The World According to Renee

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The Building Blocks of Writing

Scrabble tiles

Can you be a writer if you aren’t a good speller?

One upon a time, I would have said no. You can’t be a builder if you don’t know how to use a hammer and nails. Words are the building blocks of writing, so if you don’t know how to spell words, you can’t be a writer.

In my previous job, I worked in retail. When the store was quiet, we were allowed to talk to other stores (as long as our own stores were clean etc). I became good friends with the manager of another store, and we would email during our shifts. He was the worst speller I have come across; he spelled phonetically so I would have to say the word aloud in order to understand what he was writing.

As a self-proclaimed spelling Nazi, other people not knowing how to spell really irks me. I consider spelling a simple thing to learn… and here’s where hypocrisy creeps in. I am terrible at numbers. It’s a struggle for me to do simple addition or subtraction in my head. I am one of those cashiers whom you’ve glared at when you’ve given them coins and a note and they stare blankly at it, trying to work out how much change to give. In the course of my job, I became quite good at my 12 times tables, because I was constantly counting in dozens. I knew what change to give out of habit. Whenever we had a price change, it stumped me until I learned the change thanks to what the register was telling me.

It has taken me a lot of years to realise that some people can’t process spelling in their head the way I can’t process addition. And while I can’t see the difficulty in knowing which there/their/they’re to use, a lot of people do. My inability to mentally process numbers happens to others when it comes to words.

However, a writer isn’t just someone who writes. A writer needs to be a storyteller. This is true for all forms of writing: obviously creative writing but also academic writing, technical writing, copywriting. All the “technical” writing forms have to lead the reader to a conclusion, just the same as creative writing.

The uni degree I undertook was Bachelor of Communications. It now encompasses majors like PR and Business Communications, however it is best known for being a degree for journalists. In the very beginning of the Comms degree, budding journos are quickly disillusioned when they realise there’s more essay writing than news writing. Essays are difficult to wrap one’s head around: there is a certain style which needs to be adhered to. With creative writing, you can be, well, creative with style, however academic writing is quite a different beast.

But back to words. A storyteller is the soul of a writer. We desire to tell a story, and tell it well. A writer uses words to express meaning, convey a message, elicit a response from their reader. A writer will search synonyms of words, looking for just the right one to engage their reader into feeling something deep in their own soul.

But it does not matter how you spell that word. As long as you’re a storyteller, you can be a writer. There are people you can pay to fix the technical stuff for you. There are options available for people who want their stories available to the masses, other than traditional publishers. Yes, a writer needs words, but they do not need to know how to spell those words.

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February 11, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to beat Writer’s Block

Writing pad with pen

You’re sitting in front of your notepad or screen, and the words just won’t come. You’ve hit a roadblock. Your characters are waiting to be told what they’re doing, but you just can’t find the inspiration. What now?

Here are my top tips for beating writer’s block and get those creative juices flowing again.

1. Write

Pick up your pen or keyboard, and write. Wait… isn’t that what you’re doing when you realised you’re not getting anywhere? Stay tuned for tip #2.

2. Look to your left

Or look to your right. Pick the first object you see and write the story about that cushion. For example, I have a red cushion to my left. I can write the story of this red cushion. My story will be, it was made by a young woman in China who was paid 3 cents an hour but her family will beat her if she does not work. The cushion was sold to a major department store, where it sat being held by thirty seven people before I paid $43 for it. Tomorrow I shall donate this cushion to an op shop, where it will be bought by a psychologist and fifty people a week will sit on, cuddle or cry into that cushion. Each of those fifty has their own stories to tell.

(I did not actually pay $43 for a cushion, and the tag says it was made in Australia.)

3. Writing prompts

Writing prompts are little sentences you can use to kickstart your writing. They are designed to introduce something happening within your story. At the very least, they serve as a distraction and at the most, they will kickstart a new subplot or character into your story.

Try these for starters.

* The phone rang.

* There was a knock at the door.

* They heard a loud noise outside.

* Water rushed from the kitchen.

* They heard music coming from outside.

These tips will initiate your brain to write. It doesn’t matter if you end up using what you’ve written, the exercise has just served to unlock something in your writing brain in order to write.

Here are some more examples.

* She suddenly saw a hole in her hem. (Did someone else wear her dress? Did she catch the hem while skirting out a window? Was it torn during a sexual assault? Is the dress hers?)

*Their attention was caught by someone’s shadow falling across them.

* A beautiful daydream came to life before their eyes.

* “Did you see/hear that?”

* a wayward puppy ran across their path.

* An invitation arrives in the mail.

I recommend writing a list of your own prompts, at least 10-20. When you’re feeling stuck, randomly pick one prompt and start writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to add to the story, it will just get your mind and fingers into the rhythm of writing. The beauty of this is, you’re free to change, edit or delete as you see fit.

4. Take a break

I know, I know… I did say “write” as my top tip. However, if you’ve been writing for a while and you’re just feeling stuck, take a break and go outside for five minutes. Make a coffee, eat a biscuit, hang up some washing. Do something else so that your mind relaxes and you’ll find ideas will pop up. If you’re feeling sluggish, eat a piece of fruit or a couple of lollies (lollies contain glucose, which is a vital sugar your brain needs to function. Seriously).

So there you have it, folks. My top tips for breaking that writer’s block.

October 4, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Not Enough

I’ve just found my new favourite book: Story by Robert McKee. I’d like to say I came across this gem while poring over wares in a secondhand book store, with the powdery, sweet smell of old pages caressing my nostrils as I search for literary perfection. Truth is, I bought it from eBay as textbook for my unit next semester. 

I’ve never been so excited to read a textbook. Since Monday, the book has been teasing me, willing me to open it and absorb wisdom. This morning, I relented. I sat in the winter sunshine with a highlighter and let my brain absorb the awe. 

I’ve said many times that you don’t need to be a great writer to be a successful one. Judging by the shit movies that Hollywood churns out year after year, you don’t even have to have an original story. This book argues that the only thing you need is creativity. You don’t have to be a good speller (I disagree), but you do need a story. Not just an observational journey, but a deep understanding or questioning of Truth. That Truth can be anywhere: slice-of-life, fantasy, anthropomorphic animals… This Truth is what drives humans and enriches lives, both of the characters and the audience. 

I’ve discovered I’ve made a novice mistake: relying solely on experience the work of others who inspire me. Instead, I should be learning my craft (which, incidentally, is why I disagree that a good writer can be a bad speller. You can’t be a good builder if you can’t use a hammer). 

This is probably the first of many posts in which lightbulbs flash over my head as I learn to set creativity free instead of keeping it rigid and locked in a cage along with everything I have ever read. 

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I want to be a writer

This post was inspired by my friend Devin’s blog. She outlines specific moments in her life leading to the moment she knew she was a writer.

The question every kid gets is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer depended on how I was feeling that day. Truthfully though, I had no idea. I knew I liked writing and I worked on trying to get better. In the fifth grade, if we finished our work early, we could use the extra time to write a story which would be hung on the back wall for everyone to read. I only had a couple of stories there; I always took too long in finishing my work.

In high school, we had a writer in residence but I’d been sick the day of registration so I missed the opportunity to bask in his wisdom (as it happens, I can’t even remember who it was!) During this time, we got our very first home computer (complete with a whopping 25mb of RAM!). My sister and I had a writing challenge: we’d give each other the first sentence and you’d have to write as much as you can in 15 minutes. Some of those stories were priceless, but are now sadly lost to the mists of time.

As an adult, I told people I wanted to be a writer. I had various stories and ideas saved to the computer but was too shy to let anyone read them.

Then it happened: One day, I was at a seminar and met a copywriter. I’d been doing this for years in various jobs with no idea it was a job of its own! I signed up, did the course and started writing my little heart out. Herein lies the biggest secret: In the course, the first piece of advice was to tell people you’re a copywriter because you never know where it will lead and it’s often your immediate friends and family who give you your first jobs. Whereas I’d always thought “I want to be a writer”, I’d forgotten that I already was. Now, when people say to me “I want to be a writer”, I ask, “How will you know when you are one?” Often, their answer is, “When I’m published”. My reply: “Don’t you need to write something in order to be published? So yes, you’re already a writer!”

Being a published author is a journey, being a writer isn’t. I know people who are great storytellers but not good writers, and I know of successful writers who are rubbish storytellers.

 

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment