Adjusting

This morning I moved the bookmark from one book to another. At the end of one journey and with the anticipation of the next, I feel sad that the first is over but also have a deep sense of completion because it was such a good read. It was also a distraction from my small piece of dishevelled heaven.

The world is in chaos. The COVID-19 virus is spreading like wildfire. Countries are in various stages of lockdown, with multitudes ill and many dying. Everyone is learning to live an insular life until the spread is stemmed and eventually halted. There will be dreadful repercussions, the degree of which largely depends on our ability to be prudent, stick to the rules and take responsibility.

We are bombarded with constant updates. Reminders are everywhere.

It is devastating.

Before this level of disruption descended on us, the little cottage my husband and I call home in the beautiful Bega Valley was in its own state of disarray. Towards the end of last year, we purchased a huge four-section wall unit ready for the next stage of turning the storage room into our longed-for library. Between Christmas and New Year we began the arduous task of sorting through boxes of stored papers (old business records, university essays, research notes, teaching materials, writing drafts etc., as well as archives from my husband’s illustrious career as an electronics engineer through the expanding years of television).

By the weekend, piles of papers covered every available surface as we culled and categorised what we would keep or hand on to others… and more boxes awaited our attention.

In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, we fled from our home as flames rushed down the ridge towards our small community. Initially evacuated to Cobargo, we were soon on the run from there too as wild fires rained down on the whole area swallowing homes and lives as it progressed. Our fire experience will be the subject of another blog, but suffice to say here is that we returned almost three weeks later to find our home standing, with some damage to the outside and looking sad with the destruction around it.

Inside was as disrupted as we’d left it in our haste, everything was covered in ash and there was a distinctive closed-in odour. Amidst several attempts to free our home (and the piles of papers!) from fire dust, there were meetings and negotiations with government departments, local council, insurers, and recovery services.

The first of the official clean-up projects in our yard – the removal of twelve huge pine trees, burnt and dangerous – was three-quarters completed when COVID-19 struck, and the three remaining trees (most dangerous and closest to the house) stand waiting for the arborist and his chainsaw.

Our lives outside home are on pause. Having run from the wild fires less than three months ago and begun restoration in the meantime, we’re now bunkered down against the wildfire spread of the virus.

Staying at home is no problem for me. Since retiring, I spend most days in my office… researching, planning, writing, editing, re-writing, reading, keeping up-to-date on all things writing, discovering the lives of ancestors, and so on. I’m happy to be a homebody, venturing out when necessary or when the mood takes me. The suggestion of an ice-cream at the beach gets me every time. I like to socialise, but I don’t have to. I also like solitude. I continue to teach writing courses when the opportunity arises and regularly attend poetry afternoons an hour away from home. Social media also allows communication with friends and fellow-writers.

Most recently read books.

The isolation associated with the virus is different from my self-imposed work-related appointments with my computer. The current hibernation has no element of choice and there are dark clouds surrounding it; fear of the virus… anxiety for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other family members and friends… separation from these loved ones… and concern for the aftermath.

On the upside, I have enjoyable and productive activities to pursue, our vegie garden will get plenty of attention, Ron and I have an opportunity to get the library sorted, and my writing routine will surely thrive.

A few of my waiting treasures.

Our part of the world is accustomed to adapting. The fires were fuelled by the stubble of long excruciating drought, dry riverbeds and an abundance of brittle undergrowth. Their pattern and ferocity were unprecedented. Drought led to fires, followed by floods and contaminated water, and now a threatening virus pandemic.             

Australians are resilient and will face this challenge head on, each person moving into the new ‘normal’ in their own way.

As my journey evolves, I am pleased to be a writer and reader who can get lost in words for long periods of time. Just as reading has been a welcome distraction during the fires and the unfolding medical crisis we’re living, the book I finished this morning inspired me back to the keyboard after a void while adjusting to our new – but temporary – enforced lifestyle.

Stay safe everyone. Happy reading and writing – not just while you’re cosseted away, but into the future…

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.

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Moving Forward

My last blog reflected on my writing activities during 2019 and how well they met my stated goals for the year. In the final analysis, I largely achieved what I had hoped and will pursue any loose ends as my writing commitments for 2020 begin.

