Sunday, April 20, 2014

Writer, Know Thyself - My Writing Process



My dear friend Rosalyn tagged me, so this post is about my writing/processes. Thanks for the invite Rosalyn!


What am I working on?

At the moment: a short story for uni (trying to decide between two contenders - it's frustratingly difficult), co-writing a book (exhilarating and terrifying), drafting another story for a magazine, and trying to carve out time for the fiction book I have all plotted out... With another book percolating. All this isn't counting the major-specific essays and reports I have to write too. And posts for my blog, which are chewing at my fingers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

With my fiction book, it's different in that it's not a cotton-candy Deseret Book piece of fluff happily ever after. It's got real thirty-plus year-olds in it, with jobs and emotional/life luggage and nobody is gorgeous or has a chiseled chin or super curly hair. (Yes, all pet peeves of mine). With the my blog and the book I'm co-writing, it differs because I've never found anyone who writes like me, heavy on the imagery and use of commas and terribly long sentences. (Or has the crazy, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me life to write from, truth be told). And my impatiently waiting book is different because it's set in a world settled by Australians and engineered Australian wildlife, and gets progressively crazier from there.

Why do I write what I do?

Firstly, because I wholeheartedly concur with Flannery O'Connor.


It's in writing I can work out what's bugging me, what's driving me, what I'm really fundamentally worried or annoyed or freaking out about. Writing is much, much cheaper than a therapist, as well as being pretty entertaining.

Secondly, with my fiction book, it's because I can't find the type of book I want to read, so I'll write it myself. I'm sick to death of perky protagonists, cover-model love interests and a sugar-coma inducing plots, especially when dealing with people who believe in God (be they the characters or readers).

Thirdly, with the non-fiction book I'm co-writing, it's because I was invited to participate, and because I have quite a bit to say on the topics already discussed and am passionate about the idea behind it.

In all cases, it's because what I want to read isn't already available, and I'm prepared to make it happen.

How does my writing process work?

With a whole lot of music, blind staring out of the train window, and self-encouragement. These things don't happen at the same time, mind you. For a while I found it incredibly difficult just to sit down and start writing, and not just due to time constraints. I felt overwhelmed by what I wanted to say, while being equally positive I am a talentless hack with nothing worth sharing. Then it's a combination of knowing I'm going to go insane if I don't write - I'm a much better person if I've written something within the last two to three days - and reminding myself that people I trust have said I write well. (I have notes and emails from friends I reread when I'm feeling particularly literately bereft). So first step: anxiety and self-doubt. Thankfully, that's faded.

Mostly.



I'm a perfectionist - except when it comes to housework - and want my writing in particular to be exactly right the first time I sit down. My blog is the only place where I tend to sit down and purge my head, though it can take a couple of days to get to the "Pull the plug!" critical level. Happily, in the second week of uni I had an epiphany in the form of idea clouds - specifically, they could show me what I had to say before I started my first draft. That took an immense pressure off my shoulders, and sparked all sorts of ideas and realisations. I'm not using them for all my writing, but it helps me if I'm stalling or avoiding putting words down.

Once I start, music is necessary. I have several playlists, the moodier the better. I write mostly when the boyos are in bed, when it's just me and the keyboard. My book idea is about 92% plotted out, whole scenes already finalised, which is the first time something's ever come so clearly. My short stories usually come with a key sentence or image (e.g. one starts "She dreams of breaking his nose." The other, "Her first lie was a goldfish, which fell from her lips tasting of mint and sunscreen." Deciding which story to work on for my course is actually waking me up at 2 a.m. It's a delicious and exhausting dilemma.)


I have four (five?) notebooks full of ideas, scenes, snatches of conversation. I believe in grabbing whatever inspiration comes immediately and writing it down, but also letting it seethe and marinate until it clamours at you. Deadlines also work a demented magic when it comes to writing - though not one I enjoy.

Editing and pruning my work is always difficult, I tend to avoid it on my blog, and am not looking forward to revising my novel. Of course, that's probably yonks in the future, so I'm not going to be losing any sleep over that!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In Which I SWOT (After Realising Finally What It Means)


If there's one thing launching into the absolute unknown will teach you, is that the thought "What on earth am I doing?" can move really quickly and repeatedly through your head. All day long, too. And at 1:15 in the morning.

It's the fourth week of uni now, and I'm loving it. I haven't had a single moment of thinking "I've made a terrible mistake": if anything, every minute I spend there, or online in the elearning portal, or even on public transport surrounded by people about half my age is that this is where I am meant to be. I'm feeling my intellect rise stiffly from the mud, and begin stretching, to work out the kinks and cramps from sleeping so long. Even walking through the ground of the university is inspirational to me, with the architecture making me laugh:

or sigh in admiration:

or wince at the love of concrete so rampant in the '80's.

So I know I haven't made a mistake in my decision to return to uni, and even a month in I can see the choice in degree and subjects are leading to a choice of career that excites me - I'm thrilled just looking at what the next four years of studying will involve!

That being said, I've been chewing over this post by Michelle - about SWOTting. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. I've got the Weaknesses listed right off the bat:
  1. Self-doubt
  2. Self-doubt. (Yes, twice - it's my biggest weakness)
  3. Inability/insane difficulty in asking for help
Opportunities are dead easy:
  1. University degree that fascinates me
  2. Emerging areas for writing
  3. Upcoming job interview New Research Assistant job
  4. Letting my brain run wild in all areas of my life
Threats (to me and my family)
  1. My sleep deprivation
  2. Screen-time
  3. Not saying 'no'
  4. Time management fubars
  5. Money worries
It's the Strengths that have taken up a significant chunk of my mental processing. What I've got so far:
  1. Communicator
  2. Passionate parent
  3. Great researcher
  4. Speed reader
  5. Cool in emergency/high pressure situations
  6.    ??
  7.    ......
  8.    um....
  9.    ...?...
  10. Does black/sarcastic humour count?
Some friends have said "Shouldn't you just be doing a writing degree? You know, the whole do something you love idea?" While the idea definitely has merit, I deliberately chose NOT to do a "writing" degree, because:

  1. I can't think of a career I'd be interested in (besides "published author"!) within the "writing degree" field. Yes, that includes journalism, copy-writing, editor etc.
  2. The brain fascinates me, and has for years. Doing my degree will give me a career that has so many different options and pathways I get giddy - and grin - just thinking about it.
  3. The careers through my degree are much more financially rewarding and secure than any writing related.
  4. Shhhh - it's a secret little fourth one - I'm not really sure I'm good enough to write for a living. Or the work that I'd end up doing (which would already be "settling" - see point 1) would take my attention away from the books and stories I want to write.
  5. I'm far more excited about simply what's involved in doing my degree than the thought of the writing degrees, and that says a whole lot as well.
So I will keep on writing for myself on my blog, writing for Segullah (even when I do get freaked out when so many people click 'like'), plan and write some book ideas/scenes/plots, all around the growth and development that my degree will put me through.

And hopefully be able to fill out a couple more of those "Strength" spots. Though looking at it right now, it sure suits the degree I've chosen!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel


Talking about being an odd ice-cream flavour - and why that's brilliant and needed - over at Segullah today. What flavour are YOU?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Choc-chip Biscuits and Associated Others


I ate too many choc-chip biscuits today.  Hatro made them this morning, somewhere between reading manga and shaving before church. Halfway through the creation of the dough Wong got gastro, and the day went kind of sideways from there.

I asked a friend to take my class for me, my teen-numbered class of twelve year olds for Sunday School. She has about four in her class, and we’ve combined before. Turns out her daughter was sick, and her husband was taking her class and volunteered for mine. She texted “Anything he should know?” and thoughts snicked through my head like pebbles disturbed off a walking track.

I’m getting released today.

Don’t sit these two boys together – they’re like dry grass and a match.

They’re both really good kids though.

I’m so relieved to be released.

I sent the second and third, kept the others to myself.

I’ve never had a release like this one. I saw my Bishop last Sunday in passing, mentioned I’d be seeing him during the week “nothing urgent, nothing important, I’ll just see you.” He said he’d see me after church, but the aircon had been out all day and everyone got sent home before heatstroke set in, and I made a mental note before even saying good bye to him to ring and get an appointment.

