Reflections on Writing Part 2

Following the interest in my recent post about writing, I was inspired to share further reflections and other pearls of wisdom I have gleaned over the years.

For anyone who has gone through the process of trying to get published, whether a short story, feature article or a novel, this quote will resonate.

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” Don Marquis (novelist, poet and columnist 1878-1937)

Getting published requires enormous perseverance and you need to develop a thick skin.  Between 2013 and 2015 I made multiple submissions to both agents and publishers of a memoir-style book I was writing. I got close, and received some useful feedback, which, with the benefit of hindsight, validated the process. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am now glad it didn’t get published – a lot of what I wrote was a kind of self-therapy – but I do give myself a pat on the back for putting myself out there at the time.

It strikes me now that it’s a bit like internet dating; you cast your net far and wide, and into an unknown and bottomless pit, to see what interest you attract. You might find a match, you might not.  You might have a bit of a flirtation only to find it comes to nothing or you may get rejected outright.

Whether online dating or writing to get published, you need to have a strong sense of self, who you are, what your values are, what you stand for, what you bring to the world and what you want to achieve.  One of my all-time favourite quotes is Oscar Wilde’s “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” And then, on LinkedIn today, I spotted one of those inspirational quotes which, paraphrased would be something like: don’t be afraid to be yourself, be afraid of not being yourself.  Which brings me to an unattributed quote I once wrote down – I think it comes from an article I read in one of those New Age-y publications. And it very much resonates with me:

“If you are a budding artist, or a sportsman or anyone whose heart’s desire is to create more in this incredible world, then don’t listen to the doubts or insecurities of the mind. They are just voices in your head that keep you in separation from your true nature. That is all. By shifting your focus onto the peace within you, you become a vessel to express whatever wants to flow through you.”

Expressing who we are as writers, creators, employees, friends or lovers without feeling the need to change ourselves to fit an alternative agenda takes enormous courage. Another go-to read of mine which combines tips on writing with self-empowerment is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (what a great title!). She advises:

“Learn to trust the force of your own voice. Naturally, it will evolve a direction and a need for one, but it will come from a different place than your need to be an achiever.”

And she encourages a visceral relationship with writing: “Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. Just enter the heat of the words and sounds and coloured sensations and keep your pen moving across the page.”

But even if we do have a strong sense of self-belief, tap into our inner creative and get some flow happening, writing can be a tough gig. I love the raw honesty in this Evelyn Waugh quote (taken from How to Write a Novel.)

“If only amateurs would get it into their heads that novel-writing is a highly skilled and lugubrious trade. One does not just sit jotting down other people’s conversation. One has for one’s raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smouldering rubbish heap of experience, half stifled by the fumes and dust, scraping and delving until one finds a few discarded valuables.’

Life in all its various guises, and how we experience it is indeed our raw material. The good times and the bad. It’s all material! I am reading a book about author H. G. Wells (author of War of the Worlds and The Time Machine) and his multiple affairs with young women. He was a proponent of Socialism and free love and a member of the Fabian Society and, amazingly, his second wife put up with all his amours. His book Anna Veronica published in 1909 was clearly inspired by his relationship with Amber Reeves. Rather than defuse the scandal about the affair, the book threw it into the spotlight. Amber’s husband, a lawyer,  (who gallantly married Amber when she was pregnant with H G’s child) threatened to sue Wells for libel, forcing him to sign an agreement not to see Amber for three years. Needless to say, Wells didn’t learn from the experience and repeated the same pattern with writer and feminist Rebecca West. If we are going to mine our life experiences to inform our writing, it’s a very fine line – beware defaming others –  and we have to tread carefully. Plus it can work both ways: other writers may weave us into their stories.

For Paul Auster living and writing are inseparable: “By living my life as a writer, I am living my life to the fullest. Even if I sit there crossing out sentences, tearing up pieces of paper, and I have not advanced one jot, I can still stand up from my chair and say: “Well, I’ve given it my best.”

Although I am not currently writing a book, writing is still part of my life; I write grants and proposals for work and I blog, but I also rely heavily on journalling and jotting down thoughts as a mental health exercise. It’s part of how I express myself.

“Writing practice embraces your whole life ( … ) It’s a place that you can come to wild and unbridled, mixing the dream of your grandmother’s soup with the astounding clouds outside your window.” Natalie Goldberg.



Getting back to business

It’s been a long time between blogs! I started a new job a month ago which, although part-time, has taken up a lot of my energy and headspace. Since 2007, I’ve worked mainly freelance from home, so adjusting to the environment of an office – the politics, the gossip, the rules, procedures, policies and timesheets, KPIs and performance appraisals, crazy workload and deadlines, meetings and the need for frequent injections of caffeine and sugar – felt a bit like going back to school. I make sandwiches and pack my satchel the night before and make sure I have done my homework. Because part-time jobs always spill over into non-work time. Especially in the not-for-profit sector.

Having said all that it’s an interesting role in the fundraising department of one of Melbourne’s best-loved charities, one that has been looking after the homeless and disadvantaged for over 30 years. As I’m covering for someone on maternity leave, I’m only there for six months so I was in at the deep end from day one. It was super intense to begin with as I gave myself a crash course in everything from their systems, databases, computer idiosyncrasies (don’t get me started…) and programs to the people I would need to get on-side.


Now I’ve learnt Google Mail (not nearly as efficient as Outlook), a new database and figured out how the online timesheets work, not to mention the phones, things are beginning to calm down and I am no longer working like a headless chicken. In fact, I worked so fast and furiously to start with that I wrote down my bank details incorrectly, which meant that my first pay cheque bounced. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip and I’ve got stuck in lack mode. Poor me…

But no! Something seems to have shifted in the last few days. I feel a need to discard things, habits and behaviours that are no longer serving me and to challenge some of the limiting beliefs standing in my way. It’s the old head versus heart argument. It’s great to be in a good job, writing funding submissions but what happened to the calling of the soul aka creativity? It’s definitely time to pick up my book again – I keep getting little nudges from the universe.

A friend recently invited me to a motivational workshop entitled: “The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Author.” The focus was not on the writing itself but on developing the discipline of writing and of creating a clear vision of the published book, then working out what steps you need to take to achieve that goal. One of the steps is to identify any negative beliefs getting in the way. You know the ones: What will people think?; I’m not good enough; Who would want to read my story?; I don’t have enough time; I’ll never make it and so on.

As we went through the exercise of dumping unhelpful beliefs in an imaginary bin, I had an aha moment! I realised why I had abandoned my book a couple of years ago. I got as far as finishing it and submitting it to publishers and nearly made it over the line. But despite some of the very encouraging and positive feedback I received, I only listened to the rejections. It all seemed too hard and I gave up.

Soon after the motivational workshop a friend emailed me a link to a book that is about a woman coming out of her shell. She said it reminded her of me and that I should not give up on my book. Then this week I had a kinesiologist staying as an Airbnb guest. I mentioned my book – en passant – and the following day she said she had a strong feeling I should persevere with it. She also very generously gave me a treatment as she sensed that I had a few ‘blocks’ she could help to clear. How lucky am I?! Marie is hugely intuitive and picked up on all sorts of aspects of my life, past and present. That is what’s so wonderful about kinesiology – it’s not a talk therapy; instead it works on muscle testing and feedback from the body. AND the body never lies.

So this week I’m going to dive back in to my book –as in getting back to the REAL business – and follow the advice of my friend in Felicity. Throw caution to the wind, write as if no one is looking or listening and see what comes out. Don’t think about the reader, just write. As if to underline that message I saw a great Natalie Goldberg quote this week: “Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”

Singing Away the Blues

A couple of weeks ago a literary agent based in the States expressed interest in my book, Slowing Down in the Fast Lane: from Adventure to Zen and Everything in Between, and asked me to send the full manuscript. She seemed to love the concept and I had high hopes that she might want to represent me. On Monday morning, however, my hopes were dashed. Ouch! She emailed to let me know that she didn’t feel that the A-Z format worked “for the necessary emotional journey a reader must take with the author in a work of memoir.” A publisher in Queensland who loved my writing and humour said pretty much the same thing. It wasn’t so much the rejection that left me a bit flat but the thought, that after so much writing, re-writing, perfecting and polishing, I might have to embark on a total re-write.

But, of course, attempting to write a book and get it published is rarely a straightforward process. And it requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. On Monday I was lacking in both and ended up humming that Boomtown Rats song I don’t like Mondays ! That’s the thing about being self-employed, there’s no one to whinge to; you have to jolly yourself along. I’m mostly very good at motivating myself but nothing seemed to be flowing at the start of the week. It didn’t help that work was a bit thin on the ground in typical feast and famine freelance fashion.

Thankfully, however, Monday night is choir night. I decided to leave my hangdog day (and my beloved puppy dog) at home and throw myself into the singing. Our usual repertoire ranges from African harmonies, negro spiritual and chain gang songs to Russian ballads, Celtic folk tunes and sea shanties with a bit of contemporary stuff thrown in. But before we start signing, we loosen up with a workout for mind, body, voice and spirit which involves a series of meditative, breathing and vocal exercises followed by a bit of stretching and dancing around. How good it was this week to do the tongue sticking out routine – blahhhhhh, bluuuhhhh– and let go of the day’s frustration.


At the end of the evening our Choir Director Richard came up to me and – quite unprompted – said: “Hello Charlotte! Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Was he a mind reader? Did he know that I had spent the day battling book and impending big birthday blues? As in, I am halfway through my life – if not more – and, well, you know, dum de dum. What do I have to show for it? So ran my inner judge and critic on Monday. “Think about your triumphs and don’t listen to the negative chatter that comes up at three in the morning,” suggested Richard. I was about to come up with a great long list of all the non-triumphs (it’s so easy to default to that) but then realised that taking a huge leap of faith and moving to Australia nearly ten years ago has to be my biggest triumph to date.

I returned home with a deep sense of gratitude that I belong to such a wonderful choir full of like-minded, supportive and creative souls – it’s no coincidence we’re called Soul Song. And then I remembered two other huge triumphs. I took part in a solo singing workshop earlier this year and sang a Buena Vista Social Club song in Spanish to the rest of the group (amazing in itself as not so long ago I’d have almost preferred to strip naked than sing a solo), and then at our recent choir retreat, I learnt how to use a microphone and experimented with the same song – giving it my all. It really is never too late to change your life and find your voice.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway...

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway…

As for the book, I’m going to see if I get any other bites before I change the format. I didn’t really set out to write a memoir, more a humorous anthology of life adventures… and misadventures. Perhaps I’ve been marketing it in the wrong way. I might take a straw poll and get some feedback in a future blog. Who knows, perhaps by the next zero birthday, I will be a published author.

I wannabe published...

I wannabe published…