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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Exciting Announcement

Regular visitors to my writing site will notice minor changes and some additions over the coming weeks.

When the site was set-up in August 2016, I kept its structure simple to give myself time to learn about its operation as I went. My partner, an electronics engineer, took the reins as the lead administrator and has supported and guided me along the way.

Now, the time has come to add features to make the site more interesting to those who already follow my Blog, Writing Tips and Writing Exercises… and accessible and enticing to those who are new to the site.

Categories already on the site remain, albeit with slight editing of menu-button titles and a small rearrangement of order. These adjustments have been made to allow extra buttons in the same space.

Two new menu-buttons have been added:

The first, Kathryn’s Corner, has been created to provide a space for my personal writing, as opposed to writing about all things writing which will continue to be posted in this blog. Kathryn’s Corner features a drop-down menu, dividing my work into sub-categories such as: Musings… Poetry… Prose… Posters… Other sub-categories will likely evolve, but these will suffice initially.

The second, Gallery, will feature photos of my writing journey, and my writing students and writer-friends… all of which overlap in one way or another. Some form of sub-categories will no-doubt evolve here too, and I suspect there may be some shuffling before they find their natural angle of repose.

By the time this announcement is posted, some of these new functions will be operational. The remainder will follow shortly, and new material will be added gradually. Thank you for your patience… please re-visit the site and watch these developments unfold.

I hope you enjoy the additions and what they bring to you over time. I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the top or the end of each posting.

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 to provide this notification and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss any new post.


This Blog relates to all sections of my website:, particularly Kathryn’s Corner and Gallery.

Poetry Readings In The Nineties

Sue Hicks, co-founder – with Danny Gardner – of Live Poets Society at North Sydney, now lives in the UK. She recently posted on Facebook that she’d made a photo-collage for Dulcie Meddows, a brilliant poet with several books to her credit. I was saddened to learn Dulcie has dementia, but pleased she lives in a place she enjoys, surrounded by caring people – including a priest who reads her own books to her – and I’m told she is up and about, busy with movies and activities.

Dulcie Meddows at the launch of her first book Poems, December 1992

Sue’s post catapulted me on another sentimental writer’s journey – reliving the wonderful poetry scene in Sydney and the Blue Mountains in the nineties.

I was somewhat of a novice and quite shy when I came to this vibrant hive of literary activity. Writing had always been part of my life; I’d belonged to writers’ groups and organisations, studied writing, written articles for local newspapers in various areas I’d lived and published short stories and poems. But the only time I’d read my work publicly was in small workshops with people I knew.

A friend invited me to Live Poets, saying ‘You don’t have to read your work if you don’t want to’. But I was seduced by the energy and camaraderie, and soon found myself delivering the poem I’d tucked in my pocket ‘just in case’. On that first night, I met stalwarts like Sue and Danny, and of course Dulcie. The sense of connection and freedom I experienced with that first reading of my work, gave me such elation I travelled from the Blue Mountains to the venue one night every month to participate.

Entranced by this new world, I established Poetry Plus, a reading and performance venue in Springwood in the mountains. Several North Sydney poets attended our Sunday afternoon sessions and many poets travelled down the mountain to share their work on a regular basis.

These were joyful and expansive times for me, personally and in the development of my writing muse. Despite working full-time, managing Poetry Plus and attending Live Poets, I attended other poetry readings – Poetry In The Park, Poetry Picnic, PIE, Poetry At The Parakeet, and Trevar Langland’s venue at Blacktown. I also attended regional poetry conferences and represented the Blue Mountains at a Sydney Writers’ Festival event at the Opera House in 1995, where I read from my then new book Family Matters.

Dulcie Meddows was the first Guest Poet at Poetry Plus in June 1992 and the last in late 1997.


Dulcie Meddows


Poetry Plus


Dulcie and I each hosted radio programs for writers, as did Don Saunders who was a regular participant at Poetry Plus. I was guest poet on Dulcie’s Australian Made Poetry on 2NBC-FM several times and on Don’s Pictures Of Poetry twice, and two other radio programs at 2BLU-FM… where my own Poetry Plus On The Air was produced.

These programs showcased one poet and their work for half an hour each week, then Dulcie took this a step further when 2NBC produced a longer (perhaps two hours) program at the top of Centre Point Tower in the heart of Sydney, featuring several poets. I was lucky enough to be one of these poets, and you’ll spot me waiting anxiously in the background for my turn… in this snap of Dulcie doing what she loved to do best – bring poetry to the world.