An hour later there’s a knock at my door, and the bishop’s standing there. “It’s not like you,” he said, one eyebrow quirked up high “to need anything, to say you need anything, that something’s up. So… what’s up?”

So I told him that in good conscience I had to tell him that right now I was unable to teach my class the way I wanted, to prepare the way I wanted – I’d still teach, and do the best that I could right now, but it wasn’t as much as I’d done before or wanted. He sat, listened to my explanation and life, and within three minutes told me I’d served brilliantly, and released me. Told me that it wouldn’t be for long, but that I had my priorities exactly where they needed to be, and my next calling would take it all into consideration. I bit my lip to stop my tears, and felt some weight shift.

God, why all the weight? The boys are shifting, stretching, shuddering into new muscles, growth spurts and needs, and I’m feeling I’m running at a deficit. I don’t have the time I want with them, and I’m trying to fit everything in and breaking the laws of physics in the process. It’s these times of stress and pressure I wonder if I’m missing some fundamental component that would make it all easier… and have to accept that I’m not missing anything.

I’m not missing anything, because I’m here in my sons’ need for me, even at the ages of 16 and 12 – ESPECIALLY at ages 16 and 12. As much as I’d love (love as in melt into it like a Lindt chocolate fondue pot as bit as a spa bath) some time to wrap my head around the demands and pace of university study, or the upcoming buzz and frenzy of the boys lives without any other clamour, it just isn’t going to happen. I don’t think that everything happens at once, and I don’t believe God makes everything happen for a reason – but I do believe He can and will make the happening have meaning and purpose, if I ask Him to, or look for it.

But some days I have the gnawing of a migraine as soon as I open my eyes because I went to bed far too late, and so hold my eyes away from any light so the claws don’t reach into my skull to stir up some more mischief. Some days I’m not looking for God, even hoping I don’t see Him, because I’m tired and I’m cranky and while the last thing I said to Wong before I left the house was “I love you!” the thing immediately before that was “Get ready for school NOW! I’ve told you four times already: NO TUCKSHOP!”

Today Hatro and I laughed over the concrete mixer noises he was making because the butter was too hard, and Wong practiced his crocheting skill – just a simple chain stitch, but it’s been the only thing I’ve been able to think of to stop him picking at his nails, a habit he’s had for years which drives me crazy and is a manifestation of who he is because the child will not, CANNOT be still, and at least this way he gets something out of, maybe a blanket or (knowing him) something weird like a tie or insanely long scarf like one of the Doctors had.

Wong laughed this afternoon after the gastro started calming down, watching Airbender and practising his stitches, deciding that each practice chain he was going to hang from his bedroom door like a curtain. He’s wanting to know why he should keep doing music into high school, and wants to try out for the maths and science academies, and the constant chatter and pervasiveness of his need makes when he’s asleep an audible balm of quiet and devout unceasing prayer that I will survive his teens, and that he will as well.

Hatro’s facial hair is coming in more and darker – I have no difficulty now seeing under his jaw he's so tall, and realised today that half of his chin hair is brown/ginger. I see nothing of myself in him physically, though someone at the post office looked at us and said “He’s your son, right? It’s plain as!” and he grinned and I was caught totally unawares. I love them both beyond all expression, and I know that I can’t do everything I want for them, I screw up at something every single day, and some days are just ridiculously stupid, and others… others have the boyos playing army with figurines on the front veranda, sun shooting off their pale skin and grins as they ferociously debate the number of hits a tank can withstand from a pistol, and Wong uses the dog as a secret weapon, laughing til he cries at the carnage and look on Hatro’s face at being so royally and imaginatively trounced by his little brother.

I ate too many biscuits today, and they were perfectly crisp with that perfect shhhck sound as I bit into them, staying soft inside. I ate too many, because I was tired and they were there and I wanted/needed a cry but Wong needed me, so we sat together and let the Sunday afternoon light paint our loungeroom walls as we laughed and did a whole lot of nothing together.

Some days I don’t want to talk to God because I’m already suffering one kind of stiffneckedness and the light chases me wherever I turn, and I hope I don’t see Him because when I’m tired I’m cranky, which manifests as snarky and sarcastic, and I love Him too much (mostly) to keep it to myself. Those days – like today – I know He loves me because He stays out of my way, so I don’t have to see Him, or deal with His love, because love complicates absolutely everything and makes you an addict, especially when it hurts like breaking just from trying. Those days, like today, I know He loves me because He stays where I can’t see Him, and still has my back. Those days, like today, He stays away from me, and instead stands next to Hatro as he makes cookies, and watches Wong wash his hands and come give me a damp soapy hug. Then helps me cry when they’re both in bed, sleeping.

Some days I feel happy and lonely at exactly the same moment. I’m extraordinarily delighted to be back at university, to feel my brain rise from hibernation and crack its jaws wide, ready. The boys are a bizarre wonder and a delicious delight, and being their Mum is the purpose to my days, the chaos to my evenings, the smile lines I carry with me. I love and I worry and I pray constantly that I’m doing better than I catastrophise and fear. And I think I am.

Choc-chip biscuits and all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Courage - and Celebration - Dear Heart


Between holding my breath, chewing on my prayers and shoving my hopes heavenward this last two months, I’m surprised I a. haven’t passed out, b. have lips left and c. haven’t sprained my grip on reality beyond all reason and expectation of repair.

I've unclenched my anxieties a little, enough to allow the tease of a breeze and the humidity of desire to sneak in and play. My heart has been pummeled as well, grief and gratitude tangled up together, seeping into the lonely, thirsty corners and giving weight to my decisions. It’s been a terrible, incredible month.

A significant thump from the beginning was reading Michelle’s post on fatherhood, as a birthday present for her hubby Erik. Michelle and I had a quick flurry of texts one day about what I’d recommend and avoid in writing about fatherhood, and I certainly wasn't expecting to be quoted. I knew that Michelle would be sensitively aware of all the painful wounds that many carry regarding fathers – as it was, her post touched me deeply. Truth told, it didn't touch me but rubbed the stubborn, stony edges of my heart against reality, and knocked some callouses and doubts from my eyes.

Because lately I've been worrying (okay, I’m pretty much always worrying) because I’m not doing any of the big things I see other Dads do for their sons – the camps away, the fishing trips, the building of furniture or landscaping of gardens – and am, therefore and obviously (at least according to the bitter vicious oil I sometimes swallow in buckets), failing my boyos. Yet again. But it was in reading the words of Stefan and Ben which made me stop and think about what the boys have recently mentioned seeing me do. They are tiny, practically insignificant moments, at least on first consideration, which will do much more for them than a once-off spectacle of parenting bravado and opulence.

Friday afternoon of my first week home after resigning from work, Wong flew inside saying “But if you've finished work, Mum,” (no hi, no how are you, nothing but this sentence, as soon as he belted through the door after school) “you’re not getting paid, are you? So how are we going to pay for stuff? I better find a job, so we can pay rent and, you know, eat!” My chest ached like I’d been double punched the night before, and I couldn't quite smile or cry. Because Wong was planning forward of his accord, working out how to contribute, how to help me go to university and not have to go back to work instead. My twelve year old son wasn't thinking about school or friends or what holds the moon up, but where he could find work to help support his family, because “you've worked to support us, and we need to support you too Mum.” Learning that lesson from what I've done, and to see it reflected back to me – that’s an example of being a good parent all the way to the final outcome, right there.

Then the next bright Saturday morning, Hatro told me that he wants to have a big family. A family that holidays together “…with their uncle and aunt and cousins and Grandmama” – he’s already thinking about it, wanting our family to be together, to make a family of his own. His life is laid out before him, and he loves it all. “I think all the Laurels are nice, Mum, but I’m not thinking of anyone special. I’ll do that when I get back from my mission.” School, mission, uni, marriage, family, and gospel – it’s as unarguable and obvious to him as his blue eyes. But I can’t take credit for it.

Then, about a month ago, my heart was ambushed at our ward’s youth baptism evenings. Thirty-two youth went (not all of them, not by a good chunk!) and two of those attending youth were my boys. I went through to do initiatories, and it literally rocked me to my toes – I was in the house of the Lord, and so were my boys. We were there, inside, serving and worshipping and worthy, all at the same time. We hadn’t been in a temple together since we were sealed together, nearly ten years ago. Ten years, again at night, when Wong was perched on my hip, Hatro seriously gazing at the camera as he held George’s hand, us all dressed in white in the frigid Melbourne winter air.

