CHOP CHAT COOK – Videos with writing advice and chia pudding recipes!

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As the world spins ever deeper into COVID 19 madness (have you got enough toilet paper?) and lockdowns, grab a cup of tea and some chia seeds and have a look at these videos.

Recently my friend, screenwriter and producer Joanne Tindale, invited me to be on her fab cooking and chat show – CHOP CHAT COOK

What fun!! We made chocolate chia pudding and a coconut blueberry chia pudding, as well as talking about lots of different aspects of the writing life. We had a great time making (and eating) the puddings and we cover lots of different hints and tips for people pursuing a career as a writer.

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Income Streams in the Gig Economy or Many Fingers Many Pies : )

As every creative artist trying to make a living knows – you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. In this episode I talk about all the different ways I generate an income from writing and writing related activities.

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The Healing Power of Story

Over the past few months I’ve been travelling to regional centres across my home state of Queensland running creative writing workshops for Forgotten Australians – people who suffered abuse in institutions and out of home care in their childhoods. I talk with Joanne about why and how this came about and my firm belief in the transformative power of getting your stories out of your head and onto the page – and changing them!

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Career Paths to Writing – or how to build your career as a writer.

In this episode we talk about how to build your writing CV and begin to establish yourself as a professional author. Including my 10 POINT PLAN for publishing success.

And just to put a smile on your face- while I’m on a Youtube binge – here’s KC and the Sunshine Band. Get Down Tonight! 

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Come on, get up and dance – shake away the COVID 19 blues!

Stay healthy and strong and write your way through lockdown : )

Lots of love,

Edwina xxx

ANECDOTE vs. STORY What’s the Difference?

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When I first started writing I got a few rejections saying my pieces were anecdotes and not stories. After I’d dried my tears, I began to wonder what the difference was?

What is it that makes a story a story, and an anecdote something you tell your friends but don’t get published?

MEANING.

An ANECDOTE is an incident from our lives that we tell our mates down at the pub or over a cup of tea. This tale may have many of the elements of a story – setting, characters and action – but usually that’s it.

For example –

When people notice the scar running from my forehead down along my left temple beside my eye, I tell them an anecdote about how, when I was fourteen, I was searching for organisms out on the rocks at Deadman’s Beach (true!) during my school biology camp on Stradbroke Island.

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A huge wave came hurtling towards us and I braced myself by facing into the barnacle covered rocks, gripping on for dear life. The wave crashed over me and my classmates, and smashed my face into the rocks, dragging me as it fled back out to sea, grating my face against the barnacles. Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to my feet and leapt  over the rocks, racing to shore where my poor teacher was greeted with a bloody mess like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie.

I was almost helicoptered back to Brisbane, but the local island doctor was used to shark bites and stitched my face back together again – sixty stitches in all. I wasn’t a pretty sight. Once I got back home my friend took some photos and we entered me in a Dolly Magazine Covergirl Competition. We thought we were pretty funny. Needless to say, I didn’t win 🙂

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As you can see, this anecdote has plenty of action and drama and even a happy ending. But it’s not a story. WHY?

Because it only tells what happened. An anecdote doesn’t reflect on the events and dig deeper to find meaning.

STORIES on the other hand are how humans make sense of the world and what happens to us. They delve deep into the emotional heart of what that incident meant to us and how we were changed as a result. A story creates MEANING from the meaningless.

For example –

What if I told you this accident happened only a couple of months after the death of my young father? What if I told you that when the wave hit something inside me hoped that it would tear me away and take me to where my father was. What if I wrote about how, as the doctor stitched my face back together again, he sang the Death March. What if I wrote about how my best friend tenderly helped me wash the blood out of my hair that night as I sat in a cold bath. What if I told you that I lay awake for hours in my bunk, trying to convince myself that my father’s death had been a bad dream I’d had while knocked out, that he would be waiting for me on the other side of the ferry?

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Then we’d have a story.  A story I haven’t written yet, but just might.

“Dig deeper,” I tell the memoirists I edit and teach. Don’t be afraid. Go deeper and find the true heart of your story. Turn that anecdote into something that touches people.

