Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Organisation, Post-it Note Style

I am not a list person, much as I would like to be. To be face with a long list of things to do is a rather daunting prospect for me. And, while calendars help keep appointments and lessons organised, I really needed some way to keep the rest of my life organised too.

What I needed was something that reminded me what to do, without scaring me like a list. It had to be brightly coloured. It had to be interesting. It had to catch my imagination. And, most of all, it had to be easy to use.

It sounded like an impossible task. But after taking a trip to the stationary section, I soon found the perfect solution. It was brightly coloured, came in many different shapes, was so easy to use, and I loved it.

My solution? Post-it Notes.

They soon covered my wall, reminding me of things to do, things to buy, and things to remember to bring. And they worked! I didn’t forget things half so often. And they were so awesome looking too.

Since I first used Post-it Notes I have become hooked. My family know that one of the best presents they can give me is a pack of these colourful notes. I have so many of them floating around my desk, waiting for me to write a task on them and add them to my collection on the wall.

So, I may not use lists, but I am still organised. It’s organisation, Post-it Note style.

How do you stay organised? Do you use lists? Post-it notes? Or do you have a different method?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jumpstarting Creativity

Last week I was creatively dry. After spending most of the week sick, I had run out of ideas for blog post subjects, and was stuck in my story, even with an outline. Nothing seemed worthy of writing about.

Then, on Friday, we decided to go out and have a Friday adventure, which included lunch in the park. It was the most beautiful day we’d had in a while, with blue skies, warm air, and lots of sunshine.

Sitting out in the park watching my sisters whizzing past on their scooters, I found inspiration pouring into my head. I could write a blog post about this subject. That would make an awesome photo. Hey, this could happen in my story.

Out in the fresh air, it seemed like I could never run out of inspiration. From struggling to compose a blog post, I was filled with creativity and ideas. I was writing blog posts in my head while snapping photos and following a subplot for my story. I was recharged.

Was it the fresh air? Or maybe the change of scene? Was it the fact that we were doing something out of the ordinary? Or maybe it was the fact that we finally had some nice, cheerful weather?

I believe it was a combination of all of these. Going somewhere different, spending time in a different place, doing something different, these things all seem to help me relax and think.

So, next time you’re having trouble thinking of blog post subjects, a plot twist, or if you’re just feeling creatively dry, consider going out, sitting in the sun, observing life and relaxing. Doing something different might just help your problem.

What do you do when you run out of ideas? What helps you think of things to write about? Any tips for me?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Skimming During Reading

Have you ever been reading a book and found that you’re skimming over sentences, paragraphs, or even pages? I often find myself doing that very thing. Which brought me to wonder, why? Why am I skimming? Why doesn’t this part of the book hold me as tightly as the rest of the book?

For me, it could be one of three problems

It could be a backstory blank-out, pages and pages of backstory that is probably essential, but very boring in long doses. The realisation that I’m skimming often causes a frantic shuffle back through the pages to check whether I’ve missed anything important.

It could be a character white-wall, where the characters have been sitting around a little too long. When that happens, I disconnect from the words and let myself skim until something interesting happens. Unlike backstory dumps, this doesn’t make me flip back.

Then there’s the song syndrome. The moment I see something in verse that’s more than four lines long, I switch off. It’s unfortunate but true. All the best prophesies come in four-liners, so anything longer than that doesn’t seem worth taking the time over.

Though the backstory blankout and the character white wall are both annoying while reading, to me, the song syndrome is the worse. This happens when the book is filled with songs that, while amusing, serve no real purpose to the plot.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a well written song or poem as long as they serve a purpose. But most seem to be added purely for the amusement of the characters, and are rather boring to read.

However annoying these three skim-causing problems are, they do serve a practical purpose for me as a writer. By knowing what causes me to switch off during a story, I know what to avoid. Certainly I won’t be adding poems and songs to my novels any time soon.

So next time you catch yourself skimming, it might be just as well to work out why you’re doing it. You might just catch a problem that could help with you writing.

What causes you to skim in a book? Do you read songs and poems? Or do you skim them like me?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beginning Fresh

There's a great joy in starting a new writing project. There's my clean page, waiting for my words of brilliance to flood down upon it. There's my shiny new idea, waiting for me to write it down on paper. There are my characters, waiting in the wings to come on stage and play out my story.

