The First Draft vs. Grammarly

As I began my journey of writing, I fell hook, line and sinker for the ultimate advertising ploy. Grammarly had picked up on my algorithms and slowly, subtly plugged away at me through sidebar ads, facebook and even my Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran Youtube playlist (no judging, please… I bet you have some secrets in your playlist… Maybe a bit of Take That, Mariah, even Biebs?)

So, in the naive rookie mindset that I was in, I convinced myself that I needed every tool in the world and not just talent and an idea to make me a writer, I went to the website with gay abandon and signed up. Because on payday, what else do you do? It wasn’t a new pair of shoes, a bottle of gin, no I was improving myself! I harped onto my husband that I was investing in myself. Cue the “yes, dear” right here.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a case of buyers remorse, more so the case of the old adage –

“You need to walk before you can run”

So for every few words I wrote, she sat over my right shoulder almost like the devil dictating. The only difference being is that there was no angel on the left shoulder. Since the initial purchase of Grammarly, I have accumulated a hard drive load of some first and second chapters, unfinished short stories and the odd poem – still in draft mode. Yes, you are seeing a pattern. A LOT OF UNFINISHED WORK. The ideas flow for the first thousand or so words, then I am distracted. The sidebar is pointing right at me with her stern index finger. Just like that teacher who worked a decade too long. Old, cross and determined that she is right and you are wrong. A list of faults that require “critical attention” are highlighted and just like that, the idea runs away, right alongside my confidence.

On the flipside though, I believe Grammarly feels as though she is my cheerleader. A weekly email blast about how well I’m doing compared to between 70% – 97% of other Grammarly users should bring me back on board, but truth be known it hasn’t. The programme and the email seem to have a very Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde persona.

You see, it’s taken me until today to think about how many very successful authors have written without anything more than a paper and pen, typewriter or computer. The answer is – hundreds, thousands. I bet Jane Austin, Ernest Hemingway and co are just sitting up in the silver city pulling the absolute mickey out of people just like me.

On an ordinary day, I would never consider myself a fool. I don’t always need everything brand new, my car is nine years old and my computer – God love her – is only a year or so newer and both are still in great working order, touch wood! But, naivety definitely got the best of me here (even as Grammarly is actively correcting this post – I have to get my money worth!).

It may come to chalking it up to a new year, or possibly the life-changing events of 2018 but I have to say, I confronted my devil this week. I chose not to listen to her. Well, maybe not completely. But as I have been told by more than one person –

“The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

So, what did I do you ask? I looked at her differently. Not as a tormentor, more so as a mentor. I took what advice she provided that suited me and discarded the rest. Yes, I know she can’t provide that filter, she isn’t programmed to deviate, but I AM. As I write this blog, my current manuscript (a romance novel) of 12,819 words has 59 critical issues. I plan to at this stage to only address 10% of these at most. My story is flowing and I am happy. I’ve written more this week than I have in the last six months or so.

I am filled with pride and a new determination. I’m really excited to see what I can do in 2019. Not just by myself, but with my new pal, Grammarly.

 

 

 

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AFL: Aggression Breeding Aggression. How do we move forward?

On the weekend the Western Derby was marred by a disappointing punch that left the jaw of rookie Andrew Brayshaw broken. A punch that reopened wounds the AFL thought were healed and closed with the retirement of Barry Hall, Dean Solomon, Greg Williams and company.

The immediate outcome of the punch on the game was that some players chose revenge. Immediately, aggression bred aggression. Melees started like spot fires around the ground, disrupting the remainder of the game. Jumper shoves, pushing and harsh words were exchanged between teams. Football fans across the country were up in arms with nasty vitriol immediately filled social media, creating trends within minutes.

This is where we see the spill on effect. From the top to the bottom, professionals to grassroots. This week a thirteen-year-old girl in Perth is facing court on assault charges stemming from an incident at a junior football game. Over the years, there have been countless situations of abuse toward umpires, on-field brawls and other violent behaviours at all levels, across all codes.

This begs the question. How do we break the cycle? As an individual, team member and valued contributor to our community, how can we work on changing behaviours? We are allowed to be angry and disappointed because people we put on pedestals make dangerous mistakes and prove themselves human, how we choose to express this is our choice. How we chose to inflict this on others is on us.

Fan or not of Andrew Gaff, before Sunday most football fans had no reason to have an extreme view of him. He had a reputation for great talent and sportsmanship. A poster-child of role models for our children. It is players with these reputations who we hope our children emulate on the field.

We can not forget, we are also role models. Regardless of being a parent or not, we influence others by our own behaviour. This event needs to be the catalyst for change by all of us, not just the league. We need to be responsible for redirecting our passions for good. Changing the conversation and leading by example. Children need to understand the cause and effect of their actions on the field. The same way they are taught to read the passage of play, they need to understand the signs in their own mind and body that triggers reactions.

Sportsmanship can’t just be seen as a handshake and “Hip, Hip, Hooray” at the end of the game. It is learning from losses and developing a compassion and empathy for the opposition when celebrating victories. This shouldn’t just lie on the shoulders of the volunteers who coach, manage and run our sports clubs. This should come from everyone who sits on the sidelines watching a game. Think of your season fees as a financial commitment to the cause.

The AFL and other codes at professional levels are in a pickle. Light aggression in the form of niggling is seen as acceptable. Tackling is a requirement of the sport. But there is a line in the sand that is crossed more often than not. After all, it is what keeps the tribunal in business. Authorities need to look deeper than handing out suspensions. The need lies in working on prevention.

We do not live in Utopia and we would be kidding ourselves to believe it will ever fully go away. The blend of testosterone, endorphins and the desire to win has a different effect on every player on the ground on any given day. Maybe though, if players are educated in the psychology behind the aggression, then sent out to educate the community on this, the more of a mantra it becomes for them, the more astute to it they will become when playing.

 

 

How coffee saved my writing…

For what feels like an eternity – in reality, it has just been a few months or so – my muse has chosen to up and leave. No FOR LEASE sign, no BE RIGHT BACK sticky note on the front door, nothing! I couldn’t even find her passport to get an insight as to where the greener pastures might be. I was well and truly out to sea.

With cautious hope, I would sit time after time, staring at the cursor blinking furiously on a document. It would taunt me until I deflatedly sighed and hit the little “x” button in the top right corner. Seeking comfort for the repetitive disappointment, I would turn to the words of others, devouring books in the desperate hope that she may be lost among the pages, waiting for me to rescue her.

Quite obviously during this time, I have struggled with all my creative energy – trigger writing at KWC, blogging and my novel. Even my cooking is nowhere near my usual standard –  soft Anzac biscuits are just not worth dunking in a cuppa. In fact, I’ve been petrified to even visit my written world without Muse holding my hand.

Today is the day. The day I will change this. Rather than searching for her, I will leave the front door unlocked and the light on over the welcome mat.  My muse is not a solid tangible thing – she grows, matures and develops with me. Teaching me and guiding me to think better, write better, to read more and learn more.

In the same way that we gain or lose weight, colour our hair or bronze our skin, I know she will look and feel different when she comes back to me. I will know when she is home. In fact, as I am sitting here pouring words on to the screen, I know she cannot be far away.

Along with this change in tune, I owe a big thank you to Jerry Seinfeld. I have realised that as a writer I am merely the key, opening the door for readers to enjoy this world. This epiphany came while I was watching an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. He explained to Michael Richards that as comedians, it is not their job to be selfish, they will succeed by being selfless. At the end of the day, it is how the audience feels that matters the most.

With this perspective, I have been able to sit back and look at my story, understanding what I could not see before. My world may not become what I intended it to be. With Muse’s absence, I have been nervous to let the characters come to life themselves, tell their story, weave their own tapestry and not necessarily to follow the path I planned.

I am using the loss of my muse as a learning curve. An opportunity to grow. It is phenomenal how the power of nerves and fear of failure and the unknown can rule us, drive our creativity away and plant the weedy seed of self-doubt. Nurturing it until our greatest and most unique ally even runs for the hills. But brick by brick, I will remove the doubt and build my self-confidence up again. After all, who else can bring this tale to life? No-one! On the advice of my friend Marie, I will be conscientious about looking at my story more frequently, investing in it, whether it be 100 words or 1000. Every sentence will count, whether it ends up in print or gets lost through the drafting and editing phase. I will allow the characters to shine in their own ways and go with the flow.

As a planner who can now see merits in ‘pantsing’, the saying “The best-laid plans of mice and men”, has proven to be most apt on this journey so far. There are many things I can not control, I can only control the way I react to them. From now on, I won’t hide behind Muse’s skirt, instead, upon her return, she will be a beacon for me, shining the light in directions I may least expect.

 

 

 

 

Dear Dolly

I set up this blog as a journal to chronicle my writing progress. What I know as critical when writing, is that it needs to come from the heart. From what we know, believe and feel. The work is to be a genuine representation of the writer. Today, I have felt the urge to write my first opinion piece/ open letter.

***

Not much in the news these days effects me, which is a little worrisome about how immune we are becoming. Recently, Amy “Dolly” Everett felt driven to take her own life to escape bullying. Sadly, she was not the first, nor will she be the last person to do this. As a nation, we are all mourning the face of innocence.

Due to brief fame as a child model for an iconic Australian brand, her story has been a spotlight, shining on the ugly side of human nature. Showcasing what, as people (and even more terrifyingly, children), we are capable of doing to others with the power of words.

As with any tragedy that becomes front page news, many more victims come forward with their stories. Parents forced into the unenviable position of keeping their child’s memory alive and valuable, other survivors perennially affected by the slurs against them. Each one of these stories holds the same tremendous weight, and I’m inclined to think, that if Dolly or any other victim was able to have a conversation with another in person in the same boat, knowing they were not alone, it might have given a little hope.

Solutions ranging from banning or limiting the access children have to their social media accounts, to criminal charges have been raised across different conversations and debates. The problem with such solutions is that bullying is not new, nor is it a one-track course.

I think back to my teenage years with mixed emotions. I was the stereotypical pubescent gawky brace-face. Hormones raging a million miles an hour, my ignorant and naive brain stuck stubbornly in second gear. I remember at 12-years-old being called a “cold frigid dork” among other insults, some of which I didn’t understand. I wasn’t of an age where I should comprehend the meaning. While I wasn’t relentlessly tormented, the fact I remember the words 23 years later, shows they had an effect. I also remember picking on a future friend for wearing a matching tracksuit from K-mart. I’m glad he was the forgiving type. I’m estimating that we have all been on both sides of the bullying fence at one point in time or another, to varying degrees.

One particular memory came to the surface as I read Dolly’s story. “Dear Dolly Doctor”. For the last two days, the more I think about this agony Aunt column, the more I realised it wasn’t just an advice column. It was a platform, developed by adults, highlighting the physical insecurities of teenagers for other teenagers to have a laugh at. If we weren’t secretly relieved that someone else was going through the same embarrassing quirk, we were picking on them for sharing their issue so publicly.

Platforms will always exist. The internet, radio, print media, notice boards, the list goes on. If it is not one of these that will be used, it is another. The issue lies in our mindset. Kids are being forced to grow much faster than their mind and body can deal with. They are exposed to so much more adult content than we were at the same age. The problem is that their growth isn’t operating at the same pace.

Internally, they are just that – Juveniles. Children. Their coping mechanisms are still developing. Young children and teenagers alike lash out or tantrum over the smallest thing. That is just the tip of the iceberg of what they deal with. As parents and adults over 30, we can’t pretend to understand all of it. Our childhoods were less complex, we could switch off at home, a luxury that this generation doesn’t get.

In a world that runs at such a fast pace, we do not educate our children on how to be aware. Creating an understanding and awareness beyond what they see. Despite knowing what is right and wrong, a teenager is not likely to understand the long-term gravity of their actions or words, without seeing it play out. That for every action, there is a reaction (not always equal and opposite). They won’t understand until it is too late. When words can’t be taken back, and forgiveness is much harder to give.

More alarmingly, we live in an era of minimal responsibility, a period where there is someone else to blame. Ironically, it is also a time where individuality is celebrated and equal rights are evolving, yet we still have this need to be followers.

There are many ways we can generate awareness. Education is the foundation for this much-needed change. I read not long ago of a school from a very rough area in America that changed their detention programme to a meditation hour. Detention rates plummetted, with the environment at the school becoming a much more balanced and harmonious.

Every person is entitled to feel the emotions they feel, wherever that emotion lies on the spectrum. What we are not allowed to do is crush someone else with that feeling. There is an old adage that remains apt to communication breakdowns, “Presentation is 9/10 of the law”. If we teach children how to deliver their message and know the potential consequence of the delivery, issues can be resolved with more diplomatically. We could learn how to navigate these formative years and create a generation of accountable, empathetic, forgiving and inspiring adults.

Dear Dolly, I am deeply saddened by your story and can not begin to fathom what your family are going through. I am sorry you don’t get to grow into a beautiful woman with a capability of changing the world. I sincerely hope that people see your gorgeous smile in their mind before they think to act negatively toward others in the future. I hope you are at peace, free from the burdens you were too young to carry. As a mother, I endeavour to raise my son to be aware of others and the power of his words.

***

Be kind to one another. It is free and can be given with abundance, without effort. The more kind we become, the richer we become. We do not know what our fellow man is going through and a kind word or act can change a bad day.

 

 

 

 

Pen to paper, what am I capable of this year?

With a New Year comes all the promises and pressures on how to make ourselves better people, whether physically, financially or emotionally. After tipping the scales at the heaviest (and most unhealthy) I have ever been and reflecting on the challenges 2017 served me, I have commenced those changes toward physical health with the ultimate secret weapon.

FORGIVENESS.

Forgiveness of myself, an understanding that I am human. Rather than giving up upon my first failure, I will dust myself off and keep going. Not going back to square one, just get up and rejoin the race. The beauty being, upon reflection I can give myself forgiveness freely, creating a great relief. All of which contribute to saving my sanity and reducing my stress levels.

Now armed with my secret weapon, I’m sitting down and working out my writing endeavours for the year. You may be thinking, 9 days after the fact is late, but, I haven’t had time to sit in front of a blank document, curser teasing me to bring the page to life, let alone have a hot cuppa. The curse of school holidays and a lack of routine!

Nanowrimo comes at the wrong time of the year in my household. November is always a month where I need an extra hour or two each day. So, working on the principals of Nanowrimo, I am going to plan my year ahead. I have the colour-coded template of my weekly planner sorted, accommodating all necessary commitments and most importantly my writing.

Each week I will set a reasonable word count goal (between 1500 – 3000), depending on my creativity and the project I am currently working on. While my novel will remain my priority, sometimes the distraction of a short story, poem or competition entry is just what I need to recharge the brain-cells.

Either way, I look forward to approaching my work with a healthier, open mindset. Now that my writer’s block is a somewhat distant memory, I won’t be too critical of myself or take advantage of File 13 when it doesn’t seem to work. A published author once told me that the first draft is getting the idea out there as a whole, scraping the barrel with all the standard cliches and crap. The second and subsequent drafts are where you sculpt the masterpiece. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

 

 

Breaking The Dreaded Block

Over the last couple of months, I have felt blocked in every conceivable way. It took a rather everyday situation for me to realise this. Until that moment, I had not realised that I was blocked. I had not noticed my lack of writing, nor the delay to work from a trigger at my weekly Writers’ Club meeting. Not to mention, my inability to log a post here!

One Sunday night, I cracked. Yes, I blew up at my family during dinner time over something as mundane as my son not using his fork to eat. I let fly, stood up and walked toward the front door. I was not coping with this simple challenge. My husband put the icing on my proverbial cake by saying, “Take the dog for a walk, while you are at it.”

In haste I grabbed the lead and went about blowing off steam by treading the pavement. I love my dog dearly. He is a soul that grounds me, amuses me and adores us all with equal measure. But, he is a challenge to walk. He can be quite the grumpy old timer. The leash is his arch nemesis that he greets with an ironic glee. He lets every dog and his man know that he isn’t happy with the confinement. So I usually prefer to take the path not travelled by our fellow furry friends and their humans. It makes it a much more pleasant experience for the both of us.

