Tag Archives: inspiration

Encouraging the young wordsmith

Dear Mr Peg, 11 year-old A is forever filling up notebooks with stories she has written. Are there any tools or apps we can use to encourage tweens to keep on writing? Thanks, Risky Business.

Dear Risky Business,

Thanks for your question. It’s excellent that Miss A is shaping as a spinner of yarns. As you know well, storytelling is a skill for life. I can’t think of any job where the ability to connect with people and communicate clearly isn’t a massive advantage. From where I’m sitting, (oddly enough, in a parked car, in a narrow, one-way street near a hockey ground, where someone just called me a strange man… OK, maybe a tale for another day…) these are vital skills to encourage.

Like Miss A, I was an early bloomer as a writer. I have exercise books filled with primary school tales of superheroes, explorers and magic. Then there are the excruciating, angst-ridden adolescent-era diaries, and the gnarled notebooks containing tertiary level crimes against poetry. Decades later, the ideas are captured in electronic notes and, hopefully, the maturity is honed, but the ideas still flow freely.

So what can you do to keep Miss A writing?

#1 Read, read, read
I know you’re already onto this but aim to read with/to Miss A daily. Every book is a lesson in writing and an invitation to imitate and improve. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me this advantage.

When Miss A finishes a piece of writing, encourage her to read it aloud. This is one of the best ways for her to learn about punctuation, language and dialogue. We want to train her ears to hear what works and what needs work. Even if you don’t like everything she’s written, pick something you did enjoy (an image, a character, a sentence…) and praise it.

#2 Train the storytelling muscles
Just as you might throw random times tables questions at the kids to improve their multiplication skills, toss questions at Miss A to feed her imagination. ‘What are those people doing over here? Why? What might they do next?’

Use art works or stories in the news to get started. Why do you think a 12 year-old-boy wanted to drive across Australia?

Take a line from a song and ask Miss A to build a story around it. For example, there’s a Paul Kelly song that says, “I’ve done all the dumb things’. What dumb things did the person do and why?

If you can’t keep up with Miss A’s appetite for ideas, search the Apple AppStore for ‘prompts’. There are plenty of options, including some tailored for young writers. You could also try this website with child-friendly jump-starts.

#3 Go for gold
Google writing competitions for Miss A’s age bracket. They’re not easy to find but they’re out there and they offer cash prizes, opportunities to be published (sometimes) and, best of all, a chance to build confidence and writing fitness. Try libraries, local councils, schools and writing groups. Even supermarket competitions that call for an answer in 25 words or less can be exercises in disciplined creativity.

If she wants to develop endurance and spend a month on one story, there’s a youth edition of National Novel Writing Month (or Nanowrimo).

#4 Find her tribe
As Miss A gets older, there are writing communities to explore. Apps like Wattpad and Tablo are for people who write and want to link with willing readers who consume and comment on their material. I’ve been researching these options since I received your question and I wouldn’t want my 11-year-old hanging out here yet. Not unless she’s into erotic fan fiction about boy band members…

But if she’s willing to travel south for a school holiday workshop, I would highly recommend the 100 Story Building.

And when she’s a little older, you could check out these options:

About Us

http://www.teenink.com/fiction/

http://www.voiceworksmag.com.au/

#5 Be boring parents
It’s easier said than done in a busy household but try to create opportunities for Miss A to find time and space to listen to her imagination. Actively seek silence or give her a nook to retreat to. Boredom can be beneficial. It gives an active mind a reason to go solo and find its own adventures.

Help her to be resilient, too. I’m sure you’re already on to this but she’s going to need this quality to survive as a creative soul. Because writing is a matter of taste and tastebuds differ from reader to reader. Everyone is a potential critic and the WWW and social media are overpopulated with cowardly trolls.

Even away from these toxic influences, confidence dips, soars and disappears for long stints. She’ll need lots of love to help her find her way back to trusting her storytelling instincts. But when she gets back there, it will feel sensational.

Sorry I took so long to answer. And good luck.

Mural photo by Tim Pegler
Keep your eyes open for inspiration

Japan Journal #4 – Space & pace

In my home city of Melbourne the population density is estimated at 430 people per square kilometre. In Tokyo the figure is 6000 people per square kilometre.

Japan has an overall population density of approximately 350 people per square kilometre. In Australia you’re looking at roughly three people per square kilometre*. That’s right, three.

That’s ample room to swing a cat, even of the sabre-tooth variety. If you’re antisocial by nature you could stroll around your square kilometre and feel fairly confident you wouldn’t bump into a single soul.

OK, much of Australia’s red, ‘dead’ heart is desert and unsuitable for high density habitation. This is why we sunburnt Aussies stick to the coastlines where it is wetter and greener. It’s also why the density numbers for Melbourne and Sydney are so much higher than the national average — and why traffic and public transport issues are top of mind for so many people.

For all our huffing and puffing, Melbourne’s 430 people / km2 hardly compares with Tokyo’s 6000. We could learn a lot from the Japanese mega-city.

Space

My sense of Tokyo is that for all the crowding it doesn’t feel cluttered. The populace live side-by-side politely, patiently and efficiently. Space, the commodity many Australians have in abundance, is rarely wasted.

Living in Tokyo made me conscious of how we can make do with less. Why build big houses full of single-purpose rooms that are empty most of the day when you can stow your bedding each morning and turn sleeping space into living areas?

If you absolutely must own a motor vehicle, why not opt for a petite machine purpose-built for the tight parking spaces available.

A gap between buildings could fit one car-parking space — or six if you build an elevator that enables cars to be stored on top of each other.¬†A steep, narrow sliver of land that’s probably no good for anything else could be perfectly fine for a cemetery.

Japanese garden design also reflects this capacity to optimise surroundings. Entire gardens are designed around what does NOT fit in a property. You simply ‘borrow’ scenery in the background, such as a hillside or a neighbour’s tree, by framing it with plants in your own garden.

Pace

Paths in Japanese gardens meander. The wisdom of a winding path, apart from being an excellent metaphor, is that each change of angle provides a different view. The gardener can craft several scenes from one. With this in mind they deliberately slow our progress, encouraging meditation and appreciation, rather than impatience and bustle.

The other place where this cultural prescription to slow down was obvious was in the public baths. We stayed a week in the mountains where the plumbing was often frozen solid. This didn’t matter as bathing took place at one of several local ‘onsen’.

Part of the reason I’m posting this so long after our trip is that I have been musing over the things I liked best about Japanese customs. Ten months down the track, I have to say I miss the public baths.

The onsen routine involved stripping down, scrubbing forensically in an open showering area, then moving to hot/very hot/cold indoor or outdoor pools to soak. I suspect public (segregated) bathing probably lessens hang-ups about body image but the ritual certainly had other benefits.

The onsen deliberately takes the pace off your life. It cleanses not just the outer layer but the inner, soaking up accumulated¬†stress. As a full stop to a 24-hour period, it’s a very smart piece of punctuation.

I reckon I could use an onsen in my ‘hood.

Slow down. One step at a time.
Slow down. One step at a time.

(*I note that population data does not include those held in refugee incarceration facilities. My point is not that this would alter population density; the statistical impact is likely to be insignificant in an Australian context. It’s more a realisation that once you’re a stateless person, you’re apparently also a non-person. You don’t count in the country where you are seeking refuge.)

Inspiration Bombers

Melbourne singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch is the driving force behind the annual Big Hearted Business seminars in which artists are educated in ways of business and business people in the mysteries of creativity. I’ve never attended and can’t this year, (much as I’d like to,) but the concept seems mighty fine to me.

As an author I wish I didn’t have to think about money. Ever. Ideally, my day would be spent dreaming up characters and action. Word flow not cash flow. Places and plots not profit and loss. So any tips that render the money side of existing easier would truly be golden.

It’s a bit of a detour but I’m reminded of when a newspaper asked a fantastic local author what she might do with the windfall from a major literature prize she had just won. The author answered that she would buy a new kettle. That speaks volumes about arts funding in Australia, people.

Starving artists aside, the bodacious Ms Bowditch is gifting even us non-attendees Inspiration Bombs via her BHB website. I was drawn to this one because it features not only words from musician Missy Higgins but the art-in-progress of Ghostpatrol, a combination too good to miss.

Some of the comments that struck a chord with me go to the importance of not second guessing what will appeal to consumers, particularly in the age of cowardly instant feedback via (anti)social media. The wonderful Ms Higgins says:

“It helps to just pull back and go, you know what, I am just going to do what I do and have faith that there’s going to be a market out there for me. The only thing you can do is do your best and do what comes naturally to you and the rest will follow. But it absolutely never works if you try and cater toward a potential fan base.”

She continues: “True originality is not going to be understood straight away. And it’s not going to be understood by a lot of people. If you’re truly creative and truly original then you’re going to have a lot of people feel strongly about it. Either way, you are going to polarise people but that’s the only way to come up with something that’s truly great.”

Like Ms Higgins, I take inspiration from many places. Songs, movies, gardens, wielding of words, visual art and creative people generally. So it put a smile on my face to find a Ghostpatrol on my way to a recent writing course. Here it is for you.

Ghostpatrol in North Melbourne
Ghostpatrol in North Melbourne