Planning, you say? Why, I never thought of it!

My dears,

you may have noticed my absence over the past month or so.

This is due to the fact that, despite my letters to complain about this, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and only 7 of those damn things in a week.

The trouble is, I decided in the middle of this year to make a concerted effort to do some serious writing. Writing that I would send out. Out into the wide world, my friends, instead of just self-publishing it here on my beloved blog.

And I found that I just don’t have the time to do that and write a blog post every week. Particularly because I’m trying to put a lot of effort into the non-blog writing, to reach a certain standard that, let’s face it, I just don’t always reach when I hurriedly type up a blog post before quickly getting changed and going out to dinner. (*exactly what I will be doing about 13 minutes from now.)

So I got all organised-like. I wrote myself out a plan, like. A real plan with specific goals and deadlines and all that. I was quite surprised at myself, I gotta tell ya.

I discovered that a writing plan can be pretty simple. Mine lists specific tasks: for example, I’ve listed 2-3 specific pieces of writing with an action to “find suitable market and send out for publication” and I’ve picked out 1-2 call outs for a themed piece of writing, and listed those with the action “write up a draft idea for this call out.” It’s not brain surgery, as it turns out. Then, I’ve listed some overall goals to achieve in that time, eg: 1 piece accepted, and 1 new piece written. Keeping it very realistic is the key, guys.

Anyway, I seem to recall that I bored you all by telling you about my newfound planning skills (they are not immense but they are apparently in existence) a few months ago, at the time of the Inaugral June To August Plan.

Since then, I have moved seamlessly on to the August To November Plan, and I’ve just popped over here today to let you know that, to my astonishment, this planning and goal setting has been going quite well. (Who knew that planning and goal-setting worked?) (Every freelance writer out there, I imagine. Or anyone who has attended a productivity workshop in their workplace in the last few years.)

Anyway, by quite well, I mean that since embarking on this new approach, I’ve had one piece of writing accepted and published on an online literary journal (if you don’t mind!) and a second piece accepted (not yet published), by a zine. (Which I think will be online as well as available in hard copy.)

Needless to say, in that time, I’ve also had about 8 rejections, and of course, some of those were for the piece that has now been accepted into the zine. But we know that writers have to keep persisting don’t we – lest this all as though I suddenly got 2 pieces published in only 4 months of trying, I should mention that that the other piece, published on the online literary journal (if you don’t mind!), had been sent off in various forms and been rejected, probably about 10 times over the past 8 years.

Obviously, 10 attempts to submit a piece of writing in 8 years is nothing, and a serious writer would have submitted it 84 times in that time, but I’m prone to giving up, and finding reasons not to write, so in the past I have had short bursts where I tried to seriously devote time to writing pieces I could submit for publication, and then I’ve given up again for long bursts due to full time work or due to devoting that time to writing a blog instead. While I wrote this blog, from 2010 until the middle of this year, I don’t think I sent a single piece of writing off anywhere else.

So while I’m trying hard to have a go at writing for something other than my own blog, this blog will probably be only sparsely updated. I will try to update with some writing related news sometimes. Or perhaps I will magically reach a point where I am earning squillions from writing and can afford to spend 24/7 on writing blog posts amongst all the other things. I like to keep my goals realistic though, and I have to tell you, I don’t see that happening in the December – February Plan.

I will make an attempt to catch up with your blogs. I have not been on the WordPress site for weeks now so I don’t know what you are all up to. I might occasionally post a link to one of the pieces I’ve had published. I say might, because this presents trickiness for me that I haven’t worked out yet – because I’ve always written this blog anonymously, and a published piece will have my name on it. Strange as it may seem, it’s not the readers I don’t know (which is most followers of this blog) that I’m concerned about, it’s the ones I do know, because I’m very self-conscious, so if people I know will be reading, that’s likely to affect what I write about.

This must be a hurdle for all writers, that I have yet to feel comfortable about.

Anyway, in the meantime, stay tuned. And keep writing.

 

 

Advertisements

The Lost Crumb

Crumb

Have I told you what a model student I was in primary school? The sort of sickeningly studious elder sibling who brings homes report after report with straight As all the way down the left-hand column, setting a bar that other siblings will resent for years to come.

Right through school from prep through to year 10, the only infraction I was ever in trouble for at school was for talking, or, more often, for laughing.

