Here’s an exercise: take a personal item – it could be anything, but preferably something that’s at least a few years old. Hold it in your hand if you can. If you can’t, look at it. Think not about the memories it evokes, but the emotions. What do you feel? Happiness? Sadness? Contentment? Maybe you feel more than one emotion. That’s okay. Just let whatever you’re feeling come up.
Next, take a look around the room you’re sitting in. What emotions do you feel now? If you’re sitting in a room you use regularly – like a dining room – the emotions might be overwhelming. You might feel joy, melancholy, anger, frustration, and more, because all sorts of different things have happened in this room, and your emotions have become like a lot of people shouting at you at once.
As we move through the world, we imprint not only on the people around us, but also inanimate objects. That’s why we can get attached to possessions. We might feel sentimental towards a trinket, like a mug. A ring that was given to us for an engagement may now evoke anger because the relationship turned acrimonious. We may have developed a loyalty toward a car that served us well.
We also develop associations, e.g. the kitchen is for eating, the dining room is for relaxing, the bedroom is for sleeping. By fitting into these niches, we also deal with what those places mean to us. We mightn’t do it on a conscious level, or we mightn’t do that immediately, but we do. And, sometimes, we feel that weigh on us. Why else would we declutter, or give the house a makeover? It’s an attempt to revamp something and, in doing that, revamp our own outlook.
If we wind through all those things that govern and influence and colour our thinking, if we delve down through this daunting and elaborate framework, if we navigate all the niches and passageways, we’ll ultimately discover that unique spark that makes each of us who we are. But that’s the challenge. Finding that, buried, smothered, asphyxiated.
Our heads become so full of stuff we didn’t even realise we were collecting that it can be next-to-impossible to consider something different, something new, in our lives. This is why people take holidays – to get away from everything they’ve known, to get away from that construction, to leave behind those emotional echoes, and go somewhere familiar that is comforting where we don’t have to deal with any of those other things (or only deal with them on a peripheral level), or somewhere new that opens up a whole line of new thinking, and feeling.
For that time, we are almost born again. We are new, we are open, and we seek a positive and constructive experience. When we go home, we want to be able to tell everybody this and that happened, and have happy memories and joyful experiences that we can reminisce about. We’re building new pathways in our head through the tired old routes.
This is also why we organize retreats.
A retreat is the chance to get away from everything you know, to get away from all that programming, to get away from all those emotional states that hinder or block you, and to take the time and space to work on yourself, to work on your craft, and to work on building meaningful pathways that you’ll be able to tread – and continue to tread – long after you’ve gone home.
It’s your chance to be you.
Isn’t that about time?
If you’re interested, check out our Busybird Bali Writing Retreat running 1st–6th November here.
May 23, 2019
When can someone say they’re a writer?
On the surface this is a weird question because the answer can be at once obvious but also murky. Is it when they are published? Or can someone call themselves a writer if writing is something they love to do? This brings up its own set of questions. How often does one then have to write? Do they have to be a good writer, or can they just love writing?
My first memories of writing are during prep. I was tasked with writing about my weekend. However, it wasn’t until grade three that I genuinely discovered my love of writing. We had to retell a fairytale, and I chose Shrek. I had Fiona and Donkey rescuing Shrek, while having to fight off Rapunzel and Snow White, and there wasn’t an ogre in sight. After this I filled notebook after notebook with short stories, thoughts, ideas and terrible song lyrics. My love of reading both influenced and fed off my love of writing and soon I was telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be a famous author just like J.K. Rowling.
Since those early days I have written many things, from an untold number of uni essays to a thesis and to articles published online. Yet, the older I have gotten, the more difficult it has been to balance things like university and work with having the time and space to write what I want to write. Am I still a writer?
In our society, it feels as though someone can only claim they are a writer or an artist if they commit large amounts of their time to a project or work on it as a job. Simultaneously, writing – or anything creative really – is undervalued. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have heard of an artist being asked to work for free or at a rate that doesn’t allow them to support themselves. On top of this, many artists and writers describe the work on their creations as a need.
Between work, university, assignments and my internship here at Busybird, it is hard to find time to write. In fact, this blog is the first thing I’ve written that’s not related to uni in almost three months. This has happened nearly every semester that I have been at uni. I start out hopeful that I’m going to be able to juggle everything. Then the first assignment hits, then the second, and then the third. Before I know it, it’s almost the end of semester and I’ve barely written anything. Yet, I spend the whole time feeling like something is missing.
I feel I am still a writer, despite all of this. And maybe that’s the answer to the question. We alone can decide when or if we feel comfortable calling ourselves writers, and what the circumstances are that influence this decision.
May 9, 2019
We often encounter authors who want to revise their book after it’s been laid out. This is like deciding you need another bathroom, a study, and a second-storey, after the blueprints have been drawn and the house built.
So why does this last-minute revision occur?
Here are the main reasons:
Somebody gets in the author’s ear
It’s great to get opinions on your manuscript. Just understand that there’ll be times those opinions conflict. You’ll never be able to satisfy everybody. It’s up to you to work out what feedback should be addressed, what feedback clashes with your vision, and what feedback is nitpicky. The other thing you need to understand is this should all be done at the stage the author is performing their own revision – that’s right: before they’ve gone to editing.
Some novice editor expresses their opinion
You may know somebody who speaks English well. They may write beautifully. They might teach and study Shakespeare. That doesn’t actually qualify them to edit. We get a lot of novice editors who mean well, provide input, and do more harm than good. Don’t turn over your book to anybody for editing if they’re not an editor.
As publication nears, you become worried about the content. Is it good enough? Is it clear? Does it communicate your message or story? These nerves are common. What you need to do is learn the difference between meaningful and meaningless revision. Are your changes meaningfully improving the text? Or are they meaningless and don’t matter one way or another? You’ll find a lot of the time that nerves are motivating you to shuffle deck chairs.
You can feel rushed to get your book out, or that you’re rushed through editing. As far as the latter goes, we give our editors a timeline so that projects are always moving forward. But often this is to honour a pre-booked book launch – that’s right, a book launch is booked in before the manuscript has gone to editing, or before it’s even completed. You are in charge of your own timeline. Spend whatever time you need to get your book right. It’s worth it. Once it’s out in the world, it’s too late to make changes. Make sure you’re happy with the book you’re sending out.
You can lose your objectivity when you work on a manuscript long enough. You lose sight of what needs addressing. This is normal. Changing the presentation can reinvigorate your interpretation of the manuscript, because your brain is forced to process it (in its new format) like it’s seeing it for the first time. This happens often with authors once they see their book laid out. But you can generate this new outlook beforehand: change the colour of your font; change your font type; read your book on a computer you wouldn’t necessarily use for writing; print it out. All these options force your brain to say, Aha! I haven’t seen this before – I can see it again with some objectivity.
Once the book has been laid out, it’s dangerous revising. A designer spends hours balancing text, trying to keep it on the same page where required, eliminating widows and orphans, formatting headings and subheadings, inserting diagrams, setting-up where chapters begin, etc. There are so many elements that go into a book layout. Most people wouldn’t think twice about them. That’s what makes a design great – you unquestioningly accept the visual cues and let them direct your reading experience.
Inserting as little as a full stop can cause a domino effect. That paragraph that finished in four lines now takes up five lines. That paragraph that ended on page 22 now begins on page 23. Those six bullets that sat neatly at the bottom of page 23 are now split over the bottom of page 23 and the beginning of page 24. That image that just fit at the bottom of page 24 to close out the chapter is now halfway between page 24 and page 25. Fitting it onto page 25 is the only option, which now leaves a chunk of white space at the bottom of page 24. Chapter 5 had previously begun on page 27 but is now shunted onto page 28. Running headers that were set up to accommodate new chapters now all move. There are running headers where there shouldn’t be, and none where there should be. The contents have to be reformatted. Etc.
Yes, this is a worst-case scenario, but this is what we have to be aware of as designers, and why we often caution authors about revising at this stage. We’ve seen it happen. Some additions can be so disruptive that repairs to the layout become more prohibitive than beginning the layout again, because everything that once sat so perfectly balanced now has to be readjusted, and every adjustment creates new issues from that point on.
If you’re working on a book, do everything you can to make it as right as you can before you get to layout.
April 24, 2019
Someone once asked me what I would do if I knew I would not fail. I responded, without a shade of hesitation, that I would write a book.
Have I? Nope. Do I want to? Most definitely. Will I? I don’t know. What if I fail?
For years, the book I have had my heart set on writing has existed only in my imagination. Unattainable and utterly perfect, it has been safe from any bumbling and imperfect attempts to reproduce it in a tangible form. Because, of course, it cannot be reproduced. It is perfect, unformed, untainted by my inexperienced hand.
They say you only know how to write your book after you have written it. I cannot begin if I do not know how, because I would ruin it. My unwritten treasure, therefore, cannot be attempted.
My imaginary book is perfect. But no-one can read my perfect book-child, locked away inside my head. I cannot hand it to someone, to wow them into speechlessness as it surely would. I cannot read it and feel proud, because I would have to write it first, and I do not feel worthy.
But … perhaps I can write its lesser cousin. The book-child who will start as an inconceivably terrible first draft, never to be seen by human eyes except my own. Then, book-child may become a second, slightly less terrible draft, and then a third, a sixteenth, a forty-second, and so on. Book-child may be seen by many eyes, if I have courage enough to pass her around. She may yet be raw and vulnerable, yet without her skin, when I first hand her over. Book-child will wear the kind words of guidance, and I will allow her to grow and evolve beyond what I thought she could be. At some point, she will have to be pushed out into the world: whole, or nearly so, and most definitely as imperfect as her creator.
While she may be a shadow of the precious vision in my head, she will be real. Flawed, mistyped, worked over far too many times. And I will be a thousand times more proud of her than of the immaculate and divine image that I carry around in my head.
Am I going to write a book? Yes. Am I going to fail? Yes. A hundred times. Maybe more. And it is exactly that which will make me all the more proud in the end, when I finally get it right.
April 11, 2019
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything longer than a paragraph. I thought it would feel unfamiliar, but it feels like coming home. My spontaneous hiatus from writing, reading and generally functioning is coming to a close, and I am feeling a hesitant kind of relief.
Prior to my internship at Busybird, I had been playing host to a frustrating kind of brain fog. Not the where-are-my-keys? kind of brain fog, but the can’t-finish-a-sentence kind. I was unable to recall what words should come after ‘hello’, and what the name of this thing is – the sharp one that cuts the vegetables. And what do you call this long green vegetable, the one with the nubbin on the end? And these ones that are round-ish and beige. I was a slow customer at the self-serve checkout.
When Blaise asked me to write this blog post, I was worried that I wasn’t up to task. I wasn’t certain that my newly recovered concentration and vocabulary for groceries would be sufficient. But when I’d been asked to proof a novel a few weeks ago, I was uncertain then too. I became immediately enthralled by the task of picking through it word by word. It was the first book I had managed to read in a year and a half, and I was delighted. So I hoped that this might go better than expected too.
Many things have gone better than expected since I started my internship at Busybird. After my overly-friendly brain fog intercepted my Honours year, I had found myself without a writing community. I discovered one again at the Busybird Open Mic Night I attended on my first day. I haven’t been part of such a supportive crowd … perhaps ever. I felt like anything was possible. I’ve even started eyeing off an unfinished project that I thought would never be written. I thought I would never be capable.
But I also thought I wasn’t capable of writing a blog post, and here we are.
I am more hopeful about my writing than I have been in years. I’m shaking the dust off my ideas, the ones I thought were spent and overly ambitious. I’m reassessing them, and I’m getting excited again. I guess that’s what happens when you spend time around people who have made it their life’s work to nurture books into the world: to hatch them gently, and then shove them out of the nest when they are ready. Because we don’t always believe we can fly until we’re doing it.
I penned the first draft of this article by hand, and I have awoken muscles that I had forgotten that I had. I have a happy little dent where my pen has been resting.
Welcome home, finger-dent. It’s been a while.