The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

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.

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

Inheritance – A Short Story

Stock photo casket funeral

Inheritance

It was too hot for a March morning. I stood back from the crowd, respectful of the mourners and wondering why I was even here. I recognised his family from photos: parents, brother, sister, grandparents.

“He’s too young to die,” wailed a female voice. I choked back a sob.

Soon, the doors to the chapel opened and people started filing inside. I chose a pew fifth from the front, away from his family and close friends. A blonde woman strode confidently down the aisle, flicking her long ponytail as she walked. She was taller than everyone else there, even without the stilettos.

“That’s his girlfriend,” someone behind me said. Of course she was, I thought, rolling my eyes.

A man pointed to the seat next to me. “Is this seat taken?”

“No,” I answered, the words caught. I cleared my throat and answered again.

He sat down, his weight squeaking the pew. He offered his hand. “Sam. I’ve known Dan from high school.”

”Emily,” I replied politely, offering no explanation as to my relationship with the deceased.

The deceased. I sighed, trying to get my head around the fact that he was dead. As the music started for the first hymn, I dropped the program onto the floor, grateful for an excuse for the blood rushing to my head.

“He’d have hated this,” he grinned.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Cremation was always his thing. He wanted to be burned and the ashes buried in a time capsule.” Sam laughed. “Never thought the bastard would be the first to die though.”

I bit my tongue. He was well aware he could die young. His remaining kidney couldn’t hold out forever.

At the graveside service, his father and sister spoke and the minister spoke about how the body may be dead but the spirit lives on. As the heat belted down, I pulled out the funeral program and fanned myself with it, wishing I’d brought a bottle of water. Movement to my right caught my eye: a group of women moving as one walked towards the gravesite, holding back from the main mourners.

As the service closed and the casket was lowered, fresh wailing from Dan’s mother could be heard throughout the cemetery. Her husband held her as she cried, while her remaining children held hands and sang a low tune I couldn’t quite hear.

“You’re invited into the wake room for tea and sandwiches,” announced the minister.

‘This should be interesting,” Sam said, raising his eyebrows.

Inside, I stood by the door with a triangle of sandwich in a paper napkin, happy to be observing. Sam was talking to Dan’s brother, chuckling over school shenanigans only the two of them remembered. The tall blonde was standing alone, her eye on the suspicious group of women who had wandered into the graveside service. I was so busy watching the blonde that I didn’t see the group of women moving towards me.

“Who are you, then?” A short brunette stood before me, one hand on her hip. Her hair was pulled into a high, tight ponytail. Her tight black dress was completely inappropriate for a funeral, showing off her voluptuous bosom. Her makeup was bright and heavily applied. She cracked gum in her mouth.

“Excuse me?”

”I thought I knew all Dan’s girls, but I don’t know you.”

I smiled, part amused, part pissed off. “Emily,” I said. “We broke up only about six weeks ago.”

The woman who spoke grinned. “That explains it then. She’s only new,” she said to the others in the group. The ladies tittered among themselves, making me feel quite uncomfortable at being blasted into a spotlight.

“Come join us,” another said. “We’re like the ghosts of girlfriends past. We all dated him, many at the same time,” she said with a sly grin.

“Quite the ladies’ man,” I agreed with a sigh.

“Anyway, this is Susanne, Angela, Mollie, Tina, Christina, Tammy, Sara, Hannah, Liz and I’m Lou,” said the lead woman. “There are others, but they thought it was inappropriate to come.”

”Who’s the blonde? I heard she was his current girlfriend.”

Lou nodded. “I think her name is Erin? Stephanie? Maybe Jessica?” she shrugged. The others laughed. “She’s not interested in us. She thought she’d be the last love, the one who finally tamed him. Joke’s on her, he’s been cheating on her for the past six months.”

Yep, I thought. I knew I wasn’t the only one although he denied everything. He’d told me his cheating days were over, he was only interested in me. Fuck him.

“Anyway,” Lou continued. “You’re welcome to hang out with us. We know what Dan was like, we just laugh about it.”