Have you got an anecdote or two you could dig deeper into to create meaning? Search hard enough and everything that happens has another layer of story reflecting human experience.

That’s what we writers do, we write to make sense of the world.

Want to learn more? Come along to my next retreat in the mountains with a special focus on memoir writing. Great for beginners too, and anyone needing to reboot their writing mojo!

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Let me know how you go!

Lots of love

Edwina

Thing 1 and Thing 2 Short Story Method

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Got a great story but it’s just not selling? Or you’ve got a great idea but the story just isn’t working somehow? Need a way to think about short stories so you can generate ideas quickly? Well, here’s my THING 1 and THING 2 STORY METHOD.

You can use this for larger pieces of writing too but it works best for short things.

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Thing 1

THING 1

Think of an incident or a turning point in your own life, or the life of someone else you know, or someone you just made up 🙂 This could be anything from a traffic accident to the birth of a child to discovering you have cancer. ANYTHING! Remember it only has to be a thing.

In my story “Mrs Sunshine” I thought of a family breaking down, a young mother on the verge of leaving her partner and children – that was my incident.

For my story “Last Days on the 15th Floor” in Bjelke Blues – it was the last few days of ex-Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s rule when it is rumoured that he locked himself in his office and refused to leave.

In “Something No One Else Can See” my Thing 1 was the climbing number of suicides among farmers here in Australia.

Thought of something you could try? Good!

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THING 2

Thing 2 is important. Thing 2 is what gives your story another layer of meaning and depth. Thing 2 can be anything, any – thing at all 🙂 Somehow whatever you choose your brain will find a way to link it to the themes in your story. Thing 2 will help to amplify the hidden truths in your story without you even having to try that hard.

For “Mrs Sunshine” – Thing 2 was a Sunshine Family set of dolls I was given for Christmas as a child and came to mean a whole lot more than just toys. Mrs Sunshine became a symbol for the impossibly perfect ideal of motherhood.

In “Last Days on the 15th Floor” – Thing 2 was Joh’s Vietnamese cleaner whose father had been governor of her hometown. Her perspective gave the story a whole new understanding.

In “Something No One Else Can See” – two sisters coping with the loss of their mother, building fairy houses and believing in magic, helped to bring lightness to what could have been a very dark tale.

So, what is your Thing 2? Nothing immediately coming to mind? Look around you and pick an object. Any object. Put that into your story and see if the magic of imagination doesn’t somehow build that simple object into a meaningful part of your narrative.

Flick open a book and stab at a word. That could just be the key to adding another layer to your story. Have a close look at some short stories – can you find the Thing 1 and Thing 2?

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But why stop there just because Dr Seuss did? Chuck in a Thing 3 if you feel like it!

THING 3 – an abstract noun  like LOVE or HATE or REVENGE or FAITH or REGRET or FORGIVENESS.

Put your incident, your character or object and the noun together and what have you got?

A STORY – that’s what!

This post is making me go all Dr Seuss so I’d better stop now 🙂

I hope you get lots of great stories from Thing1 and Thing 2 (and 3).

Let me know how you go, and if you discover any THINGS in stories you read.

GOOD LUCK!

Oh, and only a few places still left in my next retreat – RELAX AND WRITE IN THE MOUNTAINS – March 27 – 29 2020 in Highfields near Toowoomba. See here for all the details.

Places are strictly limited to 15 so don’t miss out!

HAPPY WRITING!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

 

 

 

5 WAYS TO BUILD NARRATIVE DRIVE IN MEMOIR

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John Gardner once said, “Structure is the primary concern of the writer.” The more I write and edit other people’s writing, the more I agree with him. It’s not the story itself but how the writer chooses to arrange story elements that keeps the reader turning pages.32533._SY475_

This is easier when writing fiction than when dealing with the real-life constraints of memoir, but here are a few ideas to help you keep your memoir readers up at night in a page turning frenzy.

Before we start there are a couple of issues you need to consider. First of all

  1. What are you writing?

If you’re intention is to record your entire life history then you’re writing an autobiography, not a memoir. What’s the difference? A memoir is a focused selection of life events around a particular theme or time in your life.