It’s a funny thing to recall, pun intended. It makes me sound like a very happy child, doesn’t it. Whether I was happy or not, I had a propensity to giggle at anything that struck me as absurd. The trouble with giggling is that if someone else starts giggling as well, it is utterly infectious, and, as a child and even into my early teens, it was illustrated on more than one occasion that once we started up, I, at least, couldn’t stop, no matter how severely a teacher was glaring at me.

It’s funny, too – pun intended again – that although so many details from my school days so many decades ago have vanished into the ether of time, I can recall quite clearly two of the incidents that caused me to dissolve in a fit of giggling and consequently be in trouble.

One was in grade three, so I must have been about eight. We had a combined grade 3-4 class, and the teacher often got the whole class to read a book, or chapter, together, by going around the entire room with each student, in turn, reading a paragraph while the rest were expected to be following along on the page.

I was a pretty proficient reader for my age, but of course in any class there are kids at all levels, and it happened that in this small country school, some of the older boys in grade 4 who were tough and sometimes threatening out in the school yard, really struggled with reading. One of those boys – I think it was Peter C – was struggling through a passage where a rooster said “cock-a-doodle-doo!” Tripping over as he sounded out words, he mis-quoted the rooster, and delivered instead, in the expressionless monotone of someone who finds reading challenging and uninteresting, “coodle-doodle-doo.”

Well, that was it for me. The nonsensical silliness of that unintended phrase, and probably also, the juxtaposition of hearing it uttered under duress by one of the older boys in a bland monotone, set me off. I started giggling. I was sitting next to a pretty impressionable girl my age, so she started giggling too. We both giggled, as quietly as possible, as the next few kids read through their passage, but giggling infectiously has a way of becoming hard to control. I don’t recall if the reading made it all the way around the room to us before we were caught out but I do recall that a ruler came slamming down on my hand, bringing a very abrupt end to my giggles.

The other time when I can still recall the cause, it was again, a mistaken phrase. On this occasion, I was in Grade 6, and busy talking to the kids who sat near me, while I worked laboriously on a decorative heading for my workbook. I attended a Catholic primary school, and perhaps this was for the religion class, because the heading I was so intensely working away at was supposed to read, “The Lost Sheep.”

All the girls in grade 6 prided ourselves on a particular style of heading we would do on all our work. It involved coloured pencils, and drawing large block letters which we then put shading behind to make them appear to be three-dimensional. The next step was to colour them in, but not merely by colouring in the whole letter one colour, no, we would colour them in by drawing stripes of colour inside the letters. I hope you can gather that this process took up a lot of time.

So anyway, there I was, chatting with the kids sitting near me as we worked, and doing my heading. I finished it and then looked at it again, and broke out giggling. The giggles turned to crying with laughter, and when the teacher told me sternly to stop, I couldn’t. It must have been an even bigger surprise to the teacher than it was to me, that she should have to reprimand one of her model students, but I couldn’t stop laughing even when threatened, so she made me stand at the back of the room. I stood there and cried with laughter to think that I’d spent so much time and effort on drawing, shading and colouring-in – in various coloured stripes – a heading that said – I assume because of a word uttered at the wrong moment as I chatted with my friends – “THE LOST CRUMB.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Crumb

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I am not sure what this says about the state of world affairs at the moment, but recently, I’ve had some very silly songs stuck in my head.

Don’t try telling me that getting a silly song stuck in my head has nothing to do with world affairs – the subconscious is an amazing thing that we still don’t know enough about. Right, Freud? Yah.

Of late, it seems as if the musical part of my brain is taking a vacation, and, in the hope that I wouldn’t notice, it left out some old vinyls from my childhood, to play on repeat while it lazes in the warm sun sipping cocktails on one of Johnny Depp’s 14 islands in the Bahamas.

I wouldn’t admit this to anyone who knows me in person but on more than one occasion lately – looking through the stationery cupboard at work was one such moment –  I’ve caught myself humming Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?

Admittedly, Sesame Street was a favourite program when I was about four years old, and I enjoyed the opportunity to giggle at parts of it again when my daughter was a toddler nearly 18 years ago, but I have not watched any episodes since then, so why this song is intermittently lodging itself in my brain at the moment I do not know.

On a local scale, my neighbours seem like nice enough people, although as I’m reserved and shy, (or, you could just come right out and say unfriendly, if that’s what you’re thinking) I don’t really know them well enough, or possess a good enough memory, to even recall their names. Across the road it’s Mark and Roslyn, I think, and someone-or-other and someone-else, next door. Both are couples with 2 kids. Apart from the lack of a second car, which none of us have in our tiny street as it would just be silly to do so, they are your typical “ordinary” families, I guess you might say, at least if you were a politician hoping to appeal to white anglo voters.

I live in the inner west of Melbourne, so I don’t need to travel far, to come across plenty of people who do not fit the politician’s easy “ordinary Australian” slogan. Two suburbs away is an inner suburb that has long been characterised as having a big population of Vietnamese immigrants, but is also home to older Italian and Greek families, as well as a more recent wave of immigrants from East Africa. I could travel for 10 minutes away from the city, and be in one of Melbourne’s poorest suburbs, where after Australia, the most common countries of birth are Vietnam and India. Those people from their diverse backgrounds are my neighbours.

Talking on a wider, global scale, in Australia, our neighbours to the East and North are New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and South East Asia. Some bloggers, more well-read on world current affairs and international politics, would be able to sum up our relationship with our international neighbours nicely for you, but I’m afraid I know very little about international politics. I am unqualified to discuss this geographical area, particularly as I may be the only Australian over the age of 2 days old, who has never been to Bali. I have seen some very nice Balinese-style shirts in my time, but that is as much as I can offer on our neighbours in the global arena. I’m aware of continuing political instability in some of these neighbouring countries, but I don’t feel convinced that it’s worry over that geo-political situation that has me humming the old Sesame Street tune.

Perhaps it was some deeper philosophical thought, about the people all around me, and their values, that prompted the song.

After all, there are islands in the region I have mentioned, that are used by my country to detain people who were our neighbours, and who are there because dire circumstances caused them to leave their homelands and seek refuge elsewhere. They may have come from Iran, or Myanmar, or Bangladesh, but if their trip took them via boat from Indonesia, in an attempt to get to the Australian mainland, they were locked up on Manus Island, Nauru, or Christmas Island, where many have been for up to 4 years now. These are also some of the people in my neighbourhood.

And then, there are the people around me who are content with that situation, also my neighbours of sorts, those who comment on social media and write letters to papers to say that we shouldn’t spend taxpayer dollars on helping refugees when there are people starving in our streets already. As if that is the choice. As if there is a pool of money that politicians dip into and will only allocate to one of those good causes, or the other. Why not resent, instead, the money spent on re-branding Border Force, for example, instead of resenting money spent on helping people re-make their lives? I am always disappointed by a lack of compassion for people who are suffering, and even more so when it’s politicians, who know that taking a tough stance is always a vote-winner.

My neighbourhood is a mixture of people with all sorts of beliefs and values, but if it is true that a majority of people in my neighbourhood support cruel detention policies,  I tend to think a significant portion of those people must consume news and opinions from the biased, fear-mongering Murdoch-owned press and media. Essentially, a high proportion of what they read, watch and listen to is filtered through the political perspective of one media mogul, a guy who called Brexit ‘wonderful’ and Trump ‘a very able man.’

If there was a moral to the song I learned so many years ago on Sesame Street, I think it was that there are all sorts of people in your neighbourhood, but you’ll never know unless you get out there and meet them.

Maybe I’m not the best proponent of that motto, (since I can’t recall my neighbour’s name), but I do relish the diversity around me in Melbourne, and I like to think that it’s a strength of this city. It’s the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street.

 

 

 

Some things this blog is not

Some things this blog is not:

This blog is not one of those lifestyle blogs, full of carefully styled photographs, written by a blogger who cultivates a persona that is allegedly busy and a little bit frazzled, but ultimately always upbeat, optimistic, and able to be cheered up instantly a cliched saying, typeset over a picture of a kitten.

In the ancient past, I did try to be an artist for a while, but in the tradition of the fine-art type artist, ie, one who makes their work according to where their own research and ideas lead them, not driven by commercial incentives. Unfortunately that approach incurs expenses and does not bring in much income to begin with, (just ask Vincent Van Gogh!) and thus, was hard to maintain and justify after a while, so I moved on.

Unfortunately, perhaps, I am NOT one of those people who has managed to combine their creativity with a strong entrepreneurial streak and turn it into a business, and I don’t necessarily want to. I’ve found I’m quite satisfied by earning my income working in creative companies with strong social justice agendas, doing the practical work to keep them running. This blog, therefore, is my creative outlet.

So you won’t read here about me juggling my own hard-but-rewarding business as a stylist/fashion designer and photographer with my sideline as a meditation and yoga teacher, while also just having published my very first self-help book, or how I managed all of this while mothering a brood of highly photogenic children that look amazing in pastel-coloured clothes in front of pastel-coloured backdrops in the photos that I so carefully style.

If you like reading that kind of thing, please feel free to depart from here now, because that’s not this blog! I never wear white flowing clothes, drink green smoothies, or voluntarily rise before 7.30am, and my kitchen never looks like a display home, except that it has a permanent display of dirty dishes next to the sink because I can never wash them fast enough to keep up with people who apparently drink 37 glasses of water a day, each from a clean glass.

Untidy kitchen, 2017, Styled & photographed by Blathering Productions. Limited editions now on sale.

On this blog you are more likely to read the stream-of-consciousness of someone who spends a lot of time thinking about writing, while juggling boring mundane things like grocery shopping, running errands, washing dishes, hanging out laundry and cleaning the shower. Even more frustratingly, none of those activities suggest a particularly interesting photo opportunity, but perhaps that’s just evidence that I’m not being creative enough. Suggestions for how to style photos of the above are welcome.

Here comes a stream-of -consiousness now: There are many of us out there scratching away (scratching is an analogy that doesn’t really work now that we’ve moved on from pen-and-ink to computers, and just makes it sound as if we all have fleas). After writing this blog for about eight years, it’s hard to maintain interest in it, because I feel as if I should be moving on and trying to write something more challenging. Are others still reading blogs? It’s hard to know. Despite the supposed number of people following this blog, the number of readers has never risen much over a few handfuls of people per day, from the time it began.

For those of us who enjoy writing, it can be a consuming hobby. Never does time go by so quickly as when I sit down to write. Why, already it’s after lunch time and I haven’t eaten any, nor do I have anything to make lunch with. But who cares to consider such practicalities when one’s head is in the abstract world of ideas, and absorbed in trying to craft a paragraph that’s meant to be poetically written and meaningful. (*that is not referring to any of the paragraphs in this post, by the way.) It’s a shame that often I delete the whole paragraph the next day when I re-read it and discover that it’s pedestrian, badly-written, and idiotic.

Anyway.

Another thing this blog is not, is an inspiration to others. You won’t read this blog and be inspired to clean your house, that’s for sure. In fact, many people who visit my house and simply don’t realise how much hard work and time is spent on drafting, deleted and re-writing posts for this very blog, probably think I’m lazy. That’s because there is dust on the stairs, laundry piled up in both laundry baskets waiting to be folded, and weeds growing larger by the second in the garden, but I’ll be serenely sitting upstairs staring into a laptop screen, doing what a lot of people would call nothing. That is, thinking, reading and writing, with no financial incentive for that work. Madness.

Those of you who read this blog know better, of course, because you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t value time spent in creative pursuits, like thinking, reading, and writing.

I like to think that I’m not lazy, it’s that I’m unwilling to re-prioritise.

 

 

 

 

Picture yourself in a boat by a river

It makes me feel ancient to say this, but TV was still relatively new in Australia when I was a child in the 1970s. TV existed before this, of course, but it was not until the 1970s that it became common for most households in Australia to have one.

Although they dutifully purchased a Black-and-White Television Set, my parents were never really converted. My father watched the news, and my mother would sneak into the lounge to watch Get Smart or Dr Who – other than that, they didn’t really watch TV at all.

My generation – Generation X – was the first for whom a TV was a standard item in the house from the time we were very young. There was a new realisation of the educational role that TV could play, and new programming targeted at our generation from the time we were pre-schoolers reflected this: the long-running American program Sesame Street aired its first episode in the year I was born, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) had developed the educational children’s program, Playschool, just a few years earlier.

I don’t remember much of the TV from the pre-school years of my life, other than those two educational shows mentioned above. My other vague memories are all shows with a fantasy element, featuring magical creatures or magical events, so I assume that magic was a popular theme in the shows of the era.

I guess there was a lot of magic, or something like it, in the air in the late 1960s. (episodes being aired in Australia in the early to mid 70s were often made in the UK or America in the late 60s). For example, I can recall a well-known magical roundabout, a magical flute, and a magic pencil.

Of all the above items, it was the magical pencil that struck me most. What a fantastic tool. All the hero had to do was draw something he needed and voila! – it became real. What I needed was one of those pencils.

(Despite spending at least 10 full minutes searching online, I can’t locate or identify the show I have a vague recollection of, featuring a magic pencil. I found a boy with magic chalk and a gnome with a magic pencil but neither of those looked right. Either the internet, or my memory, have failed us.)

