are prepared not to necessarily ‘win’ and barrel forward when you can, and stop and plan when you need to, then every writer can benefit from the experience of NaNoWriMo because of the points I’ve outlined above.

35595 words in November that is more words than I had written in the entire previous year. I have inherited a supportive community of writers and a regular writing habit. I would say that was a ‘WIN’

 

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