Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Picking Up the Pen Again

Hello all!

My apologies for the long silence.

The past two months have been intense and draining, but at least we are now happily set up in Australia.

My mum came up to China for two weeks, helped us to pack our things and finish up everything there before she brought me back to Oz. My husband did all the final fiddly stuff and then followed a week later. Without their hard work, patience and support it would have been a complete shemozzle.

Both of us are suffering with some nasty health problems at the moment. We are averaging at least 2 medical appointments a week between us as we try to find some answers.

We’re both wiped out. I’m struggling to get any writing done. Some days I only manage 20 minutes at my computer and other days I can’t even summon up the energy to turn it on. It’s tough!

Over the past week I’ve picked up at little, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. Little by little I’ll claw my way back to writing.

I mention the above not to complain, but to explain my absence. I haven’t forgotten all my readers and friends here. I miss you all very much.

I thank everyone for their patience and support. I hope to be back to my usual blogging self in the not too distant future.


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News and Another Example of Prompted Writing

The north east corner of the Forbidden City

The north east corner of the Forbidden City
Image Credit: Rod Ward

If you’re just tuning in, this month my project was to create four pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts from Punch for Prompt.

So far we’ve had:

  • Will You Help Me? – A story of a little old lady who is on the receiving end of a request for help.
  • Obedient Tongues – Based on real life events in the village of Eyam in 1666 during a plague outbreak and the subsequent quarantine.
  • Dinner Plans – A sci-fi comedy about a girl, a captain and a sentient plant.

I had a page full of notes for this week’s piece. It was going to be a poem. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Unfortunately, life hasn’t gone exactly to plan. My departure from China has been moved forward by 3 weeks, leaving me only 2 weeks to pack up and finish all the things I need to do. Needless to say, I’m a smidgen overwhelmed at the moment.

So, seeing as I am not able to provide some of my own writing today, I suggest you go over to Carole Jane Treggett’s blog and read her post Who Says? which was based on a prompt from Punch for Prompt. It’s a great piece of writing which really gets you thinking.

As you can see, there really is no limit to what you can do with a writing prompt.

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with!


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We’re Moving Country…Again

A bridge over a lake in a park somewhere in Beijing

A park somewhere in Beijing taken by yours truly.

For those of you who are not aware, my husband and I currently live in China. It’s a fascinating place to live and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

However, after much deliberation, we have decided to move back to Australia. My health isn’t very good at the moment, and it has become a struggle to stay here. So we’ve decided to head back down to Oz to be closer to my family.

We haven’t ruled out the possibility of coming back to China sometime in the future. I’ve learned so much from being here and I’m always ready to learn more.

We plan to move in early May, so that gives me just over 6 weeks to prepare.

What is there to do?

  • Firstly I have to cull down our belongings so they (hopefully!) fit into three suitcases.
  • Then I have several items I want to buy before I leave. E.g. a nice traditional Chinese outfit, some new reading glasses.
  • I also have heaps of photos I want to take of life here. Unfortunately, our camera was damaged when someone tried to snatch our bags, so I currently can only take 10 photos at a time. I shall have to think before I shoot, like back in the good ol’ days of film.
  • And lastly, I want to savour these precious weeks in China by drinking in all the wonderful sights and sounds of this place.

I’ll do my best to keep posting to my blog, but forgive me if my posts wander off the topic of creative writing and into other areas…like creative packing and interesting things I see in my last few weeks.

Although I’ll miss living here, I’m looking forward to all sorts of new adventures back in Australia.


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What You Take For Granted Defines You

An aerial view of a man walking in the snow.

The view from our window. (Image credit: Jessica Baverstock)

On Friday 2nd December, 2011 I saw snow fall for the first time in my life.

How is that possible? some of you may ask. You really haven’t seen snow fall before?

I’m Australian. Where I grew up the weather never got cold enough to snow. I’ve seen snow on the ground when visiting other places (three times in my life) but I’d never ever seen it fall from the sky. Now I live in China, and here it definitely gets cold enough to snow.

So for those of you who take snow for granted, let me take you on a quick journey.

“I Do Not Believe in Snow”

In the movie The King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, there is a classic scene where Mrs. Anna is teaching the King’s children. She mentions snow. The children, who have grown up in Burma, have never seen snow so she must explain what it is. Then the young prince stands up and defiantly says, ‘I do not believe in snow!’

We all get a good laugh out of the concept…but sometimes it’s not so far from the truth.

I was once talking to a 6-year-old Australian boy who proclaimed the same disbelief. I pointed to a picture of a snow-covered mountain.

‘See?’ I said. ‘The top of the mountain is covered in snow.’

He looked at me, sighing at my gullibility. ‘It’s white sand.’

And then I realised something. He had grown up in a city built on sand, where the local beach was blindingly pale. To him white sand was a reality. Snow was inconceivable (and that word does mean what I think it means).

Even at Christmas time, the average temperature in Australia is well over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). The closest a shop windows gets to frost is the tiny pieces of styrofoam strewn over the window dressing and white paint sprayed into the corners of the glass. Santa never sets foot out of the air-conditioned interior of the shopping centre because he’d overheat before he made it to the car park.

First Impressions

Now imagine seeing snow through those eyes.

The falling flakes conjuring up the idea of cloud dandruff.

Everything covered as if dusted with desiccated coconut.

The first crunch as you put your foot out the door, like you’d just walked into a slushy machine.

All that surrounds you is new, white, entrancing.

A Wider Context

Now think bigger. What in your life do you take for granted?

  • Where you live.
  • Your family.
  • Your job.
  • Your pets.
  • Your experiences.

These are all things which you may view as boring. Yet, to other people, they are new, special, intriguing – perhaps something they’ve always wondered about but never actually experienced.

Stop and think for a moment. Look at yourself and your life.

Why?

Because these things give you your writing voice.

________

P.S. Don’t forget to participate in the Creativity’s Workshop survey and get your personalised copy of my e-book. The offer is only available until Sunday 18th! Click here to see the original post.


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Declare Your Novel!

NaNo WriMo starts in a couple of days. Are you excited? I am!

Do you have an idea of what you’re going to write? If so, tell us about it! Scroll down to the comments and declare it to the world!

We’re all in this together, and we’re all starting from scratch. So if your story idea is rough, vague and/or clichéd it really doesn’t matter. Get it out and get it going!

Telling others about your story helps you in a couple of ways:

  • It provides you opportunity to gauge people’s reaction and interest in your story. Perhaps you can tweak your plot and characters depending on your audience’s reaction. (Although when working on your first draft, I highly recommend you ignore people’s suggestions and just go for it! Leave the tweaks for revision.)
  • It gives your friends incentive to encourage your progress. If they know details about the story, they become invested in the project and interested to know more.

So here I am, declaring my novel! (Just give me a minute to finish biting my fingernails.)

The Colour of Jam

The cover artwork for my new story - a photograph of a chinese corridor lined with green columns.

Edward Cockburn leads a perfectly planned life, teaching IT in a London college, walking his dog (Asimov) and waiting for his ideal woman to come along…until the day he finds out he’s being replaced by a younger teacher.
Desperate to keep his job for another 12 months to qualify for long service leave, he is given only one option – apply for the college’s Teacher Exchange Program and go to China for a year.
Plunged into the culture shock and mayhem of Beijing life, Edward and Asimov are guided through the learning curve by Australian expat Peta. She teaches Edward how to barter, cross the road, snowboard on the subway, order street food and many other essential skills.
As Edward gradually comes to appreciate the beauties of Chinese living, he also falls for Peta. But Peta is waiting for an ideal man of her own. Can Edward sacrifice his carefully planned life to convince Peta that he’s the man for her?

The cover art is actually a photo taken by my father at the Summer Palace in Beijing. If you make the image smaller and squint your eyes a little, it looks like a jam jar on a green background. (Not intentional! A friend of mind discovered that after I made it.)

Okay, so the title, story and characters will most probably change during the writing process, but this is what I’m starting with.

What about you? Tell us about what you plan to work on. (It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as organized as mine! I just had a bit too much time on my hands before November.)

P.S. If you’re worrying about where and how to start your writing, The Creative Penn had this great post on the subject.


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Smashed Cars and Investigations

A smashed car and a sizable hole in the road.

Have you ever walked out of your apartment building to find your street looking like a war zone?

It’s not something I’d ever experienced, until last week.

The photograph above is of the small road in front of my apartment building (in China). Yes, that is a massive hole in the road, all the way down to the pipes. Yes, that is an ex-car.

‘Curiouser and curiouser.’

The event made me realise that there are two types of mysteries:

  • The mystery where the solution will finally be revealed if you wait long enough – a.k.a. the mysterious oval.
  • The mystery where the event has already happened, and investigation should start immediately. The longer you leave it, the hazier the details become – a.ka. the mass overhaul of our alley.

So, realising these circumstances were of the latter genus, I messaged a friend of mine in the same building to get the goss.

Apparently, a truck heavily laden with dirt was turning the corner to contribute it’s offering to the oval when it overturned and squashed the parked car. We’re not sure if the road gave out underneath the truck, but it’s possible the area had been eroding for some time and the truck’s weight finally caused it to crumble.

I would assume the subsequent crater is at least partially man-made. If it had looked like that when the truck went down, we’d still have the truck in a reclining position.

‘Ah ha,’ you may say. ‘If your friend is so knowledgeable, why didn’t you ask her about the oval?’

But where’s the fun in that?

As far as the oval is concerned, the wooden framework I pointed out last week is being used to lay short concrete ‘walls’ on top of the brickwork. I’m still none the wiser.

These events remind me of when I was in my primary school days, and just longing for something mysterious to happen so I could investigate it. I devoured Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five series. Then I would watch the world around me, wishing for something strange to happen so I could look into it.

At what point do we grow out of that view of the world? Is it when nothing mysterious happens and we eventually get bored of looking? Or is it when we find something slightly mysterious and adults explain it away too quickly? Perhaps we should work harder to hang on to that curiosity.

While it’s true unbridled curiosity kills a lot more than cats, in the right amounts curiosity leads to discoveries, inventions and ideas which could never have been achieved otherwise.

So perhaps we should inject a little more mystery searching into our lives. Ask questions. Take new routes. Stare out the window. Ask ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ and keep asking.


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The Mystery Continues

The oval continues to mystify

I’m into my second week of work deadlines so no time for writing posts at the moment. We hope to be back to our normal programming next week.

In the meantime, I give you a photo of the mysterious oval as of this morning. They’ve been covering it with dark gravel…whatever that means.

Wooden scaffolding perhaps?Also, I noticed over in the ‘top left’ corner of the oval they’ve put up some sort of wooden structure, but I can’t see it clearly enough to work out exactly what’s going on there. (Excuse quality of photograph. I’ve only got a little digital camera and the ground is 22 storeys away.)

Anyone have any ideas of what it could be?

P.S. While there doesn’t seem to be much progress from this angle, the street outside the school has gone through some very noticeable changes. I’ll try include photos of that soon (not that I think it will reveal the mystery, but you never know).


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The Mysterious Oval

The mysterious oval

Recently I watched this TED talk by J.J. Abrams. (Warning: The video includes a scene from the first episode of Lost which may disturb some viewers.) In it he said:

Maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement. Mystery is an important part of plot and capturing people’s imagination. It’s the essence of the ‘hook’ which draws a reader in.

Let’s face it, if we know all the answers up front, what is the point of continuing to watch the movie or read the book? It’s the fact that you do not know/understand certain aspects, and the answers are not coming easily, which brings you back to the story again and again until you know it all.

The truth of this reasoning is being drummed into me every day at the moment. You see, I live next to a school. Being summer holidays right now, the school is using the time to renovate their yard.

The yard used to be covered in bitumen, but a couple of weeks ago they ripped it all up in preparation for building something new. To begin with I’d look out the window to see how far along they were in their work. As the days went by, I became hooked.

Why?

Because I can’t for the life of me work out what they’re doing. Once the bitumen came up, they dug a shallow trench in the shape of an oval, lay concrete at the bottom of it, and then built two walls of bricks in the ditch. You can see the result in the photograph at the top of this post.

But why?

I’m completely flummoxed. Each time I walk pass the window I just have to look out, because I want to see if there are any new clues. Anything which could tell me what they’re doing.

And of course, the best part of not knowing is coming up with theories. When they first drew the oval, I thought it was going to be a race track, but the ditch put a hole in that theory. Next I thought they were laying the foundation for a covered area of some kind, but that’s not coming together either. So I’m back to square one.

However, in the process I’m learning how to structure mystery.

  • Progress is essential. If nothing is happening, then even an intrigued watcher will lose interest because you’re not showing them anything new.
  • Theorizing should be encouraged. If the watcher comes up with their own theories, then they feel like part of the process, and have a vested interest in seeing if their theories are true. It also provides you with that glorious moment when you twist the plot and the watcher has to start theorizing all over again.
  • Controlled confusion can work to your advantage. The watcher doesn’t need to know exactly what’s going on at every minute. In fact, the best mysteries are the ones which, in the process of revealing the answer, force the watcher to go back through all their assumptions and work everything out afresh – either in their heads, or by watching/reading your work again.

Have you had similar mysterious experiences in your life? Do you have any suggestions on what the mysterious oval could be? I’d love to hear your comments. In the mean time, I have to get back to my window.


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Settling Into a New Home

Well my month of gallivanting about the Chinese countryside has come to an end. Now I need to knuckle down and get to work. For those of you who are not personally acquainted with me, a little explanation of what the next several months hold is in order.

I currently work as a Technical Writing Consultant, helping companies put together training materials like manuals, PowerPoint slide presentations, handouts etc. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a writer, and I am now, technically, a paid writer. Yippie! The goal of becoming a paid Creative Writer is still in the works, but one step at a time.

The project I am currently working on is nearing a number of crucial deadlines. Most of my colleagues are in China, so I’m setting up camp here for a while to be in closer contact.

I’ve lived in China before so I have some idea of the fun and stresses before me. I also speak a bit of Mandarin Chinese, which comes in handy, although I am still making hysterical faux pas on a regular basis. (For example, I’m notorious for muddling up zhenzhu (pearl) and zhizhu (spider). It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision the complications.)

Tackling the Local Lingo

It is interesting how Creativity comes into play when dealing with a language other than your mother tongue. I intend to write a post at a later date about creative methods for learning languages, so keep on the look out for that one. But one interesting aspect I will discuss now is word choice.

When you speak in your mother tongue, the full range of the language is at your fingertips. The words flow from your mouth like water. When you begin speaking in another language, the words flow like frozen molasses. Each seems to be painstakingly chipped out of the tiny space that is your vocabulary. As your vocabulary grows, you begin making the few words you know work for you in very interesting ways.

For example, don’t know how to say restaurant? Say ‘eat food place.’ Don’t know how to say hand basin? Say ‘wash hands place.’ Don’t know how to say ‘phone credit’? Try ‘add money’ and point meaningfully at your phone. Actually, gestures can be the most creative means of communication. I still don’t know how to say ‘toilet cleaner’ but I’ve managed just fine so far.

Lowering your expectations from ‘always having the perfect word for every situation’ to ‘saying whatever word works to get what you need’ not only relieves the stress of perfectionism, but also reveals the wonders of language. There is very rarely only one way to say something. Finding other, sometimes more descriptive, ways to communicate leads you on fascinating journeys of discovery.

Now I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated, or stuck for words, or stared at blankly by people I’m talking to. I get all of that, and more. I’m talking about those delicious moments where you find a new and creative way to combine words or concepts, bridging the language gap to converse with another human being. Those moments make the complexities of learning a language all worthwhile. We revelled in those moments when we were learning our mother language as children. Why not capture that excitement again?

What about you? Have you discovered the quirks of word choice?

By the way, the photo above is my own taken on Gulang Islet.