In Draft Mode

It would be fair to say that I live a lot in my head. An active imagination will do that for you. But what I’m thinking about specifically is how I do quite a lot of my writing in my mind, editing and rephrasing and tweaking, before it gets the chance to come to life on the page. This might not be unusual, but I wanted to tease the idea out a bit.

I have become more aware of my perpetual drafting as I think about topics to blog about. There are some weeks when it is easy to tap in to a recent experience or something I’ve been researching and create a post around the contents. There are other times when it feels as though a deadline is approaching and my mind is a crisp unsullied page and I wonder what I will pull out of my ear this time. Because that’s the thing – my mind will always come up with something. I have written before about ‘don’t ask, don’t get‘ and I rely on my subconscious mind to keep toiling away whilst I’m doing other things so there are at least a couple of ideas that I can work with.

This is where the drafting process comes in. Once there is a kernel of an idea, regardless of how remote or absurd, my mind will start to play, to tease out threads of thought. Through word association or a mental mind map, the kernel starts to expand and grow, and through drafting I start to sense the shape of what is possible. Sometimes I need to get pen and paper out, or tap out some words in a document, to get things moving, but by this time there is at least a trickle of thought that can be tapped.

Letters are another format where I do a lot of mental drafting before I begin. I have mentioned the joy of writing and receiving letters before, and I will usually take a bit of time to think about the essence of what I want to communicate before putting it on paper.

This perpetual drafting, of playing with words, thoughts, ideas, concepts, helps in the expression of what I want to communicate as well as ensuring that my mind is always at work.

Do you give much thought to what your mind gets up to?

[Photo of Strahan Harbour, Tasmania]

My I Spy: something beginning with ‘I’

Imagine being here already! It has been great to feel more present as I keep an eye out for objects and images each week. I have come across some interesting things that I probably would have missed in my usual distracted and daydreaming state. This is what I’ve spied beginning with I.

cropped-img_1684.jpgImagine

This is a recycled photo, originally used as a writing prompt for a blog post a couple of months back. I happened upon this on a Sunday afternoon meander down to Mona Vale on the northern beaches. There is a bookshop there which I had passed by and was keen to explore further – Berkelouw Books – and this was across the road and up a flight of stairs. I couldn’t resist as it is one of my favourite starting points for daydreams and writing prompts. And it reminds me of Scrabble. Imagine if …

Indian Pacific

Indian Pacific, Central Station

Indian Pacific

I was lucky enough to travel from Sydney to Adelaide earlier this year on the Indian Pacific. The weekly service from Sydney travels all the way to Perth and back, and it took roughly a day to wend its way from Central Station in Sydney through to Adelaide. I really loved the dawn stop in Broken Hill, and the second photo is taken from the mining museum which overlooks the town. In the foreground the silver streak is the train.

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View of Broken Hill with Indian Pacific in the foreground

On my trip there were 27 carriages with two locomotives pulling the 230 tonnes of rolling stock stretching over 640 metres. There were 28 crew members taking care of 165 passengers with another 50 or so being collected at Broken Hill.

It was a great trip and it took a little while once I arrived in Adelaide to get my land legs back. Some Wednesdays I pass the train snaking its way through the upper mountains and I give it a cheery salute and smile. It just makes me happy to see it.

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Inspiration

A broad term, it’s true, but when I came across the collection of miniature paintings in Lithgow I was struck how each of them had the potential for the starting point for a story or musing. The paintings are a display in Secret Lane and they celebrate the creativity of new and established local artists. I love coming across visual treats like this.

Have you come across anything this week that has inspired your imagination?

Earlier alphabet blogs can be found here: A, B, C, D, E, F, G & H. You can find lots of great I Spy posts on Autumn’s blog, and I was originally inspired to start this through one of Pip Lincolne’s posts. Happy spying!

Not Telling

One of my favourite songs is ‘They Thought I Was Asleep‘ by Paul Kelly. There are three kids in the backseat of a car, one grizzling until the eldest child tells him ‘he’d better quit it or die’. They are travelling home, worn out after a day in the country playing with their cousins. One child wakes in the dark, the car moving through the night, and senses something big was happening. Something he didn’t understand and wasn’t meant to know about.

He hears his parents talking, his Dad says something and his Mum begins to cry. ‘No more words then, just soft sobs and my head began to throb, I just lay there playing dog breathing slow and deep, they thought I was asleep.’

I love what this song evokes, the light touches of childhood, the perplexity around his mother’s tears, his father’s too, not knowing why, feigning sleep.

As he sings I’m in the backseat of the car, wedged into the warmth of my siblings, vinyl bench seat beneath my legs, crocheted rug pulled across the three of us, staring out into the black night. Eyes turned up to the night sky, seeking out the moon which was guiding us home, picking out the shapes of trees with branches silvered in moonlight. Sensing something was amiss but not knowing what. Snippets of my memory, real and imagined, overlaid onto the lyrics of a song.

This is what we do, essentially, with songs, stories, artworks and poetry that have a particular resonance, or evoke a personal reaction. There might be familiarity too, or a synchronicity of time or place that embeds a response. It can be difficult to separate the personal at times, to peel back the layers of why a song, in this instance, pulls me up whenever I hear it.