With January lost to the void of bushfire overload, I am pressing on without further delay. First steps will be as follows:

  • Submit my memoir manuscript submission package to my chosen publisher by the end of this week
  • Submit my poetry chapbook manuscript to the online competition I have in mind

What else will I do in 2020?

  • Follow through with the publishing process of my memoir manuscript – whether with my hoped-for publisher or by taking other steps
  • Work towards publication of two poetry manuscripts
  • Dedicate some time each day to move my mixed-genre manuscript forward
  • Summarise notes and plans for possible novellas and write at least one
  • Continue to enter writing competitions, especially those that most relate to my major writing projects
  • Post on my website at least six time each month – writing blog, writing exercises and tips, musings blog, poetry, and so on…
  • Expand social media presence
  • Embrace book promotion

Having identified my overall goals, it is time to draw up monthly and weekly work schedules to keep me focussed and on track. These will be reassessed and adjusted wherever necessary periodically throughout the year.

I am calling this a transition year. My sense is that I’m in the right place on my Writer’s Journey to take a leap of faith (or is that a giant step?) to bridge the gap between my passion for writing and small achievements, and my dream of bigger works coming to fruition.

2019 finished on a high for me with the delivery of The Ancestral Searcher Vol. 42 No. 4 –the journal of The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc. (HAGSOC), the founders of the E M Fletcher Writing Award.

View of Cattle Bay, Eden.  (https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148637935)

 

Cover photograph features the cottage referred to in my story 

View of Cattle Bay, Eden.  (https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148637935)

 

At HAGSOC’s 55th Anniversary Celebrations in October, I was announced the overall winner of this competition for my story All At Sea. The competition brought together two of my great loves – genealogy and writing. It called for a short story with a genealogy theme and I was inspired to dramatise a small piece of my ancestral history, thus giving voice to these special people (my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother) a hundred and fifty years on.

My success with this story and seeing it in print has increased my confidence in my mixed-genre exploration of the lives of the ‘great’ women of my heritage and of their generations per se, and the impact these women had on the survival and development of society as we know it. All At Sea forms part of this manuscript.

I am excited about the direction my writing is headed in 2020 and beyond!

My winning story, All At Sea, can be found here

 

HAGSOC website:  https://familyhistoryact.org.au/

 

This post also relates to my Blog ~ Reflection On My Writing Year, Writing Exercise #26 ~ Take Stock Of Your Writing Goals and Short Story ~ All At Sea.

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.

 

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Reflection On My Writing Year

2019 ended with a wallop. The bushfires saw to that. Our home is safe but damaged, and many other precious items are lost and our lives are shaken. January seems to have disappeared without even touching the aftermath bubble, let alone penetrating it.

For me, like so many others, this has meant no chance for reflection on the writing year that has been and no systematic goal-setting for 2020. Hopefully, by now, those not directly affected by the fires will have been able to commit to a writing plan for the year and have made progress into it – after all, one-twelfth of the year has already evaporated.

When I look back, I see progress across the months.

What were my hopes for 2019?

  • Tighten my memoir manuscript and take steps towards publication
  • Deepen/broaden research for my next manuscript, define the premise (the underlying story/theme), consider structure and begin writing
  • Edit and organise my poems, and work towards two poetry manuscripts
  • Enter competitions with a view to adding current awards and/or publications to my writing resume
  • Learn more about writing novellas
  • Maintain my website and post a variety of blogs and other writings

What did I achieve?

  • The memoir manuscript is 9,000wds shorter than it was this time last year, even though a scene has been added… so, it is much tighter after this last round of re-writes. The word length is now just over 90,000 – not bad considering it was 156,000wds in its first incarnation! (It was a novel based on fact then, but still too long.)
  • In November and early December, I repeated earlier research to identify the most appropriate publication options and decided on the publisher I would like to read my memoir. My plan was to send it to them on 8th January – after the holiday season. The fires led to a revised date of 31st January, and it is ready to go…
  • I’ve been systematically researching and organising information for the next manuscript. I will need to expand as I proceed, but am well on my way with the research. As so often happens, the premise has crystallised through this process and has been refined. As this will be a mixed-genre manuscript, the structure may also be a little fluid with the early writing, but I have a loose framework to keep me on track. The writing is well under way.
  • Some poems have been refined and put together as a chapbook. This series of poems tells one story and raises sociological questions about young people and the law. This chapbook is ready for a competition that closes shortly.
  • I continue to work to pull together a collection from my other poetry penned over the years and newer poems.
  • I entered a few writing competitions in the second half of the year and came up trumps when I won the inaugural 2019 E M Fletcher Award. My dramatised but factual short story gave me a current success and publication to add to my resume. It also paid financial dividends, which were immediately set aside to help finance my writing endeavours.
  • This winning story forms part of the mixed-genre manuscript mentioned above.
  • The proceeds from this competition, made it possible for me to travel to Sydney in November to attend Nick Earls’ Writing Novellas course at Writing NSW.