  1. Who is your audience?

Are you writing just for family and friends, or people who shared these experiences with you? If so, then you can really write whatever you like and they’ll still read it.

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However, if you believe your story has a wider appeal, that you have a story of interest to the general reading public then you’re going to have to work a whole lot harder at building narrative drive to hook them in and keep them reading right till the end. If you’re not a famous sports star or a glamorous movie queen, then selling your memoir to a publisher is going to be tricky. You need to make sure you have a compelling narrative that grabs them right from the start. But how?

Reading by Lamplight by James Whistler

Reading by Lamplight by James Whistler

5 WAYS TO BUILD NARRATIVE DRIVE IN MEMOIR

  1. Write down all your key plot points.

An easy way of thinking about this is to call them Heart Clutching Moments as Elizabeth Sims does in her Writers Digest Article

Think of the moments in your memoir that have most emotional impact – the parts where your hand goes to your heart. Key emotional turning points – remember to include some happy moments as well as those of drama or trauma. Write down a list of as many of these as you can think of.  Put big circles around the most important and a star next to the most emotional, most moving, heartbreaking moment. That is your climax.fullsizeoutput_5b2

  1. Find your central quest or question?

Delve deep into what your story is really about. Ask yourself, “What is this story about?” Then again, “What is this story really about?” Ask yourself those two questions seven times. Famous non-fiction writing teacher Robin Hemley developed this method for finding the heart of your story.heart with eye

Once you have your answer then formulate a question or quest. In memoir it might be something like this “Will Mary ever find the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1965?” or “Will innocent Bob survive his time in jail?” Or “Will Sarah find a cure for her mysterious illness and be well again?”

You get the idea. What is your central question?

  1. Find your Hope and Fear around this question.

In order to keep the reader highly engaged in your story, every scene and chapter needs to move them between hoping that YES – your central quest/ion will have a happy ending (that’s your hope) and NO! – the very worst will happen (that’s your fear).

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For example

HOPE: Mary will find her adopted daughter who will want to see her and they will lovingly reunite.

FEAR: Mary won’t ever be able to find her daughter no matter how hard she tries or how close she gets. OR Mary will find her daughter who won’t want to have anything to do with her.

HOPE: Bob will study and be freed from his wrongful imprisonment and go on to be a lawyer advocating for those still in jail.

FEAR: Bob will be brutalised in jail. All his appeals will fail, and he will die, sad and alone, in the electric chair.

Oh dear – poor Bob!

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What is your Hope and Fear?

  1. What is your HOOK?

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Your hook is what sets up your question and the connected hope and fear right at the start of your memoir. Look at your list of Heart Clutching Moments and find one which will be best to draw your reader into your story. It doesn’t have to be what chronologically happened first. The power of writing is that you get to play around with the order of events to create most suspense and impact. It doesn’t have to be the whole event, just a snippet of it. Then once you’ve set up your question and what is at stake you can go back and fill in the background.

For example

Mary gives birth to a precious baby girl and gets to hold her, but only for a few minutes. Then she is spirited away and a weeping Mary signs away her rights as mother.

Bob is eating his last meal on death row, the priest beside him giving comfort. He starts down the long hallway in chains.

  1. Arrange your key plot points

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Look at that HCM list and arrange them after your hook. You can list them chronologically but make sure there is movement between your hope and fear in each one. Build to your most impactful moment as your climax. And make sure that you have some kind of satisfying conclusion – even if it’s sad.

For example

Mary gives birth etc

Mary at the graveside of her husband who she never told about her secret child – now she is free to look for her.

Mary tells her son about her search. Son says, “She won’t want to see you.”

Mary finds old papers and begins search.

Mary finds orphanage but records were lost.

Mary finds alternate clues – her daughter has been searching for her

Mary gets sick – she may die before she finds her daughter – search intensifies.

Mary finds an address – in the same state!

Mary’s son kicks up stink – why are you doing this? It’s too stressful! You’re sick!

Mary makes a tentative phone call – gets her daughter’s husband

Mary’s illness worsens.

