Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Momentum - I've got it, do you have it?

Why do we do what we do?  Why do we show up at work each day and slave away?  What if we don’t like what we do?  Why don’t we change our direction towards something we want to do?

The answer is simple.  We gain momentum in life and changing momentum is difficult.

Momentum, scientifically, equals mass multiplied by velocity.

We can have many different momentums (can you pluralise momentum?).  For example, my children provide me with a certain momentum, metaphorically, when I reflect on the above scientific equation.  They and I are busy propelling them through school.  They have a velocity of one grade each year, and their mass is the accumulated education of previous years.  This multiplies, and the end result is the momentum to reach the end of school.  Let’s hope they pay enough attention to their education so they don’t falter before they reach the end.

Employment is another example.  Some people travel with great velocity towards the top of their career.  They’re the high flyers.  Again, let me suggest the mass equates to their capability, which can be improved through education and experience.  Neglect the mass, and the momentum can peter out.  There’s no reason you can’t restore the momentum, but the mathematics rule the equation – make sure you work on your mass...

I suspect you could derail my little metaphor here, but not inside this blog.  It’s my blog.

Getting enough momentum to write a novel has taken some serious work.  Momentum started back at primary school.  All my stories in Grade 3 were longer than everyone else’s.  Once I started writing I couldn’t stop.  My voracious appetite for reading caused me to wonder if I could do the same.  The seeds were sown.  Over the following years of education, prior to employment, I occasionally worked on my mass (no smart remarks thank you).  English literature in Year 11.  First year English literature hidden inside my Bachelor of Science.

Then a short course in creative writing.  Only eight weeks long.  More mass, but no velocity.

The breakthrough was the suggestion from my wife to do something serious.  I started at Holmesglen TAFE – a diploma of professional writing and editing.  I don’t need the diploma.  I’ve got a Bachelor of Science.  I took the course to gain some mass, but mainly velocity.  I needed something to get me travelling.

I have a pile of short stories from my first three years at Holmesglen.  Year 1: Popular Fiction.  Year 2: Short Story 1.  Year 3: Short Story 2.  Then a hiatus as I studied Editing 1 in year 4.  Finally I tackled Novel 1 in year 5, last year, and Novel 2 this year.

Another time I’ll tell you about the things I’ve learned.  But rest assured; I’ve got velocity.  Writing is a habit now.  Nearly every day, 300 or more words.  Writing every day would deliver 110,000 words in a year, which is enough for a novel.  With 80,000 words in my first novel written already I have mass too.  It’s impossible to consider not finishing.

Now I’ve got a blog with a few posts.  I have two short stories on the go.  It’s been a huge investment to get this momentum, but with a fair amount of fun along the way, and a few friends I would never have met in my normal circles.

Who knows if I’ll get published.  I have no illusions about this.  But I have changed the momentum of my life.  You can too.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What do you want to read in my blog?

Naomi Simson spoke at an event I attended a few weeks back.  Do you know who she is?  CEO for Red Balloon, an organisation she founded, based on fun...look her up in google.

She was super polished in front of the crowd – a piece of marketing for Red Balloon – practiced and professional.  In Australian terms, perhaps verging on over-the-top.  But before you misread me, can I suggest this is what it takes to be successful.

One quote from Naomi caused me to think – What causes growth is the ability to make a difference to another human being.  How does that work?  For business transactions, let’s remember that every business consists of people.  For two businesses to grow, then each business must find a way to make a difference for the people in the other business.

The difference needs to be relevant.  There’s no point making a difference (let’s say ‘reducing costs’ when the business and the people in that business are trying to increase revenues) for something unimportant.  To understand what is relevant, you need to ask questions and listen.

But this is not a business blog.  This is a chart of my progress towards publication of my first novel.  One part of the strategy is to ‘build an on-line’ platform – essentially a group of followers that read my blogs, and when it comes time to approach a publisher, I can point to my success as a blogger.

So here is the question.  Given my objective, what do you, the occasional reader of my blog want to hear about?  Anything?  I’m going to keep writing what I’m interested in, but also curious to know what interests you.  Perhaps you’d like to know what the book is about, or what challenges I’m facing.  I can tell you how many words, and what draft number.  Or perhaps I can tell you about my efforts in short story writing.

Am I breaking a rule?  Is a blog supposed to cater to its readers?  Or am I supposed to come up with interesting stuff to you all on my own.

I go back to Naomi Simson’s quote.  The relationship between the blog and you needs to be relevant, before I can even hope to make a difference.  Go on, write something about what you hoped to read when you clicked on this blog.  Tell me...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Living the dream.

Living the dream.  A phrase I hear all the time at work.  And look at me.  Successful IT executive.  Loving wife.  Wonderful children.  Outstanding tennis player (I won a tournament in 2011!).  Talented writer.  It’s all honey and roses.  I am living the dream.

Did I mention brilliant technician?  The lady seated beside me couldn't get her headphones working, so she asked if she could use mine.  The fact I was using them seems irrelevant.  Turns out, she wanted to use the headphone socket on my arm rest, because she could not get her screen to change channels.  Go figure.  Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details.  A couple of minutes later she acknowledged that I was right, thanked me for my assistance, and was able to watch and hear what she wanted on her screen with her headphones.

By now you will have figured out the other part of living the dream.  I travel.  ‘London, Paris, New York?’ I hear you ask.  Once upon a time, a decade ago, I visited all three locations inside of six months.  This trip?  Returning from Adelaide.  Later in the week I’m going to Sydney.  My only night in Melbourne is Wednesday to see the girls perform in their School Presentation Evening.  

The return trip to Melbourne started well.  A quick ride to the airport allowed me to catch an earlier flight, hoping to get home at a reasonable time.  But no.  Flight delayed.  So now I’ve lost my window seat near the front of the plane and my vegetarian meal, and find myself in the last row, sandwiched between two people.  Is it just this flight, or is it bumpier up the back?  My original flight is landing before me.

And the non-technical lady beside me in the window seat?  In the middle of my snack (fortunately vegetarian), she announces she needs to get up.  For a moment, I’m confused.  How can I get up with all this food and drink in front of me.  Then I scull my drink and put the empty can in the seat pocket.  The biscuits go into the rubbish bag.  Laptop goes into the bag at my feet (the same bag leaving me no foot space).  I nudge the man next to me and he goes through the same process, and then we get out.  There is no point getting comfortable in the seat again – she’ll be back soon.

Living the dream.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Presentation Evening Recollections

Presentation evening for Professional Writing and Editing, Chadstone Campus, Holmesglen TAFE.  The night of nights, the gala of galas.  Red and white wine in cardboard casks.  Plastic cups almost thin enough to be rubber gloves, or worse, prophylactics.  Stubbies in a bin with two bags of ice for company.  The empty stubby box makes a practical bin.  Chips, nuts and homemade sandwiches, spread on a makeshift buffet of desks.  The agenda is unclear, and we sit and chat, waiting for something to happen.

People come and go, but more come than go, until everyone is there.  Old friendships are rekindled.  People not in my class from 2011, but I knew from 2010, or earlier.  Writers come in all ages.  There are students straight from secondary school, and students old enough to be my parent, and I’m not so young...  I meet the thirty-two year old daughter of one of my fellow students. 

Eventually one of the teachers marshals order, and we get underway.  We say farewell to two teachers, both with long tenures.  Two teachers, from a small group of eight.  The course will be less without them, but somebody will step forward to take an opportunity.  Tears flow as people remember their friendship and classroom inspiration.

A bucket is passed around for all to contribute a gold coin or two.

There is performance on offer, and first up is a music video from one of the students.  It looks great, but the sound isn’t working.  A student pops up to help, but to no avail.  We scratch that item from the agenda.

Awards are given out.  A book, a bottle of wine, and a Slurpee voucher from 7-11.

Each award is accompanied by a description of the achievement.  This student has produced poems of great character, or descriptions of beauty, or achieved the highest academic results.  The words drip from the lips of each teacher, superlatives and platitudes, recycled, no doubt used before, but each award accepted with pride and a kiss and a hug.  Applause from the eighty people floods the room.  The air is moist with emotion.

A phone rings.  Our master of ceremonies realises it is hers, announces who is calling, and the lecture theatre choruses, ‘Answer it.’

The bucket of money is divided in half and presented to the top two students.  $81.70 each.

 It might not be the Academy Awards, with red carpets, glittering dresses and sparkling champagne. 
But like the Academy Awards attendees, this is a performance group.  Our work is intended for public consumption.  Everyone chooses to be here.

When one of the students performs with guitar and voice, he is very good.

A poem is read by a dozen people.  I know to avoid adverbs and clichés to describe the quiet in the room.

Some of us will go on to be published.

You, the public, will pay money to read our works.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Katy's Poem (and mine too)

Katy and I collaborated on a poem in writing class on Thursday night.

Some say love is like old cheese
Texture plus a bitter taste
Blue veins and holes – such a tease

Quite poor, although produced in less than five minutes, and constrained by specific rules.
-          First sentence provided
-          Following two lines must have same number of syllables
-          Final words of lines 1 and 3 to rhyme

What was the point of the exercise?  I guess (because we weren’t told) we were experimenting in the use of picking our words carefully.  Five minutes to select fourteen syllables.  Imagine deploying the same amount of care to my novel:
-          seventy-five thousand words
-          approximately one hundred and fifty thousand syllables (what is the average number of syllables in a word?)
-          eight hundred and ninety-two hours
-          two and three-quarter years at one hour a day (I’ve got a family and a full-time job).


Add to that time spent in class learning better techniques, writing this blog and a few short stories, and the occasional bout of laziness.

That first novel might be some time off yet.  Or, practice so that I can produce fourteen syllables in less than five minutes.

What’s that you say?   Surely you can write faster than that?  Yes, on average, I think I write about fourteen words per minute.  But then, at the end of the first draft, how many further drafts?  This is the point of the poem we constructed – it takes time to get the right words in the right place for maximum effect.

One last thought.  It was fun.  Moving words around, seeking the right mix.  Looking for poetic elements that worked.  Understanding the nature of cheese and getting the right context.  If you get it right – it’s also fun to share with the class.  I’m sorry to say that we didn’t get it right, but then, it wasn’t all my fault.  I had help.

Any comments from the very few people that read this out there?  How many words do you write per minute?  How many drafts?

Monday, 14 November 2011

A day at Luna Park

Clanking sounds, like ghosts dragging chains.
A strain of popular music grates through a public address system, poking out occasionally from:
Bells tinkling as a two carriage train fights through the crowd.  A mother curses as poorly trained staff fail to manage a queue.
Foreign languages.
‘Can we go on the spider again?’
‘It’s your birthday.  You can go as many times as you like.’
Disneyland has longer queues and shorter wait times.
One of the rides is closed down.
Weeds grow between the uneven pavement.
Purple uniforms are hoisted to the waist to stop them falling down.
Broken down Mad Mouse carriages sit in full view.
Yet happiness reigns.
Are Melbournites so cheap?  Where is our high quality theme park?  Where is the Big Dipper?  And the River Caves?  I miss the Giggle Palace.
Yet happiness reigns.
Only one staff member per ride to keep the costs down and the time between rides interminable.  Yet people wait.
The Scenic Railway is ninety-nine years old.  It has the longest queue.  We wait, and buy the picture of the children, arms raised high and mouths open in giggle-screams.
Happiness reigns.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A day at the races

A day at the races for those that don’t gamble regularly is an experiment in hope and frustration.  Each race comes up, you use what little knowledge you have to pick a horse, you place your bet, and hope.  Of course, it doesn’t work out.  Some people get lucky, but on average, it can’t work out.  If it did, then the bookies wouldn’t make money, and we’d all be gamblers.  Stands to reason.

We go to the races for other reasons.  Fine company.  Real champagne, and plenty of it.  Nice food.  People to watch.  Lots of people to watch.  You get to giggle at young women in ridiculous heels, and see them struggle as champagne enters their bloodstream, the sun beats down, and blisters set in.  Not to mention the blokes with eight beers too many under their belts.

But back to the horses.  I watched every race on a big screen.  (The only live horseflesh that made it passed my eyes were the police horses at the end of the day.)  Money was invested, and the horses were away.  People yelled and cheered.  I watched.  Mostly, my horses ran fast early, and were swallowed up in the run to the finish.  A couple of times our horses came in and I watched, and regretted my betting strategy on those occasions.

On no occasion did I set up a betting strategy to avoid returning to work on Monday.  That was probably sensible.

My first novel is like one of those horses.  I’m placing my bet – the hours invested in writing, and in learning the craft of writing.  (You can be the judge of my learning.)  My skills are amateurish, like the unprofessional gambler.  When the novel is completed it will leave the blocks, ‘and they’re racing’.  Will it get published?  Will it sell?  Will my strategy to sell it be successful?  The professional writer knows how to avoid negative answers to these questions.  I have to take other people’s tips.

My first novel won’t allow me to avoid returning to work on a Monday in the future.  But like a day at the races, there is enjoyment regardless.  I’ve enjoyed the classes and the learning.  I’ve made friends along the way.  There is a joy in my little successes.

Still, despite hope not being a strategy, I hope my novel is not swallowed up in the race to the finish line.
It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it anyway, slightly modified for accuracy.  Many things in life are a risk.  One thing wasn’t much of a risk – Black Caviar winning for the 16th time in a row.  I didn’t waste my money on a bet.