 

Nick Earls signing his Wisdom Tree collection of Novellas for me…

 

 

 

 

 

…and for fellow-attendee Andrew (A. B.) Patterson.

 

 

 

  • This workshop delivered everything it promised. I came away with a greater understanding of novellas and a practical feel for the necessary tools to write one, having applied these to the development of a plan and finding the voice for a story I plan to write. Markets and competitions for novellas were also discussed.
  • My website was maintained during 2019 and a variety of blogs and other writings were posted. I would, however, be happier with my efforts if I had posted more often. Improvement is needed here.

Overall, my year’s work fell relatively close to my stated goals. Any small differences between my hopes and my deeds are still in train and can be easily pursued. My next blog will pick up where I left off this time and will form the basis of my 2020 writing goals.

This post also relates to my Blogs ~ Are You On Track? and Lesson Learned. Also Tip #19, Tip #22 and Writing Exercise #26 ~ Take Stock Of Your Writing Goals.

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party. No other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Mindful Writing

My last blog discussed mindfulness and how to get into the writing zone, where we’re able to write without the distraction of what has been before or what is likely to happen in the future.

This time I’ll highlight other ways we can apply mindfulness in our writing lives.

Be mindful to make writing part of every day. Like a pianist practising scales or an athlete training each day, it is advisable for writers to make writing part of their daily activities. Even if you’re unable to actually engage in the practise of writing for some reason, find some other way to advance your work. You might do research online, conduct an interview, brainstorm an idea or simply write down your thoughts.

Mindfully choose when and where to write. Many writers use Free Writing to clear their minds and help them open up to what is to come. This is sometimes called Stream of Consciousness Writing or Internal Monologue, and instructions for one such exercise can be found in my Writing Exercise – Free Writing Beyond Your Desk. Free Writing is often considered devoid of parameters, and the writing itself can be, however each time we settle to Free Write, we choose the place, subject, perspective, starting point and how long we’ll write. Hence it is within the framework of mindfulness and can benefit from the writer being fully focussed when making these decisions.

Clarify your intention before you begin. What is it you want to write? For whom? Ask yourself what the story/poem is about and jot down a broad answer in just one sentence. Then ask yourself what it is really about… what are the themes/issues that run through the story? The answer here will just be a few words, for example ‘trauma, isolation and courage’. Consider what message in relation to these themes you want to leave with the reader.

By the time you’ve clarified the answers to these questions you’ll have the essence of your intended work, and will also be able to identify the demographic of your intended readership.

This information will assist you to mindfully plan and structure your story/narrative in the most productive way.

Make mindful decisions in relation to research. Doing research isn’t just about numbers and quotes to verify what you write. There is a need to explore further than this… to question yourself about your method. Begin with a clear, focussed mind and ask yourself what research you need to undertake for your project. What research has already been done? What has been written on your subject? Who do you need to interview? What questions will you need to ask? What is the most productive way to collate and compile the results? What connections can you make and what conclusions can be drawn? And so on…

Mindfulness can enrich and expand every aspect of the writing process. Some examples are:

  • Characterisation – The clear mind and deeper creative ability that come with mindfulness will enable you to develop authentic characters, appropriate for the role they will play in your story. By asking questions of/about your characters, you will get to know them intimately.
  • Writing through the senses – Everything we experience comes through our senses and becomes connected to memory. How often have you been transported to an earlier time/place when you caught a whiff of something or heard a voice behind you? Or… perhaps you saw a pair of aqua jeans the same as you wore when you were seventeen, or you may have seen an advertisement for BEX powders on a run-down building that was once a corner store, and automatically swallowed at the memory of the taste… Tune into the sensations/responses your characters feel – what they hear, smell, taste, see, feel (touch) – through your own sensations/responses and memories surrounding them.
  • Dramatisation – Dramatised writing is that which shows the reader what is happening, rather than telling them. Its purpose is to evoke sensations in the reader and make the imagery in your writing more vivid. In the words of Anton Chekov, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’
  • Dialogue – is a major factor in both characterisation and dramatisation. Be mindful of who your characters are in the particular world you’re writing, so you can step into their shoes and write realistic dialogue. This will allow readers to get to know individual characters and understand their approach to life in given situations. It will also bring your story alive by deepening and expanding scenes.
  • Attention to detail – There is great power in precision, especially when it can be utilised to give a sense of place, the ethos of the times and the reactions of characters. The caution here is to use detail sparingly, appropriately and to best advantage. For example, landscape poetry can be boring if it is merely a series of details, but it becomes interesting and experiential if you hold back on straight detail and add other elements such as changing light, seasons, moods, weather, a sense of history, the narrator’s connection to – and/or experience of – it. Sometimes a word, small phrase or one sentence is enough to give a sense of place, the times and the reaction of characters. This line from my forthcoming memoir could have read, ‘I was in the laundry doing the washing when I heard his voice.’ Instead, I added some time-specific details and it became, ‘When I heard his voice at the front door, I was wringing nappies through the rollers on the blue and white Pope washing machine Dad bought from a travelling salesman.’ The image this gives is far more comprehensive and draws the reader into the scene.

Mindfulness is the state of being fully focussed in the present, with full attention on your in-the-moment actions.

Whenever your activities are writing-orientated, consider doing mindfulness exercises before you begin. Techniques such as closed eye processes, attention to breath, and guided imagery can transform your writing.

This Blog relates to my Blog ~ The Writing Zone, Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind, Writing Exercise #25 ~ Clearing The Mind – B and Writing Tip #23.

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

The Writing Zone

Everyone has their own way of focusing as they prepare to write. Some people go for a walk first, swim or read. Others just settle at their computer and head into the next chapter. Whatever the chosen route into our work, we all have days when achieving focus is difficult.

Take heart; there are steps we can take to successfully enter and remain in the Writing Zone – that state where there is only you and your work, and you become as one lost in the journey of creation.

Early last year, I posted a blog about how we can act mindlessly when we’re overloaded, stressed or distracted. The example I gave from my life involved a batch of x-rays skyrocketing from the roof of my car, where I’d inadvertently left them days earlier, and the more mindful actions of the good Samaritan who went to great lengths to restore them to me. You can read this Musings blog Here.

When we act mindlessly, we’re not concentrating; not focused on the present, but distracted by past and/or future events. We’re operating ‘on automatic’, with little or no intellectual effort. We’re paying no attention to dangers or outcomes, or anything else related to the task at hand.

Conversely, when we act mindfully, we’re living in a conscious way. We’re ‘awake’ to reality, acutely aware of our surroundings, and more able to take in details. We can muster increased concentration and focus. Problems become opportunities and we can make conscious decisions for the most satisfactory outcomes.

The aim of mindfulness is to be fully present and focused. When we operate in the moment, we’re removed from before and after the now. We’re able to access a deep well of creative awareness with a clear mind, acute senses, more accessible and accurate memory, and unimpeded flowing thoughts.

I like to think of focusing on mindfulness as similar to putting on glasses for the first time – everything is clearer, details are sharper.

Mindfulness is useful at every level of the writing process. Decisions about where and when we write, how we ensure uninterrupted work time, how we clarify our writing goals, how we ensure we’ll stay on track, and how and where we’ll do our research, are just some of the questions we need to approach up front with clarity.

Then there is the transition from preparation to the writing itself. This is when we need to ‘get into the zone’, by letting go of anything crowding our minds from our pre-work activities or even our preconceptions about our work.

It isn’t possible to be centred while being hindered by self-doubt, self-judgement and/or the things we use to avoid writing… like telling ourselves writing is a waste of time, we’re too busy, and no one would be interested anyway; distracting ourselves by watching television, cleaning out cupboards, or anything else that feeds procrastination or impedes clarity.

If you are plagued in this way, considering the concepts highlighted in my blog Writer’s Block – Part C may release you to re-focus and take advantage of mindfulness techniques.

You can return to these questions at any time if you feel the need, but once you’re through them and feel ready to write, move on to mind-clearing and grounding exercises that will take you into the writing zone.

A simple clearing exercise can be found Here. Use this as a starting point, and watch for more techniques as they are posted.

 

This Blog relates to Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind and Writing Tip #23.

 

Next Blog: Mindful Writing

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

 

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Lesson Learned…

In keeping with tradition and good business practise, January was laden with much talk about goals. I’m as tired of the subject as everyone else, but I decided to share my 2018 goal gaff.

We talk ad infinitum about the key elements of setting goals, the need to set SMART goals and the way to approach the task. In earlier blogs (see below), I’ve suggested reflection on what has been and reinforcing the writing goals you’ve made to help you bring them to fruition.

Towards the end of 2017, I went through the process of setting writing goals for the following months. I was careful to keep my commitment to realistic and achievable tasks, then set about working towards fulfilling them.

Parallel to this work focus, my fiancé of five years and I were discussing how to prioritise the items on our outstanding wish list. ‘Which of these could we bear to not happen?’ I said, pointing to the list.

‘Get married’, we answered in unison and laughed conspiratorially.

‘This is the year of the wedding then’, Ron said.

It was fifty-three years since we met and almost forty-nine from when we parted in the late 1960s. It was time…

I continued to seek feedback on my memoir manuscript from various sources and did significant re-writing as planned, which we thought was appropriate given that the memoir tells our story. In June and July we house-sat on the Central Coast, which allowed me to fulfil a commitment to speak at some writing groups, participate in other writing activities and continue to fine-tune my manuscript. August was a trip to another of my old environs, again for writing activities.

Mid-August the kaleidoscope of wedding paraphernalia tightened and almost all writing stopped. Who would have thought organising a gathering of nine (including us and the celebrant!) would have almost as many facets as planning a wedding for fifty+ guests? Well, maybe not… but there was a lot to do. The legal formalities were still necessary and there were celebrant meetings, official forms to complete, questionnaires to pore over, music to choose and vows to write.

We needed to outfit ourselves in suitable garb (no mean feat, given our age and shape, and the lack of formal wear for sale/hire in our area). I booked a hairdresser, photographer and restaurant… then we filled a storage shed with furniture and possessions from our home and turned the loungeroom into our wedding venue.

Kathryn
Kathryn, Ron and Hayley

Ron and Kathryn

By the time the wedding and honeymoon were over, it was just weeks until Christmas… and time to reflect on the year. My personal life scored well, my writing life – not so much. I had plunged into the wedding bubble and set everything else aside.

Appropriate? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Regrets? No.

Satisfied with writing productivity for the year? No… but that wasn’t because I got married – not directly. Had I taken the wedding into consideration when setting my writing goals, I wouldn’t have expected so much from myself. Even if I reassessed my writing goals after deciding what else was on the agenda for the year, I would have pulled back my expectations.

In isolation, my writing goals were realistic, but they became unachievable when coupled with such a major personal event as a wedding.

Lesson learned…

This year I took personal goals and writing goals into consideration at the same time. I usually do, but somehow missed this point last time around, possibly because exciting things were happening in both spheres and I just launched ahead.

My two paths collided as the months passed and, in the whirlwind of preparing for marriage and trying to keep up with everything, I forgot to take my own advice to review my writing goals and make adjustments to my plans. Instead, these happened by default. The outcome was probably similar, but stress levels could have been reduced and satisfaction increased.

This is an extract from my Blog ~ Are You On Track? ~ the advice I didn’t heed…

> Undertake regular reviews (monthly or quarterly perhaps) to help you stick to your plan/timeline. Ask yourself questions like… Am I on track? If not, where did I slip behind and what do I need to do to get back on track? Do I need to adjust my schedule or anything else to make my writing time more productive?

> Be prepared to re-assess your goals… a decision to change direction is not necessarily a failure – it may be an indication of development due to a change of priorities, information, interest, circumstances, or similar.

While berating myself, I must remember there were some writing achievements along the way and those targets not yet fulfilled are still opportunities.

I am doing better this year, with balanced goals in place and a productive January behind me. Reviewing my progress will be high on my agenda through to December, with the determination of one seeking successful outcomes.

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This post also relates to my Blogs ~ Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed, Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed, Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success and Reinforcing Your Writing Goals… also Tip #19, Tip #22 and Writing Exercise #23 ~ Reinforce Your Writing Goals.

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I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

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If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

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Reinforcing Your Writing Goals

Over the years, I spent many festive seasons alone and grew to enjoy them, with my own special but very loose routine. Christmas morning… sleep in, read/write in bed, doze, raid the fridge, read/write some more, shower and then go for a long walk. By then, it was at least mid-afternoon. New Year’s Eve… bathe by candle-light with relaxing music, while clarifying my hopes for the following twelve months. New Year’s Day… find pictures, words, or objects to represent what I wanted to come to fruition, then spend hours making a collage to hang where my eyes would regularly rest on it to reinforce the power of manifestation.

Such was the mood I created on New Year’s Eve twenty years ago, that my list of hopes for the coming year developed into a poem before midnight. The resulting collage grew to cover four sheets of coloured cardboard of the standard size carried by newsagencies. I cleared the wall and hung the huge poster at the foot of my bed, where I would see it before I fell asleep at night and first thing each morning.

Many of the wishes were granted during that year, mostly because I focussed on achieving the outcomes I wanted… but others seemed to be the result of the goodwill of the universe, or as some would say, by the alignment of the planets.

Although a bit dilapidated from being folded, stored and carried around through several house-moves, I still have that collage. Some of my hopes represented on it are still manifesting, even if in slightly different ways. For instance, I’d pasted this photograph of myself on my creation, because it reminded me of the deep love that was between myself and the photographer. He was long gone from my life and I had married and divorced someone else, but I wanted to find another love such as ours.

Woody Head NSW – 1968

That connection with a new person eluded me year-in and year-out, but then the tide turned. Due to surprising life changes, the photographer is back in my life and our love is even deeper and richer than in our youth.

The universe works in mysterious ways!

What is stopping any of us from using this principle to reinforce our writing goals?

The answer is quite simple… Nothing!

By surrounding our dreams with energy – that of the universe and our own action – we multiply the possibility of creating the desired outcome.

The message is strong –

  • Make clear decisions about your writing intentions for 2019
  • Make a commitment to yourself that you will achieve these goals (a collage is one way to do this)
  • Plan what action/s you need to take to turn each dream into a reality
  • Take action!
  • Trust the universe to deliver your dreams…

This is a simplified list. You can expand on the process of goal-setting for your writing by reading my previous Blogs ~ Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed, Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed,  Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success and Are You On Track?                                                                                          

You may also find it helpful to do Writing Exercise #23 ~ Reinforce Your Writing Goals.

What other strategies have you used to set, reinforce and manifest your writing goals?

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Front Matter Matters

I am often asked about the pages in a book that precede the main content, and their characteristics. With the most recent request – to explain the difference between a Foreword and an Introduction in a non-fiction book – I decided it was time to tackle the subject of Front Matter in this blog.     

Sections that make up the Front Matter include:
  • Half Title Page – the main title, without the subtitle or the author’s name.
  • Title Page – full title, including subtitle and author’s name/illustrator’s name.
  • Publication Page – Publisher’s details, copyright information, date of publication, ISBN, and so on.
  • Acknowledgements.
  • Contents Page.

There may also be a Dedication Page, a page with a relevant Quotation, Illustrations/Photographs, Tables of Figures or Abbreviations… however, the latter may be in the End Matter at the back of the book, with the Appendices, Bibliography and the author’s photo and details.

These parts of the Front Matter are relatively self-explanatory. I laid them out first for clarification before moving on to the big three headings that tend to cause the most confusion – Foreword, Preface, and Introduction.

Foreword:

The Foreword of a book is written by someone other than the author. This is usually someone well-known in the field of the subject matter, or at least more recognisable than the author. At the very least, the person writing the Foreword needs to know the author and be well-acquainted with their work. This is so they can proclaim the suitability of the author to have written that particular book, citing specific credentials where appropriate.

It is not unusual for the Foreword-writer to begin by establishing their own credibility to gain the reader’s confidence in what they write about the author and their work. They may also explain the connection between themselves and the book author, or the content of the book.

The main purpose of the Foreword is to introduce the author to the reader and endorse the value of the work the author has crafted.

The premise to be explored, the question to be answered, or the problem that the author is attempting to solve, may be outlined in the Foreword. This highlights what the reader will gain from reading the book. The addition of short anecdotes, and examples that illustrate the theme of the book, aim to ensure a connection to readers’ everyday lives.

The Foreword should entice readers – to purchase the book if they haven’t already, or to read on if they have. It offers supportive information relevant to the book content, without giving too much away.

Like the book’s content, the Foreword is written to the target audience, in conversational and personal tones. The use of simple, tight writing, which brings the piece full-circle, will ensure cohesiveness and keep the reader engaged to the end.

The length of a Foreword is usually between 750 and 1500 words. It is always signed by the person who wrote it, with their title (where applicable) and the date added.

Preface:

The Preface is written by the author. It is like a letter from the author to the readers who traverse the pages laid out before them.

The purpose of the Preface is largely to share with readers how the book came about and the author’s experience of writing it… and to connect with them on a personal level.

Typically, the author will write of the reason they wrote that particular book… why it is important, where the idea came from, what their motivation was, why they wrote it from the perspective they have taken, and what themes are explored in the book.

The author may tell of the journey of writing the book… what they learned, how they felt, what insights they may have had, and how they improved as a writer and personally as a result of the research and writing.

Practical information may be included. For example, any problems encountered while researching/writing the book, could be discussed along with how the author overcame these difficulties.

The length of time taken from idea to publication is sometimes shared in the Preface.

The author signs and dates the Preface.

Introduction:

The Introduction to a book is written by the author. It is more business-like and has more depth than either the Foreword or Preface.

The role of the Introduction is to introduce the content of the book and put forward any details that may enhance the reader’s experience of reading the book. It may give some background information, describe the author’s goals, and the purpose and scope of the book.

This is where the author is apt to present any information essential to the main text, that doesn’t belong in the text itself and is not contained in either the Foreword or the Premise. For example, in order to understand the content, the reader may need to know specifics about the ethos of the time period the author is exploring in the work… or to be able to appreciate the challenges of sailing solo around the world, the author would benefit by first understanding something about sailing paraphernalia and how to read nautical charts.

The Introduction may include what the reader can expect from the book. There may be brief explanatory notes, the author’s thoughts on the benefits the reader will gain, and how to get the most out of the following pages.

A well-written Introduction is succinct and interesting. It will leave the reader wanting more and feeling ready to delve into the body of the text.

Not every book has all three of these sections – Foreword, Preface and Introduction. I have based the above on what I understand of traditional conventions. These generally remain in place, however the content of the book and individual circumstances sometimes lead to some variation. For example, there may not be an Introduction and a small amount of information that would otherwise be in the Introduction may be infused into the Preface, or the reverse may be the choice of the author.

Whatever you’re writing, consider carefully what to include in the Front Matter and don’t overload it with information that either belongs in the main text or doesn’t belong in your book at all.

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.

Asking Questions

In a recent post, I wrote about the role of questions in the writing process… from decision-making about what to write, through the research and planning stages, during the writing itself, and on to the marketing and promotional stages.

Now it’s time to consider how to word questions for the most effective results in different situations – beginning an interview, probing for more information, clarifying what has been said, or reflecting and closing at the end of an interview.

Questions fall into two categories – Closed Questions and Open Questions.

Closed Questions are those that can be answered with a single word or short phrase… yes, no, a name, a place, a time, a colour, and so on.

Open Questions encourage longer answers filled with information, thoughts, feelings, interests, ideas, and more.

The first word in a question can set it on a course to either a one-word answer, which can have a finality about it, or a more pondered and expansive answer.

Closed Questions tend to begin with words such as: Are…? Did…? Do…? Have…? Who…? When…? Where…? What…? Which…? A conversation or interview quickly becomes stilted and dries up, if a sequence of closed questions is asked.

Open Questions typically begin with words like: How…? Why…? What…? Which…? And Indirect Open Questions can start with: Tell me about… Describe…

Notice that What…? has a foot in both camps. It can be used in either closed or open questions. For example, ‘What time is it?’ is a closed question and only demands a one-word answer, while ‘What was it like to grow up there?’ is designed to elicit more information and would usually bring a longer answer.

