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Sam van Zweden

Writer

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learning

Infloox?

I recently found an incredible website.

http://www.infloox.com/home

Infloox asks the question: “what are famous people’s favourite books? …today and throughout history?”

At the homepage of Infloox, you can type in the name of an author, a famous person, or the title of a work.  This then takes you to a page which provides a short biography of this person, or work. Under this is where it gets interesting…

Infloox lists (and wiki-style, allows feedback on) this person’s “infloox” (things that were influential upon that person’s life and work), and “outfloox” (the same idea but outwards – so things and people that were influenced by this person). Not only this, but Infloox is expanding what it lists… It now also lists “affinities”; giving details such as “people who liked this person also liked…”
I’m a sucker for these types of lists. I love being able to link ideas, works, people.

I’m blogging about this because I like to think about influences. Anyone who thinks that idea about not reading for fear of being overly influenced has any merit, is crazy. You need to be a good reader to be a good writer. Infloox is proof of that.

I’m also blogging about this because I like this site, and would like to see it grow. So click the link, send it to friends, help the database of Infloox grow so I can learn more…

If there was an Infloox page about me right now, it would have on it:

INFLOOX: John Marsden. Chuck Palahniuk. Robert Adamson. Raymond Carver.

OUTFLOOX: perhaps one of my musician-friends? Or my partner’s photography, that’d be nice.

What would your Infloox page look like?

In!

On Friday morning I received the best news I have received in quite some time…

I got into the university I applied for!

No more Swinburne, with its grossly under-funded arts faculty and disgusting treatment of an education institution as merely a business… Onto RMIT, where money is kept flowing into the arts in the same way as any other “more profitable” degree, where my love of writing and sharing and learning will be welcomed and given a big warm hug.

No more creative writing classes full of psych or engineering students who “needed an easy HD”… Writing can be hard work, and the people I will be learning with next year will understand this.

I’m almost positive that my current image of the splendour RMIT has to offer is not quite what the reality will be, but I am also positive that the coursework is what I want from a university, and the attitude of the institution is what I would actually expect from a place of learning.

For those of you interested, here’s a link.

Floored by the Genius of 16 Year-Olds

Yesterday I went back to my old high school for a day to run a poetry-writing workshop. I did this with quite some hesitation, as I find the idea of “teaching poetry” really problematic, and my high school always seemed to breed a particularly feral kind of 16 year-old.

As soon as I walked into the classroom, kids started screaming questions about who I am, and did my piercings hurt, and am I a qualified teacher, or just some girl?

I was backed up by an ex-teacher and still close friend, so when the kids were told to settle down, we got to discussing poetry and writing some.

Discussions were mixed – some kids had some really good insight and ideas about the poems we looked at. Others really struggled with the idea of wordplay (multiple meanings of words, subtle punch lines, metaphors).

What really got me though, was the absolute loveliness that came from some of these young writers. A small group of boys were really keen to share what they thought the writers intended, and also to share their own writing with the class. Two quiet young ladies sat up the back and wrote really sweet poems about each other and their friendship – they produced the innocent highlight of my day. Working on the use of metaphor and similies, they wrote about how each was a great friend to the other. “Casey is a great friend who is always there for me,” wrote one, “just like my iPod.” In response, her friend described her as “a balloon you want to hold forever”.

One young man broke my heart, writing so honestly about his mother who is struggling with bipolar. I saw so much of myself in him, and while what he wrote missed the mark of the activities we were working on, I think it’s much more important for him to know that his writing is a valid way of expressing and sharing what he’s going through.

Overall, these kids had some really interesting ways of seeing the world, and produced writing stronger than a lot of the stuff I’ve seen from university students.

While my skills as a teacher (and crowd-controller) certainly need some work, I feel like those who were willing to engage in the work really took something away from this workshop. Thus, I feel like I did something good.

Please understand, this visit was not my idea.

Dear Delicate Progeny of Wonthaggi Secondary College,

Tomorrow we meet for a workshop on poetry writing. I hope you believe I know what I’m talking about, and understand that the unleashing of the artistic mashed potato inside of me was the idea of the English department, and not myself.

Having said this – I hope you appreciate the fact that I went to pains to show you brilliant things written by ’emerging’ young people, and I hope I do not confuse and scare you away from writing poetry forever more. I hope I can manage to make words more exciting than you thought they were, and I hope you take away at least one tiny thing that helps you look at your poetry differently. If I can manage that, it was worth it.

Regards,

Sam.

Word Play

I’ve been reading a bit lately about word play, and how important it is for kids. The many ways they (we) do it are fascinating.

I didn’t often play with words myself. I was a very careful child, I tiptoed around words until they were absolutely mastered. No word would leave my mouth until I’d thoroughly chewed on it and felt confident it would come out perfectly. My mum wondered if I was behind the other kids who uttered such adorable things as “pasghetti” and “amberlance” – I remember going to the doctor when I was about 5 for a regular check-up – I remember being at the doctor a lot as I was such a small kid. During this particular check-up they were talking about a heap of developmental stuff and he asked me to draw a person for him. I did, and he told my mum I was in front of the other kids my age, because I drew people with necks, which other 5 year olds apparently did not… So Mum felt better about my development, and I continued only spitting out fully-cooked words like “spaghetti” and “ambulance”.

One word I do remember playing with, though, is my Opa’s name.

I remember crawling under a bench in the shed – my grandparents were market farmers, and they had enormous sheds that smelled of earth and carrots.

I made a little song out of Opa’s name, crouched under the bench as he washed carrots. As I got splashed with water, I sang – “Opaaaa-ha-haaaa-ha-ha!” I sang it with such joy, letting out my gleeful little “ha-ha-ha!”s. Opa must have loved it, because he still asks me now if I remember singing his name, and he still remembers the tune I made up for it.

Next week I’m running a poetry workshop for year 9’s at my old high school. What I wish we could all keep, if only for the sake of poetry and writing, is the ability to play with words. To have fun and just let out our own joyous song, even when it’s nonsense.

Five Moments

All the blogs I read seem to be awash over the last few days with questions and ideas around writer’s block.

My favorite exercise to move the blockage is an exercise which distills my writing, or anything, into a series of five moments. What results is usually a little poem, like a still life.  I can use this to make a vomit draft into something different, or to move a piece I’m writing onto somewhere new. I always get ideas where my mind is forced to fill gaps, and this distilling seems to create much stronger images between the lines than any large slab of my writing ever does.

Today:

Walk in –
Leans into me.
Kiss his dream-sweat head
“Thai food?”
Leave.

The Terror of Actually Writing

TheReaderCover-SmallToday’s post was prompted by John Pace’s article in The Reader (pictured left), titled “Re-Draft with Craft”. It got me thinking about drafting, something I truly struggle with (and I suspect a lot of people do… like Dan Brown, and Bryce Courtney’s more recent work?)

While Pace’s article is directed at screenwriters, I believe it applies to all forms of writing, or even all forms of anything that requires drafting.

Pace gives some fantastic advice about drafting (obvious, yet helpful – this is how most creative-type advice seems to be, especially the helpful stuff), such as cutting out unnecessary “hangover” words in order to write punchy, economic pieces. What stood out to me most about this article, though, is something that spoke to my constant fear of starting.

I have long embraced the term “vomit draft” to describe that first terrifying committment of word to page. I pussyfoot around a piece, thinking on it for too long, scrapping it before I even get it onto a page. Pace suggests the more apt rule, “be wrong as fast as you can”, coined by Andrew Stanton (screenwriter of Wall-E and Finding Nemo). “Just get it down,” says Pace. “Don’t worry about its merit”.

Yes, I needed to be told this. I’m not a brave writer.

Later in the reader, Simonne Michelle-Wells, (in “A Letter to my Younger Self (from the time machine)” ) sits her younger self down for a chat, saying:
“You didn’t draft enough. Drafting and editing are not the same things and you happily convinced yourself they are. Editing requires sweat. Drafting requires blood. Tossing out an errant comma and deleting reams of superfluous adjectives is a leisurely jog compared to the marathon of unpicking a rambling narrative arc or killing off characters in the name of expediency.”

For such a long time, I have convinced myself of the same thing. Pace talks about one screenwriter who sits down to re-draft in front of a blank page. No cut-copy-paste, this writer starts again from scratch, with faith that the ideas that count will resurface.

THAT is brave writing.

Monica Wood’s “Pocket Muse” tells writers, “you have to be willing to write badly“… and I think that’s the key here. Without a willingness to “be wrong, as fast as I can,” I can’t even start to get it wrong. I’m too safe, too much of the time.

Asking questions

No post for the last few days as I’ve been away, and nothing too impressive today as I’m in the middle of working on a short story for a comp, which I’d like to post here but only once I’ve got a first draft together.

I realised today though, one of the reasons I’m having so much trouble writing this current story is because I dont know my characters well enough. I can sit there asking, “What does he do next?”…but he should be “what WOULD he do next?”. I need to sit with these characters for a while and discover their logic…

SARA: She’s broken. She’s tiny. She finds animals agreeable, but generally men don’t stay in her life long, they find her too complicated. She never asked Christian to fix her. Her background is blurry, not just for those around her but for Sara too. She doesn’t understand how she came to be confused and confusing, she doesn’t remember. She’s sure she wasn’t always this way.

CHRISTIAN: He’s fat and awkward and nerdy. He’s likeable, gets along with most people… He has a super-man kind of ethos. He’s kind, he can love in such huge amounts. Sara fits in his arms perfectly. He knows she’s broken, and he can fix her, he knows it. They’re both quiet but they find a silent kind of happiness in each other.

It’s where Christian came from that I get stuck on. Why is he so quiet? And why Sara?

Deliberate Practice and Accountability

Every day, I browse for at least half an hour through WordPress, just to see who’s posted something, read it if it’s worth reading. Try to increase traffic through this fair blog… though that’s clearly a winner, as I’ve gone three days with no hits.
I recently came across this fantastic post
There is also has some amazing links there, so thumbs up to this blog!

This blog isn’t intended as a journal. That’s not what I’m here for, I know how hard it is to return to a journal. They’re boring reading. What it is intended to do, is help me grow as a writer. So, I’m bringing some accountability into this thing. I’ll post something every day. If I dont, find me and hunt me down.

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