My ANZAC Day

This might seem a little late, but after putting up a post on my Facebook site (one that was meant to be about two lines long, but somehow kept going), I started to get some calls, emails, and messages from people who could relate. People whose emotions around ANZAC Day are as complex as mine, if not more so. People who really seemed to connect with what was written

In the end, I think it had a positive impact. And if I can get a bit more positivity out there, then why not? Plus, if it looks like a blog post, reads like a blog post etc. . .well, I figured I better put it up.

It might not be the greatest formatted or grammatically correct piece, but this is one that came from a very personal place. I always have trouble writing this time of year, but this is maybe what I can do. This is how I do therapy – getting the words out to express that which ironically, can’t really be expressed in words.

Here ’tis (link then words):

Most people who know me also know I spent the majority of my adult life in the military. In fact, I’m heading back into a uniformed role soon, which will be . . .interesting . . .after some time away.

It might seem strange then that I rarely feel comfortable sharing or writing about anything about ANZAC day. It’s not that I want to disrespect the day, or that I have anything against it. In fact, I hold out hope that the commemorations of wars, and the constant reminding of the cost they induce might make people think twice about the next time they want to start a conflict.

But I guess the main thing that makes me hesitate is that there are a bunch of complex issues, and bunch more complex emotions surrounding it.

The thing is, ANZAC Day brings a lot of emotions to the fore. I consider myself lucky to have served with some truly extraordinary people, and I’m proud of the achievements of some of them too.

It also reminds me of the time we had just finished an intense period of training, and just before we left the ship to go home for a break leading up to ANZAC Day, a colleague killed themselves on board the ship. Six months later, another followed suit.

It reminds me of the time I was on night shift, and a signal came through notifying us of death of an officer on leave. The name on the signal was a good friend of both mine and my wife’s.

It reminds me of launching helicopters and seaboats simultaneously while executing precision maneuvering, with a stupid grin on my face because I was having so much fun, and meeting all sorts of great people from other countries and other cultures, hearing their perspectives and widening my own view.

It reminds me of the intellect and compassion of some of the best leaders and people I’ve ever come across, and watching their careers soar.

It reminds me of ‘leadership’ personnel who simply allowed their subordinate to fade away and die due to a lack of the same attributes.

The contrasting emotions and experiences of my service seem to be heightened by days like this. And to be honest, I got away reasonably unscarred from my time in the military

I think that’s the bit that I find the most difficult. If this is a complex time for me, and I generally had a pretty good career, how hard must it be for those who still suffer for their time in uniform? How heightened are their emotions? What if I say the wrong thing, or they take something the wrong way? Should I be reaching out to someone? Who? Will my lack of participation be seen as a rejection? But what if I say the wrong thing? What impact will that have on people? Who will it trigger?

I know most of the worries are ridiculous, especially the last couple, but that’s how my brain works

I guess the point of all this is to point out, however; as conflicting as the day is for me, it’s a hundred times more difficult for others. Not only today, but potentially every day of the year, or for some, sporadically at unpredictable times.

Veterans are not the only people who suffer in silence, so maybe it’s a little selfish of me to limit the focus. But still, that is my area. It’s who and what I know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to lose anyone more friends if I can help it.

So this ANZAC Day, whether you are commemorating or not, I would ask of this; try to view veterans outside of personal views on war, or specific wars, outside of politics or election campaigns etc. Remember they are people first. Be kind, be compassionate, and if you come across someone suffering, remember that this is not the only day they suffer. It might just be the only day it’s so close to the surface that you see it.

~Nathan

 

5 Ways to Avoid/Recover From Burnout

On a lighter note from last time.

In 2017, I read about ten books. Far below what I would usually like to go through, though to be honest, my reading had been decreasing for a while.

So in 2018, I applied to be on an Aurealis panel, and as a result, read 70+ books in just under twelve months!

But for all the fun of the reading, it was a real change of pace, and a real grind at times. Add in a stressful job, keeping up with my writing, a bunch of medical isssues in the family, changing jobs, then preparing to move states (again), I’ll admit I felt a little burned out. I still do. Writing became hard, a chore rather than an escape, and I’ve really struggled over the last few months even after the other issues have run their course.

So in short, this is as much research as it is advice. Because if I’m going to learn something new, what’s the point of keeping it to myself, right? But the first is from me, and I’m sure plenty of other writers coud back this one up.

DISCLAIMER: Different methods work for different people. If one of these doesn’t work for you, don’t stress. There are plenty of methods – the trick is just like writing; find the one that works for you.

exerc

 

Go to the gym

Or the pool, or for a walk outside. Anything physical. It doesn’t even have to be that hard, just something that will get the seratonin, dopamine, and all the other chemicals in your brain going.

Clearly, I’m not a doctor, but these chemicals help manage anxiety (little ‘a’ not big ‘A’ – that one is probably best addressed with a real doctor) and stress. Not only that, but for many people, exercise allows them to practice mindfulness. For me, it’s basically meditation with which I can move. Sitting still has never been my strong point.

Either way, if you can fit it in, it’s a great way to relax your mind, and relieve it of stress before you write.

YES MARIE

Read for FUN

I can personally vouch for this. The reason I say ‘over seventy’ is because there were the books on the Aurealis list, then there were the occassional books I read to relax. NY Book Editors suggests the same thing. Reading for fun can remind us of why we write, and get the fun and/or meaning back into it. It’s like a nice adventure out of our own heads. . .except still in our own heads. . .maybe in a neighbouring region?

Ok, I lost the simile, but you get the idea. It’s not your imagined world. It’s geting lost in someone elses. There’s no pressure. It’s more fun that way, and can bring the joy and energy back to your own books. Plus you get to buy another book.

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Image: DDP Yoga (also part of my ongoing quest to prove fitness and writing memes are 90% interchangable)

Keep on writin’

Might sound a bit contradictory, but where some advise suggests taking some time away from writing, The Write Practice suggest pushing on. Writing begets writing, they argue, so the more you push forward, be it on the project that got you stuck or another one, then the more you push the problem behind you.

I’m not sure if this would work for me. Generally when I get to a burnout stage, I need a complete break, even if just for a few hours. But it might work for others, and it’s always worth trying.

 

bored
Brad, Chris, Kim – if any of you stumble across this, I swear I don’t do this!

Treat writing like a real job

Because it is one. Seriously, the amount of people I’ve met who say ‘but my real job is blah’. . . just stop. I used to do the same thing, but as soon as I stopped and took my writing seriously, productivity pretty much doubled. Treat writing like a hobby and it gets pushed aside way too easily. It loses meaning and priority.

Thats why The Writing Cooperative say to treat writing time like office hours.  Take a bit of objectivity, treat it like a job, and don’t get distracted.

It actually ties in with a few sites that talk about schedules,  a space, and ensuring there are no interuptions, then finishing at a planned time to ensure no continued burnout.

The Writing Cooperative have another gem in there – stop writing while you still have ideas. This gives you somewhere to start next time. Kind if like a jump start from one session to the next.

Image result for thinking too hard

Stop Thinking!

Easier said than done, but in this wonderful post that seems to almost pull an exact scene from by brain, KM Allan reminds us that the more questions we ask of ourselves, especially questions regarding our abiliy, the grammar, the structure, etc, the less brainpower we have to think creatively and move forwards.

Seriously, there is a time for editing later. Those questions can come then. They have a place, but clogging up your head while writing is not always it.

Although it is easy to say ‘get rid of the questions’, sometimes they just creep in witout us realising, or are so ingrained that we just can’t get rid of them.

That’s okay as well. As long as we can at least reduce them, or make them little voices at the back of the mind where the creative ideas have room to cut in front, rather than taking all the space at the front of our thoughts, then even that can free up some space.

As with all of theses ideas, each will be easier to some people and more difficult to others. Some people won’t be able to get up and move, others struggle to block out those questions.

But all of them give a start, and if they even give just a little more capacity to enjoy writing, that’s something.

I’m volunteering again with Aurealis, and if I get on a panel again, then I’l probably face a similar list. But now I have strategies to deal with it, and now I have no excuse not to get my writing done.

Good luck to anyone trying the same strategies!

~Nathan

Our Omelas

NOTE: Bit of a ramble here. Basically I had to get my thoughts out following the tragedy. Hopefully they make sense.

Speculative fiction has some strange ways of impacting real life. Sometimes it’s an immediate identification with a character, or a setting invoking wonder beyond anything we as readers have imagined.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy for us to understand what it meant.

In the wake of the Christchurch shootings, there is so much that leaves me numb and bewildered as to how this could happen. As I type, the count is at 49 people. All dead because the peacefully attended to their faith.

Full disclaimer: I’m not a New Zealander, and have never been, though I would very much like to visit. I’m not Muslim either. I shouldn’t have to explain why I still care for these people, but for the benefit of the few, I will explain.

Those who died are people. I don’t like it when people die. Even when terrorists are shot or killed, I’d rather mourn the necessity of the kill than the deaths. Call me delusional if you like, but I’d rather wish the situation leading to the conflict never arose than celebrate a victory that involves killing.

But I digress. The people who died today, their deaths were completely unnecessary. Their deaths came directly from the actions of a terrorist. An Australian terrorist. Which leads me to the second reason I care.

I am Australian. I served, I vote, and I partake in the flux that is society.

I live work and breathe in the same culture that grew and nurtured this terrorist.

That is where Omelas comes in.

For those who haven’t read Ursula K Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, here’s the condensed version.

  1. There is no plot or protagonist. It is entirely setting and theme.
  2. Omelas is a wonderous place of health, happiness and sunshine.
  3. The cost of this is a child, tied in a cell that no-one speaks to or has anything to do with, bar feeding and watering (it’s much worse than this, but this is the short version)
  4. The child is innocent. It is not a punishment, it is a sacrifice. They scream, they cry, they hurt.
  5. Every person in Omelas knows this sacrifice.
  6. Everyone who stays in Omelas ignores this sacrifice.
  7. The Narrator walks away.

I thought I knew Omelas when I had a good job that provided for my family and had me lined up for promotion in minimum time. Provided I went along with some things I was not at all comfortable with.

I walked away, head held high, ego intact, washing my hands of all they did.

But after today, I’m not so sure I’ve left Omelas. We have a Senator blaming the victims for their own murder. We have a video and manifesto that people keep sharing. We still live in the same culture, the same world we did yesterday, and tomorrow many people will keep living their lives and slowly forget because it doesn’t directly impact them.

I don’t think Christchurch will be able to do that, and if we ever considered our relationship with New Zealand to mean anything, then we shouldn’t either. There needs to be something. I don’t know what, but something that changes or these types of terrorist will continue to breed their hate.

Anything else is reinforcing our own Omelas – a place we can live and breathe in peace and prosperity, as long as someone else pays the cost, regardless of however innocent they are.

I think, and dare I critique a legend of literature, this is the only thing Le Guin got wrong.

The narrator walked away, and that was enough for them.

But Omelas still existed. It still stood on the suffering of the innocent and exploitation of a the Other.

We can’t walk away and expect our Omelas to disappear.

What we need to do is change. Fight Omelas in a way that might lower our standard of living, or make our lives a little less comfortable. Maybe its confronting a group, or maybe it’s simply reaching out those suffering for it and offering a kindness. I don’t know.

The important bit is that we do what we can to change our culture as a place that allows people like this to grow. That allows them to represent us in the Senate (or anywhere else, for that matter).

In my opinion (and another disclaimer: I nearly failed my History degree, so I apologise in advance if I get some details wrong), there is a great example of how to change this from 4th Century Rome. The Emperor, Julian I, wanted to turn the empire back to Paganism. His biggest frustration was that Christians maintained popular support because gave charitably with no expectation of return.

I know there are plenty of opinions on modern Christianity, and some reading this aren’t in the slightest bit Christian, but the main point is that their weapon was in eliminating the concept of the Other. They served everyone. They helped everyone. They build a community around looking after each other and for a time.

Again, maybe I’m delusional, but I can’t help but think this might be decent way forward. Look after each other. Helping where we can, and making the Other feel safe and cared for. To make them ‘us’ not by changing them, but by expanding our own concept of who we are as a culture.

I doubt it will be that easy, and no matter what we do, nothing will eliminate what has happened today. It’s made even harder by the fact that sometimes, being a decent human being is synonymous with making ourselves a target for terrorists, and honestly I don’t know how to deal with those people from a cultural perspective. Some of them would rather be an Other than be part of a functional society.

But they are individuals. We need to fight our Omelas, and eventually these individuals will become fewer and fewer as their support dwindles to nothing.

It might take years, generations, or ideally overnight. But it won’t start unless we change how we interact in and outside our own cultures.

We can’t just show some sympathy and move on. The victims, their families, and those still at risk deserve better than that.

We need to fight our Omelas for their sake, and for our own.

My deepest sympathies to New Zealand, to Muslims, and anyone else impacted by the tragedy. I promise I will fight our Omelas to make us better, and you safer. I hope I am not alone.

~Nathan

 

kiwi
https://www.tweet247.net/australia/kiakaha

 

Prologues!

Why am I writing on prologues? Because I LOVE PROLOGUES!

A few years ago, I made a horrible discovery; there are MONSTERS out there! REAL PEOPLE who DON’T READ THE PROLOGUES!

Okay, so they may not be monsters (at least no more than I am for being one of those terrifying people who dog-ears books), but it genuinely was a shock. The concept of skipping a prologue didn’t exist in my mind, and since that time I’ve seen discovered that not only do people skip them, but agents and publishers generally seem to avoid them too.

Now, as a disclaimer, I just want to say that if you are querying, and the guidelines specifically warn against a prologue, or you are aware the person you are querying doesn’t like/want prologues, maybe try and avoid them. Like the plague. Or a Spin Doctors reunion tour.

But in a desperate bid to work out how I can get around this and include my beloved prologues, and hopefully help others that want to do the same, one thing has become clear; people don’t like bad prologues. And the majority seem to fit this category, tainting the rest as well. To get a prologue working, and give it a fighting chance at both submission and first read, the criticisms levelled at them need to be addressed.

The biggest criticism I see is that they are just massive, world building info dumps. That’s actually a really easy one to fix. First of all, remember that if a reader is reading your prologue, then that is their first introduction to your writing. Which brings up a couple of questions;

Would you open your first chapter like that?

Would you write a short story that way?

If the answer is no, then its probably not a great idea to open a prologue like that.

I’ve always liked Patrick Rothfuss’ opening to The Name of the Wind for this. It talks of a silence of three parts, and I remember being so fascinated with the concept of dividing the silence (geographically? Component? Orchestrally?) that I was immediately hooked.

Rothfuss still has some issues with his prologue though if I wanted to be supercritical. . .which I do, as it leads nicely to the next point I learned.

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People don’t read prologues because they think they don’t matter.

This one, I have to concede, it often right. In the case of Rothfuss, it can be skipped without consequence for the rest of the story.

It also makes it tough to pitch. If people are going to skip it anyway (they don’t yet realise the brilliance of your prologues), then it can’t matter too much or readers who skip it won’t have context for the remainder of the story. But it still needs to be relevant, or it has no purpose and would, therefore, have no reason to remain.

Enter Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time prologue. It is relevant to the core idea of the entire series, yet it can be skipped without consequence. How? It is it’s own, self-contained short story. Yes, it portrays a critical part of the world’s history, but that is also explained over the course of the series too. But the story of Lews Therin is heartbreaking, epic, and fantastical from the start. It reminds me of the action bit before the credits of detective shows, the part that is usually a murder or the discovery of the body. It sets the mood immediately, it shows parts of what happened that will be shown later anyway as the detectives put the clues together, and the episode could start at the established crime scene just fine. But it doesn’t. The prologue entertains and is relevant, so even though it isn’t essential, it stays.

The third issue relates to the others, but basically comes down to the complaint that prologues are too long and delay the ‘real’ start of the story.

To be honest, I don’t think there is much that can be done for this. It comes down to good writing – if the words don’t serve a purpose, get rid of them. The same goes for prologues. If they go too long, then they need to be given more importance to justify their existence. Which brings us back to the earlier point – if they are too important, and people are going to skip them anyway then the reader is being set up to be confused.

By the time they reach a few thousand words, it may be worth considering them as a chapter instead. Which leads to another option for keeping the prologue;

Call it something else!

The classic example is Harry Potter. That first chapter was apparently meant to be a prologue, and even reading it now it reads like a prologue. But it has enough action and hooks to draw readers in and no one will skip it because it’s called Chapter 1! Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s (Pterry for those in Djelibeybi) Good Omens does the same thing, giving it the less subtle name of ‘Eleven Years Ago’. It might be obvious and simple, but it genuinely seems to get around prologuephobia if the prologue is good enough.

Capture

Which is really the critical part. Prologues may be judged harsher than other components simply for the fact that they are often done in a way that is detrimental to the reading of the story. There are ways around it, but these will only give the prologue a fighting chance. Only one thing is guaranteed; it still needs to be high-quality writing. Don’t suddenly forget the rules, conventions or guidelines just for the prologue. It might seem like a different beast, but in the end, they are often the first words people see (except the monsters who skip prologues). Make them quality, and make them work to ensure the reader turns to the next page. Then make the turn the next one. And the next one. And so on. Until they’ve read all the way to the end, without even realising they have read, and finished, the prologue.

~ Nathan

Pitching!

Bit more of a personal update today, as I’ve neglected the blogging for a couple of weeks now.

Basically, I’ve been a bit quiet with the writing due to work picking up somewhat (as in, the other work. The one that enables many wonderful things like eating, but tends to put a halt on the writing at times), but yesterday was a bit exciting/terrifying.

I put in my first pitch for 2019.

What makes it terrifying? Well, first of all it happens to be a novella, aimed at about 20k words. Now, I tend to write quick and long – getting to 20k isn’t an issue. But containing a story withing 20k? Could be a challenge.

It’s also part of a series written by other authors. I know I shouldn’t stress over this, (especially since it’s just at the pitch stage) but if successful, I really want to make sure I write something that is up to the standard of the others. It’s that whole ‘not wanting to let the team down’ thing.

There are other concerns too, such as making sure the plot is fine, whether the worldbuilding will fit, etc, but these are all ‘if successful’ concerns.

In short, pretty sure that makes them good concerns to have. If they become real, then it means I have a book on the way, which would be an amazing opportunity to get my work out there and make a debut as a ‘real’ author.

And that would awesome.

As a side note, this is why I love perspective. It changes everything if you let it.