Mary’s daughter arrives on her doorstep and they reunite tearfully and joyfully.

Mary’s son reacts badly.

Mary’s daughter is a doctor and heals Mary and all family is happy and harmonious!

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Now real life isn’t usually so orderly, nor does it have neat closed off endings, but for the purpose of your memoir you’re going to have to find a satisfying point to stop where the main quest or question has been resolved.

These exercises can be done after you’ve already completed a draft or even better, before you start the big job of writing it. If you can write to a structure that is already moving between hope and fear, then your job is halfway done.

Of course all of this is applicable to fiction writing as well – just easier to do because you can invent events and keep that movement between hope and fear with a flick of your pen.

GOOD LUCK!

writing on retreat!

If you’d like to learn more about memoir writing or just make a start on telling some of your life stories, then my next retreat in Highfields west of Brisbane is now open for enrolments. Come and join a like-minded group of women and get writing! See here for all the details.

What is your memoir’s central question? What is the hope and fear? Need help working it out? Ask away!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

 

5 FREE Presents to Give Yourself this Christmas!

Merry Xmas

Happy Christmas to you all! Yes tis the season to be merry and give thanks for the craziness this year has been. Amid all the frenzied buying and giving that accompanies the festive season, I thought it would be a good idea to treat ourselves to some things all writers really need.

So here you are – 5 Gifts to give yourself – all of them you can get for FREE!

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1. A BOOK! – Writers love to read and it’s important that we all support each other by buying and borrowing books to help keep the publishing and bookselling industry alive and thriving. Besides what’s better to do than to laze a day away tucked up with a good read? My favourite books by Australian authors this year have been Melissa Lucashenko‘s Too Much Lip, Trent Dalton‘s Boy Swallows Universe, Favel Parrett’s There is Still Love, Amanda O’ Callaghan’s This Taste for Silence and I’m very keen to get my hands on Amanda Neihaus‘s The Breeding Season. I also really learnt a lot from Joanna Penn‘s book Business for Authors. How to Be an Author Entrepreneur.  Joanna has a number of practical guides on building a writing career worth checking out. Always good to invest in books about the craft and business of writing as well as feeding our creative side with quality works of fiction. And some just for fun too. Oh, and of course if you’re into social history – Bjelke Blues is a cracking good read 🙂  Need it to be free – LIBRARY! Best place I know to walk in feeling poor and come out feeling very rich indeed with armfuls of books, movies and other treasures.

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2. AN EXPERIENCE – Any experience that makes your heart sing will do the trick. Dance with a friend and twirl your skirts. Sing some Xmas carols along with Bing. Go for a swim somewhere beautiful in nature, or a long walk in a snowy forest if you’re somewhere cold. Roll on the floor. Move your body. Visit the city and stare at all the lights till your eyes go funny. Laugh – catch up with old friends and have a giggle. Watch a funny movie and let yourself go. Sit by a river or with your back against a tree. Lie in the sun and feel the earth moving beneath you. Go outside at night somewhere away from city lights and look up at the stars – the very best Xmas decorations. Treat yourself to your favourite food – it’s Xmas – if we can’t feast a little then, when can we? Let go, have fun. Be silly!

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3. TIME TO WRITE – Escape the festive madness, find somewhere quiet and write something just for fun, because it’s what we love to do. Play around with words. Stake a claim on a period of time each day which is just yours for whatever creative play you’d like to do. Remember we write because it gives us pleasure. Take the pressure off and just muck around on the page. Remember why you started this crazy writing adventure in the first place. It’s not all about publication (though of course that’s very nice) but about the fun of entering that creative zone and losing time because we’re so wrapped up in the story we’re creating.

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Dorothea Lange: Dyanna lying on her back in the grass circa 1961

4. PERMISSION TO DO NOTHING! – Yes, I mean it. Absolutely nothing. Stare into space. Stay in bed. Forget the housework. Forget the deadlines. Send the children, partner etc elsewhere at least for a few hours – then do NOTHING! This is trickier than it sounds. But staying still, watching clouds, listening to the sounds around you, you’ll start to really slow down. And don’t we all need that? Soon enough we’ll be running around like headless chickens again, but if at all possible make this Doing of Nothing a part of every week. Remember Sunday? It used to be a day when all work stopped. Everyone, all at the same time, slowed down and did very little. I miss it. This doing of nothing is something I’m really trying to embrace for the year ahead. It’s where dreams and story ideas come from.

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5. LOVE – or at least some Sincere Affection! Be your own best friend, your own affectionate partner. Treat yourself with loving kindness. Speak to yourself gently and with encouragement. This writing gig is hard. You need a healthy sense of self-worth to cope with the inevitable rejections we face on the road to success. When you catch yourself speaking harshly to yourself, just ask, “Would I talk to my best friend like that? What would I say instead?” and tell yourself that. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you’re “up yourself” as we say here in Australia, it just means you want yourself to be happy and free from fear and harm. From that start we can learn to love the world!

I hope you found something on the list that feels possible and made you smile.

Here’s a little Xmas gift from me to you, also for free – my Xmas short story  “Mrs Sunshine”. It was first published in Best Australian Short Stories 2014 (Black Inc). I hope you enjoy it.

And if you’d really like to treat yourself this Christmas then book into my next Relax and Write Retreat – March 27 – 29 2020 among the big trees and birds north of Toowoomba.

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Happy Christmas from my backyard to yours. Have a wonderful holiday season. I hope it’s filled with joy and love.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

Creative Recovery or How to Reboot your Writing Mojo

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Bjelke Blues has been going great guns and I’m thrilled about that. We even scored a review in The Weekend Australian!

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Review of Bjelke Blues, Weekend Australian 9/10 November 2019

Thanks to everyone who’s been buying copies. It’s been a huge year’s work, collecting and editing the work of 44 other people, then promoting and marketing the book as well. On top of it all, I caught the dreaded lurgy which drained the very last of my own creative energy.

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But I had a screenplay to write. Due at the end of the month. I sat down at the computer and searched my brain, my heart, but I had nothing left to give. I was done! An empty well without a drop of inspiration. I’d pumped myself dry.

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Most creative people experience patches like this. Some call it writers block. Others, burn out or exhaustion. I run retreats helping other people to find their creative selves, but in the meantime I’d lost my own.

How was I going to find it again?

Luckily I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Hope they’ll work for you too.

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  1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – regular readers of my site will know that this is the book that started me writing. It’s still the first place I turn when I need to reboot my writing mojo. Working my way through the exercises slowly but surely ideas started to flow again. My favourite affirmation this time around is “Through the use of a few simple tools my creativity will flourish.”

 

  1. Take the pressure off. When I start thinking about my writing tasks as hard work then I know I’m in trouble. Writing is fun! I love it because I get to muck around in my imagination, make stuff up and play. So get that “life is a serious business” frown off your face and lighten up!
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Put on your happy face!

  1. Get into nature. Take your journal and a pen and just sit with your back against a tree or look out to the sea or listen to the birds a while, then write down everything you see, feel, hear, smell, taste. Free write for no other reason than to record that one moment in time.
The Reader Crowned with Flowers, or Virgil's Muse, 1845 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

The Reader Crowned with Flowers, or Virgil’s Muse, 1845 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

  1. Buy yourself a treat. It’s best of course if it’s something to do with your writing/art form like a new book on writing, a novel you’ve always wanted to read, a new set of colouring pencils or a recorder, but any treat will work just as well. I bought myself a mattress topper. I love it so much I think I’ll marry it!
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    I love my mattress topper!

     

  2. Do something you don’t usually do. Paint a picture, climb a mountain, go for a swim. I played the piano. I had lessons for years as a child but these days I rarely play. The other day I sat down and learnt a new piece. It made me feel very happy.
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Happiness

  1. Give yourself some proper time off to do NOTHING. Yes, I mean nothing. For some of us that’s really hard to do. Luckily for me, I was babysitting my brother’s kids in Dubbo and my internet wasn’t working so time off was forced upon me. I read. A lot. Talked to the kids. Went for walks. And guess what? Ideas for my screenplay started to flow in like magic.
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Like magic!

