One of my highest held ambitions has been to write a book.  It’s been a struggle and I think I’ve finally figured out why.  It’s the wrong objective.  It hasn’t held me in good stead at all.  In fact, it’s helped me to develop some effective avoidance measures and sharpened some already existing ones. 

I have a magnificent procrastination gene.  Especially when it comes to starting something that scares me.  It manifests itself in self-talk that can go any of the following ways.   “I need to do more research”.  “I want to rethink the way I’ll structure the narrative”.   “That idea won’t work.  Let’s spend time thinking about another one”.  “What if it’s rubbish and I’ve been fooling myself”. And so on.

This blog has been a gentle lead in to the discipline and structure that my particular versions of procrastination and fear need to kick them out of the picture.  Thanks to those who visit this site and those who’ve taken the time to comment, I’m building up a bank of courage.  Other inspirations come from those writers on Twitter who every day share a piece of themselves – their success, their deadline stories, their application of different processes all demonstrating a delicate balance of structure and creativity.

My three words for 2010 as they apply to my writing are:  discipline, courage and joy.  I have two writing projects simmering as they have been for some years.  This year I am bringing them to the boil by throwing the word linear out the window and starting anywhere I feel like.  I’ve begun by writing a series of vignettes for one of the projects (a memoir for my daughters to capture stories that don’t often get shared in day to day conversation). 

Now here’s the discipline part.  I’m raising the bar – not so high as to terrify and not too low as to fall into old habits.  Every day two hours and 2000 words.  Never mind the quality as they say.  I’m using a trick I heard one writer talk about recently on ABC Radio.  A tea towel over the screen designed to confuse the inner critic enough that she’ll go away and find someone else’s shoulder to peer over.

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Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River is based on the story of her convict great-great-great grandfather Solomon Wiseman.  The town Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury River in NSW was named for him and the ferry service he established.

In 1822, my convict great-great-great grandfather John Baker was assigned to farm work a few miles upstream from Wiseman’s property and commercial interests.  John Baker and Mary Ann Hughes were married early in 1838, the year of Wiseman’s death.  For years I’ve been collecting scraps of stories and records, hoping at some time to bring them to life in a useful way.

I’ve just read Kate Grenville’s account of writing the novel.  Searching for the Secret River is an insight into her process, experiences, thoughts and inspirations that came at seemingly right times.

Searching for the Secret River

In the book, Grenville shares her ‘mantras about writing’.

Never have a blank page

Don’t wait for the mood

Fix it up later

Don’t wait for time to write

Try anything, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.

While writing The Secret River, Grenville found answers everywhere, often when she wasn’t deliberately looking – from other authors such as Michael Ondaatje and E Annie Proulx, from conversations with neighbours and from visits to various people and places.

One of the major insights for me was how much of the material Kate Grenville collected was put aside (in her ‘Good Bits to Use Later’ folder) or let go entirely.

 “I thought of the book that I was circling around, that I’d been trying so hard to control. [..]  How presumptuous I’d been, thinking that this was my story alone, to pummel into shape as I saw fit, a story I understood enough to force into the form I wanted.  [..]  How could I know what kind of book this was going to be?  My job wasn’t to take what I’d learned and squeeze it into the shape I thought it should have.  Before it could be a book this was a story.  That story was somehow part of all this…… I didn’t own that story.  It had to be allowed to speak for itself.  My job was to get out of its way.”

It’s time for me to cull what’s unnecessary material in my collection and get out of the way of the stories.   Thank you Kate Grenville.

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