I tried to shrug the occasion off with a casual “Wow, that’s wonderful, Sel, now focus!” but couldn't. I felt warmth and celebration cascade over my shoulders and carry my heart above my head. No, I felt, toes curling amazed against the carpet, it is AMAZING. It is WONDROUS. It is worth making a deal about! YOU have done this, gotten your boys here, through everything. It could have gone so many ways, but you are here, and so is Hatro, and so is Wong and THAT is worth celebrating. I cried, right there in the initiatory spaces, my heart getting an incredibly gentle wash and tumble in the grace and mercy of the Lord.

Hatro and Wong tumbled from the temple doors into my arms that night, and joked and bickered and laughed all the way home. We stopped for hot chips from Nando's for dinner, and they both thanked me repeatedly (mouths full, hearts grateful) for the treat. In the chomping half-silence as we continued on home, it became clearer and more wondrous. They are watching and learning from me, in ways I haven’t even considered. Remember when I had to prompt them “Ta?” as babies? Think about everything they've had to learn to this point to thank you for hot fried potatoes, Sel, let alone to process and become to do it of their own choice. They’re watching, and they love you. You’re doing alright!

So I won’t take any credit for my sons being themselves, but I will take some of the credit for helping them get to where they are. Because being a parent is incredibly hard work, particularly if you’re trying to do a halfway decent job of it. And having acknowledgement or encouragement or even a crumb of commendation is a welcome and deserved trophy; usually tossed into the furnace to feed the next effort, but a glowing source of heat and comfort nonetheless. Even – actually, ESPECIALLY - if that trophy is from and for yourself.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ghosts of Me Then, Now and Yet To Be


I'm discussing haunting my selves (past, present and future) over at Segullah today.

I also love when I find the perfect image to go with my post! Sweetly creepy...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anticipation



"I can't believe it's two weeks until I finish work."

"I can't believe it's a week until I finish work."

"...three days..."

"It's my last day!"

My cheeks ached from smiling so widely as I left being a Forklift Diva, clomping out into the summer heat to my car while peeling my sweat heavy shirt slightly away from my back. So many things I wasn't going to miss!

I glanced back in the rear-view mirror as I drove away (still grinning like a loon), but that was it. No twinge of regret, no icicle of doubt chilling my gut - just driving away, looking forward.

*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*

It's been two weeks since I last took off my gouged, sweaty steel-capped boots. All my high-vis shirts are clean, folded, shoved in a bottom drawer, out of sight and far out of mind. I don't have forklift grease ingrained in my fingers anymore, the last minute chunks of skin lost to pallets and manual labour are healed over and invisible, I'm not automatically waking at 3:55am every morning.

I'm counting down to Monday. I bought a plastic tray of felt pens in a tumble of colours, my favourite brand and style for taking down notes and highlighting paragraphs, a lavish splurge and aching want. Running my fingers over the moulded plastic sent tingles and giggles tumbling everywhere, as the reality stepped closer. I'm actually doing this. The pens now wait under the messenger bag I bought (beautiful, expensive, out-of-my-range dear, until two discounts shredded the price tag to stunningly affordable), below the letter of offer that gives me entry to Jacaranda-rich hectares, brilliant architecture, and a future racing towards me with its arms wide, incredibly open.

*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*^#*

I've crossed a stack of tasks off my To-Do's, cheerfully ignoring others. A cranky piece of my foot got cut off and the stitches had to be coddled for ten days, during which I've been productive and relaxing by turns, revelling in the opportunity, then blitzing around knowing time is growing short before life starts a new dance. Ten days of jittering, wanting to run and swim, the itch increasing as the pain faded, waiting, practicing and failing patience with a glad heart and dancing in the kitchen.

Monday I'm right to run and swim again, fine to dive straight into Orientation Week (O-Week) and compulsory meetings and lost wanderings between buildings, able to sprint and feel the sweat and ache of muscles pulling any strands of worry and anxiety from my shoulders, to sing loudly as I bound forward.

Anticipation is delicious, like brown sugar and ginger and laughter tied with star shine.