OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND ONTO THE PAGE! How to start writing your stories :)

Almost everyone I’ve ever met has stories in their head that swirl around and around and won’t give them any peace, until they’re told.

Certainly, most of the people I met in my recent tour of Far North and Outback QLD had stories that they needed to get out of their heads and onto the page. 

Writing these stories out and playing with them, using the techniques of fiction to transform the way we see them is a powerful way to get these stories out of our heads – for good! And BONUS we may even create something beautiful from all that pain. Because usually those stories that won’t let us rest are stories about the hard times.

But how to start?

Write a list of the stories on the top of your head – you know the ones.

What stories do you want to tell? Set the timer for 5 minutes and write down as many dot points or titles or other words that will remind you of these stories.

  • Write another list. What stories do you NEED to tell? Write for 5 minutes or until you’re done.
  • One more list. This is the scary one. What stories are you afraid to tell? If everyone was dead, if no one ever read it, what stories would you be brave enough to write?

Okay, now you have a list, your head should already feel a bit lighter. Lists are great for taking mountains and turning them back into molehills again. 

Have you got a story about a car you used to have?

Now take your list and a pile of index cards and write one of your story ideas on each card and put them in a box.

  • Set aside some time each day for writing. It doesn’t have to be long. Participants in my workshops know that it’s amazing how much you can write in five minutes. Start there. Pull out one of your story cards, set a timer and write. Five minutes, 10 minutes. Start small and grow the time gradually. We can all spare five minutes, right?
  • Write as fast as you can, don’t stop. We call this free-writing. Just write. Forget about sounding fancy or poetic or writerly, just get down the story as if you were telling a good friend all about what happened. Spelling and grammar and punctuation really don’t matter at this stage. Just write like a fury and get that story out of your head!
  • Write all the way to the end of that story. Chip away at your story a bit each day until you reach the end of that bit. If you find it’s taking a long time, then consider breaking that story idea up into smaller chunks. For instance, instead of writing “CHILDHOOD” on your story list, be more specific, eg: my first bedroom, time with grandma, the bad day, my favourite pet, the secret. Break it up into little manageable pieces.
  • Don’t look back! New writers (and more experienced writers too for that matter) often make the mistake of going back over the first bits they’ve written and spending ages trying to make it perfect. NO! Don’t do it! It’s a trap!! Just keep going forward.
  • Pick up a new card. Write a new story, and another and another, until your pile of cards is gone.
  • Writing is rewriting. Once you’ve got all your stories out of your head and onto a page, many pages, then you can go back and add specific sensory details, make sure you’re writing in scenes and order the pieces for narrative drive. But if all that doesn’t make any sense, don’t worry. Just get those stories written down. You’ll become better at writing just by doing it regularly. You may notice when you start putting your stories together that there are gaps. Fill them in. But not all the boring in between, day to day details, just the important things we need to know.
  • JUST START! YOU CAN DO IT!

If your literacy skills aren’t great, don’t worry – use the dictating feature on your device. Some of the best story tellers I know aren’t any good at spelling. It doesn’t mean they can’t spin a good yarn. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get cracking on those lists and let me know how you go. I have lots more hints and tips for writing on the website. Or drop me a line and I’ll do what I can to help.

Write like a fury!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

ROAD TO THE FAR NORTH! Great northern tour rundown.

In Karumba

Well, what an adventure that was! From Cairns and the sugar cane fields and glorious mountains and rain of the wet tropics, to the harshness of the savannah country, to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Cloncurry and Mt Isa and then across the wide open plains left by the ancient Eromanga Sea to the dinosaurs and roses of Richmond and lovely folk of Hughenden, to Charters Towers where my Nana met her hubby and married him, all the way back to the dry tropics and the bustle of Townsville. All in a little under three weeks.

