premier's reading challenge
I have been knocked out sick for a week now. While I'm getting better, I still have very little energy. The hardest part is getting back into the swing of things.
Yesterday I had a lovely moment though. Was invited to be guest speaker at Keilor Downs College Premier's Reading Challenge celebration.
It was so beautiful to look out to the faces of the years 7s and 8s who had participated in the challenge and see a new generation of readers. My heart melted.
All together the students read over 5900 books. How amazing. There were a few who were truly dedicated readers and won specials awards, a student read over 100 books, another 80.
The principal spoke about their Naplan results and the school had 99 per cent of students were reading at or above the literacy levels. Proof that a school's dedication to developing a culture of reading pays dividends in so many ways.
So happy that this program has been introduced and that schools are taking the role of being literacy ambassadors by making reading fun.
I started off the year with an experiment: to write whatever the muse dictated. I anticipated I might experience some difficulties, namely not being able to complete anything, but I was also feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation at inspiring the muse. I’m at the halfway point of the year and it’s time to evaluate how it all worked.
The good-I wrote more than I ever have in my life. I experimented with genres, built up my confidence and have a bushel of new ideas and directions to move forward with.
The bad-I have quite a few works in progress. I thought that by spreading myself in different directions I might not be able to finish things, however as I now have two books that have crappy first drafts of 50,000 words it’s going to be easier to complete them.
The ugly-I burnt out. My ambition far exceeded my energy levels. In the first half of the year I was completing 3 subjects and working part time. These two alone would be equivalent to a full time job. Add to that a 4 week teaching round and a lot of writing commitments and by June I was battling the usual wear and tear of fatigue, constant viruses and throat ulcers. On top of that I had a lot of unexpected things that life threw at me and my emotional and physical resilience was well and truly tested.
So what have I learnt:
1. As a writer you need to diversify. It is a matter of survival to have a few projects on the go. This buffers you from rejection and the frustrations involved with the glacial pace of the publishing industry.
2. Diversifying is well and good, but you need to set realistic goals. This is something that I have very much struggled with. I need to narrow my focus down to 2 things at a time only. This will give me the opportunity to jump from one thing to another when I’ve run the course of inspiration, however it will also allow me to actually finish things.
3. Sometimes to be strong means to let go. I find it very hard to let go of a goal when I have set it. There have been quite a few occasions this year where I have been writing things to a competition deadline and entering it with minutes to spare. I still have a wall of ‘potentials’ and I need to take some of these down.
4. Set priorities and stick to them. To that end I am prioritising my books and letting go of some of the short story competitions I have on my wish list. I can’t do everything and this burnout has made me realise this.
To be a writer is to engage in a constant process of learning about yourself. This period of productivity has scared me because of the fatigue I’ve experienced. There was a point where the thought of writing actually made me feel ill.
However it has also made me feel amazed at what I’m capable. I feel like I haven’t been living to my potential and now I am determined to ensure my writing has priority, regardless of what’s going on in my life. Even if it’s 500 words a day or a week, I need to make sure there are no more stops and starts as life throws its curve balls.
what i've been doing
I ran a short story workshop as part of the Brimbank Literary Awards last night and it went really well. There were about 16 participants who were really eager and motivated to learn. I sold some books, had some great conversations about writing, and finally felt the slump I've been in lift.
It has been a really busy first half of the year. I did 3 uni subjects (instead of my usual two) and really found it a strain. Toward the end of the semester I had a bout of illness and a death in the family and for the first time ever had to request extensions for every subject. I only completed my last assignment yesterday and finally felt that whoosh of relief you get when everything is done and behind you.
Part of the reason that I've also been struggling is I had a lot of writing deadlines. One of them I can share now. I was asked by Garratt Publishing, an educational publisher, to write a middle grade story to be published as part of their Diversity series. I had to read the brief, write a synopsis, that was approved, and then write a 10,000 word story to a deadline. It was the first time I had to write to a deadline and I found it stressful, especially amongst all the other stuff going on, but I found it a great experience.
Being pushed outside of your comfort zone really makes you realise what you're capable of. It was such an amazing experience to basically produce a story out of thin air and I loved the creative process and just sitting down and having things happen. I received feedback from the publisher and she loved the story and how layered it was. Such a relief that my instincts are right. So who knows what else I'll produce in the middle grade genre after this. I'm waiting on revisions and publishing details, but suspect it will be published sometime next year.