  1. Give yourself permission to write absolute crap (or do a shitty painting- whatever). Then sit down and get stuck in.

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If you’ve completely pumped yourself dry it will take a bit of time to fill your well to a point where you’re ready to produce again. Be gentle with yourself. Gentle is my new favourite word – the world right now needs a whole lot of gentleness.

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My secret writer’s block buster is meditation! Those or you who’ve attended my workshops will know how helpful some brain clearing and positive visualisation can be for rebooting your creative mojo. At my latest retreat my friend Maria recorded my guided meditation for busting through the inner critic and building creative confidence. Try the guided meditation and see how it can free up your writing. Let me know how you go.

I got my screenplay done and it wasn’t even crap. Once I started writing it was great fun to do.

Good luck with your own reboot. What are your favourite tricks, techniques to help unblock? I’d love to hear about them.

Happy writing – or just lying around dreaming 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina  xx

SUSPENSE = HOPE + FEAR

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As far back as Aristotle and the very first plays, story tellers have known that the secret to keeping your audience on the edge of their seats, or readers turning pages, is to keep them in a state of tension.

As story tellers it’s our job to manipulate our audience’s emotions. To keep them moving between hope and fear, relief and anxiety, joy and despair.

Writers can learn from sports, yes, even football! The best games have suspense in buckets – that’s why watching footy on a Friday night is so appealing to most people. Audiences and readers want in story what they avoid at all cost in life – conflict, anxiety, opposition and tension.

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However, the battle for the win is even more gratifying when the game is close. Games won by one point in the final minute keep us on the edge, enduring and enjoying a tension that is almost uncomfortable, right up until the end. So much better than a game where right from the first ten minutes we know it’s a walk over.

It’s the same with story. If a protagonist too easily achieves their goals, then where’s the drama? Where’s the fun of all those uncomfortable emotions?

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The opposition to a character’s goals have to be almost insurmountable. The protagonist needs to do her very best, make plans and execute them, but then fail or be thwarted until that very last minute – maybe even just as the final bell is ringing. Maybe all her attempts will only make things worse. Maybe self-sabotage will undermine her at a key point, when finally everything seemed to be flowing her way. little girl reading

As writers we want the reader to call out “No!” then turn the page to see what happens next, hoping against hope that she’ll somehow dig herself out of the hole she’s created.

It’s that movement between hope and fear that writers need to keep in mind as they shape their stories. If not in the first draft, then definitely in the second.

Check each scene. Is there some sort of conflict? What is the outcome of this conflict? Are we led to believe the character can achieve her goal, which seems or paramount importance to her whether it’s life-threatening or not? Or are we terrified that she’ll never get what she wants?

Does it seem like she’ll finally find her missing child? Or does it appear obvious that all she’ll ever find is bones?

Will that boil in the middle of her forehead heal before the big date? Or will boils spread all over her face and make her a leper?

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Every scene, if not every page, should play its part in this dance between hope and fear, keeping readers anxiously turning pages, even in the bath.

Examine stories you love. How has the writer choreographed this dance? Look for conflict. In the very best novels and screenplays, conflict will be evident in almost every page, in every interaction between characters. Even a character’s inner dialogue can involve conflict, the fight between desire and better judgement.

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 Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan is a harrowing and deeply moving film that is a wonderful example of how conflict can be used to intensify every scene. In a scene already filled with drama, when a young mother is being put into an ambulance the trolley doesn’t work properly, making an already unbearable moment excruciating.

Conflict can come from others, ourselves, the environment, government or police, even furniture. Throw it in wherever you can and watch your story bloom. Manage the readers’ emotions, keep them swinging between hope and fear and you’re on your way to writing something no reader can put down.

Keep them up at night, make them laugh and make them cry. Have fun doing it.

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How do you ramp up conflict in your stories? How do you move readers between hope and fear? I’d love to hear your ideas!

If you found these tips useful you can sign up to my newsletter for regular hints and tips and opportunities HERE

And if you’d like a whole weekend of writing exercises and advice then check out my next retreat HERE – but hurry only two places still available!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx