All posts by Natalie

Signs or super brain?

The other night I made a very healthy vegetable stir-fry for dinner and, while feeling pretty pleased that my gut flora would eat well in the morning, I was still a bit peckish. Suddenly I remembered I had an unopened box of BBQ Shapes in the pantry. I never eat BBQ Shapes, I don’t really know why I bought them, but they became my sole focus for the next two or three minutes.

Knowing they were not an ideal post-dinner snack, I decided just to have a look to see what the best before date was (I knew they had been in there a long time). It was the next day. Not the next week, or month, but best before the very next day. Clearly it was a sign that I should eat them.

I see signs all the time. I make decisions on signs, some a little more important than if I should allow myself to snack after dinner. I have to confess, I’m pretty happy with where those decisions have got me so far. While I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, I’m also not worried that ignoring the signs would have got me any closer at this point in my life.

But something about the BBQ Shapes ‘sign’ worried me.

The brain is a much more powerful thing than we ever give it credit for. I’m always setting it tasks which it consistently delivers on after spending a bit of time off in mysterious-brain-world. I can’t help but wonder if nearly a year ago when I bought those BBQ shapes, my brain took note of the best before date? Maybe there was a reminder set at that point, and when it did exactly what brains do best, I interpreted it as a sign?

How many of my other signs are actually super brain? And should I be worried? I’m a ridiculously logical person, so my normal brain always gets the last say over signs or super brain (for example, I didn’t eat the whole packet of BBQ shapes). But for me a little bit of magic disappeared from the world when I thought that my amazing sign was actually just amazing biology.

I guess that means the best thing to do would be the other thing my brain is really good at; forget about it. However the rest of the BBQ shapes might just find their way into the compost bin instead of me. I’m sure my microbiome will thank me.

Wham, bam, thank you spam

“Life, no end to this there will be bonded, finally, it will reach the heights of success. Love you could also gift your soul mate diamond…”

Yes, it is very nearly a coherent sentence, but doesn’t quite get there. This is a quote from one of my recent spammers. I get these sorts of things all the time and would dearly like to lift them and put them into a story. I read these little snippets and smile at the idea of a computer getting a chance to be creative. Okay, it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it almost does.

Of course computers becoming sentient has been done to death, and done really well (Terminator is one of my favourite films of all time). It’s up there with meet the devil or win the lottery for ‘no more please’ stories. But that is like a red flag to a bull for me. I want to find a different angle and I’m sure if I keep reading my spam, I will see it there one day.

I have a terrible habit of setting my brain a subconscious task (yes, I know I’ve told you to work on the novel, but hey while we’re sleeping you have all that spare time on your lobes) and it almost always delivers. There is a magical Eureka! moment when the story, fully-formed, pops into my head.

So let’s see how long this one takes. The clock starts ticking today. Maybe the clock knows it’s ticking? Maybe there is no clock? Honestly, who would want to live in my head!?!

The secret language of handwriting

My approach to the library recently has become more like my approach to Twitter; I let others find the good stuff for me. If I go into the library without a specific book in mind, I’ll head straight to the ‘to be re-shelved’ pile to see what others have recently borrowed. This is where I found a book on decoding handwriting.

It is annoying me how accurate it is. I started with the approach that it would be like star signs and you can probably see yourself in every scenario, but it is a whole lot more precise than that. It has picked up on things about my personality that even I don’t like to admit to myself. I am starting to worry about the hand-written notes I’ve given to others and how much I really told them if they knew how to read it.

What worries me even more is what I will learn about others when I look at their handwriting? After I read ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro which covered the unconscious communications of body language, my success in meetings went up significantly. I often find myself resorting to tricks and reading people without even realising it. I think the handwriting book will give me an even greater insight into what is really happening inside people’s minds.

There is one big problem with decoding handwriting; you have to get your hands on a copy of hand-written text. In my current workplace, I think I’ve seen the handwriting of only one other person in the past 8 months. Even our informal notes are taken on the computer these days. It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the Jet a year after teleportation has been invented.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m going to let this pass me by. I’m reading the book over and over to make sure it sinks in (as would be expected of my evenly spaced, small-lettered handwriting). There are gems in here that I will one day be able to mine, I have no doubt of that.

It also reiterates that the re-shelving piles should always be my first stop at the library.

Top 10 writer things to do – go to writer talks

If you want to feel like a writer, you can’t go past attending writer talks. I have an amazing local library (Mt Barker) which organises fantastic meet-the-writer sessions for many well known local and international authors. But if you are not so lucky to have a library like that nearby, many book shops and universities will sponsor them as well. So let Google be your friend on that one.

When listening to a writer talk about their process of writing, you will be amazed at how often you find yourself nodding and thinking ‘yes, I find that too.’ At the Adelaide Writer’s Festival this year I listened with amused familiarity to a few authors discussing the merits of pantsing vs planning vs plantsing. I loved that I knew exactly what they meant, while many around me had clearly never heard the terms before. I totes felt like a writer that day.

These talks will also often cover the author’s journey to publication. I think it is invaluable hearing these stories, because the ones you read about in popular news are nearly always the overnight sensations who had just started writing six months earlier. For many authors there is a ten+ year slog, poor first book sales and countless low points where they nearly gave up (before they realised that there is no such thing as giving up, our writer daemons won’t let us do that – EVER).

These talks also give you an opportunity to meet writers who have succeeded. I find most of them are really keen for a chat at the inevitable book-signing, and it gives you a chance to see how normal and very much like you they are.

And let’s not forget the final benefit; there are a lot of unpublished writers also going to these talks. So this puts you in a situation where you can mix with many other writers and potentially expand (or start) your writers group.

Facial Recognition

I’ve got terrible facial recognition. I might know if I have seen a face before, but when seen out of context I just assume they are from the bus or a former workplace. I actually did a facial recognition test and got the exact average score, so all I can assume is lots of other people are terrible with faces too.

Last weekend I discovered that my next door neighbour works in my office. There are only about 50 people in my office, and I’ve been there for over six months. I think that gives you some idea of how bad my facial recognition is. (No wonder he never waved at me when I spotted him from my driveway – I must always be blanking him at work).

This got me thinking about my writing. I rarely, if ever, describe what my characters look like. I have an idea, but unless it is necessary to the story, I’ll let you fill in their height, weight, hair and eye colour. Obviously these things are just not that important to me. I would love to know if writers who do describe their characters in lots of detail (to the point where we even know what clothes they are wearing) what are they like with facial recognition?

Oddly, I see ‘faces’ where there are none. Below are two recent examples of faces I managed to capture, but I see them in trees, stones on the footpath, and in clouds. The one thing all these faces have in common is that they are non-human. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that in my writing I love to describe my monsters.

StudyJoeySmall

User pays

The other day I did a Google search for something and found my old novel, Paragon, offered for free download. My novel hasn’t been available for purchase for about six years, so I have no idea how long it had been on this site. The reason I took the novel down was because I thought it had too many things that needed fixing, it wasn’t the best it could be. It bugged me that the choice to hold it back had been taken away from me.

It also got me wondering; how have people’s attitudes to other’s hard work gotten so callous that someone would feel justified putting up the work of a (let’s be honest) unheard of author for free? Is what they gain really worth what they take?

I’m against all forms illegal downloading, whether it is books, movies, software, TV shows, music etc. So often I hear people saying things like “Katy Perry is so rich, it doesn’t matter” –but it does matter. Katy Perry, or any other artist/developer are not doing this on their own. They support a whole network of people who depend on sales to make a living. A movie is not made by several actors and a director. There are writers, camera people, caterers, props people, make-up artists, hair stylists etc. It is an industry, and when you steal, you steal from all of them.

But back to my experience… I am not supporting an industry, just me and those closest to me. In over 20 years of sending off my work for publication I’ve earned less than $500. That’s why I’ve still got the day job. There are lots of people like me out there who haven’t yet made it, and if people keep stealing from us, then we’ll never earn enough money to quit the day job so we can keep making the art that others want to steal.

Imagine if Buffy had been downloaded to the point where no networks wanted to buy the ongoing series. We might never have had Firefly, or Serenity, or Cabin in the woods. I do not want to think about a world with no Joss Whedon! Is that the price we want to pay to be able to save a few dollars?

Better use of time

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have started translating my weekly goals onto a daily goal list. I’m still doing it, and it is working brilliantly. The funny thing is that I’m actually adding more goals as the week goes on, so I’m getting even more done.

To meet my targets, I’ve had to force myself stop watching TV on work nights. This seems to have cured me of an unknown addiction. Now I can survive without knowing who gets voted off of Survivor. I’ve also realised that it doesn’t matter if I watch all my TV in one binge session on a Friday night (I loved ABC’s War On Waste).

Most importantly I’ve discovered that I feel a lot better about going to work when I have knocked out 2,000 words, or edited a couple of chapters the night before. All this time it’s been within my power to give myself what I’ve always wanted; to write.

There are so many ways we can use time, but some take more courage, more willpower and more determination than others. But when you make those choices it can be so much more rewarding. I know I’m only three weeks in, but my general happiness and contentedness is so much higher than it has been in a long time. And my word counts are still nearly as high as when I had my 4 months off last year.

Another benefit I have noticed is that I seem to be living more in the ‘now’. I enjoy the sunrise when I walk to the bus before work. I appreciate the songs of the magpies as they welcome me home (or more accurately the leftover cat food they know I’m about to throw out). I realise that I can take moments of time for myself at any time. Even while I’m waiting for SharePoint to apply my metadata (which seems to take so much longer now it is in the cloud) I can look out the window at the park and be in my own little world for a few seconds. Time really is what we make of it.

Sunrise on the way to the bus stop

Top 10 writer things to do – finish a novel

Okay, so I’m assuming you want to be a novelist. Obviously if you love the short form or you write screenplays then this doesn’t apply to you. But if you are a novelist, then there is nothing that makes you feel more like an author than getting to the “The End” bit of a novel.

I’ve done it four times, and it is such a rush. The first three times I cried my eyes out when I finished. Not because bad stuff necessarily happened at the end, but just because it was the end. My time with those characters was over. They were now in the world, able to stand on their own feet and they didn’t need me anymore.

At least that’s how it feels at the time. Pretty soon they become like annoying family members who keep dropping around as you go through the editing process and watch the same scenes over and over again. Tweaking, re-tweaking and then totally re-writing.

When I tell people I write it is amazing how many of them say they too want to write. They then start telling me about the great idea they have for a novel. It’s incredible how many of them have not actually written a word of this novel. And that is, ultimately, what the difference is between a writer and a non-writer. Writers write, and get things finished.

Incidentally I think the only reason I didn’t cry on the last novel was because I knew it hadn’t worked, so it wasn’t really finished . That’s the novel I’m currently editing (very heavily). This time around I have connected with the characters so much more, so I’m confident there will be tears when I get to the end. Hopefully in the next fortnight or so.

Freedom of speech?

Cass* goes to a fancy-dress party and wins the best costume prize. She is awarded a bottle of champagne, which she pops and shares with her friends. She poses for a photo of her drinking from the bottle. Should she post this on her personal Facebook page?

Now, I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of equal opportunity, bullying and whatever-else is required training over the years, but this week a friend of mine did social media training. She took a photo of the above question and showed it to me. What do you think the answer is?

According to the training Cass should NOT post the photo. The reason; because others can share the photo, so she has no control over it and it might damage Cass or her employer’s reputation. Let me remind you; Cass was not vomiting on herself. She hadn’t pulled her top down or her skirt up. Her ‘reputationally damaging behaviour’ was swigged out of a champagne bottle.

This training alarmed me. If workplaces are now going to get antsy about someone drinking directly from a champagne bottle (would it have been okay from a glass?) what would they think about some of the stories I write? In future will my writing potentially impact my employment prospects? And where does that fit with the equal opportunity rules they all claim to abide by?

I think what they were trying to say was; be sure that whatever you post online you are happy for the world to see. I’m sure Cass, her work colleagues and her clients wouldn’t care that she was swigging from a bottle. If Cass is okay with that, then Cass can be the judge of what goes out to the world on her own Facebook page.

Some of my writing is confronting, some is stupid, and some is opinionated. Writing asks you to push the boundaries sometimes, and I think we all want to live in a world where you have the freedom to do that.

To pay your bills, most of us need to work. I think it will be spectacularly unfair if we move into world where those who want to earn a living are expected to turn into little yes-big-brother robots and stop living our lives how we want to outside of work hours. Cass, you should be able to drink your champagne any way you want to!

*Fictional name changed to another fictional name so my friend doesn’t get the sack!

Lists

I love task lists. Their big brothers are Excel spreadsheets, which I also adore, but task lists hold a special kind of magic for me. They are a promise of achievements yet to come. Just writing the list gives you a taste of what it is like to complete them.

I have an ongoing list of stories I want to complete. Each title has a box next to it for me to tick (in red so it stands out) when it is completed, and a space for the date. This list is constantly growing, but also looks very nicely actioned. That’s probably my favourite list.

I also have a weekly list of 20 tasks; 10 personal items, 10 writing items. Anything not completed by the end of the week gets rolled over to the following week. I try to always achieve a pass mark, but sometimes I only scrape a ‘C-‘. I’ve been doing these task lists for over 10 years.

This week I ramped it up a notch. After writing my 20 tasks I divvied them up into daily tasks and allocated them to each day of the week. This was in an effort to stop me from getting to Sunday and finding I have 15 things to complete (as is often the case).

I still have one day of the week to go, but it has worked brilliantly! Even on days when I thought I had my evenings free, but then they turned out not to be so, I still completed my tasks. I skipped out on most of my usual TV viewing for the week, and got to bed a little later than usual on two nights, but the tasks got done.

I won’t lie, it was a lot of work and a bit of stress, but as I ticked off those tasks at the end of each day, I had an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Not only that, but for the first time in months I’m going to be getting at least an A level pass even if I do nothing for the rest of Sunday –and that feels fantastic!!!

For those not used to task lists, a good way to set them up is to think about your major goals (finish writing your novel, go back to Uni, whatever) and then break those down into smaller and smaller steps toward the big goal (write novel plan, find academic transcript etc.). Those are the steps you put on your weekly task list. If you find you are not getting around to ticking them off, break them into even smaller steps. It is amazing how much you can achieve. Try it!