”Sure, that sounds fun. So uh, why are you guys here?”

Another answered; I think it was Tammy. “Same as you. We all loved him and thought we have just as much right to be here as anyone else.”

“Makes sense,” I replied, knowing that was exactly the reason I was there and hating myself for still being a little bit in love with the lying bastard.

Lou and the girls stayed for around an hour, chatting among ourselves and basically. ignoring everyone else. I’d even forgotten about the tall blonde. As we left, they all kissed each other on the cheek and reminded each other about the meetup in a fortnight at their favourite cafe.

“You actually hang out together?” I laughed.

“Of course!” Lou replied. “We swap stories, talk about his dick and the things he says to himself in the middle of doing it. I’m sure you’ve got stories too. Come join us!”

”Yeah… that’s not weird at all,” I answered.

Lou shrugged. “Up to you. Here’s my number,” she said, handing me a business card, “and you can call if you want.” Lou Parker, Senior accountant. Impressive.

I dialled her number into my phone and called. Lou’s phone rang, with a Nicki Minaj song as her ringtone. She fumbled in her oversized handbag but I stopped the call before she found it.

“Now you have my number too,” I said as I clicked open my car and crawled inside, glad the whole ordeal was finally over. The girls waved as I drove out of the carpark.

Two weeks later, Lou called me. I assumed she wanted to remind me about the Girlfriends’ Meetup.

“Hey hun,” she said cheerily. “Just thought I’d let you know, Dan left us all a parting gift. You gotta get yourself checked for chlamydia.”

September 10, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a comment

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grief

daisy (reduced)
Image by grief.org.au

Grief sucks. It’s a natural response to loss, most often triggered by death of a loved one (person or pet).

I’ve had a project in mind for quite some time. Several years ago, a friend lost her child to cancer and something she said at the time has stuck with me: I just wish people would say something. By keeping silent, she felt people were not validating her loss.

Although she has a lot of friends on and offline, she felt few of them reached out to her to offer condolences. People just don’t know what to say, especially when the loss is too horrible to comprehend.

Since then, I’ve wanted to write a book about dealing with grieving people. There’s tons of information, books, and websites about how to deal with grief, but not about what to say to grieving people. Grief is something that happens to all of us – why is it so hard to find something to say? Obviously, nothing is going to make the grief suddenly go away, but people generally find comfort in others.

To get started on this project, I’ve devised a survey. It’s a series of questions about events that trigger grief and how you felt when people did or didn’t respond. The survey takes around 20 minutes depending on the detail of your answers: I’m ever so grateful for as much detail as possible. There’s no identifying information, unless you’ve already told me the circumstances of the tragedy. Otherwise, I have no idea who wrote what. Individual answers may be included in the book.

If you’d like to participate, please follow the link: https://surveyhero.com/c/8bf2609.

Much love to you, and I am sorry for your loss.

 

 

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June 21, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

March

Yikes! Where did March go?

Yes, I’m a little behind in this month’s story. In fact, I only started it today despite thinking about it all last month.

This story started out differently. It was to tell the story of Stepsi and four friends with a twist at the end (I love twists). Instead, it evolved into exploring the relationship between Stepsi and her mother, also with a twist at the end.

Stepsi was originally a young woman around twenty, but she’s now six years old. She sees and communicates with ghosts, and her mother doesn’t believe her. Six is far too old to be making up stories about people who don’t exist. (Personally, I think this means Stepsi is going to grow up to be a writer…)

Stepsi’s name has been in my head for a while. I’m not sure where it came from but the seeds of it probably came from mishearing a word, or possibly from early ads for this season of MKR in which Hazel and Lisa, stepmother and stepdaughter, were referred to as Stepsies. Either way, Stepsi is unique.

Kids’ imaginations often run wild and for some reason, adults tend to quash them. Whether Stepsi is actually seeing ghosts or not, the issue is her mother, who fights to normalise her daughter. In my mind, this “normalisation” is the issue, not the supernatural. What is normal? Why are we quashing imaginations? Who decided that kids need to conform to the rigidity of adult life? What’s wrong with imagination? For that matter, what’s so wrong about talking to the dead?