Thank you, Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) for sending me on this epic tour through rain and storms and mountains and dust and plains so endless we could see the curve of the earth. Thank you most especially too to my dear friend Ivan who did all those long-distance drives, overtaking road trains up to 80 metres long, and grey nomads in their creeping caravans, with glee. He also took some stunning photos that will turn up in a future edition of the QWC magazine – Writing Queensland, featuring stories from the fabulous array of characters I met on my travels.

We made it!

They say we are partly shaped by our environment, and these wild and beautiful places have moulded some unique and talented souls. It was a pleasure to meet a few of them and be a part of their writing lives.

I have been a member of QWC since 2002. Without them I would not have found a publisher for Thrill Seekers or have learnt so much about the craft of writing, and they continue to support me and other Queensland writers with fabulous opportunities such as this. They offer a range of services and support for writers at all stages of their writing lives. You can check them out and become a member here. 

Highlights of the tour were many, but those that stand out now are the beautiful workshop room and big crowd in Atherton, the teeming rain and sugarcane fields of Innisfail – my ancestral home, lovely Tenielle in Georgetown who gave me a kinesiology treatment during our one on one workshop, meeting published author and Karumba local, Sylvia, who first arrived in this wild outstation in 1971 with three children in a caravan when the nearest drinking water was a three hour drive to Normanton, the unexpected beauty of the rock formations in Cloncurry, Porcupine Gorge, the warmth of my welcome in Hughenden (thank you to outstanding librarian and pillar of the community Mim), and coming full circle to familiar faces in Townsville. 

Cloncurry sunset

In each workshop I wrote along with participants and now have a pile of scribbled stories about moments of joy, bad things that turned out to be good things, and hard times in my life transformed into fairy tales with satisfyingly magical endings. Here’s one of my favourites: a moment of joy in Normanton.

Norman River from the pontoon

IN NORMANTON

The Norman River, wide and milky green, swayed the pontoon under my feet. I spread my arms wide, the cool morning air tempering the heat of the sun rapidly rising, soft and warm on my skin. Across the way campers sat on the banks with cups up tea but I felt alone with this wild world, the scent of salt and grass, rich and clean.

I breathed deep filling my body with the energy of this place. I thanked the people of this land, who’d loved it and kept it holy for so long. Birds called and my breath drew deep.

Later, as I waited outside the hall, an old, very black man in a cowboy hat and nylon picture shirt walked by. I smiled and said, “Good morning.”

He smiled back, his teeth white-yellow in his shining face. “You are welcome here,” he said, and my heart swelled. I was welcome. Welcomed by someone whose home this was, who had roots deeper than the oldest trees, connected to place.

“Thank you, Uncle,” I said. And my day was already perfect.

Porcupine Gorge

With thanks and respect to all the traditional owners of the places we visited, the Indigenous nations of far north and far west Queensland.

If you like the photos here, check out my Instagram account for lots more (I went a bit snap happy).

A great big hello to my new writing friends from my travels.

Write like furies people! Set that timer and go go go!

With lots of love,

Edwina xx

RELAX AND WRITE IN PARADISE JUNE 2021!

Put yourself in this picture! Escape the winter blues and join me and other like-minded women writers on beautiful Magnetic Island, off the coast from Townsville in North Queensland.

As the world continues to roll with the punches of Covid-19 (who else is feeling a little bruised?), there are still places of retreat and recovery where creativity is valued and time slows down to let you settle deeply into your writing, and yourself.

Come along and join the fun at RELAX AND WRITE IN PARADISE June 25 – 27 2021.

At Amaroo on Mandalay! Yes, a resort! No bunk beds here, but studio apartments with their own kitchenettes and bathrooms, singles, or bigger rooms for those who bring along a writing buddy.

Is your creative spirit crying out from some TLC? It’s been a crazy year, take some time out to cherish yourself and refill your tank.

Join a wonderful supportive group of women in a fun and safe environment discovering just how much some deep relaxation can ignite your imagination and get you writing again. Relax and unwind with gentle morning yoga sessions and get writing with innovative workshops that use yoga, and drama techniques to help move those stories out of your head and onto the page. 

The program includes two yoga sessions, dance night and four creative writing workshops. Whether you’re writing memoir, fiction or screenplays, these sessions cover the basics of character, dialogue and story development, as well as advice on editing and submitting your work. Two nights comfortable, airconditioned accommodation plus delicious vegetarian breakfasts and dinners are all included in the cost.

PRICES START at only $550 twin share!

Come along and join the fun, make new writing buddies and renew your love of writing. Contact me for more info and bookings.

HURRY! Repeat retreaters – or mermaids as they’re better known – have already snapped up a lot of spaces. Places are limited to a maximum of 15, so you get plenty of attention for your projects.

Don’t miss out on this luxury retreat at bargain prices. Contact me now to secure your place!

I am so looking forward to getting up to Magnetic Island and relaxing after the craziness of the last year and a bit. YAY! Not long now. 

Early bird prices end tomorrow! DON’T DELAY! You can secure your place with a deposit and pay the rest later. 

Hope you can make it 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina xx

DROWNING IN DETAIL. Managing research in your stories.

Whether you’re researching historical details for your fiction, or using your own journals for a memoir, there’s a danger that your story will be swallowed by all the information that you’ve uncovered. 

It’s exciting to discover or remember the world you’re writing about, but our job as writers is to figure out which of the multitudinous details we find are the perfect fit for our story.

Researching a place or a period of time can be fascinating, I know. I’ve fallen into that rabbit hole many a time. Hours, days, weeks of writing time can be lost as the lure of ever more information tempts us on until we have a mountain of facts that obscure the shape of our story. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to do this research (though maybe not quite to the extent I’ve done sometimes). We need to understand the world our characters live in. However, we really don’t need to include every little thing we’ve learnt about that world in the story. 

Instead, the knowledge we’ve gathered acts as an informed backdrop to the actions and choices of our characters. If we fall too much in love with all the quirky facts, they can drown out the voices of our characters and kill our story.

The discovery of long forgotten diaries, either your own or a relative’s, is indeed a treasure trove for a writer. But again, fascinating as it all is, not all of those day-to-day details are worthy of being included in a memoir or fiction piece based on them. We really don’t need to know what time you woke up or what you had for breakfast or what you did at work. Unless that workday or breakfast includes a major event that has emotional import, most of this daily grind can be omitted without doing a disservice to your ancestor, or your previous self.

My best advice with managing research, whether personal, historical or geographical, is to spend a week or two reading everything you can get your hands on, immersing yourself in the world you want to write about. But then –

Put that research aside. You can make notes about big moments or life/historical events that will help to shape your story, but apart from that rely only upon your memory once you start writing. Your brain will have absorbed the world and the feeling of the story world, but not all those facts that are irrelevant. Focus on your plot and characters and write your heart out, all the way to the end. 

If you hit a section where you just HAVE to check an historical detail, resist as much as you can. Highlight the sentence or make a note for yourself on the manuscript about the question but be strong and keep focused on the story. Otherwise, you run the risk of being sucked into the vortex of research and losing your momentum.

KEEP WRITING until you type “The End.” Then during your second draft you can check on all those bits you weren’t sure about and find interesting specific details that enhance your story perfectly without overwhelming the reader with an overload of unnecessary facts. 

Research is there to provide a backdrop, not take centre stage. Don’t let it hijack your story!

Hope that helps! Have you been sucked into a vortex of research? 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Lots of love

Edwina xxx

10 SUPER STORY STARTERS!

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Trees as big and beautiful as this one start as seeds. Stories start from seeds too.

Here are some story seeds to plant in the garden of your imagination or memories.

These prompts can be used for both memoir pieces and fiction. For fiction just invent situations for a character, not yourself.

  1. A moment of joy. Big or small. Where were you? What was happening? Use all five senses to describe what was going on. Go into your body – how does the emotion of joy feel in your body? What happened just before this? What happened just after?

2. Shame. Not for the faint-hearted but great story material. A moment of shame, maybe one you’ve carried a long time. Get it out of your head and onto the page – or give it to a fictional character.