I'm hoping that the second half of the year will mean more writing time, and that it will be an easier one than the first half. But this might be an empty hope. I have lots of things going on:
Lots of new challenges and experiences. I'm looking forward to stretching myself. Just have to be careful not to burn out the way I have done in the past few months. Fingers crossed I achieve better balance.
back up plans
Sick with an ear infection and feeling all contemplative and stuff. Watched the Voice the other night and Seal asked a contestant what will she do if her singing career doesn't take off. She was a university student and he said that the best thing he can give her is to teach her not to have a back up. That singing just has to be it. And this got me thinking about writing and the artist life in general.
When I first began seriously writing in about 1999 when I commenced my Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing I had no plans for a back up. Writing was it. I had the day job of course, this is a must because after all we do have to eat, and worked as a office chick. Every workday was full of frustration as I did a job that I knew was beneath me intellectually, but this frustration just fuelled my passion for writing more. I was going to prove all those co-workers who looked down on me as their serf and do something great with my life.
Getting a novel published was a hunger that burnt within me. Even so it took years for it to happen. Ten years in fact. And getting published did change something within me, it confirmed what I believed about myself and the purpose of my life, but the hunger didn't abate. Sometimes it seems that publication corrupts that passion because know there is always this strategic element about writing what is potentially publishable, but I digress.
About the time that my daughter was born things changed. I had to grow up and accept that I could not always put the artist's life first. While writing was still always my passion, a certain wear and tear occurred. There is the need for creature comforts. The artist life of barely having enough money loses it's allure. And there is also the acceptance that my writing is not a sprint, it's a marathon. I will be writing until my dying day. That is what I do. And while I might have to slow down a bit as other aspects of my life take priority, sometimes with less time to write comes greater efficiency. After all writers practice procrastination religiously.
There is also the fact that being an artist is to undertake the practice of sadomasochism. There are highs and there are lows, and this is just through the writing process in battling the muse and filling the page, not to mention the glacial slow process of waiting for anything to happen, and then there are the inevitable rejections. There are always rejections. The hardest times of my life have been those when I have had nothing but writing to fill my time. The harshness of a writer's life was most apparent then because I had nothing else to lift me up from the sting of rejection or the battles with the muse. So from my perspective a back up is a necessity. Not just to eat, but also to give you something to push against, to give you another outlet for self esteem, and to give you perspective.
I have found in my career that when I am busy with other things, this is when the writing comes the easiest and when I have the wins. It's because I feel good about myself in having a full life and engaging at different levels. And it is also because getting published doesn't have that whiff of desperation attached to it. Instead I can roll with the punches easier and just keep doing what I love, being true to my muse and getting those words onto the page.
a new milestonE
Last Friday I officially completed the first year of my degree Graduate Diploma in Secondary Education. After I attended my last class and submitted my last assignment for the year, a strange feeling descended. A mingling of awe at how quickly the year had passed and joy that I was halfway through my qualification.
Embarking at the beginning of the year to study this on a part time basis seemed so huge and daunting. I found myself floundering slightly in first semester, and hit my stride halfway through the year.
The placements I have undertaken teaching Year 9 Humanities have been a revelation. I was nervous about whether I would enjoy teaching things other than creative writing and found to my surprise that I love the process of sharing knowledge and learning new things myself.
I now have time over summer to focus on my first love-writing. After failing on numerous occasions this year I am embarking again on the adventure called affectionally Nano, National Novel Writing in a Month. While I don't expect to complete a book in the time frame, my commitment will be to write every day 1,000 words and to complete at least 30,000 words. This is one goal that I might fail, but I figure that as long as I valiantly try I will succeed beyond my wildest expectations.
I have my buddies lined up to keep me on track and I've decided that I'm going to employ the biggest tool in my arsenal to achieve this goal-public accountability and shame. To that end I will be updating my blog EVERY single day with my word count. And if I haven't achieved it, I will be justifying to myself and (technically) the world (although the world won't read my blog, just a few of you select and treasured readers) as to why I haven't written my words for the day.
So wish me luck and come and join me if you like. I've signed up on Nano under my own name (public accountability and shame again) so let's buddy up and try to do this. Nano is like my white whale. The elusive beast I have been trying to capture for too many years to admit. I'm going to work my butt off to make this the year I do it.
MY WEEK WITHOUT FACEBOOK
I’ve been feeling a bit off Facebook and social media for a few months now. Every morning I would spend at least half an hour trolling through status updates, then keep going back intermittently during the day.
And while yes some gold was discovered in the form of publication opportunities and industry news, a lot of the time I felt a bit flat. If I was having a bad week and didn’t feel I had achieved my goals, seeing other positive status updates made me feel deflated and even worse.
While I realised that all of us present our shiny versions of ourselves through social media, I know I did it, this realisation doesn’t help when you’re in the grips of the grey cloud.
Then last week something changed. I did not want to be a masochist anymore and put myself in the path of more pain. And just like that I stopped. I stopped going to Facebook and Twitter.
I didn’t think I would last. I thought I would drift back to my wasteful ways, but then something interesting happened. I got more productive. In the time I would have wasted on Facebook I did all those things I’ve been putting off for months, like rearranging my office.
The more I achieved my goals, the more motivated I felt. Not reading other status updates about people’s achievements or word counts or news made me focus on just me. I wasn’t competing anymore with anyone. It was just about achieving my personal best.
So I’m going to stay off for awhile. I’m not going to set any goals or timelines. I’m just going to take a time out and enjoy the golden silence that I need at the moment. I need to go inside myself and focus on the important things, my writing, rather than getting caught up with my ‘media presence,’ checking my blog hits and status likes.
I’ll still be blogging intermittently, and I will be back on social media, just not yet.
REFLECTION ON WORKSHOP
My husband attended a talk by Archie Fusillo last night at Caroline Springs Library and has agreed to do a blog post about this.
Guest blog post by Fikret Pajalic
Last night I attended a short story workshop at Caroline Springs library as part of Melton of Shire ArtBeat Festival. The presenter and this year’s Writer in Residence was Archie Fusillo.
I normally avoid these types of affairs as I have learnt the hard way that there are a stack of 'writers' out there peddling all sorts of workshops and presentations that have very little value or even less basis in current publishing industry.
After some persistent urging by my wife to go and attend I went. Plus it was close by. I was pleasantly surprised when off the bat Archie established his writing credentials.
It is always good to know that presenter of the workshop is not a hack. In the past I attended workshops where the presenter in question had less writing experience or achievements than me and mine are almost none. And we all know how the Internet can be very deceitful. In Archie's case he came with truckload of books with his name on it, a physical proof of his success.
Archie is a well known and established writer who has been making a living from writing for the past 14 years and that in itself is a great achievement in anyone's book. He's an extremely engaging and charismatic presenter and full of little anecdotes and life stories. His story about his first rejection letter is an absolute cracker and if you ever attend one of his workshops and he doesn't mention it, ask him about. You won't be disappointed.
In almost two hours he covered all the basics of what a short story should be, using both visual and written material combined with pitch perfect delivery and precise presentation skills. He had a great rapport with the group and he got a feel for the group from the beginning and we were like kittens drinking milk from his palm. (Probably inadequate analogy but that's how I felt.)
He shared with us that he has more than 800 rejections and that made me admire his dedication to the craft of writing even more.
If Archie Fusillo ever comes to a place near you or if you hear that he is holding a workshop I thoroughly recommend you go and see him. You will not be disappointed. I walked away very happy and would go to his workshops again.
I'd like to thank Archie for the great workshop, Melton Shire council and Caroline Springs Library for organising this magnificent event.
ON TEACHING ROUNDS
I'm on teaching rounds again for the next few weeks so it's pretty full on. Excited though that I'm getting the chance to teach migration, a subject that I have a passion for and can really bring to life.
Have been pretty fatigued the past week. Juggling so many things and have a huge to do list. Hopefully by the end of the month I will achieve quite a few things and be able to relax, have some fun and get back to writing.
So all in all a pretty long-winded way of saying that I'll be a bit sporadic with my blog and will be back in September with hopefully some book reviews, interesting posts and some announcements.
MY NEW WEBSITE
Well I've been a busy bee revamping my website and I have to say I'm quite chuffed with it. So take a look around and let me know what you think.
So far I'm loving Weebly. It's super easy to use and it's set up so that pages are designed with elements you drag over. Best of all it looks beautiful.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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