Writer’s Block

No wonder I’m having trouble putting pen to paper, or bum on seat. Here in tropical Darwin a strange soporific haze hangs over me, and what seemed once imperative now gets relegated to the ‘maybe later’ pile. Somehow the joyful and terrifying task of writing recedes into dreamland. You might think this is a good thing, drifting around in Lotus Land, […]

Read More →

Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg on the Basics of Writing Practice Many years ago, when I first had the courage to try writing, I came across the wonderful Natalie Goldberg’s book, ‘Writing Down the Bones’. Until then I’d always thought my writing had to be perfect, with impeccable grammar, sentence structure, and so on. But no – according to Natalie, the secret of writing is to just let yourself go, forget rules and regulations, and silence the censor in your head. After having written one novel and started another, I still have trouble turning off the critic. It’s a lifelong habit of those of us whose school compositions were judged on form rather than content. But Natalie gave me these liberating strategies for creative writing, and they may help you too. Here are some edited extracts from ‘Writing Down the Bones’: ‘The aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel. You must be a great warrior when you contact on first thoughts and write from them. Especially at the beginning you may feel great emotions and energy that will sweep you away, but you don’t stop writing. Your internal editor might be saying: “You are a jerk, whoever said you could write, I hate your work, you suck, I’m […]

Read More →

The Art of Forgiveness – and Writing

  The words of author Ann Patchett  are both an inspiration, and a warning, to those of us for whom writing is a passion, and who believe it’s a gift, rather than a craft which needs to be practiced to perfection. Here she explains the importance of forgiveness and acceptance in our quest for perfection: I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself. Patchett pokes at the strange logic by which we exempt writing from the beliefs and standards to which we hold other crafts: Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration? Chances are, any child who stays with an instrument for more than two weeks has some adult making her practice, and any child who sticks with it longer than that does so because she understands that practice makes her play better and that there is a deep, soul-satisfying pleasure in improvement. If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion, […]

Read More →

How to Critique Others

  Helen Garner, in ‘Making Stories’ by Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe, Allen & Unwin, 1993, writes: ‘You’ve got two selves I think. One of them is the deep one that can do the work, and the other one is constantly discouraging you and saying: ‘oh come off it, who do you think you are?’Some days when you feel like this you just have to keep on. Some days I look at what I’m doing and I think: this is pathetic. How can I have thought this was any good? Some days it’s so awful I have to put my pen down and lie on the bed. I feel I’m going to be exposed. Other days you start a paragraph and suddenly out it comes, all these ideas streaming out of you and you can hardly keep up.’ In her accomplished essay on Helen Garner’s ‘Cosmo Cosmolino’, published in the Sydney Review of Books, Tegan Bennett Daylight has this to say about the dangers of too much technical analysis when critiqueing our own and others’ writing: ‘We all grow our own methods from our own practice and our own personalities, but I’d say there’s a general consensus among us, and it’s this: simply, that less is more. Too many instructions, too many fussy little exercises about point of view and tense and conflict and character are likely to break the heart of the real writer, who is writing from an […]

Read More →

Report from the Sydney Writers’ Festival

Diabolical Persistence is the key to successful writing, according to editor and writer Craig Munro, who gave a highly entertaining address at the SydneyWriters’ Festival which I was fortunate to attend. Over his long career as an editor for UQP, Craig honed the works of Peter Carey, David Malouf, and other literary luminaries. He’s now written his own book, ‘Under Cover’, […]

Read More →

Ferrante Fever

The Neapolitan Novels: what’s all the fuss about? I’m into the third of the quadrilogy by this mysterious writer, and finding it repetitive, clichéd, and, to be honest, boring. It seems to me  standard chick-lit dressed up with some social history.  Apart from being set mostly in Naples from the fifties to the present time, these novels differ little from standard soap opera fare. I admit to feeling disappointed with the endless detailed descriptions of Lenu’s and Lila’s every mood, move and thought. The plot moves slowly, ever so slowly, which to me is rarely a problem as long as the novel brings to life characters with whom I can identify and care about. I’m afraid this is not the case here. I’ve listened to a talk by a Professor of Italian Literature, who praised the book for its scope and honesty. I asked her about the translation: was it true to the text? Yes, she assured me, Ann Goldstein is a consummate narrator, mirroring the author’s original Italian as closely as possible. So one can’t blame the translator for the slow pace, romantic clichés, and unnecessarily complicated cast list. Ferrante (not his/her real name) writes under  a psoudonym ‘to protect her family’s privacy and ward off her inner censor’. (London Review of Books, 8 January 2015). In one of the author’s rare statements, she/he says that personal publicity would defeat the aim of hr novels, which unlike today’s fraught attempts […]

Read More →