How I write this stuff

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The beginning of the process is always a topic or idea. Some writers have said that the creative process begins when two ideas collide, but one has always been enough for me. That one idea leads to the next and then the next and if I’m lucky all the way around to the original thought.

When it comes to ABC Open 500 word topics, it’s all or nothing for me. I’ll know as soon as I read what the new topic is whether I have anything, and I seem to have something for about 40% of topics. Once or twice I’ve had more than one idea for a topic, and that tells me it’s been a good one. Only occasionally I’ve had an idea for something that has passed its use-by date, so with the current ABC Open website it pays to touch base quite regularly or miss out.

At the start of any piece I will at first muse on what exactly I’m going to include, and I let different thoughts waft around my head for a while, while driving or walking or showering or cleaning or whatever. Then I’ll get an opener, and before I do anything else that first line has to be written down or I’ll lose it. Then at some stage when I have space and time to think I’ll do the rest.

I work best away from the computer with a pad of lined paper and a pen, always Kilometricos. I find I think better this way. Some of the most fruitful locations have been my bedroom and the car. I am frequently amazed at how much more I get done when I am not at home with all those distractions. I love it when the car is due for a service as I usually get loads done in some public place.

With pen in hand I get going, and usually it is silence or the chirring of crickets that accompanies the process, except of course with the piece for ‘Lost in Music’. It’s because I need to hear myself think. What I’ve always done when I write is think it first then put the words to paper. And when I think I’m mostly having a conversation with myself, and that’s where the conversational style comes from. Sometimes I’ll have a coffee or tea sitting there, but that’s actually a signal that the writing process is stalling a little.

When I start writing, sometimes what happens is that after about half a page I’ll find that all I have reeks of narcissism, in which case I will put the pen down and the paper aside. The wankery will either be stored in my filing cabinet or in the bin.

More often, what happens is one of those mysterious processes of parts of the brain that are best left to do their alchemical thing. To delve into the hows and whys is to cut open the goose that lays the golden eggs. All I know is that this is the fun part. What comes out is a meld of quirky little observations and trivia, life’s crap and golden memories, and the fruit of a very Australian upbringing along with a sense of humour as dry as the landscape round here.

After I have two pages written, or more for a post like this one, it’s off to the computer to begin the revising and editing process. I often make changes as I type, and then I will re-read it a couple of times and take out any typos, apostrophes in wrong places, sloppy sentences and bad grammar. Reading it aloud to myself will tell me whether I have repeated any words. For example the other day I’d written ‘our earthly home’ and a few lines later ‘here on earth’, so one of those phrases had to go.

There is also nothing like a second pair of eyes, so if the piece is more important than a slapped together type as I think a blog post should be, I’ll show it to someone. The someone, usually a fellow writer, will tell me where I have rambled on and where I need to explain myself better. Perhaps they’ll make editing suggestions, of which I tend to take on about 50% – I find the other 50% is them writing it their way.

After that it’s preview and publish time, and I’ll let myself sit on my laurels for a day, but after that – God willing – it’s back to work.

(Originally published 20 Feb 2015 on ABC Open.)

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