It's all there waiting for me. Waiting for me to put my fingers to the keys. Waiting for me to start.

Then I do start. With a head buzzing with ideas, I race through page after page, trying to get my story down before it flies away, trying to capture the amazing story living in my head. Words seems to appear of their own accord.

Then I have to stop. I've run out of time to write. But I can't resist scrolling quickly through the pages I've written, not reading them, just looking at the words, at the start to a brand new story. And then I see something that makes me smile.

I've left the outline already.

Not badly, but in a way that will hopefully make the story better in the long run. And to tell the truth, now I've written something, I find having an outline doesn't annoy me as much as I thought it would. If I've left it already, then there isn't much hope for it in the rest of the story. Though it has helped me work out the basic direction of the story and the main plot points, which is what I need.

I've come to the conclusion that outlines are made for generally ignoring.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gemma-Rose Bowls

Over the weekend my family and I went bowling. Two games of bowling awesomeness lay before me. Two games to show off my fantastic skills. After all, I had been bowling more times than anyone else.

We put on our silly bowling shoes, selected our bowling balls and started the first game.

It was as much fun as I remembered. Lucky shots resulted in strikes. Shots that looked perfect knocked down only one or two pins. Our scores rocketed up. I was second maybe I could even get to first.

In a lull between my turns, I had a look at the other game, consisting of my two youngest sisters, Mum, and Dad.

Obviously they weren’t going to be as good as me. Not with my experience. After all, look at that throw of Gemma-Rose’s; elbow hooked round, ball whacking into the bumper, hardly enough power for it to reach the end. That wouldn’t result in anything more than a hurt arm.

But wait! That slow, awkward ball rolled into the pins, knocking them all down. A hasty glance at the scoreboard showed it to be a patchwork of strikes and spares, with large scores mounting higher every turn.

Gemma-Rose never even seemed to care where her ball landed, or how many pins she knocked down. She’d throw the ball and saunter back to her seat, never glancing at the result of her bowling. It was just fun throwing the ball and spending time with her family.

Me, I was just too competitive. Who cares if the perfect shot never comes? Who cares if you come last? Who cares if you majestically miss every single pin? It’s just a game, played not for a huge score, but for fun.

Next time, I’m going to be a Gemma-Rose. Maybe I'll get a huge score too. I could do the whole hooked arm thing with the bumper rebounds. Does not looking at the ball help...?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My Special Brother, Callum

Of my three brothers, the one I spend the most time with is Callum. We sing in the same choirs together. It's him that often takes me to my soccer games, or to special activities. We go many places together, him and me.

Yesterday he came in from shopping with a present for me. A USB powered air freshener. It's so cute, and such a typical example of his generosity.

Today it's his 20th birthday, so all I'd like to say in this post is, 'Happy Birthday, my special brother'.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Old Favourites

The librarians tremble when they see my family coming through the door. We haul in our bags, bursting with borrowed books, dump them down the chute, then make for the bookshelves, where we’ll strip the shelves.

The problem with borrowing so many books though, is that after a while, you run out of unread books. The library seems to take forever to get new books in. Sometimes I struggle to find books I haven’t read, books I might like to read.

Last library trip however, was a bit different. There was the usual selection of books, the usual empty bag, waiting to be filled, the usual lack of unread, interesting books. But this time, I saw a shelf of old favourites. The Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce.

That got me thinking. How long had it been since I’d last read her series? I could hardly remember the plots now. Well, maybe it was time to reread them. I took the whole lot.

It was the same when I located Brian Jacques’ Redwall books. Pleasant memories of talking animals, big badgers, fast hares, brave mice, flooded back. I hadn’t read these books in ages either. A couple of them quickly found their way into my bag.

Later, at home once more, I opened a Billabong book and was instantly transported back in time, back to cattle drovers, horse riding, and camping. Sucked into that world, I worked my way through six of those books in a couple of days. How could I have forgotten to read these books?

With the Redwall books, my only sorrow was that I hadn’t borrowed more. Why on earth didn’t I reread books like these more often? Why hadn’t I borrowed more than two? Now I’d have to wait until next library trip to get some more.

Suddenly I’ve remembered how good these books are. Now I’m thinking, wondering what other books are lying around, read once, and then forgotten. I’m sure if I look hard enough, I’d find more books I’d loved once, more old favourites abandoned for newer, fresher books.

I’ll always be looking for new books to read, new books to become my favourites. But I won’t be forgetting my old favourites in a hurry. I wonder, which ones will I reread next?

Have you reread any old favourites recently?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where Did My Plot Go?

I’ve never been a plotter in my writing. Working out long and detailed story plans, working out character motivation and building my world has never really enthralled me. I prefer to work spontaneously, writing whatever comes into my head and letting the story wander at will.

The only problem is, my stories have no plot, no meaning. Why would the characters do these things? I would never run off into danger unless I had to. They had no reason to. They had no reason to do anything. No, these stories had no plot. And that makes for a real problem with revising. How can you fix a story with no plot?

Obviously you can’t really, not without rewriting every single word of the story to make it into a plot. So, project after project ended up abandoned for lack of that all important thing: Plot.

There are two different camps in writing: those who use outlines, and those who don’t. Obviously I was one of those who didn’t. But that didn’t work for me. Time to try plan B: outlining.

Outlines scare me. How can you write down what’s going to happen in the story when you don’t know what the story is yet? When you haven’t met the characters? When you’ve only got a vague idea of where you want it to go?

So I skirted the outline, writing character profiles for my characters, working out their hopes, dreams, fears, backstory. And ideas started to flow. What if this person had done that? What if this event happened? What would cause someone to do this?

Hey, maybe I could write this outline after all. I typed the last word on my last character profile and opened a new document. Outline, I was going to beat you.

Ten minutes later, outline had won. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t decide what happened in the middle. I never knew what was going to happen until I wrote it.

Another new document, and I was thrashing my problem out on screen, writing my thoughts down as I when. What would this person do? What if this happened? Why would it happen?

Slowly but surely, a story-plan appeared on screen, mixed up in aimless ramblings. This could actually work. I returned to my outline and wrote in what I had worked out. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.

I’m full of hope for this story. My plan tells me main points, places I need to get to in the story, reasons for people to do things, but it doesn’t tell me everything. I have room to be creative, to let the story flow.

Maybe outlines are useful. I’ll love them forever if they stop my plot from disappearing.

Do you have a problem with story plots? Do you outline? Or write by feel? How much planning do you do?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Painting Doodles

This doodle is my first attempt at painting on watercolour paper

If you've read any of my earlier posts on doodling, you'll know that doodling is about the only sort of art I can actually manage. It's easier for me to draw when I know that my picture isn't supposed to look like anything real.

After my doodles at the beach, I stopped doodling almost completely. There were so many other things to do; reading, writing, school work, Christmas, that doodling got neglected. My drawing book and coloured pencils languished in my desk drawer, forgotten.
This doodle was coloured with pencils

But then Mum took up doodling.

From the very first, Mum's doodles outclassed mine. Simple circles and ovals turned into brightly coloured drawings. From the very first, Mum favoured painting as the method for colouring her doodles. Watercolour pencils, and watercolour paints filled her drawing book with colour. For someone who maintained she couldn't draw, Mum's pictures were beautiful.
I tried a blotchy, uneven background with this one

This spurred me on to bring out my own drawing things. Obviously I wouldn't try painting. Painting doodles was for those who knew how to use paint, not unartist people like me. So I stuck to coloured pencils.

But Mum's painting looked so much better than my pencils. Why was it that, no matter how hard I tried, my pencil coloured was never as smooth, nor as rich as her paints? There seemed to be something good to this painting idea. So I dug out an old set of paints and a floppy paintbrush and tried it myself.
I love the colours on this one. Paint again

My first efforts were well rewarded. How nice my doodles looked when they were painted! How smooth the colours were! How bright! I fell in love with painting doodles after the very first one I did.

Doodle followed doodle. My imagination took flight. So many doodling ideas flooded my head. I drew and drew and...ran out of pages in my book.For the first time ever I had finished an art book.
Pencils. The colours seem to have faded in the scanner

Doodling reigns supreme in my art world. I can't draw a portrait, paint a landscape, or even manage a simple cartoon. But I can doodle. And I can paint a doodle. I know my art form, and I am quite content with it.

Which do you like better, doodles coloured with pencils, or doodles coloured with paint? Do you doodle? What kind of art do you do?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Charles Dickens Turns 200

Yesterday was a very special day. Exactly 200 years ago, a great man was born, an English novelist, whose books are still widely read today, whose name is known by most people.

Charles Dickens.

I have only just become properly acquainted with Charles Dickens and his novels. I have only read four of his many novels, but I have to admit, he is a genius with words. His stories wind through many complex twists and turns, introducing hosts of memorable characters, revealing unexpected secrets, and finishing with satisfying ending.

His characters are amazing. He based many of them on real live people he knew. Even his mother wasn’t safe from his imagination. He used her as a model for ‘Mrs Nickleby. So memorable are his characters that even people who have never read his books can name a few.

He visited America and wanted to visit Australia. He knew other famous authors like Elizabeth Gaskill and Wilkie Collins. He wrote and wrote and only missed two deadlines in his thirty years of writing. One he missed at his sister-in-law’s death, and the other he missed because of his own.

My favourite of all his books I have read so far, has to be Little Dorrit, closely followed by Bleak House. Coincidentally these both have mini series adaptations.

Charles Dickens remains one of the greatest writers of all times. No one can dream up characters quite like him. No one can spend pages and pages describing a ‘London Particular’ fog and get away with it quite like him. Charles Dickens is unique among writers.

See David Perdue's Charles Dickens page for more information.

See Charles Dickens at Madam Tussaud's.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Playing Shakespeare

We are Shakespeare people.

The contents of our bookshelves, the DVDs in our collection, even the phrases we use in everyday life give us away. Who else has six copies of Julius Caesar just sitting around on their shelves? Who else gets excited over a new production of Hamlet? Who else quotes Shakespeare on a daily basis? Only Shakespeare people.

And, being Shakespeare people, we of course got excited when we heard about a DVD of Shakespearian master classes called Playing Shakespeare. It’s a series where Shakespearian actors go through some of the technical, parts of the scripts and act out parts of the plays to illustrate points.

It might sound a bit dull, but we found we really enjoy it. Who could fail to get the idea of putting emotion into words when the actor of Gandalf shows the different ways to do it, with often hilarious results? Who could fail to remember iambic pentameter when the actors play around with it and end up making a complete mess of the line?

There are so many things we are learning from these master classes. And it’s interesting to see what we have already learnt in our other Shakespearian studies. We’d already studied iambic pentameter before, but hearing it in action really fixed it in our minds.

There's nine episodes in this series, and we’ve only watched two. So many delightful Shakespearian things still left to learn. We’re looking forwards to the rest of this DVD.

Yes, we are Shakespeare people, with our bookshelves full of scripts, and our heads full of quotes. We’re enthusing over DVDs of Shakespearian acting classes and eyeing with pleasure a stack of Hamlet DVDs.

We are Shakespeare people, and happy to be so.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writing and Receiving Comments

Deep down inside most bloggers, buried next to the wish to have a billion blog followers, the most page views ever and to be able to write instant hit one line posts, is the wish to receive comments. Any comment. Just something to show that there’s someone out there reading your work and liking it enough to tell you so.

I am one of this crowd, often desperate to hear from other bloggers. Was there something wrong with my last post? Is that why no one commented? Have I bored all my readers so much they’ve decided to leave?

Every comment I get is a gift. Precious because someone took the time to stop and say something, someone who only knows me through my blog. I love all my commenters, from the ones who only have time to say, ‘I loved your post,’ to the ones who write huge long comments full of personal stories and life.

I love my commenters so much that I’m dedicated to answering every single comment I receive. I always answer, and always try to say something personal to every comment. Because I appreciate my comments.

Sometimes though, I wonder about other blogger. Especially the ones who receive hundreds of comments on every post. Do they still get a thrill from receiving a comment? Do they read every single one and think, ‘Wow, these people took time to say sometime to me’?

And then, what sort of comments do people like to receive? Do people prefer to have a short one liner? Or a long personal comment showing how the post touched the commenter?

Personally, I love this second sort. It’s good to feel that something I’ve said has touched someone else. These are the best sorts of comments to answer too. You can share so much through these comments.

I suppose that’s why I write these comments too. If I can’t say something about how this post is relevant to me then I just won’t write a comment. I don’t like to leave a comment that anyone could leave. I want it to be personal. I want it to be from me.

Today I thought I’d post some commenting questions for you. I’m interested, what sort of comments do you like to get? What sort of comments do you write? Do you like bloggers to respond to your comments or aren’t you really bothered?