March update

I may be a tiny bit behind on my goal of writing a million words this year, but it’s not out of reach. I’ve written a lot of poems in the past month, and have done some heavy work on world development, characters and the plot for two books in different series. I’m really excited by both series, and took the time to read several books on craft (I recommend Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland).

I’d hoped to have the next book out by the end of this month, but I’m running about three weeks behind. That means an April release for Warden of Storms under my pen name K K Ness. In the past, I’ve felt disappointed or ashamed by publishing delays. This year feels different, where my focus is on developing as an author, focussing on craft, and not worrying so much about deadlines.

It’s feeling good so far.

And following on from my last post, the PDT treatment on my face went really well. Most of the redness receded after ten days, and my skin is now clear and better than it was before. I’m kinda looking forward to the next few rounds of PDT, too. There’s a certain relief in knowing that a medical issue is being dealt with, rather than being left to fester.

So 2019 is shaping up to be a healthful, productive year!

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Cancer and countdowns

Okay, that’s a gloomy heading, and perhaps a bit more dramatic than warranted, but the past few weeks have been more full on than expected.

I’ll start with the cancer. After my last blog post, I went to a skin specialist to have my freckles and moles checked (a necessity when living in Queensland), and discovered that a spot on my back had been misdiagnosed as benign six years ago. A sizeable excision was taken from my back (it now looks like a baby shark decided to take a bite), and the results came back as an aggressive BCC (basal cell carcinoma). While it’s the ‘safest’ type of skin cancer you can get, mine had been squatting there for six years and had grown deep, and is expected to recur. I’m a little bummed by this, as I wasn’t expecting to have skin cancer at 37 years old (or technically at 31), but I’m also pale, freckled and burn rather than tan. Wear sunblock, people!

Day 1 of PDT

Day 1 of PDT: swelling, oozing and pain!

Five days ago, I also underwent PDT (photodynamic therapy) to deal with any cancerous and pre-cancerous cells on my nose and cheeks. It involved having my face sandpapered, a cream put on and left to seep in for three hours, and then being baked under a red light for about 10mins. The heat from the light was so intense I could feel my skin shrivelling, hardening and cracking liky a crusty loaf of bread. It was alarming and super painful even with nerve blockers.

 

My face is now bright red, tender, itchy, oozing and peeling. I won’t know how successful the treatment has been for a few months, and it’s likely I’ll need to go another round, particularly for my scorched nose. In the meantime, I’m hiding in the house because there’s only so much pointing and staring a woman can take.

I’ll say it one more time:

Wear. Sunblock.

As for the countdown…I’m talking about the goal of 1 million words in 2019.

The whole business with my skin has been a bit of a distraction, so I’m feeling a little doubtful about reaching it. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the type of woman I need to be in order to write a million words.

Being someone who writes regularly and a lot is a given, but I don’t think that a million words is possible (or healthy) without coming from a place of enjoyment, capability, and self belief. Like so many writers, I write not because I want to, but because I need to. I feel hollowed out and sad if I don’t write for an extended period of time. Life would be easier if the stories weren’t calling me.

But a million words is the other end of the spectrum. It demands a lot of time and energy and willpower. Setbacks feel big and impossible to overcome (just like the goal itself). And if I approach the goal wrong, it’ll cause burnout. In truth, I’ve spent decades feeling miserable and full of doubt because of my writing. There have been long periods where I forgot how to love being a writer. Some of my bleakest moments have stemmed from the guilt, shame and doubt that burbles up when I sit in front of the laptop. It doesn’t matter that I’ve published three books. I’m very familiar with feeling like a self-indulgent fraud.

So my writing the past few weeks has been around light topics, like poems about my dog and word prompts from one of my favourite books: Theasaurus of the Senses by Linda Hart. I open it to a random page and then write a paragraph, short story or scene involving whatever word leaps out at me.

None of this writing will see the light of day. There’s a lot of pressure on writers to be ‘productive’. Fanciful stories about the coarseness of sand and poetic puffery about dogs kinda misses the mark. But I’ve had fun.

While the next K K Ness book is moving forward and will be out at the end of next month (eep!), reminding myself that I love writing has been the biggest progress toward a million words so far.

Hello Stranger

I haven’t here for a lifetime, but it hasn’t been because of a lack of activity.  Last month, I published my first book under a pen name. To say it’s been a rollercoaster of terror and awesomeness is a wee bit of an understatement. I’ve learnt a lot (but not nearly enough) and can already see some of the mistakes I’ve made as a newbie indie author.

My aim now is to share with everyone the mistakes and missteps I’ve made, and (hopefully) the knowledge I’ve gained as I fumble my way towards long term indie author success.

Bear with me. It’s gonna be bumpy.

The long silence

Yep, it’s been some time since you last heard from me. Not because I haven’t been writing—there’s been lots of revision and writing and outlining new projects—but because it’s been a big year with highs and lows, and sometimes it’s better to turn the focus inwards than express everything to the world.

Right now I’m looking with excitement at cloudy skies. The summer here has already been long; the front yard is scorched to bare, cracked earth, the local river is running dry, and we’ve been on water restrictions for months. But the chances of rain for Christmas are looking pretty good, and for the first time in a decade, all of the family will be together for the festivities.

The start of this year saw me determined to have my writing take centre stage in my life, only for it to be nudged aside in the face of moving interstate, a return to study, changing jobs, a focus on mental health, and the death of an incredible woman, my grandmother. And yet, writing has always been there, burbling in the background, and as I look over my work and my journal, I can see a year of breakthroughs and growth, and maybe just a little bit more confidence.

As the year draws to a close and the inevitable list of writing goals start to emerge for 2016, I ask that you be kind to yourself, be honest about your ability to achieve what you set out to do next year, and remember to exercise—a healthy body leads to a healthy soul and a fruitful, creative mind.

Have a wonderful holiday season and very writerly new year.

I don’t ask for help

Help and support signpost

I was seventeen when I drove my car sideways through a sugarcane field. The fault was all mine—I’d driven too fast around a corner on a dark and wet country road while tired after a long shift at the local fast food restaurant. One small overcorrection left me fishtailing across the road and down the embankment. Then the car bucked and tilted onto two wheels before the 5m high sugarcane suddenly brought everything to a halt, providing a soft, green cushion that gently tumbled the car back onto all fours.

I was fortunate to be alive. The only injury I had was a tiny cut to my cheek courtesy of a cane frond that had come in through the driver’s side window. But in the aftermath, all I could think about was how Mum would yell and offer me a cup of tea, and how Dad would scrub his hands over his face, unable to speak. I knew I’d be teased mercilessly at school, and that my sister and brother would lord it over me with their lovely, undented cars and pristine driving records.

So when the headlights from another car came into view, I did the only thing that made sense—I turned off my lights and hunkered out of sight.

It was only after the car had gone safely past the corner that I thought perhaps I’d made a mistake. Mobile reception didn’t exist in the area and no one knew of my predicament. So I sat there in the dark, contemplating my life choices, until the next car came along almost an hour later and I sheepishly caught a ride home.

I’d like to say that the accident taught me a great life lesson. But I’ll wait until I’m overwhelmed with exhaustion and about to press delete on a year’s worth of writing before I begrudgingly raise my hand.

Because I’m still the kid who’d rather sit in a banged up car in the middle of a sugarcane field than ask for help.

When do you sacrifice passion for production?

I have worked on my redraft for months now, exploring new paths, rewriting old chapters, and discovering new aspects of myself in the process. I have done my best to show up and write as often as possible and to commit to lofty goals that will one day hopefully see me as a full time writer.

And yet, when I read my work, I can hear a hollowness in my characters’ words and a lack of colour in my world. Authenticity is missing, and no matter how many times I delete and try again, I just can’t seem to find it. Compounding this is the guilt I feel for not posting here often enough, for not commenting on my favourite blogs, for not staying in touch with my writerly mates.

I’m desperate to complete this draft and send it out into the world and find some readers who like what I do…and I think that’s where the problem lies.

quote2We live in a society where a writer’s success is predicated on bestsellers, money and fame. According to the myriad of blogs, books and websites out there, a true writer needs to write every day, post on their twitter/facebook/blog/whatever every second day, comment on other writers’ social media every other day, network at every festival and con they can get to, and generally tell the world that they’re the next best thing…without being annoying about it. Do all that, and you might enjoy a modicum of success.

It’s rubbish.

A writer needs to hold onto their passion for writing. You lose your passion, you’re just working another shitty day job. And what’s the point of that?

So I’m going to spend my precious writing time just focussing on the fact that I love to write. It is a stabilising, joyful force in my life. I get to live in two worlds. I get to discover words like ‘pyknic’ and ‘sabrage’ and I get to flood my sentences with my friend, the gerund. I get to live a life I find fulfilling.

It’s my version of writerly success.

5 ways to get your writerly groove back

computer1Suffice to say, taking a long stint away from writing makes it extremely daunting when you finally decide it’s time to get back into it.

It’s been a little while since I last worked on my manuscript, but here’s how I’ve started dragging myself out of the mire.

Visualise yourself writing

If an activity is visualised often enough, your subconscious will believe it is a part of your real life. So be specific and involve the senses. Imagine the tap of the keyboard, the creak of your chair as you lean forward, the coolness of the floorboards under your feet. Remember the warm rush in your mind as the words flow out and the satisfaction you feel as a blank page is transformed. Imagine yourself entirely in that moment, with none of the guilt or panic you feel at not actually being at your desk. And do it often. When you’re finally ready to work on the manuscript, it won’t feel so alien or overwhelming.

Don’t set goals on your first day back

Face it, you’re going to be pretty emotional. There’ll be the relief of finally writing again, plus the anxiety of having wasted so much time. Don’t pressure yourself by committing to some sort of grand production schedule or list of tasks that will get you back on track. Calm down. You’ll be okay. Just write.

Start with something simple

computer2Whatever you write on your first day will probably be hard work. It’ll take twice as long to write half as much, and it likely won’t be your finest achievement. So start on something you won’t have to fight with. If setting is your strength, focus on that. If you have a clear idea of how two characters are going to interact, get writing. But don’t start on a critical, vague or difficult scene—that’s how you end up hiding under the bed with a tub of ice cream.

Accept that it won’t be easy

You’re going to struggle, and writer’s guilt seems to hit whether you’re writing or not. So be kind, acknowledge all of the negative thoughts, and then move on.

Celebrate the small successes

Managed to write a sentence, paragraph or page? It’s more than you’ve written in eons! Revel in it and ignore all of the imperfections. Follow it up with a second day of writing, and a third, fourth, etc. Get some momentum and allow yourself to enjoy the process. You’re a writer once more.

Racist jokes

Earlier this week, I was in a department store torturing myself by browsing the racks of summer dresses (none of which I could afford to buy). Behind the counter were four young salespeople, all clearly friends, one of whom was Aboriginal. The store was surprisingly quiet, and so it was easy to overhear their conversation which revolved around a new range of skirts. When asked her opinion of a particularly vibrant yellow piece, one of the saleswomen indicated at her Aboriginal colleague and said, ‘There’s already too much colour here.’

They all laughed, even the woman who was the punchline, but I felt a vague sort of discomfort. It was obviously a racist joke. But was it somehow less offensive because the person being disrespected found it funny?

racismThe reality is that racism isn’t only committed by hateful extremists on the shady edges of society. It’s committed by everyday folk who think they are excluded because they are comfortable to surround themselves with people of other races. It’s done by people who couch their statements with ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ and then launch into something incredibly offensive and belligerent. And it’s perpetuated by people who believe that humour somehow precludes them from acknowledging that what they are saying is hurtful and damaging.

I’ve told enough racist jokes myself, believing it didn’t matter because my best friend is Jewish, my long-term housemate Korean, and some of my oldest friends Aboriginal, Fijian and Samoan. But racist jokes are an insidious way of dehumanising another person, and frankly I want to be better than that.

I hope we all can be better than that.

5 Tips for Surviving A Cyclone

Growing up, I got to experience the eye of a cyclone travelling right over our tiny coastal town. I remember building a mattress fort with my twin and listening for hours as the wind howled through the louvres and rain pummelled the side of the house. When the eye finally swept over us and we all headed outside, there was something magical about the dead calm, dripping palm fronds and clear night sky. Ten minutes later, the wind roared back to life and we rushed for safety.

