No matter where you are in your writing life, there are times when – in order to get up and running again – your writing needs first aid.
Here are the essentials of your Writer’s First Aid Kit:
- Writing time that is non-negotiable. Whether it’s half an hour, two hours, or four, switch off the phone and the alerts on your computer. For that time, writing comes first.
- Energy in the writing. Go directly to what has the most energy in what comes up for you to write, and write that. Don’t worry about leading up to it; this is writing, not life. You can always go back and lead up to it later.
- A “no” to the Inner Critic. Don’t second-guess yourself. Leave exactly what you said on the page and keep going.
- Be kind. Leave a hint at the end of your writing time as to where to start tomorrow. (If it has no energy tomorrow, you’ll write what does.)
- Stop when you stop. There will be plenty of time to think about writing during your next “writing time”.
Another bird-as-a-means book, and one I found compelling, is this memoir by the all-but-unacknowledged son of the late Heathcote Williams, once a notable eccentric, poet, playwright, documentarian and lead activist in London’s “squatting” movement. Gilmour writes with engaging frankness about both the injured magpie he “fathers” and his longing for his own father (who also housed a bird, a jackdaw, in his time) as it played out during Williams’s last couple of decades – a period in which Williams’s behaviour seems to have moved beyond anything the term “eccentricity” would encompass. It’s an uplifting book in some ways, but don’t read it if you don’t want to feel the pain.
Do you have a lengthy writing project you always thought you would undertake? COVID days that seem to melt away, one by one, into nothing very much? Consider the Long Haul Project. Might this not be just the time to get it done?
Yet it can seem discouraging even to contemplate taking on something big. As writer Amy Shearn has put it: “Why on earth would a person take on an ambitious, sprawling, impossibly time-consuming project that may well, by its very definition and scope, never reach completion?”
For me, the answer is in her interview with Tommy Caldwell, soon after he had free-climbed the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. He said, ‘I loved the way it made me live. You know, to have this goal, to be training, to be climbing every day, to feel so focused.’
The narrow focus, daily practice and open-endedness of the Long Haul Project may be just what your being craves right now. What may be worth it is the way it makes you live.
Robin McLean’s gripping debut novel, Pity the Beast, has been published by And Other Stories Publishing, to acclaim: “Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity” writes J M Coetzee.
Kirsten Cameron, who hosts the afternoon reading sessions of the Australian FreefallWriting workshops on Zoom, has had her first novel (working title, Don’t Ask Why) accepted for publication by Hunter Publishing. It is scheduled to appear in August.
Recursion, a dark thriller by David J Harrison, published by the Book Guild, is available on Amazon. Deepam Wadds’s novel, What the Living Do, will be published by Regal House in 2024. And Kamille Bligh Roach’s mystery novel, A Matchbox Full of Pearls, is available on Amazon. Elysia Nisan has had a three-novel coming-of-age fantasy series published by Craig Martelle Inc.(under the pseudonym Eden Wolfe): Echo Breaker, Echo Chaser and Echo Ender.
Other Freefall writers’ accomplishments include Kelly Watt’s publication of her poem, “Venus With Hat,” published in the UK anthology, Doorways and Thresholds, from Overneath books, and Ronna Jevne’s completion of a book of poetry about aging, Threescore and Then.
Deepam Wadds has also had a short non-fiction piece published in The Blood Pudding: “The Story as it is Told” http://thebloodpudding.com/nonfiction/the-story-as-it-is-told/
I don’t remember when loneliness became solitude
but I do remember when solitude became wings
that lifted me in softness
beyond the sigh of the day
across a landscape of quiet sunshine
above a sky with no horizon
This is a book of personal essays, in which various aspects of Zarankin’s extensive birding activities remind her of various things about herself. (Birds, in other words, are often treated as means, rather than an end.) I found some pieces wonderfully well-written, others not so much (the one concerning which bird she would like to be in terms of hairstyle, for example). But I loved spending this much time with someone so devoted to birding, so willing (almost eager) to look like a klutz, and so knowledgeable about birds in the Toronto area. She writes well, and I found the book, on balance, well worth reading.
The ease with which your writing flows at a residential FreefallWriting™ workshop is due at least in part to the phenomenon known as “the recency effect” – the fact that whatever we have experienced most recently will tend to be uppermost in our thoughts. When there are no interruptions between sleep, in which your subconscious predominates, and writing (except maybe breakfast), the writing comes so much more easily. The good news is that you can re-create that situation at home by taking care to not to interrupt the time between waking and writing. Let your writing derive full benefit from the recency effect.
It’s time to pull unread books from the cottage shelves, and this summer, Birds of America came to hand. Written in 1965, it follows the thoughts of young Peter Levi, a half-Jewish, half-European American, who is attempting to live his life by Kant’s Categorical Imperative: to treat other people as an end, rather than as a means, and to live as if his actions were to become a universal law of nature. For Peter, this means endlessly second-guessing himself and basically feeling guilty 100% of the time, both in Rocky Port, the small New England town where he lives with his mother for a year, and in Paris, where he has enrolled for a year of study abroad to evade the draft. Yes, he is a member of the Junior Ornithologists in Paris, but the birds in question are chiefly Americans, at home and abroad, and Peter’s struggles to analyse and interact with them fill these pages. You can’t help liking him or enjoying the scope of McCarthy’s knowledge and perspicacity. But 350 pages is a lot of thinking, and I was glad when it was over.
In stories: British writer Geoff Mead’s short story, Room 1-0-1, written during this year’s Poulstone/Treowen workshop, was published in The Phare Literary Magazine’s Summer Edition: https://www.thephare.com/short-stories/room-1-0-1- Australian Rashida Murphy has had a collection of short stories which “mostly all had their beginnings in Freefall” shortlisted for the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. She is also writing personal essays, one of which you can read on https://www.portsidereview.com/y5w2-rashida-murphy.
In books: Jocelyn Terell Allen, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet, has published Early Days, Early Dancers (Inanna), a finely-woven collection of reminiscences showing the early days of Canada’s National Ballet School and National Ballet, through the eyes of its dancers.
Vancouver writer Betty Wall’s engrossing novella, No Way Out (Atmosphere Press), was the winner of a Canada Book Award. Nick Amatuzio’s satiric novel, Before the Cut, was published by City Limits Publishing in Tennessee. Gulara Vincent’s memoir, Hammer, Sickle & Broom: A Memoir of Intergenerational Trauma in Azerbaijan, developed over several workshops and in mentorship,has been published in England. It’s a powerful, eye-opening read.
In poetry: four of Susan Smith’s poems have been chosen for the annual anthology of the Canadian Authors’ Association, Niagara Branch, The Banister. One, entitled “Entry”, has been awarded 2nd prize among 400 entries in the Ontario-wide poetry contest on which the anthology is based. Diana Cawfield’s poem, “Solitude”, won a Judge’s Choice Award in the Ultra Short Poem Competition, 2020, of The Ontario Poetry Society. Kim Roberts (former head of Extension at UWA, and a strong Freefall supporter/participant) has published Sometimes: Selected Poems 1968-2020. Barbara Orlowska-Westwood, also in Australia, has published Living Lines Are Never Straight (also available as an e-book from Ingram Spark).
All too often, in autobiographical writing, I see writers dodge the knotty, meaningful moments when they changed their minds about something significant. Yes, those moments often feel hard to write about. But if you open out those pivotal moments, you’ll find they’re the places that most clearly show your reader who their subject is..
What made that moment meaningful? (This will show your values) What did you decide to do as a result? (This will show how you lived your life). And don’t just open out these moments, but also remember what you learned by doing that. Moments like these will instantly show your readers what has value for your fictional characters. And why they live their lives in the way they do.