The Write Time

The Write Time

When is the right time to write? Or do anything for that matter?

There are proverbs, quotes, and metaphors galore, to justify time management – be it an excuse to procrastinate, or a drive to be productive.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3.1

The trouble is, you think you have time. – Buddha

Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes. Including you. – Anne Lamott

Let’s start by taking a smallish nap or two. – Winnie the Pooh

Sometimes it’s perfectly okay, and absolutely necessary, to shut down, kick back, and do nothing. – Lori Deschene

(In the interests of complete transparency, I spent three hours procrastinating by searching for quotes on procrastination.)

I used to talk endlessly about exercise. I thought about it often. But my kids were young, I was working, and I had a house to run, so there wasn’t enough time. Consequently, I didn’t have a healthy body or a healthy relationship with the hill outside my house. One morning I put my walking shoes on in the hope I might exercise later that day. While they were on, I figured I’d walk to the letterbox and back – after all, every little bit counts. Once I got to the letterbox, I kept going. I walked for an hour – including up the hill outside my house, and a whole pile of other inclines and declines of various degrees. All it required was the decision to start, and I was rewarded with the smell of the eucalyptus along the cliffs, and the salty wind in my hair and on my cheeks as I walked along the beach.

There’s no right time for most things – there’s only now. It’s easy to find a reason to procrastinate – I can name ten things I’m procrastinating on right now (including getting out of bed and having a shower).

Procrastination means something else has prioritised our time.

We all have the same number of hours in the day, but if writing is important enough, I’ll procrastinate on something else (having a shower) and attack the keyboard instead. If it’s not important enough, I’ll have my shower, drink a cup of tea, walk up the hill, and vacuum the floor. Sure, I’ll have a nice clean floor, but is that all I want to achieve in my day?

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About Simone

Crazy hair, solitude seeker, at peace in the natural world, Simone Yemm dedicated over three decades as a professional flautist and teacher. In 2008 she completed a Master’s in Journalism, specialising in editing, and continues to hone her skills as a writer. After a series of crises led to an emotional breakdown, Simone developed a passionate interest in mental health and shares her story to educate and support the wider community. With 25 years of marriage under her belt, she successfully raised three and a half young men and a chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A mean feat never to be underestimated.

www.simonelisa.com

Penning words is an incredibly important part of my life. When I write, I feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment, my mind feels clearer and more peaceful, and ironically, I become more productive with other aspects of my life (like showering and walking up hills). When I let the habit slip, my mental health declines, I procrastinate on everything else anyway, and I feel a sense of guilt for not having done the one thing I want to do.

I don’t need to write a book every day – every little bit of writing counts. I just need to make the decision to sit at the keyboard and start.

The right time to write is the same as the right time to do anything important or valuable in life – right now.

Whenever possible. I can’t wait until the perfect allotted time frame arrives – because that never happens. Maybe I only have fifteen minutes. Perhaps there are distractions everywhere. It could be there are twenty things I should be doing, and I have to choose. There is never a perfect time to exercise, eat well, have babies, start a business, or write a book. There is simply a choice about how to use the time we have. If the only available time in the day is early mornings, so be it. Or late at night? Okay.

Exercise was important to me, so I created time and space. For six years I’ve exercised regularly, and my body is grateful. 

Writing is important to me, so I create time and space for it. I sometimes lose the habit, but when I do get my thoughts on paper, my heart, mind and soul are all incredibly grateful.

And the more often I do it, the more writing becomes a part of my daily routine and a true priority.

To quote the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey, “All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event (18-22 March) in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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I was so disquieted by this side of myself that I quickly began turning inward. I started to question why I had applied for the residency and whether I deserved it. Who was I to represent an entire movement, shaking free from the societal norms of silence regarding infertility? What was I doing masquerading as a writer with ideas and skills to pass onto others? How could I have thought that my proposed programs would even appeal to the public, let alone connect them in any meaningful way to their own writing? Where had I found the audacity to even apply?

I spiraled. I sunk rapidly into self-doubt, and the inner critic I have spent the last year learning to dismiss crept up behind me, sunk her fingers into the flesh of my upper arms, and held on, hissing countless shortcomings against the back of my neck.

I spent the next three weeks flip-flopping. Some days I found myself grateful and looking forward to the residency. Other times, I couldn’t find reprieve from tension headaches and aching shoulders. I carefully programmed and diligently carried out preparations. I interrogated my motives and challenged my integrity.

The one thing I didn’t do was write.

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About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer.  She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications, regularly reads at literary events, co-runs a writing group, and actively pursues educational opportunities to further develop her craft.  Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted two board books for her son.

You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Pinterest.

I had allowed the denigrator inside to stay my hand – to leave my pen capped upon the table, my laptop still beneath a pile of disheveled papers. I was disappointed in my paralyzed state and worried of what it could mean for my forthcoming residency. So when a friend pointed out an opportunity to craft a story for a contest with a quickly approaching deadline, I chose to dismiss the snicker within and to embrace my competency and creativity.

I wrote. I edited. I reworked and polished. By the time I was done, I was proud of the piece I submitted, and – more importantly – I had reconnected to my belief in myself and in what I know I can accomplish as a writer. More to the point, I had gotten out of my own way.

There is a danger in too much analysis. Being someone who has elected to pursue a passion founded in looking and thinking deeply, I recognize the irony in these words. But if all we do is examine, prod and second-guess, we will never get to the work. Silencing the voices – be they unabashedly prideful or shriveling in their timidity – allows us to get what we must onto the page.

I know the cacophony of conflicting thoughts will return. Again and again, I will have to face the introspective noise of my mind. It is inevitable. However, I chose how finely I tune into the din and how I counter its effect. This time, I was able to prevail because of a deadline. Now and then, it takes breaking down my goals. It could involve the skills of a good listener or the bend in a familiar forest path. It may require the soft, arching back of a cat beneath my hand, the scent of Nag Champa as I meditate, or the sweetened bitterness of a caramel latte. The key could be space or perspective or focus.

Mostly, it is simply about getting myself into the chair, in front of my screen or notebook, fingers poised.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event (18-22 March) in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

I recently went to see A Star is Born at the movies: the remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper directs and also plays the lead male character, Jackson Maine – a singer/songwriter and alcoholic.

The morning after seeing the film, I read a New York Times article about Cooper and the movie. Here’s an extract from the article:

“In 2011 Clint Eastwood talked to Cooper about the role of Jackson Maine. But Cooper was hesitant. He was 36; he didn’t think he could play someone that weathered. ‘I knew I would be acting my balls off to try to be what that character was, because I was just too – I just hadn’t lived enough, I just knew it,’ he said.”

Later that year, Cooper went home to take care of his father, who was dying from lung cancer… Cooper held his father in his arms when he took his last breath. In that moment, everything changed for the actor.

By 2015, he felt ready to play the role (of Jackson Maine) in A Star is Born. Now he looked in the mirror and saw it. “Honestly,” Cooper said. “I could see it on my face. I just felt it.”

A few weeks ago, I was trawling through notes to help me start writing a chapter in my book, and I came across a questionnaire Joanne Fedler had asked me to fill out before she started mentoring me – way back in July 2013. The first question on the form was ‘What are you writing or what would you like to write about?’ And right in front of me was a one-liner I’d written which summarises EXACTLY the book I’m writing now. Not the one I started a year ago, but the one I started in October, because the first one wasn’t working.

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About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

And it struck me that like Bradley Cooper, who wasn’t ready to play the part of Jackson Maine in A Star is Born until 2015, I wasn’t ready to write my story back when I filled out that form. Five years ago, I just couldn’t have written that book. I had to learn the craft of writing. I needed time to process my experiences, get some distance from them, and make sense of them on a deeper level. I had to live more. And I had to write more.

I’m not suggesting that anyone else needs five years before they write their books. But I would compare it to being sure that you want to be a mother, or a doctor, when you’re just 10 years old. You have to live many years before you can begin to realise such visions. And in the meantime, you have to be patient and never lose sight of your dreams.

I haven’t been doing nothing in the intervening years (and nor did Cooper – he acted in other movies and a stage play after 2012). All along, I’ve been reading and writing and taking notes and listening to podcasts and working and raising my kids and living my life.

Now I am ready to write my story, the one I knew I wanted to write back in 2013. I can, as Bradley Cooper says, “just feel it.”

Sometimes, our lives have to catch up with the stories that are deep inside us, that we somehow know we must tell but perhaps aren’t ready to yet – because we are scared, or don’t have the tools or the hindsight we need. In the meantime, we just need to keep living and writing.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Why I Struggle to Share My Writing on Social Media

“You should share all your work on social,” an editor told me firmly, some years ago. And from then on, I did. Every time one of my articles was published, I dutifully posted a link to Facebook. And each time I felt miserable, as I anxiously awaited the dopamine-inducing ping of a ‘like’ or ‘share’.

It wasn’t just that one editor’s comment. My writing mentor also insisted that my social media profile was essential to getting my work out into the world. I needed to build my Personal Brand, as if I was the next Dyson, or Ben & Jerry’s. But to me, constructing my own brand felt like corporate-speak for what was really Shameless Self-Promotion.

My writing mentor admonished me when I told her how conflicted I felt. When you share your writing, you give people the chance to be touched and feel something, she emailed. Sharing your work is a gift to others, not about ego or self-promotion.

But still, I struggled.

You see in real life, I’m an introvert. I’ve always preferred having a few close friends to being part of a large group. And I don’t like being the centre of attention. But posting links to my stories on Facebook and LinkedIn catapults me right into the limelight. This leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable, like I’ve turned up naked to a fancy dress party.

Despite my aversion to sharing my work on social, I couldn’t help myself. After posting a link to one of my articles, I’d compulsively check my Facebook page, as if a ‘like’ or ‘share’ made me happier, or a better person (it didn’t). But while I was thrilled by the positive feedback, I was deeply troubled by the ‘friends’ who stayed silent. Why hadn’t cousin Sophia ‘liked’ my article, especially when she’d ‘liked’ cousin Katie’s holiday snaps, posted just minutes earlier?

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About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

My Facebook feed, I realised, was tapping into my deepest insecurities. My fears of failure. Of rejection. Of embarrassing myself. And, perhaps most importantly, my need to be liked. I tried repeating author Steven Pressfield’s mantra: “You are not the work.” Logically, I knew this was true.  But I had difficulty separating myself from my words.

My ambivalent feelings towards social media continued for years until a few months ago, when I decided to conduct a little experiment. I’d had an article published online but decided not to share it on social. My words were in the public domain, but some of the most important people in my life didn’t know.  This felt lonely, like spending a birthday without family or friends. And I realised that by trying to shield myself from vulnerability, I was missing out on one of the most joyous parts of writing: interacting with readers.

After that, I called a ceasefire in my battle with online platforms. I still find that sharing my writing on social media dissipates my energy, but I’ve learned to tolerate the discomfort.  When I post one of my published pieces to Facebook or LinkedIn, I accept that I’ll probably feel destabilised for a day or so, like I’m on a roller-coaster ride. I force myself away from my screen, and go for a walk or a swim. Or I bake scones to eat with my kids when they get home from school.  Anything to help me feel more grounded.

These days, I know that even if people read one of my articles, they’ll soon move on to the next story. And then it will just be me and my laptop again. So I try to enjoy the fleeting moments when I connect with readers, knowing that all I can control is what I write, not how other people react. I focus on the feedback that I do get, instead of zeroing in on those virtual bystanders who don’t respond to my posts. And over time, I’ve learned to disentangle my self-esteem from the success (or lack thereof) of my writing.

Yes, social media can feel like a very public popularity contest. But Facebook and other platforms are gold when it comes to spreading our stories. The trick, I’ve learned, is to use social media as a tool to serve our individual needs as writers. We must look confidently at our Facebook and LinkedIn feeds and be clear – just as my son told me defiantly when he was four – that “You are not the boss of me.” And know that regardless of what happens in cyberspace, our worth as humans in the real world remains intact.  

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Spelling Out My Story

“Bernard! If you don’t stop that, I’ll go get the sack.” That was all Marie said, and her son stopped, looked up in fear, and apologised. Marie relaxed back into her seat and explained, “He knows I’ll hang him in the sack from a tree for an hour. It’s funny, he is so scared of the sack. I can get him to do anything.”

My mother’s colleague had brought her family for a Sunday BBQ and she was happily sipping on her cocktail. I sat next to my mother and thought, “When I am grown up, I don’t want to be a mommy like her. I want to be a mommy like mine. One who sits at my dolly-tea-parties and pretends to drink imaginary tea and reads bed time stories.”

As a child I was not a good reader. I was not a good writer either. If my life depended on spelling, it would have had a very sad outcome. I would carefully write the words that I actually knew how to spell. And I used up a lot of energy finding ways to trick my teachers into believing that I had bad handwriting over bad spelling habits. That was until I was sixteen years old and an English teacher told me to stop focusing on spelling. Grammar, he said, was for cowards. “I want to know the story. If I can’t imagine it, then no good-spelling is going to get me there anyway.”

I took his words as gospel and I began to tell stories.

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About Xanti

Xanti was born in South Africa in the late ’60s. She enjoys travelling around the world, which is why she has lived in seven different countries. She believes in equality for all people. Xanti gave up on a single career path when it became necessary to choose between travel and career. After seeing the shadows and the light of abandonment and abuse, she adopted her two children. She has always been interested in understanding why people do what they do. This helped her when her experiences as an adoptive mother shaped her view on parenting.  She’s been through earthquakes, a volcano erupting and a couple of fires. Currently, Xanti lives in Mauritius but continues to travel the world whenever possible.

You can visit her website at www.xantibootcov.com
Or her Facebook page.

As a mother desperately trying to find the middle ground between the dreaded sack and the imaginary tea-parties, I turned to writing to get me out of some of my saddest moments. I was a mother who felt like I was failing every test, but I found acceptance and healing in the words I banged out on my keyboard. My spelling was bad. I couldn’t grasp the active voice and I wasn’t even sure if I could remember an adverb from a pronoun, but write I did. Tears dripped some days. Giggles filled the house on others.

I found meaning and understanding, and I found my place in my story. Don’t get me wrong, I still think spelling and grammar are important. There is a whole world of meaning between “a part” and “apart”. Don’t even get me started on the difference between “your” and you’re”, but here is the thing: Words are important. How could you explain that your heart is sore if you don’t know the word for heart? How would you say that you are in love if you didn’t have the language to express the emotion?

As for my parenting skills? Well, you’ll have to ask my children if I ever brought out the sack. I know I tried to give my children the best life I could offer. I know I had good days and I know I had bad ones. Days where I succeeded and days when I felt I was worse than the tree-sack-hanger. But through all of that, I repeated the same message that I was given all those decades ago. Let me hear your story. Tell me your story. Write your story.

Give it a try and maybe you will find yourself in between the lines. Or even more meaningful, perhaps someone else will find themselves between your paragraphs. What could be better than that?

Being able to spell onomatopoeia?

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Memoir Is a Moving Target

I thought I knew what my memoir was about. I was there after all. I thought it was a matter of working out where to start and where to end so I could settle my story down somewhere in between. How difficult could it be?

So I started writing, in earnest, in the place I thought was the beginning. I wrote some more, and the beginning fell in love and became the middle. Then the end went off to boarding school and became the beginning of the end. The bloody middle lost weight and became invisible, and I killed the darling. The end got cancer and became the beginning.

It was like trying to teach overwrought grasshoppers to line dance.

I found myself walking up a hill every afternoon with “how do I solve a problem like my memoir” echoing in my head to the refrains of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I just wanted my story to stand still a moment so I could pin it down. But it wouldn’t. It kept on with its manic bouncing until one morning, I stopped trying to control it and allowed myself to rest in the confusion and chaos. This wasn’t a science experiment; I didn’t need to have a hypothesis on how it was going to end when I threw sodium into the swimming pool.

I learnt to focus less on line dancing classes and control, and to think more deeply on what was emerging and presenting itself in the writing. Writing memoir is a moving target. Maybe it is supposed to be a moving target; maybe it’s supposed to shake things up.

Maybe that’s the point: so as the target moves, you see the stuff behind, underneath, beyond.

.

About Barbara

 

Very little in Barbara Matthews’ life has turned out the way she thought it would. She certainly never thought the right side of her brain would amount to much – it seemed superfluous in a world of numbers and the periodic table. A midlife career change into the practice of Palliative Medicine in rural South Africa forced Barbara to find language for experiences resolutely resisting the boundaries of science. Her writing has become a practice of self-care and meaning-making as she makes friends with the angel of death.

It wasn’t only the story that was moving and growing and changing. I was moving too. I stopped standing in one place and began shifting my view. Something happens when we extract feelings, emotions, and memories from our neurology and metabolise them and set them down on the page. It’s a curious alchemy. Writing about your life is not about noting what you did on Friday the 14th of March 1986. Who cares? Unless it was the day you swallowed a shard of glass and your gut exploded and you had a near-death experience on an operating table in Cairo. Unless it was the day you turned down a marriage proposal from the boy next door who became a murderous stalker and opened a cake shop. Even then, the details only matter if you can pull meaning from them. Things start to settle when you begin to make meaning, and sometimes they may jiggle some more, until you look again. It’s okay, the moving and jiggling; it’s how you know you’re finding the good stuff.

I am no longer alarmed when the ground begins to lurch. I get out the trekking poles, put on the hiking books, and keep on climbing. It is the only way to get to a high vantage point, away from the emotion and participation of the moment remembered, to a place where I can glimpse the landscape. 

The writing is changing me. The changing me is changing the writing.

When I started, I thought I knew what it was all about. I didn’t know. The knowing can only come with the work, the reflection, the practice. Be brave, be bold, be curious. It’s the only way to hit that moving target.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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