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3. The biggest lie you’ve ever told and why. Again you can write from your own life or give it to a character.

4. The best decision you’ve ever made. Why was this decision so important? Great stories are born from these moments that change us.

5. An oxygen mask moment (or light bulb moment). A point in your life when you suddenly felt like you’d had a blast of oxygen, or a light had been turned on and you saw the situation you were in clearly for the first time.

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6. A piece of clothing from childhood. This could be something you wore, (like my favourite Donald Duck T-shirt that I wore until it was in shreds and my mother threw it out), or a piece of clothing someone else wore. What story does it have to tell. Why do you remember it?

7. A smell you love, a smell you hate. Smell can open all sorts of doors. What story of yours starts with a smell?

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8. Witnessing an act of small cruelty. Once, when I was living in Singapore, I saw a harried young businesswoman dragging her screaming five year old across the street, screeching at her, “After all I’ve sacrificed for you!”. It’s stuck with me all this time. A teacher at school? A mean girl at a party? Start there and see where it takes you.

9. A found object. Next time you’re on a walk, keep your eyes open for something. Anything. A scrap of paper with a few words on it. A rock. A piece of rubbish. A leaf or a feather. What story starts here?

10. Rewrite a favourite religious story or myth, updated to present day.

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Okay! Pick one (or maybe two – see Thing 1 and Thing 2).

Now set a timer for ten minutes and write like a fury. Don’t stop for anything. If your pen breaks, write with your fingertip. Find your momentum and just keep going. If you’re still going when the timer goes off, ignore it!

Have fun and let me know how you go 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina xx

FEEDBACK AND REVISION RETREAT IN SPRINGBROOK!

Planning to write up a storm for NANOWRIMO? Not sure what to do next?

RELAX AND WRITE RETREATS are thrilled to announce a special Feedback and Revision Retreat at SPRINGBROOK!

Nearby swimming hole!

Super boost your writing this December at this special retreat in Springbrook at the Theosophical Society’s Education and Retreat Centre.

Whether you’re aiming to get stuck into your writing, or if you have a manuscript almost done, this is the retreat for you!

3 pm FRIDAY 11 to 2 pm SUNDAY 13 December 2020

Dinner time feasting with fabulous folk!

Connect with like-minded women in a beautiful location, be inspired by practical and informative workshops, stretch and relax with yoga and release your inner-goddess dancing under the stars. 

This retreat is tailored for those who have a major project underway and who are looking for some feedback and advice on the redrafting process. Share your work with other writers at a similar stage and pay slightly more to receive individual editorial feedback on your writing and advice as to how best to move forward with your project.

Workshops focus on finding the heart of your story, structuring for success and publication pathways. 

Small groups ensure personal attention

Also joining us is fabulous masseuse, Janine Maegaard, to help ease those writing-induced aches and pains. Extra cost.

The program includes two yoga sessions, dance night and three creative writing workshops.

Two nights basic but comfortable accommodation plus all meals are included in the cost.

FROM ONLY $420 all inclusive, for a room of your own. 

COST for the weekend of writing, fun and feasting, including accommodation, all meals, 3 yoga sessions, 3 creative writing workshops and a dance night. Transport not included.

Single $450

OR Pay your $200 deposit before 31 October 2020 for EARLY BIRD  $420

Plus optional $50 extra for editorial feedback on your synopsis and first 10 pages from Edwina

Contact me first to ensure availability 🙂

Here’s the RETREAT PROGRAM.

 All activities are optional

FRIDAY 11 DECEMBER

ARRIVAL from 3 pm – get settled and get writing

5:30 pm – Meet and Greet  

6:30 –  DINNER

7:15 – 8:30 WORKSHOP 1– Finding the heart of your story. What is your story’s central quest/question?

SATURDAY 12 DECEMBER

7am – 8:30 –YOGA  

8:30 – BREAKFAST

10:30am – 1 pm – WORKSHOP 2 – Structuring for success. Scene lists, suspense and more

1 pm – LUNCH followed by FEEDBACK GROUPS OR INDIVIDUAL WRITING TIME

6:00 pm – Gentle stretches and deep relaxation 

Deeply relaxed!

6:30pm – DINNER

7:15– 8:30 pm – DANCING

SUNDAY 13 DECEMBER

7am – 8:30am –YOGA

8:30 – BREAKFAST

10:30 – 12:30 – WORKSHOP 3 –Publishing pathways, pitching and proposals, bios, your writing CV – collage

12:30 – LUNCH

2 pm DEPARTURES

All times not indicated are for supervised or solitary writing time and/or individual feedback sessions with Edwina or in your small groups, and/or exploring, massages and sleeping!

FEEDBACK DETAILS – email Edwina your first 10 pages plus your synopsis at least 2 weeks prior to retreat

Come along and join the fun, make new writing buddies and renew your love of writing and life. 

We always have a wonderful time!

Happy Retreaters 🙂

Contact me with any questions or if you’d like more info about this or other retreats. More retreats coming in 2021!

Lots of love

Edwina

Writing Grief

A wise writer once said that grief is the primary impetus for writing. It is certainly what forced me to sit down and bring the stories out of my head onto the page back when I started writing in 2002.

Through writing out the pain of my losses I began to heal.

By reimagining the circumstances and outcomes of my losses, I was able to glimpse another way of being.

By helping others to write out the pain of their hearts, my own heart began to mend.

We write to bear witness to our own pain, to leave a mark for those we love who didn’t have the time or inclination or the power to make their own. As writers we have the power to do all this. 

Sunrise Coolum Beach

We can free ourselves from the endless reruns of traumatic moments in our lives by recording them on the page. But even more than this, by applying the magic of the imagination to the unchangeable facts of our losses, we can transform those stories into meaning. We can create hope and joy where perhaps none existed.

Better yet, the power of the imagination is so strong that the brain, after a while, can no longer differentiate between memories and our imaginings so our gentler, kinder, more hopefully imaginings begin to temper the trauma of the truth.

I have always written to search out or create meaning from the losses in my life. And it has worked. I write my way into being. I write my way through emotions I can’t understand. By finding the right words, by giving my story structure and form, by giving my pain to imagined characters, I am able to leave behind my attachment to these stories of loss.

I am able to create beauty from what had previous only felt like ugliness.

So write! Write out your pain. Reimagine the stories you tell yourself and transform them. Create beauty from the darkness.

That is our power as writers.

“To see that your life is a story while you’re in the middle of living it may be a help to living it well.” 

Ursula Le GuinGifts

If you need help getting started or are floundering in grief and need a helping hand, I’ve just released my new book A Guide Through Grief, which I hope will help you through.

You can buy it directly from Amazon as an eBook or Print on Demand if you are outside Australia, eBook only within Australia

If you’d like a hard copy here in Australia just CONTACT ME and I’ll send you one. Soon you’ll be able to purchase directly from my website.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the self-same well from which your laughter rises is oftentimes filled with tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy it can contain.”

Kahil Gibran

Sending lots of love your way ,

Edwina xxx

Big Moomin hug

Back Cover Blurb Competition

My friends at Query Letter are running a new competition for back cover blurbs – you know those back cover bites of a book that, in combination with the cover, make you want to read the whole thing.

These can be tricky to write – especially with the strict word limit of 100 words. They’re different from a synopsis where you need to tell the whole story and reveal secrets. A blurb sets up all the questions and leaves them unanswered.

You don’t need to have written the book to enter this competition but if you come up with a great idea trying to think of a captivating blurb then I highly recommend you get writing it!

Have a go! Fascinating characters in an untenable situation that just keeps on getting worse. Go on, you can do it 🙂

Have fun and let me know how you go.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

CRAFTING WORDS WORKSHOP SEPTEMBER 20 AVID READER

WRITING YOUR WAY INTO A STORY WORKSHOP AT AVID READER

SEPTEMBER 20 2020 10 am – 1 pm

I’m thrilled to announce my first Avid Reader workshop. Avid Reader is my fabulous local bookstore that is the beating heart of West End where I live. The wonderful Fiona Stager and her team of writer-booksellers have created a lively writing community and a bookstore full of the very best of Australian and International writing.

Not only that, they do a great job supporting local writers as well, with a number of us launching our books in store. Or through them virtually now Covid has made things tricky.

Launching Raymond Evan’s poetry collection last year.

Join me at this Zoom workshop where we will use yoga techniques to free our imaginations and write our way into and through a story!

Get into the heart and body of your characters and learn how to shape plot from character goals, traits and failings. Filled with all my best hints and tips, this is a workshop you’ll leave inspired with the beginnings of a story, if not a full first draft.

I’d love to see you! Let me help you get rid of that critical voice. Get all your writing questions together and ask away.

Let’s get writing!

FINDING THE HEART OF YOUR STORY – GO DEEPER

What is your story about?

What is it really about?

These are the important questions, writer and teacher of writing, Robin Hemley gets writers of memoir and non-fiction to ask themselves. Seven times. Each.

So, what is your story about? What is it really about? Write your way down to find the hidden depths and themes of your work. It’s not just for non-fiction writers either, fiction writers benefit from exactly the same process. If you ever get the editorial comment, “Go deeper”, you need to ask yourself these questions and delve into the emotional and spiritual heart of your story.

You can try doing this before you’ve written a first draft but for me it always works best once that crappy first draft is on the page. 

Amanda Lohrey, esteemed Australian author, who I was lucky enough to have as an advisor for my Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland, calls this initial stage of writing, that shitty but all important first draft, EXCAVATING. And that’s just what we’re doing, digging around, digging deeper and wider, throwing everything in until somewhere along the line, maybe two or three drafts later, we strike gold. But we can’t find that gold until we do the messy work of delving deep.

For me this process works best if I sit and focus first, clear my mind and send that troublesome inner-critic from the room. See my guided meditation on how to do this. Once you’re centred and settled, tune into your body and the emotions that are stirring and wanting to be expressed in your story. Sit with that story or scene or section, FEEL it, then plunge into a big free write around it. Throw in everything that floats to the top of your consciousness. Anything. Everything. Write fast and furiously until you have exhausted the topic.

Keep digging!

Usually I’m a big believer in less is more, but in this case more and more and more is better. Sometimes there’s a whole mountain of scrap metal, rocks and dirt that has to be cleared away before you strike that shining vein of gold. 

Find your gold!

Write your way deeper and deeper, right around it and through it and you’ll eventually find your gems. Then you extract your precious jewels from all the detritus and insert only the very best, polished stones into your story. 

Don’t worry about all those wasted words. I keep files of offcuts, just to soothe my anxious self, and though most of the time all that trash stays in the trash, sometimes I fossick out another hidden gem to use in a different story.

Find your gold then celebrate with your writing buddies!

Are you shying away from the emotional heart of your story? Don’t. Dig deep. Mine your body and life for feelings and meaning and allow them space in your writing. 

After all, what are we writing for? I don’t know about you, but I write to move people. To make them feel something. To give them a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. As writers we have the greatest tool for spreading compassion at our fingertips. Through story we get as close as is humanly possible to the world experience, life, and heart of another human.

That is a great gift.

Don’t be afraid to write your heart onto the page. It is what creates connection. And in these challenging times, we need connection more than ever.

So, what is your story about? What is it really about?

Have a go and let me know what you come up with!

In other news, we’re launching Our Inside Voices, this Sunday 23 August 2020 10:30 – 12 at Orleigh Park West End, opposite the entrance to Montague Rd. Come along and say hi. I’ll be doing a reading along with a few of my fellow contributors.

Take care and keep smiling through all this madness. The world is still a beautiful place full of joy and wonder.

Nasturtiums and Hibiscus

Lots of love

Edwina xxx