Always remember these first words are a guide only. Thoughtful word choices can lead to more flexible answers to questions across categories. Take the word How…? as a beginning word, for instance. How…? usually sits on the open questions list, for questions like, ‘How do you think that would be different from the first time…?’ However, it is conceivable that one might simply ask, ‘How old is Joe?’ which is a closed question.

Familiarise yourself with the typical first words for both categories, but don’t get too hung-up on them. The important thing is to know one from the other, recognise when you’re using them, and make choices about which kind of question will serve you best in any situation.

Closed Questions and Open Questions each have a role to play in our writing life. With an understanding of their characteristic differences, it’s easy to decide how they might be used to advantage.

Closed Questions…
  • when you first meet a person, to put them at ease and avoid overwhelming them
  • when you want a quick, factual answer
  • when gathering data
  • when compiling multiple-choice questionnaires
  • when an interviewee goes off track and you want to re-focus
  • for clarification.
Open Questions …
  • encourage people to be more open
  • allow people to reveal more, or less, of themselves, depending on their comfort level
  • stimulate reflection
  • increase the likelihood of expansion on a subject
  • allow you to go deeper into a subject
  • allow you to learn more than anticipated
  • can lead to surprise revelations
  • lead to deeper connections between people
  • create more understanding
  • lead to a more satisfying experience for both parties

While closed questions are useful, open questions are usually more fruitful. A good rule of thumb is to ask open questions unless a closed question is more appropriate in the circumstances.

Think about the purpose of each question and the characteristics of both styles of questioning, then formulate each question accordingly. Consider following closed questions with open questions, to keep conversations/interviews flowing without making others feel uncomfortable.

 

This post relates to ~ Blog Pondering Questions, Exercises # 21 Questions and Writing and # 22 Interview Questions, and Tip # 21.

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

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Pondering Questions

How do questions figure in the writing process?

The answer is, they have many uses… one of which is as an Opening, just like the question above. An opening question is designed to entice the reader by creating interest, to give some information and to engage the reader’s imagination, thus drawing them in.

A reader’s attention can similarly be baited by a well-worded question at the beginning or end of the Back-cover Blurb on a book, and on Promotional Material.

Asking questions is a good way to Explore Ideas for a New Writing Project. You might ask yourself… What do I want to write about? What am I passionate about? What do I want to say to the world? What is the underlying story?

Research relies on questions. It involves investigation, exploration, examination and enquiry, all of which require the use of questions. What has already been written that relates to my project? What can I learn from these titles? Does it make my intended work redundant? Could it enhance what I’m planning? Who are specialists in this field? Who would be an appropriate person to interview to get the most useful information for my project? What do I know/can I learn about this person and their work before the interview?

Interviews are micro-worlds of questions; designed to obtain and clarify information, learn from the interviewee, hear their thoughts and opinions. There are also ice-breaking questions; designed to put the interviewee at ease, and to lead into the heart of the interview.

During Planning, writers ask questions of themselves when making decisions about the Setting, Character Development, Plot Development, Point-of-View, and so on. This is where my favourite question comes into the equation. The What if…? question is useful when you’re at an impasse and/or when you want to expand. It floods your mind with a myriad of possibilities, leaving you with choices you may otherwise not imagine. What if…  I set this story in a prison, an apartment building, an isolated community, under the sea…? What if… the main character was secretly rich, a prince, warlord, a street person in 1828 Birmingham, a miner…? What if… the antagonist was the main character’s guardian, or best friend with a dual personality…? What if… this happened, or that happened…? What if… the story was written from the point-of-view of the villain, or a dead victim…? And so on… Each of these options would bring vastly different dynamics to a story, as will others that flood to the page any time the What if…? question is asked.

As writers, we Highlight the big questions of life and the universe in one way or another. We question, hypothesise, discuss, and suggest solutions and sometimes produce answers.

As Memoirists, we question and Explore aspects of our lives… to Make Sense of them and Put them Into Perspective.

As with any topic, the list of uses of questions in the writing process gets longer the deeper we go… by asking questions of course!

More on questions and questioning in my next post…

 

This post relates to ~ Exercise # 21 Questions and Writing

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

 

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will only be used for this requested notification and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.