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , | Leave a comment

February 2016

February’s story doesn’t have a title yet. Its working title is the uncreative Valentine’s Day and is essentially a love letter to my sixteen year old self.

February is full of love and retail. Just this morning, I walked past several jewellery stores proclaiming love is best said with diamonds. One 1ct diamond ring was $1799 reduced to $799. Makes me wonder if the ring was originally 2ct and one fell out.

These days, I don’t do anything for Valentine’s Day. I tell my boyfriend every day that I love and appreciate him. Plus I really don’t want an oversized stuffed gorilla holding a heart. Once upon a time, in the days before I’d ever had a boyfriend, Valentine’s Day was important. It showed the world that someone cared about me and I cared about them too. It was a day to celebrate our love with cards and roses and chocolates and a nice kiss. It was a day to say goodbye to being single and revel in the warm, gooey feelings of having a boyfriend.

Valentine’s Day represented everything my sixteen year old self wanted. This short story is an amalgamation of all those teenage thoughts and feelings, the desire to tell my crush I loved him but avoiding the public embarrassment should anyone find out. The boy-crush of this story is also a combination of high school boys I had a crush on, with added extra bits of awesome thrown in. He represents everything I wanted in a teenage boyfriend, along with dreams of our future life together.

Dear 16 year old self,
You’re so cute. Those guys don’t know what they missed. Wait for someone worthy of you.
Love, yourself in 20 years.

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , | Leave a comment

January 2016

Sometime last month, I decided I would write a short story each month of 2016 with the intention of self-publishing an e-book at the end of the year. No biggie.

Lately I’ve been feeling creatively unfulfilled. I constantly have things running through my head with no outlet. I’m unproductive. I seem to be doing a lot with nothing to show for it except a clean, well-fed baby and not burning my workplace to the ground (accidentally, of course…).

One night as I was driving home from work, I was listening to the radio and singing along (as I often do). Goo Goo Dolls’ 90s hit ‘Slide’ came on. Even though I’ve sung it a thousand times, one lyric caught my attention and I thought I could do something with it. I did. January’s short story is called Slide and I just finished editing it last week. It’s not the most cheery story, it’s not at all autobiographical, I just liked where that one lyric took me.

Slide is a story about desire and where desire can take us. Although I’ve chosen the dark places desire can lead, it can also be a creative force which drives us to do whatever we want, wherever we want to go and end up in the best possible place for ourselves.

I hope these stories showcase life, love and loss in all their gritty, beautiful glories. Don’t worry, February’s story is a lot cheerier!

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a 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

This is What I Know

I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. I’m not a complete idiot, although I act like it sometimes. I make stupid mistakes and I don’t work well with numbers.

There are a lot of things that define me. “What do you do?” Well, I do a lot of things. I’m a blogger, a uni student, a retail worker, team leader, writer and avid watcher of film and TV. Somehow, all people see is one aspect.

I also know that when I get a dickhead customer, I feel the need to defend (and define) myself. One customer said to me today, “Are you still selling doughnuts? You were here when I was last here!” Uh, yeah. This is my job, where else would I be? Some hours later, just before close, I gave someone else what he asked for, but yet I’m the stupid one for not giving him the one he meant.

Today was one of those slow days where I get my actual work done very quickly and I spent the rest of the afternoon in “thinking time”. Today, I thought about stars and galaxies and how they came to be. I have a keen interest in the sciences but I’ll never be a scientist- I’ll need some hardcore maths to get there and I stumble over the simplest equations.

I know I’ll never be an acclaimed writer. I’m not creative enough and I don’t write great prose. I know I’ll never be a great singer because I am completely tone deaf and can’t hold a tune.

What do I know? I know I’m good at my job. I know I’m a good student. I know I’m a good writer. I know people will read this post and think I’m feeling down on myself. I know that my job selling doughnuts has no reflection on who I am and what else I do. I know that what people think doesn’t define me. Above all, I know I’m better than that.

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment