ANECDOTE vs STORY – What’s the Difference?

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When I first started writing I got a few rejections saying my pieces were anecdotes and not stories. After I’d dried my tears, I began to wonder what the difference was?

What is it that makes a story a story, and an anecdote something you tell your friends but don’t get published?

MEANING.

An ANECDOTE is an incident from our lives that we tell our mates down at the pub or over a cup of tea. This tale may have many of the elements of a story – setting, characters and action – but usually that’s it.

For example –

When people notice the scar running from my forehead down along my left temple beside my eye, I tell them an anecdote about how, when I was fourteen, I was searching for organisms out on the rocks at Deadman’s Beach (true!) during my school biology camp on Stradbroke Island.

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A huge wave came hurtling towards us and I braced myself by facing into the barnacle covered rocks, gripping on for dear life. The wave crashed over me and my classmates, and smashed my face into the rocks, dragging me as it fled back out to sea, grating my face against the barnacles. Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to my feet and leapt  over the rocks, racing to shore where my poor teacher was greeted with a bloody mess like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie.

I was almost helicoptered back to Brisbane, but the local island doctor was used to shark bites and stitched my face back together again – sixty stitches in all. I wasn’t a pretty sight. Once I got back home my friend took some photos and we entered me in a Dolly Magazine Covergirl Competition. We thought we were pretty funny. Needless to say, I didn’t win 🙂

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As you can see, this anecdote has plenty of action and drama and even a happy ending. But it’s not a story. WHY?

Because it only tells what happened. An anecdote doesn’t reflect on the events and dig deeper to find meaning.

STORIES on the other hand are how humans make sense of the world and what happens to us. They delve deep into the emotional heart of what that incident meant to us and how we were changed as a result. A story creates MEANING from the meaningless.

For example –

What if I told you this accident happened only a couple of months after the death of my young father? What if I told you that when the wave hit something inside me hoped that it would tear me away and take me to where my father was. What if I wrote about how, as the doctor stitched my face back together again, he sang the Death March. What if I wrote about how my best friend tenderly helped me wash the blood out of my hair that night as I sat in a cold bath. What if I told you that I lay awake for hours in my bunk, trying to convince myself that my father’s death had been a bad dream I’d had while knocked out, that he would be waiting for me on the other side of the ferry?

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Then we’d have a story.  A story I haven’t written yet, but just might.

“Dig deeper,” I tell the memoirists I edit and teach. Don’t be afraid. Go deeper and find the true heart of your story. Turn that anecdote into something that touches people.

Have you got an anecdote or two you could dig deeper into to create meaning? Search hard enough and everything that happens has another layer of story reflecting human experience.

Want to learn more? Come along to my next retreat in the mountains with a special focus on memoir writing. Great for beginners too, and anyone needing to reboot their writing mojo!

That’s what we writers do, we write to make sense of the world.

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Let me know how you go!

Lots of love

Edwina

EARLY BIRD PRICES CLOSE THIS WEEK!

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Just a quick reminder that early bird prices for my upcoming retreat in the mountains west of Brisbane close soon.

This special retreat for women is a great introduction if you’re a new writer wanting to test the waters. This retreat has a memoir/life writing focus but is also suitable for those writing fiction.

Come and Relax and Write in the Mountains. Renew your love of writing and life and make new writing buddies to share the adventure.

A whole weekend of writing, yoga, food and fun in a peaceful location.

Join our community of kind, creative women.

Stay in comfortable, rustic accomodation with plenty of space and quiet writing nooks and time to write.

Time for you at last!

RETREAT INCLUDES

4 Writing workshops

2 Yoga sessions

All meals and accomodation included.

ALL FOR ONLY $360! If you miss the cut off date-  $400.

Pay your $200 deposit now to secure your place.

Editorial feedback and massages also available at extra cost.

HURRY! BOOK NOW! Returning retreaters have nabbed lots of spots. Only 5 places still available. 

Numbers are capped to make sure everyone gets the attention they deserve.

Contact me for more details.

Hope you can come! We always have a wonderful time 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina

 

FREE MEMOIR WORKSHOP IN TOWNSVILLE! YAY!

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Yes! Not long now and I’m flying up to Townsville for the Queensland Writers Centre to facilitate a day-long workshop on using the techniques of fiction to bring your memoir to life. And best of all, it’s FREE!

My father’s family is from far north Queensland, so I always enjoy travelling up to the cane fields, tropical sunshine and reef. Such a beautiful part of the world where wonderful people somehow manage to thrive in all that heat.

You can register HERE

WHEN?

Sat., 11 May 2019

10:30 am – 4:30 pm AEST

WHERE?

Aitkinvale Library

4 Petunia Street

Aikenvale

Townsville, QLD 4814

See the map HERE

So if you have a story from your life you’re itching to tell, come along and write up a storm!

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A full day workshop for FREE! YIPPEE!

Keen writers and beginners all welcome.

Book HERE

Hope to see you there 🙂

Edwina x

SUSPENSE = HOPE + FEAR

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As far back as Aristotle and the very first plays, story tellers have known that the secret to keeping your audience on the edge of their seats, or readers turning pages, is to keep them in a state of tension.

As story tellers it’s our job to manipulate our audience’s emotions. To keep them moving between hope and fear, relief and anxiety, joy and despair.

Writers can learn from sports, yes, even football! The best games have suspense in buckets – that’s why watching footy on a Friday night is so appealing to most people. Audiences and readers want in story what they avoid at all cost in life – conflict, anxiety, opposition and tension.

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However, the battle for the win is even more gratifying when the game is close. Games won by one point in the final minute keep us on the edge, enduring and enjoying a tension that is almost uncomfortable, right up until the end. So much better than a game where right from the first ten minutes we know it’s a walk over.

It’s the same with story. If a protagonist too easily achieves their goals, then where’s the drama? Where’s the fun of all those uncomfortable emotions?

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The opposition to a character’s goals have to be almost insurmountable. The protagonist needs to do her very best, make plans and execute them, but then fail or be thwarted until that very last minute – maybe even just as the final bell is ringing. Maybe all her attempts will only make things worse. Maybe self-sabotage will undermine her at a key point, when finally everything seemed to be flowing her way.

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As writers we want the reader to call out “No!” then turn the page to see what happens next, hoping against hope that she’ll somehow dig herself out of the hole she’s created.

It’s that movement between hope and fear that writers need to keep in mind as they shape their stories. If not in the first draft, then definitely in the second.

Check each scene. Is there some sort of conflict? What is the outcome of this conflict? Are we led to believe the character can achieve her goal, which seems or paramount importance to her whether it’s life-threatening or not? Or are we terrified that she’ll never get what she wants?

Does it seem like she’ll finally find her missing child? Or does it appear obvious that all she’ll ever find is bones?

Will that boil in the middle of her forehead heal before the big date? Or will boils spread all over her face and make her a leper?

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Every scene, if not every page, should play its part in this dance between hope and fear, keeping readers anxiously turning pages, even in the bath.

Examine stories you love. How has the writer choreographed this dance? Look for conflict. In the very best novels and screenplays, conflict will be evident in almost every page, in every interaction between characters. Even a character’s inner dialogue can involve conflict, the fight between desire and better judgement.

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Manchester by the Sea  by Kenneth Lonergan is a harrowing and deeply moving film that is a wonderful example of how conflict can be used to intensify every scene. In a scene already filled with drama when a young mother is being put into an ambulance the trolley doesn’t work properly, making an already unbearable moment excruciating.

Conflict can come from others, ourselves, the environment, government or police, even furniture. Throw it in wherever you can and watch your story bloom. Manage the readers’ emotions, keep them swinging between hope and fear and you’re on your way to writing something no reader can put down.

Keep them up at night, make them laugh and make them cry. Have fun doing it J

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How do you ramp up conflict in your stories? How do you move readers between hope and fear? I’d love to hear your ideas!

If you found these tips useful you can sign up to my newsletter for regular hints and tips and opportunities HERE

And if you’d like a whole weekend of writing exercises and advice then check out my next retreat HERE – but hurry only two places still available!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx

 

 

 

 

 

PROCRASTINATION, PERFECTIONISM AND A HARSH INNER CRITIC: The Enemies of Writing and How to Defeat Them!

 

 

Do you put off writing until after the whole house is cleaned, including sorting out those kitchen cupboards and scrubbing the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush

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Do you start writing but then never get very far past the first paragraph because you can’t get it quite right and that first sentence is so sucky? Do you feel too inadequate to even start writing, even though you’ve secretly wanted to all your life? Or do you finally write something, but then tear it to shreds and bin it before it’s even had a chance to breathe?

Don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone. Every writer faces these demons – the holy trinity of FEAR. That’s really what these deadly (well to your writing anyway) sins boil down to – plain old boring fear

 Procrastination

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Procrastination is a protective device. If you put something off long enough, you’ll never have to write it, or you’ll have being rushed as an excuse for when you decide that it’s utter crap and that you’re as talentless as you thought. If that sounds like you, then your procrastination is really harsh inner critic lurking in the background just waiting for you to finish the housework and probably complaining about how you’re doing it too – look there’s a spot you missed!

But hang on a minute, what if it’s not crap? What if actually for a first draft it’s pretty damned good? What if writing it was the most fun you’ve had in ages? Certainly a whole lot more fun than cleaning the bathroom.

Perfectionism

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Perfectionism won’t ever let you finish anything. Because if it’s not perfect, and how actually can anything be, then it’s not any good at all. That first sentence demands to be rewritten a hundred times, so you never get any further into your story. Even if you do get all the way through, perfectionism won’t ever let you submit it anywhere because it’s never quite right. Never quite good enough.

Guess what? Perfectionism is just another protection device – protecting you from the criticism of others while you beat yourself up with your own, much harsher, criticism. It’s another face of that horrid inner critic trying to stop you making a fool of yourself.

Well thanks, but no thanks. Because nothing is ever really perfect. Ask any writer, any artist. There’s always something you can fix or change, even with published work. At some point though, you just have to let it go. Step back and send it out into the world.

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“Feel the fear and do it anyway,” as Susan Jeffers famously said in her book of the same name.

 

Fear used to serve us well. When we lived in caves, fear told us to stay away from that cave where the beast lived and not to eat that berry that made Aunty so sick. But these days most of our fears have become internalised and turn into anxiety. It’s not really our friend any more.

Fear has many faces. Most horribly it is the face of our harsh inner critic.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Mary Philbin, Lon Chaney, 1925

Your Inner Critic and how to tame it.

Like fire, inner critics are wonderful servants but terrible masters. To write successfully, critics must be tamed and trained and forced to play nicely with our delicate creator selves in order to make our writing the best it can be. The craft of writing demands a domesticated critic to edit our messy first drafts, but that’s later. First, we have to get that messy first draft written.

Inner critics can be fatal to writing. First drafts need freedom – when we create we’re playing and mucking around, making stuff up. We don’t need a nasty critic hanging over our shoulder whispering abuse. I like to send mine from the room!

It helps to know the face of your enemy.

rabid_squirrel_postcard-r5105695b7151488c9754e7b5013d2197_vgbaq_8byvr_307One writer described her critic as rabid squirrels in camouflage gear. Another described his as a giant, grumpy, old geezer. It could be a mean older sister, or a stern father who thinks doing anything creative is a waste of time. Mine looks like my third-grade teacher. A nun in a habit. With a ruler. She always liked to pull me down a peg or two

Following is a writing exercise to help you pull your inner critic a peg or two – or three or four (or more.)

 

WRITE: Your Inner Critic

Set your timer for ten minutes and write about your inner critic.

Was it your mum who was always finding fault, or was it that awful teacher in high school who tore your short story to pieces in front of the class?

Whether your critic is based on a real person or is a monster from nightmares, a dragon with gnashing teeth dripping with blood, get it down on paper. If there is a specific incident you remember, or a particularly bad attack from your critic, then write that down too. Get into the meaty details. Take more time if you need to. If you’d like to, draw a picture. What you do with this picture is up to you. You can burn it, or shred it, or put a big red cross through it, but perhaps if it’s your mum maybe just stick a bit of plaster over her mouth!

smoking nunsOnce you have this clear picture in mind you can begin to train your critic. You can train them to leave the room. Trick the squirrels with some peanuts and tempt them into another room while you get a first draft done. Tell the old fart you’ll let him have his turn in a while, after you’ve written your five hundred words for the day. Take the ruler out of the nun’s hand and send her to confession (or out for a smoke) for the few hours you have available for writing. If they know they’ll be allowed back later, they will, most likely, go happily. If they start skulking back, however, then gently remind them that this time is yours, they’ll be welcome in a while.

In my workshops, retreats and even at the creative writing classes I teach at university, I always start with a guided relaxation to help participants send that critic from the room. I’ve found the results to be outstanding.

Try it for yourself!

RELAX: Meditation for removing your inner critic

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Sit and breathe deeply, bringing your attention inwards, then slowly relax your whole body. Once you’re relaxed, visualise your critic and imagine sending them from the room. I like to send them to the nearest body of water and drop them in there. Don’t worry they always find their way back in time for the next draft!

I’m working on a recording of the guided meditation I use in workshops. If you’d like to be kept in the loop and be one of the first to use it then click HERE.

Once you’ve sent your critic away, then I like to set a timer. 10 minutes, half an hour. It helps give me that sense of urgency procrastinators thrive on (procrastinator – who me?). Then WRITE! Write like a fury. Write like you’ve only got 10 minutes until the world ends and you’ve just got to get your story down. Spelling and punctuation don’t matter. Just go where your brain flow takes you. Follow tangents, explore weird things that pop up. Let the story show you where it wants to go.

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Nothing matters in that first draft except being in the flow and trusting your own creativity. Remember – Writing is fun! Creating is playing. Take all the pressure off and enjoy yourself mucking around with words and making up stories.

 Let go and let the words flow!

Let me know how you go. Did these techniques work for you? What other tricks do you know forgetting those first drafts done? Are you a procrastinator or a perfectionist – or both. What does your inner critic look like?

If you’d like to experience just how freeing doing a guided relaxation and meditation can be for liberating your creativity and getting you writing, then please contact me HERE for information about my upcoming RETREATS.

Or sign on HERE to get regular updates and hints and tips for your writing.

GOOD LUCK taming those critics.

Happy writing!

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Lots of love,

Edwina xx

What is a writer’s “VOICE” and how to find yours.

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When I first started writing I kept hearing this mysterious term “voice”,mainly in the many rejections I received. Publishers would inevitably say something along the lines of, my “voice wasn’t developed.” It drove me mad. What did they mean? It was me writing, not anyone else. It took me a while to figure out that voice in creative writing terms just means a writer’s own particular style.

Put simply, which is how I like things, it means unadulterated plain old you on the page. Not you trying to be smarter or funnier or fancier than you are. Just you – the way you would talk to your best friend, the way you’d write a letter to someone who’s known you all your life. In my work with new writers I often come across people who think they have to use a whole lot of big words and mountains of adjectives and metaphors to sound “Writerly”. Which brings me to my first point.

Forget about being Writerly!

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Fancy may work for some people who are born that way, or lived a hundred years ago but these days it’s best just to write as you would speak. Of course you can throw in the occasional unique metaphor and fabulous big word, but most of the time, keep it simple.

YOU are enough just the way you are.

Yes, that’s you. Your life and all you’ve lived and who you’ve become because of it is totally unique in the whole world. No one else can write your stories because only you can tell them in your own special way echoing all those experiences. If you grew up swinging around on a hills hoist washing line being sprayed with a hose, the story you tell about childhood is going to be very different to the person who slammed face first into a tree in a tobogganing accident. Claim who you are and let that shine through. The specific details of your life can reveal universal truths.

Once you’ve claimed your voice, everyone who reads your stories will say, “Oh that’s so and so, I’d know her voice anywhere.” Editors will accept your work for publication and say, “Great unique voice”. YES! That’s what we’re aiming for.

 

 

 

But how to do it?

Read on.

TOOLS for developing your unique voice
1. Free writing

Write whatever comes into your head, stream of consciousness style. No stopping, don’t let your pen leave the page. Set a time for five minutes and just go for it, no editing, no fiddling with grammar, no checking spelling. If you don’t know a word then just put a question mark beside it. Even if you’re only writing “I don’t’ know what to write, this is silly, that’s fine. You can complain as much as you like, just keep writing. Find a writing prompt, set a timer, and go for your life. Write as fast and as much as you can in those five minutes. You’ll be surprised what you can do. Get used to writing rubbish 😊 Once you’re used to that, then you’re free to go! You will need to edit what comes out later, but just think of all the words you’ll have to play with.
2. Keep a journal

Use the free-writing technique to write a journal. Every day write at least an A4 page by hand, letting words flow off the top of your head onto the page. The more you write, the more natural your voice becomes. If you are too busy to do this every day, every second day will do. Writing, like anything else, is all about practice. The more you practice the better you get. The more you get used to writing completely naturally without thinking about sounding flash or clever, the more your natural voice will emerge.
3. Look at emails, letters or texts you send friends

Are they different to the way you’ve being trying to write stories/ poems etc? Do you sound like you? If you feel uncomfortable writing in any form it may not. But I’m guessing if you’ve picked this book up then you’re a writing kind of a person and those messages to your friends and family are lighter and more natural than the artificial voice you may have been trying to put on for your writing. Next time you write a story pretend you’re writing to a friend instead of some imaginary publisher.
4. WRITE!

Write every day, whenever you can. Scribble down what you see while you’re on the bus. Who is that strange woman in the purple hat and too much pink lipstick? What’s her story? Play with your imagination. Write down your dreams and give them another chapter. Fill notebooks with lots of messy writing about anything that takes your fancy. Write until it comes naturally.

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Have you found your voice yet? How do you know? I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to leave a comment.

If you’d like to receive more writing hints and tips, drop me a line here.

And if you’d like a whole weekend of writing and yoga to get those creative juices flowing then see HERE for my next retreat.

Until next time – HAPPY WRITING!

Lots of love
Edwina xx