Ingrid_TMO_2005066_lrgNow, going outside at any time during a cyclone makes you a dumbass in the eyes of the authorities, but it’s also kinda a prerequisite for being a local. As is stocking up on beer, chips and chocolate instead of water, batteries and baked beans.

Tropical Cyclone Marcia is about to hit the Queensland coast, bringing with it 260km/hr winds and flooding rain. So as a newly-returned local to these parts, I feel it is my duty to share some key pointers I’ve learnt should you find yourself in the path of a cyclone:

1) Eating all of the ice cream is a fiscally mature response to the threat of power failure.

2) Throwing the trampoline into the pool to stop it from flying away will not be your brightest idea.

3) Putting your pets in a room will keep them safe, but those stains are never coming out of the carpet.

4) If the glass windows begin bowing and flexing from the wind, close the curtains and pretend you saw nothing.

5) If you lose the roof, hide under a mattress and hope it wasn’t the one your mate Wozza threw up on two weeks ago.

Cyclone Marcia isn’t going to hit my town but my twin, cousins and their families are in the direct path. Like true locals, they’re resentfully clearing their yards, securing fly-away items and checking over their beer and chips stash.

Stay safe, everyone, and keep your sense of humour. xx

Why dogs are awesome writing buddies

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There’s a long history of famous authors and their beloved pets. Mark Twain snuck a kitten into his room during his year-long stint at a sanatorium. Virginia Woolf is quoted saying that dogs bring out the playful side of life. William S Burroughs’ last journal entry was about his four beloved cats and the great healing capacity for love they engendered.

Personally, I find dogs and cats equally wonderful—dogs because they look at you like you’re the centre of the universe, and cats because they don’t.

Four years ago I adopted a stray Labrador called Sheldon. He’s both intelligent and socially inept, just like his namesake on The Big Bang Theory. Hide a treat in his vicinity, and there is no puzzle toy, bag or piece of furniture he won’t work his way through to get to it. Take him on a new walking route and he’ll remember it perfectly for next time.

IMG_3080Sheldon has a few issues, of course—shopping trolleys, dogs on leads and motorbikes are creatures deserving extreme suspicion. Hats are inappropriate attire no matter the occasion and sock-wearing feet are too delicious to pass up.

As for my writing, well, Sheldon plays a key part. He’s my early morning alarm clock by way of a wet nose on the cheek and some exuberant pouncing on the bed. We’re generally on the pavement by the time dawn hits the nearby mountains.

There’s plenty of info out there about how going for a walk is excellent for creativity. I’m a big adherent, and even more so for a dawn walk. Photographers call this time the magic hour. It’s when the air is crisper, the birds louder, the colours and scents more vibrant. By the time we’re back home, I’m buzzing with ideas and ready for a decent writing session. Sheldon will generally wedge himself under the chair or beside the window in preparation for some serious napping.

After about an hour, I’m reminded that it’s time for breakfast by way of a paw on my leg and soulful, sad eyes. I’ll take advantage of the offered break, feed us both, and then it’s back to work—me writing, him napping and giving me the occasional nudge for a pat.

Multiple studies in the past few years have shown that patting and talking to dogs results in lower blood pressure. As a writer who spends way too much time worrying, my being able to give my pup a good rub is cheap therapy. I have a habit of talking to myself while writing, too, and Sheldon offers great advice by way of a grumble or snore. Coffee breaks are admittedly a time when I come up with ridiculous names for him, like ‘Magical Mister Gruff’ or ‘Sleepy Bun Bun’. I slide back to the desk afterwards feeling a bit better about life.

On the days when the writing is not happening and the biscuit tin beckons, he’s my go-to-guy. Whether he’s rolling in wet grass, barking at butterflies or having fluff unexpectedly explode out of a much-loved toy, his exuberance and curiosity for life are reminders of why I write. The world is full of amazing things to explore and experience, and dogs take it upon themselves to show us. That’s why I count on Sheldon as my writing buddy. If you have a hound, you’ll be able to count on them, too.

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