Dulcie Meddows hosting Poetry In The Air at Centre Point Tower Sydney, 1993

Along the way, there were articles written about poetry venues and published in entertainment magazines, inclusions in anthologies, book launches, play readings and productions, and congregating in cafes after Live Poets or my home after Poetry Plus, where there was fine food, more poetry and much joviality.

Rex Hockey and Dulcie Meddows rehearsing Aiding Others, a play I wrote and produced in 1993

Dulcie Meddows reading her work at my home after Poetry Plus, 1992

During the nineties, I blossomed from an unseasoned writer holding my work close to my chest, to an active member of the writing community and a facilitator of the exposure of other writers’ work.

Dulcie Meddows was with me all the way, as were Sue Hicks and many others. Twenty years later, they continue to stimulate connections between writers. Sue’s love for Dulcie, her collage gift and her posts about it, led to me seeking out several people I knew back then who have moved in various directions in the meantime.

My nostalgic exploration of those years has underlined the extreme value of friendships with kindred writers and of taking our work into the public arena. It has also prompted me to share this leg of my writer’s journey with you and I hope this in turn will give you the courage to take the next step on your journey… whatever that may be.

Danny Gardner still facilitates Live Poets Society at North Sydney and there are several other reading venues around Sydney and in country areas. I would encourage any writer who has not yet read their work publicly to attend one of these venues, even if as a listener initially – but don’t forget to tuck a poem in your pocket ‘just in case’…

Dulcie Meddow’s first book Poems was published by Gavemer Publishing in St Leonards, Sydney. Several of her other books are available from Learn-em Books Pty Ltd Sydney and Kindamindi Publishing at and individual poems are on


This Blog relates to my Blogs Reconnections and Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums, Writing Tip #16, Writing Tip #17 and Writing Tip #18 and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph.


Please share your thoughts in the Comments section…


Are You On Track?

Last December and January, I wrote three blogs about setting yearly writing goals. After discussing preparation, focusing on what you want to achieve, and how to construct achievable goals, I moved on to how to succeed in bringing these goals to fruition.

One suggestion I made was to review your progress monthly and/or quarterly. With September drawing to a close and three-quarters of the year behind us, I’m checking in to remind you it’s time for the all-important review that will take you into the last few months of the year.

Whether or not you’ve managed to review your goals thus far, doing so now will set you up for a rewarding finish to 2017 and lay the foundations for success in 2018.

If you’ve met all the writing goals you set for January-September, you’ve done brilliantly and deserve accolades. You will be ready for the challenge of the next three months. However, it is still a good idea to consider your goals for the remainder of the year and whether they are still appropriate for your overall writing ambitions.

Don’t despair if, like me, you didn’t quite make your end-of-September target. There are many reasons this can happen, from over-ambition and under-estimation to influences that are out of your control. Writer’s block may have stalked you for one or more reasons. Or, perhaps you’ve been ill, or your family has been in crisis. These are not excuses, but real-life events that take time, effort and energy away from life in general, and writing and other creative pursuits in particular.

Regardless of how you performed during the last nine months, a review can be helpful ~

>  Begin by checking off your achievements and placing them on your Achievements List, if you have one. If you haven’t, use your successes so far this year to begin one.

>  Check if the remaining goals are still relevant and re-write any that need alteration.

>  Prioritise all goals that are left on your 2017 list.

>  Make sure they remain achievable by the end of the year, taking your other commitments into consideration.

>  Move any goals that cannot be achieved by the end of the year to your Reserve List if you have one. Otherwise, create one now to serve as the basis for planning your writing for 2018.

>  The goals that remain on your 2017 list are the framework for your writing over the next three months.

>  Run these goals through the SMART goals test – check that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/relevant and Time-bound – and make any necessary adjustments.

A review such as this is like picking yourself up, turning yourself around and plonking yourself down facing in the right direction for what you plan to achieve.

Some of you will land in the same spot as you were before the review, and will continue your journey having confirmed you’re on the right track. Others will be in a different position with more clarity than before, and will move forward with renewed confidence.

Either way, this will enrich your writing experience and enhance your achievements over the next three months.


This Blog relates to Blogs ~ Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed, Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed and Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success.                                                                                  

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…


This writer’s recent journey has been flooded with reconnections.

There were the contacts I had with family members and friends as a result of events that surrounded us in recent months. While these were traumatic circumstances, the connections were heart-warming, full of stories and the sharing of photographs. Many shared memories, rekindled links with cousins not seen for decades, and friendships from the past were blessings among the sadness… and are definitely teasing my writing muse.

Writing Friends.

The next leg of my journey was time spent with writing friends on the Central Coast. First, I spent an afternoon with the talented members of Wyong Writers, many of whom are old friends from when I lived in that area and facilitated workshops for them for more than a decade. Our discussion on my recent visit centred around writer’s block… what it is, possible causes, personal experiences, writing-associated activities to do while blocked and to rejuvenate the writer within… and all things necessary for reconnecting with writing. I came away inspired, as I always do when I meet with these writers.

Then there was a day with some of my long-term students, discussing their current writing projects and having a good old catch-up. We were all reconnecting with each other and the progress of our work. Another inspiring day, and for me a rewarding experience to see ideas that were once dreams and possible story-lines taking shape into manuscripts, and in some cases published books.

Brunch with the lovely Sarah Barrie was next. Sarah has had huge success in the Rural and Contemporary Romance/Suspense genres, being one of the top ten breakthrough authors in 2014 with Secrets of Whitewater Creek and with her latest book Promise of Hunters Ridge currently one of the top ten best-selling romance category books in Australia. Two of her books have reached the finals of The Ruby Australian Romance of the Year Awards and three have made it to the finals of the Australian Romance Readers Association Awards for Favourite Romantic Suspense.  Our morning was filled with great food and stimulating conversation about all things writing and getting published, in relaxing surrounds at Norah Head, followed by a gift of the most stunning orchid I’ve ever seen.

A few days later, it was coffee at The Entrance with Mei-ling Venning, president of Wyong Writers, where we discussed the use of photographs to enrich writing… among other writing-related topics. Mei-Ling has won writing competitions, had her plays performed, and her book Pelican Bay was published last year.

On the return journey, I visited writing friends from my Blue Mountains days. The elderly gentleman who gave me feedback on my writing in earlier years, enjoyed a day out from his nursing home… lunch and shopping, followed by maintenance on his computer so he can edit his son’s manuscripts. My friend may be eighty-nine, but the writer in him is still alive and well!

Then I visited my long-time friend, Bea, in the picturesque locale of Isabella, where we discussed several topics – too many for the short time we had – and she read parts of my manuscript and gave me encouraging feedback.

It was fitting that this was my last stop before home and my return to serious work. Within hours of settling back in after the unhappy events in my family and the sentimental journey of reconnections, I was back at my computer. Connecting again with all these wonderful people was the impetus for my readiness to reconnect with my memoir and I have now finished the significant re-write I began earlier in the year.

The manuscript is getting close to being fully cooked and I am excited at the prospect of the next stage.


This Blog relates to my Blogs Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums and A Telling Example, Writing Tip #16 and Writing Tip #17, and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph and Writing Exercise #17 ~ Take Five Words                                                                                   

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums

Photographs are an abundant resource for writers, but their value is easy to overlook.

We’ve all experienced the memory flash that hits us when we flick through a photo album and our eyes rest on a particular photograph. We might pause, and perhaps even show the snap to someone else, before moving on.

If we slow down and look at each photo as we go, we take a virtual stroll through our lives – an emotional journey of one kind or another, depending on the content of the photos. All these stirred memories are good fodder for any writing muse, regardless of the preferred genre.

Then there is another level of experience when we go deeper. I remember how surprised I was some years ago when I scanned my father’s photos and found I made connections about his life, our upbringing and other unexpected discoveries. These insights came to me as a result of working so closely with each photograph.

I’d already experienced the benefits of going deeper into individual photos, both personally and as a writer, but scanning and making sense of hundreds of images was like the difference between looking down on a country and painstakingly trekking it.

I was forced to take in every detail, traverse the landscape of each subject and make decisions about how to get the best out of every snapshot. In some cases, I had to put names to faces I didn’t recognise from prior knowledge… calling on information embedded in, or written on the back of, other photos. Approximate dates and locations were deduced by comparison with snaps that had clear details on them or within their content; and also by using fashion, hairstyles, spectacles and the like as guidelines for deciding the likely time-frame.

Through this process, I learned the contours of peoples’ faces, recognised my father’s features in a cameo of my great-great-grandmother, saw characters develop over the decades and emerge from the pages of the albums. Stories I’d heard from years gone by came alive and made more sense in the context of the images that related to them.

The same experience is created when we put together a slide-show as a tribute to someone who has passed away. I’ve had this experience before, but most recently when my sister died. When selecting photographs of her from our childhood collection, I came across an old black and white snap of her and a cousin as small children sitting in the edge of the water at the beach. I’d seen that photo hundreds of times when I flicked through the family albums, and had always seen it as a picture of the two of them playing in the wet sand. This time, however, I realised there were three children. Another of my sisters was tucked in close and in the grey tones of the old snap has always been mistaken for a shadow. Other family members have since told me they experienced this photograph in the same way… completely missing the little girl in the background.

Once identified, the third child is clear to the observer and her presence adds layers to the scene. It quickly changes from two cousins playing at the water’s edge to two sisters and their cousin on the beach. Three children, not two. The little sister positioned next to her older sibling for protection… but facing the cousin who is about her age… The big sister smiling from the fresh open face that defined her throughout her life, the younger sister and cousin both serious and concentrating on something. The previously assumed dynamics have changed and this one small picture could tell many stories.

This is a clear example of how we see what we expect to see unless we pay closer attention to detail… and how a deeper awareness can open the door to an abundance of writing ideas. Imagine what could happen if you were to pay close attention to each of your photographs, one by one, taking in every detail, exploring previously unnoticed aspects of each image and asking questions this process inevitably raises.

Sometimes there is a need to go past what’s going on in the photograph and explore what’s really going on behind the scene. In other words, what’s the real story this image is camouflaging?

Questions of yourself will make you look further for answers. Questions of others can uncover pertinent information and sometimes untold family secrets.

There is a snap in my album, which appears to be a posed family shot. I’m holding my daughter and my then husband is holding our little boy’s hand, and between us are three older boys. A family of seven? No, a family of four, with three city boys who stayed with us as part of Legacy’s program to provide country holidays for the children of Australians who died as the result of war.

This photo stirs many memories for me… of all the years those boys and others stayed with us… the places we took them… the fun we had together… the challenges of having three teenage boys suddenly added to our little family, when I was only twenty-three… the stories they told us… meeting some of their mothers and not being able to meet others.

Many stories and poems beg to be written when I look at this and other photos taken at that time, as they do when I consider any of the photographs in my albums and on my computer.

Photos are treasures, memories are gold, and the emotions and interest they stir are the impetus that feeds the writing muse.

Photographs = memories = emotions/interest = writing opportunities.

Let us not ignore the gift of abundance between the pages of our albums.


This Blog relates to Writing Tip #16 and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph.                                                                              

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

A Telling Example

My last four Blogs were on the subject of Writer’s Block. Then I moved on to the use of photographs as inspiration for writing, beginning with Writing Tip #16 and Writing Exercise #16, both posted on 2nd June and the latter promising a Blog to follow soon on the relationship between photography and writing.

Six weeks later and I’m lining up to post this Blog, which precedes the promised one about photos and writing. What went wrong? you may ask… Did I fall foul to that terrible fiend Writer’s Block? Have I lost interest in my website? Given up writing? Gone crazy? Lost my creative muse? Gone overseas and left my computer behind?

None of these possibilities neatly fits what has happened. I am not blocked, nor disinterested. I haven’t given up or gone crazy. My muse still hovers, pushing me to get words on the page, and my computer has gone everywhere I’ve ventured.

What then?

The truth is that my family has been rocked by seven deaths since the end of last September, five within the past two months. Five family members and two friends are gone and we are shattered. Of these deaths, two were suicides, one was murder and another was an aggressive illness that took my sister within weeks.

The impact on the family, the grief, input into proceedings, travelling to funerals and time away from home, have all been distracting. They were also time-consuming and exhausting.

Have I wanted to write during this time? Yes…

Have I written anything at all in the last six weeks? Yes… Tributes to my sister for her funeral and on social media, Family History research summaries, Letters, Emails and a little re-writing on my manuscript.

Have I kept up with my writing commitments? No… I’ve fallen behind in the major re-write of my memoir and will not meet my desired deadline, my Blogs have been delayed, and planned updates and additions to my website have been put on hold, as has the production of my poetry discs.

And now? I’ve lost some time, but am eager to get back to work… post this Blog, followed by the next one and new Writing Tips and Exercises, and ultimately add to my website and finish the poetry recordings. The draft of my memoir is on the desk, where I will return to working on it tomorrow.

What I have been through is a perfect example of the situation I wrote about in my Blog Writer’s Block – Part C. There I spoke of the difference between making excuses not to write by saying conditions were not right to create, and having to face the reality of life’s challenges.

The terrible events that descended on my family have been out of our control, they had a devastating impact and have ripped us from our usual routines – both personally and professionally.

When this happens, there is no choice but to take the time to deal with the circumstances that surround us. The time I haven’t spent writing is akin to the compassionate leave I would have taken had I worked in some other industry.

What is important is that I didn’t totally disappear, and I am back with my muse intact and waiting for me.


My next Blog will explore the relationship between photographs and writing.                                                                               

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…