Category Archives: Journal

Lessons Learned from Time Off

My time off from work is fast approaching its end, so I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned while at home. I know that the events of 2020 have tainted my experiences somewhat, but I believe I can identify where that impact was. Especially when it came to productivity.

The main thing I realised, without doubt, is that I’d like this to be my normal life and not the exception. I loved being home and being able to set my own timelines, including when I write. But that was hardly a surprise.

The following things are true for me and my experience:

Editing is much easier to force. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to be at the computer, I can usually force myself to edit, regardless of my mood or how tired I am. The same cannot be said for writing new words. Editing is something I feel I could do equally as well when I’m working when I’m restricted to night time and weekend work only.

If I hit a block in a story, it’s because I’m not asking myself the right questions. When you frame the question as ‘what happens next’ it can be overwhelming. I discovered it is far more productive to frame it as ‘what if the car crashed?’ or ‘why didn’t she look in the bag?’ Those are questions I can answer and are far more likely to lead to the next bit of the story.

Walking is nearly as key to writing a new story as writing. If I sit at the computer and pose questions to myself, I’ll often draw a blank or be distracted by the internet. If I’m out walking, I find it easier to focus on possible answers. Most days I’ll came back from a walk ready to get on with the story.

New ideas are far more abundant when I’m not working. I have been amazed at how many new short stories I’ve written while I’ve been home. If I include the unfinished shorts, I’d be at about two dozen stories in six months. In the whole of last year I wrote only two short stories and came up with another two ideas. This is the saddest bit about going back to work.

Rejection doesn’t get easier. I have a lot of stories out at the moment, and every rejection still hurts. I thought with a lot more it wouldn’t feel so bad, but they still sting the same. The difference is that while I’ve been home, because I had so many out there, I still had hope that the next response would be positive (and some have been). Last year I was shopping around one short story, so it was a much bigger deal when that got the thumbs down.

Oh well. I guess I now know exactly what I’m looking forward to in retirement. Weekends will have to sustain me for a few more years yet.

New Normal

This month has been a planning month. I say planning, but probably what I really mean is I’ve started multiple projects and then dismissed them because I think about where they are going and decide that they are broken. But some new words have been written outside of Furious Fiction (yes, I entered May) so I’m pleased with that given the circumstances.

I’m not usually much of a planner, more of a plantser (not quite a pantser). If I have the end of the story in my head, I’ll usually have the confidence to jump on in and discover my way. But at the moment I’m finding it is very easy to go off the rails, so I think I need to plan a bit more than usual. In a funny way the detailed plan is almost like a really short first draft. Okay, I’m pushing it there, but I’m looking for positives.

Something I found very interesting over the last month was my experience with flash fiction. I discovered (in its last week) the Writers Victoria Twitter challenge to write 30-word stories on Twitter containing a nominated word. Then Furious Fiction was on, and with 500 words to play with, I found that I was able to develop a much fuller story with my five or six paragraphs than my usual entries. So, I think the micro fiction really helped me with editing out the fluff. I wonder if I’ll be able to apply it to my longer work?

Right now, I am considering three novels that have been kicking around in my head for 15,10 and 2 years respectively. But all of them feel like they have something wrong with them. I suspect the truth is the ‘wrongness’ sits with the author. I just need to take my advice of years ago and force myself to sit down and write instead of analysing everything so much.

What a month

I can’t believe my last post was just over a month ago and there was no mention of COVID-19. Then again, I can’t even remember if it had even been given the name back then. It feels like a year ago now.

Like many people on the planet, in the last month my plans were scuttled. I ended up having a family member move in for quarantine purposes and I’ve been doing the grocery runs for a number of elderly friends and relatives.

And I’ve been in a weird, muted shock. Even if I was home alone with nothing to do, I don’t think I would have been able to write. Knowing what is happening in so many other parts of the world and wondering if (when) those horrors were going to come here was too much. I know I don’t need to tell you how awful that feels. It’s been everyone’s reality.

As quickly as new phrases have been adopted into the collective lexicon; ‘flatten the curve’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘new normal’, I am now starting to find my feet. In those moments, now, which I manage to snatch for myself, I’m starting to sit at the computer.

I completed my furious fiction entry at the beginning of the month, and I’ve done a little bit of editing this week, not to mention this blog post. So I’m starting to get back on track.

For those of you who are reading this, I hope you are going well and finding peace with your new normal. And to quote everyone else, we are all in this together, even if we are apart.

 

I’m Back!

I don’t know what happened late last year, but I suddenly realised that I’m not getting any younger. To keep planning on what one will do one day just gives you an excuse to not do anything today.

I felt the pressure of that thought through our bushfire-ravaged Christmas and New Year. My perspective about what was important got seriously highlighted. So, after much consideration, I quit my job. It is time to write.

Don’t worry, I accept that I will (probably) have to go back to work eventually, but I have saved enough to give myself a decent break and I have got a plan with numerous lists to go with it. Just one spreadsheet though. I’m sure that will change.

The first stage, implemented in February, was to tidy up the multitude of short stories I had that were nearly finished and almost ready to send out. They are now doing the rounds and with luck I might get some acceptances soon (I’ve already had two really positive rejections).

March is new short story month. The past eighteen months, each time I’ve had an idea for a short story I’ve just written the summary of it into my ideas book. Stories can die in there. This month I’ll set some free.

So, join me on this next leg. Hopefully it will be rewarding for both of us; reader and writer alike. We might all learn something. I’m not committing to an every-Sunday post, but I will try to get back here as often as I can. Wish me luck!

Blog Re-Think

For nearly 10 years I’ve ensured that (nearly) every Sunday there is a post here. In recent years I’ve thought that the blog medium was dying and I wondered if there was any reason to keep it going?

I think there is a place for it, but perhaps not how I’m using it. A blog is a great space to share ideas that do not fit into just 280 characters. Social media is now the place for sharing short observation and high-level ideas, not to mention koala photos.

So from now on I’ll only post a blog entry when I’ve got something to share; good news, bad news, or something I really want to talk about in more space that a tweet will give me. And who knows, I may end up missing it and coming back just as regularly.

In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @nataliejepotts – I do have other social media accounts, but I’ll probably be posting here more than I do there.

First Draft Life

Occasionally you discover a previously unknown truth that shocks you. It might be as small as realising you have been saying a word incorrectly your whole life, or it could be as major as discovering your parents have been hiding a secret brother in the cellar all these years. Neither of those happened to me this week (they don’t even have a cellar), but I did discover that a belief I’d taken for granted was wrong.

If I was a character in one of my stories I would have wallowed in this particular truth for a while (act 1), come to grips with it (act 2), and then made a radical change to my life to go on with the new knowledge (act 3). Instead I’m trying to pretend I did not make this discovery, and I keep going as if everything is still exactly the same.

Of course, my response is ridiculous, and will no doubt lead to some weird dreams, a few more neuroses and, eventually, several more horror stories. It would also be a very frustrating and uninteresting story if I was reading it.

I know I’ve said it before, but I wish I sometimes had the courage of my characters and lived my life more like a story rather than a prelude to retirement. I guess the issue with real life is that you can’t just go back and edit things if you realise your character is heading in the wrong direction. We only get a first draft at life.

 

The meaning in things

This week my great Aunt died. While I hadn’t spent a lot of time with her in recent years, she was a big part of my childhood family-gathering memories. She is also the last of that generation to go, which opens up a whole plethora of feelings which I won’t be exploring here.

Next week my parents and I will likely go down and start clearing out her house, disposing of possessions that would have meant so much to my great Aunt, but to us are just things. It’s led to the inevitable review of my own life and all the collections in my house. How would my stuff look through the eyes of someone else?

I look at the biology text book that I’ve lugged from Adelaide, to Brisbane, to Melbourne and back to Adelaide as I’ve moved around the country. It’s well out of date, and I haven’t opened it in years, but every time I look at it, I have fond memories of all the hours I spent pouring over it for Uni when I still believed that I could work as a zoologist. No-one else will see that book that way.

There is the stuffed toy that was my favourite as a child, the framed drawing done for me by a friend at a time when I needed it, the glasses I bought myself as a gift to when I had my first paid publication, and of course the beautiful Archaeopteryx that I’d wanted for as long as I could remember and a special boyfriend managed to track down for me as a wonderful surprise.

All these things are just things, but they are the things that make up my past and colour my future. I just hope that I can give my Aunt’s things the respect and attention that they deserve.

 

Back!

I will confess, it was a lovely month off. I got to do a lot of socialising, family stuff, weekend getaways and lazing around. But that’s all I seemed to do. And if I’m honest, I could easily have fit the blog in around all those things.

What I noticed was that I felt no compunction at all to get to the computer. So, I didn’t just have a month off my blog, I had a month off writing. While I know I’ve said many times that I’d done no writing in the week, I did put out some flash fiction and edited stuff which I just didn’t count. This month I literally didn’t write any words of fiction.

And what was also strange is that I posted on social media less, not more. I took photos that I thought I should put up, but didn’t. I mentally composed ‘funny’ (IMO) tweets, and then never wrote them down.

It’s made me realise that this blog isn’t about getting followers or connecting with the big wide world; twitter, Instagram etc. do that now. This blog is about accountability, and clearly I need that in spades. Let’s see if anything else gets written this week.

Words vs Meaning

At the moment I’m working with a group of IT developers. Every morning we have a stand-up meeting where we go around and say what we did yesterday, and what we are doing today. It never ceases to amaze me how when the developers talk about what they are doing I can understand 99% of the words they use, but only about 50% of the meaning. It’s like they are using a whole other language, but a language made up of words from my language.

Sure, there are some words I don’t understand, something that sounds like nougat, stuff to do with pipelines, and a wiff, or waff, or woff (I’m still not sure what they are saying). All I need to know is that they have sprinkled their magic code-dust over the computer and it is now doing what I need it to do. But to get that answer I need to ask my own yes/no question.

Any change in job or career means a learning curve where you need to re-learn some parts of your own language. The context of the word can totally change its meaning, and part of that context can even be the people with whom you are talking.

No wonder language is constantly evolving. If these differences can arise in organisations and vocations, is it any wonder we can speak so differently across states and countries?

Perspective

We are at the tail-end of daylight savings, so the mornings are starting to be pretty dark when I walk down to the bus in the morning. Besides the odd funny encounter with possums that I mistake for the neighbourhood cats, the other pleasant side is that I now get to see the whole dawn show from last stars to first heat.

The other day, as the bus crested the hill and Adelaide opened up before us, I was struck by how similar the dawn sky behind Adelaide was to the dusk sky I spent so many photos on up at Lake Argyle. I remember the wonder and amazement I felt looking at the ever-changing hues of pink on that day on the lake, and yet I nearly let this Adelaide dawn go unnoticed. It was a beautiful sky and equally as beguiling as that Lake Argyle sunset.

Sunset over Lake Argyle. I have not fiddled with the colour in this picture at all. This is what it looked like!
Sunset over Lake Argyle. I have not fiddled with the colour in this picture at all. This is what it looked like!

I think the biggest difference was I was not looking with my tourist eyes, but my work-fatigued eyes. As soon as I started appreciating the beauty of the moment I felt my spirits lighten. I then got off the bus a stop later so I could walk through the mall and appreciate the dawn light in the city; something I rarely get to see.

And just for a short while, I felt like I was on holidays.

Adelaide's famous 'Mall's balls' at dawn.
Adelaide’s famous ‘Mall’s balls’ at dawn.