On this non-descript Sunday night, the epiphany came after I realised we had walked in the pattern of an asterisk. No, not a star. I kept backtracking to my start point to go in a different direction to avoid human, and more importantly, canine contact. Stop, start. Stop, Start. Talk about living the definition of driving oneself crazy. Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results.

So there it was  – ultimate blockage. Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. On every level, I was experiencing a block of one sort or another. Now comes the question… How do I unblock? Can I force it or do I allow the blockage to release in its own time? I am known in certain circles for my strong will and stubbornness. So forcing the issue was clearly not an option. Did I have the patience to allow it to take its own course? Yes, it was a learning curve, but I discovered, yes I did! Points to me… Pat on the back, I did it!

I had the near patience of a Saint (by my standards) but knew that if I believed it could, it would come back. It took an in-house writing competition, of a genre out of my comfort zone, but here I am today, writing! It really is amazing how you put a belief into the universe, it comes back to you.

I pushed myself to write a thriller (in 600 words or less) and I did. Before entering, I sent the story to my family to read. Responses such as disturbing and gripping, pleased me no end! As I saw the judgements come through from my peers, I was proud. I didn’t win (I finished 5th place among 13 entries), but I knew I was back in the game!

Until today, I felt that it was my biggest writing achievement. Being judged by your peers (most more experienced than I), is both terrifying and gratifying. Most importantly, character building.

Today I completed what I thought was merely a pipe dream. I completed a piece of writing that I will be paid for. Yes, money in MY bank for writing! A 200-word profile for a website. Published and paid. I am beyond ecstatic. But more importantly grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to test and tune my abilities. Where it goes from here, I don’t know. I only hope, up! Did you hear that, universe?

I sit here today, humbled by both an epiphany and an opportunity. I am both excited and willing to learn. I look forward to what my writing future holds for me, from here in. I look forward to sitting in front of Scrivener once more and seeing what the future holds.

The Best Of Adam Sharp – Review

A friend of mine recently spoke to me regarding the benefits of publishing book reviews. I wasn’t sure it was an avenue I was ready to explore yet as my preference has been to concentrate on the evolution of my own writing. All that changed this afternoon after I finished reading Graeme Simsion’s The Best Of Adam Sharp.

I’ll take you back a couple of weeks to put this in perspective. After reading an excerpt of my draft at Writers Club, a common concern was my use of music through the passage. Was I using too many lyrics? How else could I incorporate the music to not rely on lyrics to assist the story, but still create the emotions songs can evoke in us?

During this feedback session, it was suggested I read The Best Of Adam Sharp for inspiration. So, the following week I left our next session book in hand ready to be inspired. Did it hit? Absolutely, for more reasons than I expected.

Graeme Simsion has effortlessly managed to weave timeless hits throughout this story. The likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Adele, etc. create a nostalgic ambience and perfect flow to this love story.

The reader can easily find themselves sitting at a dark bar in Melbourne watching pianist Adam Sharp warm his audience with crowd favourites. We are also the fly on the wall of his “man cave” in Norwich as he navigates feelings for an old flame through modern technology.

Aside from the brilliant soundtrack (a playlist published at the end of the book is available on Spotify), what unexpectedly captivated me was the perfect balance of simplicity and complexity in the love story he created. In spite of Adam being the more emotionally charged character in his long-term relationship, Simsion cleverly keeps his leading man a reserved Brit in a story that could have easily swayed to its female readership by making him a more overtly gushy character.

The intensity and dynamics of his rekindled relationship with Angelina, paired with the presence of her husband Charlie, creates a suspense for the reader, that sits in contrast to the laid-back pace of the French village their holiday is set in.

This is a real page-turner that you can effortlessly immerse yourself in. I spent the rest of my afternoon reliving the story through songs such as Hey Jude, Brown Eyed Girl, Both Sides Now and other favourites, not able to think of a thing I would change about it.