Somehow, in my 5 year old brain, drawing an object and having it become real seemed even more exciting than your every day, garden variety magic, where you were (for example) granted a wish by a benevolent fairy godmother and could just verbalise your desire for something to appear. (When I was 5 this was undoubtedly still on the cards as a realistic possibility.)

Perhaps the in-built limitation of having to draw your desired item was the key  to making it seem more realistic – there was a clear restriction on what you could create (you had to be able to draw it) so therefore it seemed more like real life. As a kid who loved to draw, I found the idea tantalising.

That was 40-odd years ago now, but I would still enjoy a magic pencil. Just imagine it. Oh boy. Where would I start?

First: a cure for this damned head cold please. Aha, but madam, you must be able to draw the desired item, you can’t just ask for “a cure” in a general way. Oh alright then, here, I’m drawing a glass of Cointreau on ice, thank you. It’s got a slice of orange in it, right?

A pencil drawing of cointreau on ice, with a slice of orange

© blathering 2017

Next? Ok, well, if you read my last post (or maybe it was the one before that) you’ll guess that the next picture I’d scribble would be a car, before my current car totally conks out. Then….I’d draw another room, to add on to our tiny house, so that visitors had somewhere to stay. You’d like to come and stay in the new magical room, wouldn’t you?

(This leads me to wonder though, how do the logistics of this whole magical pencil thing work? Do I need to draw a floor plan as well, in order to arrange where the new room will be placed? Or will it just appear from the sky and plonk itself in the middle of the back yard? If so, can I please have a moment to make sure the cat is not sitting in that spot first?)

What would I draw after that?…well, I’m sitting upstairs writing this and the kitchen is downstairs, and I’m too worn out from all this drawing to walk downstairs, but I’d love a nice warm cup of tea….

 

A pencil drawing of a wonky cup of tea

© blathering 2017

Of course, a pencil like this could never exist, because if it did, we’d grab the nearest piece of tracing paper and the nearest $100 note, and trace 100 of them with the magic pencil, wouldn’t we? (tracing a $500 note would be more expedient, but after writing that half a sentence, I did some fact checking, and there is no $500 note in Australian currency! I checked because I couldn’t recall ever seeing one, but that didn’t prove that they don’t exist. It might just have meant that ATMs don’t dispense $500 notes. But I’ve checked and it’s a fact; they don’t exist. I must have been thinking of Monopoly money.)

Given the difficulties that we, as adults, encounter playing Pictionary™, I wonder how successful we’d actually be with a magic pencil in real life. We know from agonising over that board game, that there are many things we can’t draw, that we might often privately wish for – more confidence, courage, assertiveness, generosity, patience, selflessness, for example. The pencil will be no use at all in trying to improve oneself, I’m afraid.

Forget trying to depict abstract ideas; even our ability to command into being the physical objects we are hoping for is dicey at best. It comes down to the rules of the magic. How much accuracy and detail does your drawing need to have for the magic to work? Does it need to be a detailed hyper-realistic rendering giving an illusion of 3-dimensional perspective, or can it be stick figures, squiggles for clouds, and square houses with triangle rooftops?

If the rules of the magic dictate that you get exactly what you draw, there will be a lot of people hobbling around in lopsided shoes that look like dinner plates, and walking around with a life-size, wooden cut-out cartoon car strapped to their front like a sandwich board, instead of driving the cars they hoped for.

Unless of course you can cheat, and draw a large box tied up with ribbon, and say “I’d like a large box tied up with ribbon and inside that, a pair of Prada sandals just like the ones I saw on the cover of Vogue!”

A coloured pencil drawing of a box with Prada shoes inside it.

© blathering 2017

How to read an instruction book – for Dummies

Hi there dummies!

Now, firstly, before you take offence, please be aware that the dummiest dummy of them all when it comes to instruction books is me. So we are all dummies here, right? No-one reading this blog is any dumber than anyone else reading this blog. You’re all people of higher than average intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this blog. You’re probably creative types. That’s why you have trouble coping with the bland, dry, impersonal and humorless writing contained in an instruction manual.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on. It’s a good thing we did, because we have very quickly come to the first tricky part of the instructions on how to read an instruction manual. That’s because, for this exercise, we need an instruction manual. For those of you afflicted with the condition known as “unable to muster up the slightest interest in reading an instruction book,” this may present a level of difficulty right at the outset, because

a. you probably hate instruction books and burn them,

OR

b. you probably subconsciously thwart your own chances of ever finding an instruction book again by storing all your instruction books somewhere obscure so that you can’t recall where you’ve put them and therefore are unable to utilise them,

OR

c. you conscientiously stored all your instruction books in a large shoe-box in the bottom of the linen cupboard which happens to be about two feet away from where you are sitting, but there is no way you are motivated to open the shoe-box and rummage through a pile of boring instruction manuals by the end goal of reading an instruction manual. It seems far more preferable, and reasonable, to try and work out how to use the item without resorting to such measures.

Here we deviate into the scrutiny of a fictional case study.

In this case, our fictional subject – we’ll call her Popsicle – needs to check the oil on her car. The need is very strong, as the mechanic warned her about 5000kms ago, that the car seems to be using up oil too quickly and that the oil must be checked on more frequently than the standard 10,000km service done by the mechanic. (*the fictional car in this case is a 2008 Ford Focus, which our fictional character does not recommend anyone buy.)

Now, for the record, Popsicle has competently checked the oil on all the other cars she has previously owned ( a Valiant, a Mitsubishi, a Toyota and a Holden) without needing to resort to an instruction manual, but unfortunately on this *#$%%*!* car, merely opening the bonnet is a feat that requires a qualification in safe-cracking, and this is where the need for the instruction manual comes in, bringing us neatly back to –

Step 1: locate the instruction manual.

In this case, Popsicle thought the instruction manual would be in the neat little indentation in the door of the car, made specifically to store such documents as the car manual and a large, olden day map like the Melways in. (remember, this fictional car is from 2008). However, the manual is not to be found in the pocket, and thus the hunt is deemed too hard, and temporarily disbanded, and the car driven about another 200km, before Popsicle has another free morning and decides that checking the oil on the car, whilst a painfully tedious thing to have to put ones mind, and time, towards, is now a Very.High.Priority. The search is resumed.

Fortunately, without too much kerfuffle, a mere three and a half minutes later, the car manual is located in the next most likely place, i.e, the glove-box of the car.

Step 2: open the instruction manual. 

This step is easy for most people. Popsicle achieved this step with only the aid of a strong coffee.

Step 3: locate the topic you need help with.

This step can be a challenge for those who suffer from a low boredom threshold.

You could throw a quick glance at the index, as Popsicle did, but you’d almost certainly discount it immediately, as too uninteresting to persevere with, which is what she did. You could then try flicking through the pages randomly, which is what Popsicle tried next. Perhaps during your flicking, you’ll spot an illustration of someone opening the bonnet of the car. That’s what Popsicle hoped, anyway. A few flicks through the book revealed no such illustration, however, nor an illustration of an oil can, nor of an oil rig, nor of someone beating their own head with their fist in frustration, nor any other image that clearly signposted a section on how to check or refill the oil.

A lovely, and useful, hand-drawn illustration of a can of oil, not from my car manual.

Pic: © Blathering

Step 4: Resort to actually reading the index.

Run your eyes down the headings in the index. Nothing sounds relevant. This was obviously why you didn’t bother to read the index in the first place, it’s a complete waste of time. Who would have thought that things could come to this – here we are in 2017, and neither oil, nor opening the bonnet, are topics worthy of listing in the index of a car manual! Or maybe it’s just the Ford Focus that has no need to dilly-dally with such trivialities. They probably decided that as the owner of the Focus, you would mostly need to head straight to electrical faults, with no distractions, but that’s a topic for another post.

Step 5: turn to the back of the  book, hoping for a section with topics ordered alphabetically. Fortunately, there is such a section, and oil is considered worthy of being listed in the alphabetical index.

Step 6: turn to the listed page to find out how to check the oil

Helpfully, this section begins, open the bonnet. It then goes on to explain how to achieve this mysterious feat. To open the bonnet on a Ford Focus, one must wiggle the Ford badge out of the way, then insert the key into the locking mechanism, turn anti-clockwise, but only a little bit, get your fingers underneath the bonnet and lift the bonnet slightly, then turn the key the whole way clockwise, hop on one foot, turn around three times while chanting Flea Fly Flo, and then lift the bonnet the whole way.

Step 7: Follow these instructions

This step came undone for Popsicle. She wiggled the Ford badge out of the way, stuck the key in and attempted to turn it slightly, anti-clockwise. But it didn’t feel as if the key was turning at all, and forcing the key to turn in the lock doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. Just for laughs, she checks whether she can turn it clockwise but that also has no traction. She tries skipping to the hopping on one foot and chanting part of the instructions but that only causes the neighbour over the road to pick his toddler up from the verandah and hurry indoors.

Step 8: phone your mechanic

Hopefully you have a nice mechanic, like the mechanic that Popsicle goes to, because some mechanics would probably make you feel like a right twit if you phoned to ask if they would kindly check the oil on your car. In this case the Very Nice Mechanic said yes, no worries, drop it in anytime, just don’t come at lunchtime. Fair enough.

Step 9: Drop you car at the mechanics, and watch him open the bonnet without any trouble.

Well that’s what he did an apprenticeship for!

Step 10: Be told that the oil is totally empty and requires 3 litres to top it up.

Poor old Popsicle! The mechanic’s advice was that she should probably get rid of the 2nd-hand car she’s had for two years, because there is something wrong with the motor if it’s using oil that quickly. Popsicle remarked that there is also something wrong with the electronics in that case, as the oil light on the dashboard was not coming on to indicate that the oil was dangerously low. In any case, she was very thankful that she had decided to prioritise a boring task like checking the oil on the car, instead of doing something much more fun like writing a post on her blog.

 

 

The amazing benefits to be gained from having a plan! (*amazing benefits may be relative)

Warning: following is a post about a would-be writer’s attempts at writing and getting an article published. For more interesting reading, that doesn’t travel ground you’ve probably encountered before, you may prefer to read that letter from the Tax Department that you have not yet opened. 

*

When there is a longer gap than usual on this blog, it often means I’ve had a burst of motivation about writing, and have therefore spent my time trying to focus on writing something for an outlet other than my own personal blog.

As it turns out, I don’t have enough spare time to manage to write two things within one week. Or rather, more accurately, what is lacking is not spare time, which I’m great at wasting, but determination, organisational skills, focus, and decisiveness. Indecisiveness is just as debilitating for a would-be writer as it is for an air traffic controller, although with less disastrous consequences. In my case, I waver indecisively, uncertain whether to write about subject x, or y, or z, or whether in fact I should stop writing and do some research – and if so, whether I should read about subject a, b, or c).

Thus, last week, in the time slot where I usually sit and write a post for this blog, instead I tried to attack my lack of organisation. I wrote out a plan that I thought was realistic, of what I aimed to try and achieve, writing-wise, in the next 3 months, and then, what the first steps would be towards achieving each of those goals.

(As a side note, it was an empowering exercise because I felt like I’d achieved something by creating a plan and defining some clear steps to take. Setting out what writing projects I should focus on also assists with overcoming my indecisiveness about what to focus on doing next, so by planning, I hope to kill two birds with one stone.)

It was important to try and keep this 3 month plan achievable so it’s modest: 3 projects. The first is to get published, a piece I’ve already written. The second is to write a creative non-fiction piece for a local literary journal, based on the theme they have set for their next issue. There was also a project number 3; but honestly, in the time it’s taken me to get from the start of this paragraph to this point, I’ve changed my mind and decided that it may not be realistic to also achieve that goal in the same timeframe. I am now feeling less confident, so I’m not going to make that one public. Maybe it will slip onto the next 3 month plan. I’ll stick to two goals this first time, because if I manage those two, I’ll be very happy.

Anyway, the day I wrote these goals, the adrenalin had kicked in. After writing up the plan, I moved swiftly onto phase two, which was the first steps required for project numbers 1 and 2. Yes, I started on both in the same day! For project #2, this required brainstorming ideas, and from those ideas, trying to come up with a reading list that I could start on, by way of research. This in itself was exciting, because it is a totally new approach for me. The most “research” I ever do for a piece of creative writing (i.e., the writing done on this blog) is to Google a few things to make sure I get dates or facts right, as I write about them. I hope that this new approach – starting with research before I have fully shaped an idea of what I’m going to write about – might shake things up a bit. At the very least, I hope that taking this project seriously and working at it, will result in a good piece writing even if I don’t achieve the goal of submitting it to the journal in question.

The task for project #1 was to approach a publication about publishing a piece of writing that I have ready to go. What is that piece of writing?, you may well ask. I see you are still assidiously avoiding that letter from the Tax Department.

Well, as it happens, there’s a letter from the Tax Department sitting unopened on my benchtop too, so I’m happy to tell you about that piece of writing and how it came about.

Every little while, I’m motivated to try and create a piece of writing that requires more than just my imagination and 60 minutes of my time. When this motivation hit last year, I did a short course on writing profiles, on the online training site, Skillshare. I then did some preparation for writing a profile of a friend of mine. I interviewed her and transcribed the interview, which took me about two months, because I let weeks go by in between doing any transcribing. We talked for about two hours, so I had two hours of recording to transcribe. It must have taken me about 20 hours of listening and typing and rewinding and listening again and typing some more! Anyway, once I got it all transcribed and was ready to start filtering and structuring and writing, I promptly lost interest in it and let it stagnate for months.

But the next time I got motivated to take writing seriously, a few months later, I had to come back to the profile project rather than waste all that work. So I started filtering, structuring and writing. That part wasn’t hard actually. I don’t know why I put it off for so long. But again, I took ages to do it. This was partly because it was so long.  I knew it was much longer than I, an almost-never-published writer, could expect to get published anywhere. Surprisingly enough, The Age Good Weekend does not publish unsolicited, 2500 word profiles from people whose publishing credits so far are a few unpaid pieces in arts/education publications and one 800 word paid article in a parenting magazine about 10 years ago. (Let it be noted that I’m also acutely aware that my writing is not up to the standard of a profile piece in the Good Weekend, lest that previous sentence should suggest otherwise.)

Despite knowing all this, I wrote a long piece anyway, because I’m stubborn about doing things my own way. Because I lacked the confidence to do it the other way around, ie, pitch the idea first and then when it was taken up by an editor, sit down and pump out a brilliant piece of writing, my seemingly weird approach was my way of making sure I got all the information I found interesting into the piece, and could then pitch the idea, with the (perhaps misguided) plan to chop it down to fit whatever word length a specific publication required.

But as all you writers out there will be aware, you need to know what you are writing so you can pitch it accordingly. I was aware, even as I wrote, that the piece that was forming was not so much a profile of my friend, as a description some of the interesting aspects of a project she is doing. This is an important distinction to consider when hoping for publication.

The reason that I focussed more on the project is because to interest an editor in a profile piece, you really need either a well-known person as the subject, or a well-published writer as the author. I knew that getting an editor interested in a profile of someone unknown, written by someone with no track record, was going to be a hard sell from the start.

The project my friend is working on, however, has a few “hooks” that could generate interest from media – she’s producing, with a team of artists, a pictorial map of Melbourne. So potential readers are: people who are interested in Melbourne, people who are interested in illustrated maps, or people who are interested more broadly in illustration. There was potential for good photos – of Melbourne, or of illustrated maps. That this angle could have interest for Melbourne-focussed publications is, as they say, is a no-brainer.

So I wrote my article with that in mind, but unfortunately as I slogged along slowly, letting it sit for weeks at a time without going near it, my friend, working hard to promote her project, managed to get some media outlets interested, and they published her media release, or wrote their own short articles on her project. (No resentment from me, since she needed the PR, and by this time I’d taken about 4 months to produce nothing she could use. There had been no understanding between us that she’d wait for my piece to be written – I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities to undertake that kind of commitment! So I’m really happy that her project got all the publicity it has had to date!)

In terms of publication possibilities, this essentially meant those outlets had already covered it and so were no longer options for publication by the time I had a piece of writing that I felt ready to approach editors with.

So when it was ready, I selected some publications who had not yet covered the story, and pitched a short version of my article, focussing on the project. So far I’ve pitched to two of those, with one publication not responding at all, and the other giving me a polite refusal immediately. (they explained that all their articles must be about projects that are funded by their local council).

That was weeks ago now, but since my highly motivated session last week, I followed the steps in my own 3 month plan, and did more research on other publication possibilities. Accordingly, I pitched it again, last week, to a national publication, this time suggesting it as a profile piece. Since then I’ve been eagerly checking my inbox, but have so far only received a polite, standard response, saying they are inundated with emails about submissions, and may take a few weeks to respond.

Since that’s not an outright rejection, I’m choosing to feel positive about this opportunity so far.

So stay tuned. I’m off now, to do more research for my creative non-fiction piece. That is, after I go out and buy groceries, make lunch, and clean the shower and toilet, because like all unpaid hobbies that you do for enjoyment rather than for income, writing has to fit in around life.

*

PS, in case you’re wondering, a reason why I kept my discussion here about my friend and her project pretty general is because if I can’t get the piece published anywhere else, you will get to read the whole thing on this blog. So it won’t be entirely wasted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: