Point Lonsdale Pier, Victoria. Inspiring creativity for writing
Based on a presentation given at a business workshop
At a dinner one evening, one of the guests asked me why I write. Do you enjoy it? There’s always someone who will ask silly questions. Another asked if I could write about enough things without sounding boring. Could I write about something I had little interest in? That really started the evening’s discussion. Silly people!
I write because I love working with words – they are my expression to the world. I’m no good with convincing arguments with the spoken word – I can’t think of the right arguments at the right time. Those choice things come to me too late, when the impact of those spoken gems has truly passed. I write because words are my voice to the world. I can express myself on paper, and in print, or on the World Wide Web. I write words that are easily understood, by those I enjoy writing for.
I write because I like working with colour – the colour of words, the colour of the scenes I create, the colour of the photographs I take to illustrate my articles, or the websites I develop.
I write because I can combine all this with other activities that I really enjoy – like cycling, photography, and making things.
I ride a bike – a hundred kilometres or so on a Sunday, and sometimes during the week, because that’s what I enjoy doing. I write about cycling and the bike rides – of riding to a headland to watch the whales. I ride to a beach, have the beach to myself for a couple of hours, and let my mind be receptive to any thought that dare enter it, to be churned around and turned into an article or, better still, a story.
And I like to write about cycling because I enjoy sharing – sharing enjoyable times, share those special moments with others who share my passion for what I enjoy.
Several years ago I received a grant to develop a cycling website - Cycling Narooma, a collection - or rather a description of - eighteen great bikes rides around Narooma – Tilba – Bermagui areas of the New South Wales Far South Coast. I have since closed down that website when I moved from the area a year or so ago. But to compile the website, it meant cycling to those headlands, to historic villages of the New South Wales Far South Coast to have a coffee and a cake with friends, to ride through State forests and national parks to a quiet lake, to sit there watching the waves, or the tranquillity of the lake, and write some more. I got paid to write, and to cycle, and to take photographs, and to … well, enjoy myself doing what I love doing most – combining words, and photographs, and colours, and feelings, and emotions, and of course cycling.
Was all this really ‘work’? Well, I suppose it must have been, because I got paid for it. Can you imagine it … getting paid to enjoy life?
And because I am out there, thoroughly enjoying myself, the words come with such enthusiasm, and with the right amount of colour, and the right amount of expression to make them interesting, and meaningful.
I have tried many things. Some through necessity when the writing wasn’t paying. At other times, when no one wanted to publish what I had written. At other times too, before I discovered cycling, and was struggling to develop new ideas. And at other times when editors forgot to pay me, or, as is common, when payment is at the editor’s discretion. Too often such editors use their discretion and forget to pay the writers, without whom they wouldn’t have a magazine to produce each couple of months.
I have tried sales work. I failed. I was a delivery driver. That failed. I was a chauffeur to a South American ambassador, where I drove a madman around for four months. That didn’t work. I tried shop work. The first customer would arrive just before lunch, and the last one just after lunch, and I had to fill in the rest of the day without the benefit of a computer, or desk. It failed. And, again, especially before I began my writing career, I was a public servant. I hate that term. With the change of government, my work disappeared, and for two and a half years, I sat there doing nothing, apart from dreaming up stories I would write when I got home.
I changed all that. I resigned and started up a small home-based business.
I made things. I made wrought-iron furniture and gates and handrails for a living while I was studying, and during the recession of the 1980s. Later I wrote about making wrought iron items – how I made them, how I finished them off. I wrote a book – A Guide To Wrought Iron and Welding – about making wrought-iron items. Others can make the barbecue table too if they want to, but for now I show them – teach them – how they can make the same table.
I have always enjoyed radio. I grew up with that medium. I was given an opportunity to work on a print handicapped radio station, and then I moved to general community broadcasting. There was no training manual. No information about how to put together a program, how to write a script. So I wrote the book on the subject. Currency Press published You’re On Air. The book has been completely revised and updated an is published as an e-book and as a print book - see the website www.flairnet.com.au.
I had always wanted to be a writer. When I was eighteen years old, I applied to the Adelaide Advertiser for a journalist position. I was told I was too old. Too old at eighteen! They only took recruits for journalist positions up to sixteen years and trained them the way they wanted them to write. Possibly about how to distort the truth. So even there, I wouldn’t have fitted in too well.
I really wanted to be a science writer, or a technical writer. In my numerous hours of boredom at work, I would read Nature and Scientific American and other science journals with great passion, for I was fascinated by most streams of science.
I studied as a mature-age student – I couldn’t make up my mind whether to study biology, or professional writing. Biology won at the time and I completed the Bachelor Degree of Applied Science. But shortly after I graduated, I had a really bad day and went back and enrolled in the Professional Writing Diploma.
On graduation the second time, I got the breaks I wanted. I was asked if I would edit the small, scruffy newsletter of a scientific association. I grew that publication into what became a 52-page, quarterly refereed science journal. I was editor of that for fourteen years.
At about the same time I was asked if I would like to be the coordinating editor of a dictionary of biology.
I returned to Canberra as a consultant and as a contractor a number of years ago to take part in some of the government’s programs as a writer, media person, marketing specialist, and as a science and technical writer. I was able to combine my love of science with my passion for writing. Some of the jobs were great – scientific editor of a fortnightly health bulletin, and science writer for the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering Innovation Council Agenda Item ‘Science and Crime Prevention’. A technical writer somewhere else. Some positions were great, others were hell … I am glad I no longer have to work with some of the staff I did. However, some of them are going to become great characters in a new book I am writing. I don’t have to invent psychopaths, and really, really boring people. There are already there for me to draw upon!
My last contract position was a corker. It was with the Australian Taxation Office in Canberra. I took it because the money was great and I was renovating our house. The duty statement made the job one you would fight for. I got the job. For the first six weeks, I had nothing to do. No, not a single thing to do. It reminded me of the boredom that I had quit many, many years earlier. In fact, the 60,000 hours of boredom I avoided.
When the work came in, and if it came in, it meant copying one paragraph from a Word document, and pasting it into a cell in the next Word document. Then it was back to the first – copy – then the second document – paste. For five days a week.
By each Wednesday my brain would freeze. I would copy the paragraph, and my brain would seize up and I had to work out how to unfreeze it and paste the paragraph. That was the last contract work I ever did.
But when I finished in Canberra, I returned permanently to the coast, but found that all the writing markets that I had previously contributed to had disappeared. Those magazines no longer sought the types of articles I liked to write. They wanted only short pieces, the long articles were all staff written, and opportunities for freelancers had gone.
I was interested in the World Wide Web, and the Internet, and all that it meant, and all the information that was building up in this relatively new medium. I wanted to be part of it.
With my first website, I learned as I went. The client still has it, refuses to change anything or update it. My second client has only just, after twelve years, updated her site.
I have learned a lot about the Web, and about writing for the web, and about search engine optimisation. And that’s what I specialise in these days, with web design as a secondary nature.
You can have a really brilliantly designed website. Unless it has been optimised by the means of effective text, that website will be useless. On the other hand, if the text is well written and the site optimised for the search engines, even though the design might not be that flashy and brilliant, the website will work, and the client will be happy.
At about the same time that I finished with those jobs and contracts in Canberra, I got the idea of running online writing courses. I was a freelance writer, so I ran Ideas Into Print. This was followed by Writing Winning Essays. And then by Science and Technical Writing. And then by Your Story – about creative writing. Having written a book about radio, I added the course Writing for Radio to the list.
I rewrote the notes for those course and they have been published as guide books to writing under the Easy Guide series of e-books. They can be viewed on the publisher’s website here.
But life is never meant to stand still for me. I have always wanted to write fiction, where I could let my wild ideas have the reins for at least the length of the book and take the pony where it wanted to head. My first two works of fiction, Island of the Barking Dog, Dad Kept Bees have been published, and an adult novel about a long-lost friendships rediscovered, and of intrigue, and the final problem of two lives being connected with the unsavoury, and the way a couple of strangers just happened to be in the wrong place, both times connected with the disappearance of the awful character who had been disposed of, the first time years before the book even started will be published shortly. I am enjoying it—making the people behave as if I am controlling them, something I don’t do in real life.
I used to dream of the ideal life of a writer … going camping in the State forests, sitting there with my small portable typewriter and writing stories. A lot has happened during more than half a lifetime since my dream began to develop. I now live near Geelong in Victoria, where we are near the Bellarine Rail Trail, with just a short ride through the country to the beach or to a headland or to a lighthouse. It hasn’t been an easy path to here, but looking back, looking over all those difficulties, all those boring jobs, the poor payments, the lack of money, all those upsets and trying moments – my boss used to call them character-building experiences – they were all worth it for what I have now – the ideal life, and the lifestyle, of a writer.