On Looking Up

If your spirits are low, go for a walk. Hear the morning chorus, watch as magpies squawk and squabble overhead. Listen to the smooth notes of a currawong from high up in a gum tree, and watch a squadron of parrots chasing each other before feasting on seeds in the pine trees.

On a good day there will be at least one kookaburra chortling away. Way up high there is the frantic screech of a white cockatoo, seldom alone and usually part of a rowdy, wheeling mob. A red flash as the compact bodies of rosellas, one of the shyer birds, fly by. Wattle birds feast on the nectar of native shrubs, their sombre grey and white plumage contrasting with their red neck wattles and the dash of yellow on their bellies.

Look up and see a beautiful butterfly, camouflaged against the heritage paint of an old building. Look around and see the blur of a bright brown rabbit, tucked in against the edge of long grass along the roadside. And a white horse sitting down in a paddock, its stillness a contrast to the movement around it.

Learning to look up has been one of the most rewarding lessons of my life.

How often do you look up?

[Photo: a red wattle bird]

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The rhinoceros in the room

In interviews with published authors, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘where do your ideas come from?’ It is the writing equivalent of a silver bullet, as if by being able to reliably generate ideas that are worthy of expanding into a poem, short story, novel, screen play or any other variation, life would be easier. Well, who wouldn’t like an infinite resource that generated ideas?

The source of creativity is as varied as the individuals who spend time and energy expanding thoughts, ideas and inspiration into something tangible that can be shared with other people. Some people keep track of the stray thoughts and ideas that they encounter in a book or online file that they can flick through when they are looking for inspiration at a later date. This can be a few scribbled words, images, or snatches of dialogue that can be expanded upon when ready. Sometimes these snippets form an integral part of a piece of work; other slivers may never be incorporated into something else, but unless you gather and retain this information, how would you know?

In writerly circles there are few things more discouraging than a blank page. By having something – anything – to refer back to can provide a starting point. It works in a similar way to prompts, but usually with a longer lead time. Both approaches can be used as a starting point or a mind-mapping exercise which results in something more solid.

Ideas for me sometimes come from simple acts of observation and imagination. It is often recommended that you spend time in a cafe, watching other people interact, imagining their back stories, making up what you can’t discern. I recently tapped out the following points whilst waiting in a restaurant. An older lady was also waiting:

  • Floral twin set, dark blue camisole, white sandals
  • Cameo necklace, tapestry handbag and matching tote
  • Permed hair, coloured
  • No rings, gold watch, blue stone bracelet, possible medical purposes
  • Looking people up and down, inspecting them, finding them wanting in some way
  • Tapping fingers in a silent rhythm, impatient but controlled

There was something about this woman at the time that made it worthy of recording, and I know that she will appear in my writing in some form (perhaps more than once) in time.

How do you keep track of your ideas?

[Photo was taken at the Japanese Gardens in Cowra, NSW]