In Kelly’s excellent mongrel memoir How To Make Gravy, a wide-ranging read mixing personal and family history with insights into his creative process and influences, there is a section about this song. One of his band members asked him a couple of times about the family in the song: did the parents break up, was one of them seriously ill, why was the mother crying? Kelly’s response: he didn’t know. He could recall travelling home as a child, pretending to sleep so that he would be carried inside, ‘floating across the threshold’, being gently placed into bed. The rest he made up.

This is what the act of creating is about, not telling. Being more of a conduit than providing an explanation for everything.

Are there any songs that make you pause for thought or reflection?

[Photo: dining room table at Wyalong Museum]

 

Don’t ask, don’t get.

Something that never ceases to amaze me is the power and capability of the mind. Whilst I’m quietly confident that I seriously under utilise my mind’s capacity, there is comfort in knowing that I can call upon it to help me out and that it will usually deliver. This is particularly true in relation to creativity.

A little while ago I was walking my dog late one night after a long day. I was really tired and although it was frosty outside, it seemed like every fascinating scent was out and my dog insisted on careful inspection of all that was on offer. We finally turned the corner for home and an idea popped into my head for a short story. It was incomplete but with enough shape and structure to get started. We made it home and I shrugged off my weariness to capture the words and images that were tumbling through my mind.

Recently I reviewed the rough draft, tweaking it and making some changes. The two main characters were really clear to me, but I hadn’t named them in my haste to get the story down. What to call them? I left my brain to work on that problem overnight and woke up  with a handful of possibilities. The characters now have names and that tricky ending that I was worried about has been replaced with something better.

There is another short story idea that I have simmering away in the back of my mind. The images are clear and I’ve jotted down some notes for when the time is right to start it, but again I was thinking about the name of the main character. There were a couple of secondary characters who were easy to identify, but I wanted the main character to have a surname that could be mispronounced by a child and end up as one of those abbreviations that becomes a nickname which ends up as the main form of address for someone. A name with a couple of levels of meaning or significance in the story. I was driving recently when there was a discussion on the local radio and one word literally rang a bell for me. It was the perfect fit.

Putting it out there may not always be entirely reliable or a quick solution, but if you have a bit of time and space to let your mind sort through the possibilities, or listen out for solutions, the results can be pleasantly surprising. Don’t ask, don’t get.

How do you find solutions for your creative challenges?

[Photo: part of a phrenology head spotted at a local market]

Imagine

This is such a powerful word. It immediately conjures up a collection of images, of worlds both real and invented. It can take me to another time or place, and makes me think of a life with less limitations. That place in your head where simply anything is possible.

Imagine doesn’t have to be a fanciful word. It can hold elements of what is possible, even if what is possible is yet to be realised into actual existence. Creativity. Uninhibited possibilities. The abandonment of realism. Reality: who needs it? Imagination offers resourcefulness and inventiveness, the opportunity to delude, to believe, to create, to fantasise and to think.

It also brings to mind early writings and creativity. When does it start, this compulsion to imagine other worlds into existence, to create something out of nothing? Perhaps it is the short creative writing exercises in primary school, those stretches of time when it was just a ballpoint pen, a lined exercise book and a prompt. I had early forays with elaborate tales involving tennis balls and hamburgers. These were separate stories and although the detail is lost to me now, the story where I was somehow metamorphosed into a tennis ball is still vivid to my younger brother, who surprises me with snatches of it occasionally.

There is also the pure joy of losing yourself in someone else’s imagined world as a child, from tales such as Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many places to explore, vivid destinations with memorable characters and some life lessons along the way.

Words have always mattered to me. They have weight and substance when required. I used to tote around a rather large pocket dictionary as a child, and have a collection clustered about me now for dipping into and exploring words and their varied uses. Words are the gateway to my imagination, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What are your early memories of creations from your imagination?

[Photo taken at Mona Vale on the northern beaches of Sydney]

Down in the valley, the valley so low*

I have a bit of a thing for old places. Places with a history, regardless of whether they are in current use or not. The Australian countryside is host to thousands of ruined and abandoned sites, including places where entire towns have been left to slip slowly back into the soil. When driving beyond the city limits, sooner or later you will come across properties where there is little more than a chimney left standing in an enclosed space that once held a home where people lived.

But it isn’t just homes that are left in this state. It can be industrial sites that are left behind when their usefulness has come to an end due to changes in technology or productivity. They can be schools or boarding houses, factories or power stations, convents or hospitals.  I recently came across a blog post by Alien Shores with some beautiful photographs of ruins which you can find here.

One of the notable industrial ruins in the mountains area is the Blast Furnace in Lithgow. The Australian iron smelting industry began here, and it was an important industrial development as well as being a major employer and support for the mining industry. There is a detailed analysis of the significance of the site here. It was constructed between 1905 and 1913, and operated until it was relocated to Port Kembla in 1928. The site was opened in 1907 when Lithgow was the fourth largest town in Australia. To understand the sheer scale of industrial activity in Lithgow at the time, have a look at the historic photographs assembled here by John Paix.

The historical importance of the Blast Furnace has been acknowledged, and there is currently preservation work being carried out in order to make the location more accessible for tourists following government and council funding grant approvals. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this site.

Do old places capture your imagination?

*Taken from the lyrics of Industrial Town by Weddings, Parties, Anything

[Photo: Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow]