The best writing advice

The best writing advice I was ever given came from a smart, grumpy as fuck journalist that I adored precisely because he was a grumpy as fuck journalist.

I was in a room with other hopefuls that dreamed of reporting at the front lines. It was the first day at a university known for it’s journalism degree.

“Half of you won’t make it to the end of this course. Those of you that want to be writers for writing’s sake will fail. We want people that report stories, facts.”

I think he just wanted to scare the shit out of fresh-out-of-school kids, and it was working.

“Don’t try to sound smart. If you have a simpler way to say something, say it. Your job isn’t to use jargon to make yourself look good. Your job is to convey an idea.”

That was the jist of the whole course. Cut out the crap and say it simpler, say it so a 12-year-old could understand it. With a methodical manner, Chris McGillion went through every written piece and covered every unnecessary word in red circles.

And I’m grateful for that.

Even if my most of my writing nowadays is in a conversational tone, it does mean that I hate fancy, long words that don’t add any extra meaning. And that’s grounding. Keep it simple stupid.

At 28, I started painting

I started painting this week. It wasn’t something I intended to do. When you’re an adult, it’s always intimidating to pick up something artistic, cause you get good at some things, and others, it’s easier not to try.

But it’s not that hard to just start mucking around.

Untitled

Clearly, rookie painting, but painting nevertheless.

I had always wanted to layer colours on top of my photos but couldn’t get the thick, luscious feel that I wanted with Photoshop.

You know that feeling – when you can see something in your mind but it’s not coming out with your hands?

I tried using watercolour pencils, but those colours didn’t really sit on top of the paper, it started to meld and there wasn’t room for vibrancy.

So I was at this art store, describing to the guy behind the counter how I want to add layers on top of my photos, mainly using my hands and incoherent sentences. He took the time to describe the difference between watercolour, oil and then – acrylic paint. Oh my. Acryclic paint. It just sits on top of everything and dries quickly. It layers. It adds texture and depth. Fuck – when you find the right materials, it can feel like bliss.

I poured myself a glass of red that night and started having a play with some of my photos and using paint. This is what I came up with. It’s not really ‘painting’ as I would think about it; landscapes,Van Gogh and intricate skills, but it works for me and it’s a start.

How to set up your first zine stall

I sold my first zines this weekend. Hoorah! It was really, the first time I exchanged money for my artsy fartsy stuff. You know, art for art’s sake. Even though it was awkward and nerve-wracking to set up a little table and put my stuff on there, it was also rewarding to see what people picked up, flicked through and bought. Talk about instant user feedback!

My friend Becc has a crazy successful, delicious vegan cheese company and she gave me lots of tips on setting up a stall. That woman is amazing at it! It’s stuff that I would never have known, so I’m sharing it with you in case you’re in the same boat as me:

– If you’re unsure of how to price your stuff, have a sign ready and bring a marker on the day. Have a look at what everyone else is charging and price accordinlgly.

– Pack a thermos of hot water so that you can sip on this in between talking to people. I’m a nervous eater so I packed some nuts as well.

– If your stall is outside, bring paperweights so things don’t fly off. Because I’m a bonafide hippy, I used crystals and rocks that worked perfect for this. They also kept alot of kids amused. Oh, shiny.

– Take business cards, or at least some print outs with your URL, phone number, whatever you have.

– Bring fabric to put down on your table. Man, this made a crazy amount of difference. I used a giant scarf. The woman next to me used a kimono. You can buy cheap, interesting fabric from your local op-shop (thrift store).

– Use a box or something to elevate some of your zines. Double the space. I used a small picnic basket for this.

– Bring paper bags or something to wrap your zines in when somebody buys them. I used the cheapy brown paper lunch bags. It’s all rustic and shit.

– Have lots of change. I emptied my piggy bank into a ziplock bag and withdrew some money from the ATM for change for the day.

– Trade your zines with others – that was one of the most fun parts of the day.

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It was such a rushed job. I landed from Austin on Thursday, formatted my zines on Thursday night, got them printed on Friday and set up the booth on Saturday.

And it was kinda perfect like that. I had to keep it lean and to the bare minimum requirements, so I didn’t have time to stress out, which was kinda good. Because it was my first fair, I kept quiet about it but I’ll definitely tell you the next one I’m going to! Promise.

The beauty of error and instant cameras

I love manual process involved in making things. The trial, error and repetition.

And that’s why I take photos with a shitty Instax camera (I say shitty with alot of affection, it’s a term of endearment). It’s the most fun I’ve had for a while.

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Sometimes the photos are underexposed, out of focus or completely out of frame. But because of this room for error, there’s three great things at play.

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1. I pause before I take a photo, because of the materials used, which is minimal, but it does make me more mindful of the moment and how I want to frame it.

2. Although the camera automates the exposure, a third of the time, it gets it wrong, so I have to think more about how the camera has handled similar situations in the past, and how I can use the limited modes on the back of the camera to get the photo that I want. The limited modes are under-expose, over-expose, double-exposure, macro and landscape.

3. It’s something that’s physical and tangible, straight away. When a dear friend was moving overseas, I documented his farewell party and gave the photos to him at the end of the night. I’ve seen a ukulele teacher’s eyes light up after I gave him a photo at the end of the night. It’s a great little novelty.

I also tend to go through these photos more often than reviewing my digital photos. Even if it’s a shitty shot, I know the situation, and my memory fills in the gaps.

It’s the manual process of the camera and the learning curves that are the best.

Using this camera is a way that I can make something, a fleeting piece of how I see the world, without whipping out a phone or DSLR. It’s immediate, analog gratification.

Joan as Police Woman: the greatest lesson she learned

I saw Joan as Police woman the other month and she blew my mind. I loved watching her play music because she did it in such a natural, honest way. She lost and found herself in front of an audience, which is always something to admire.

(see more images)

(see more images of Joan as Police Woman playing live © Matthew Rushanda)

Here’s some things that struck me about an interview she gave to Mercedes-Benz (A car company writing articles on creativity? Weird, right?)

Looking at where you are right now and where you started off as a musician, what are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned?

“Practice until you can do it so that it looks like it’s nothing, and to the point where you will be able to do it even when snakes attack you from all sides. I’ve also learned that bad reviews are only one person’s opinion, not a universal truth and are never all that important anyway. Finally, keep going no matter what. Giving up is not a concept that can exist in one’s life.”

What gives you confidence as a musician?

“As I mentioned earlier, practicing is imperative. Anyone who is slaying at their art has practiced an incredible amount. I don’t care what anyone says, they are lying if they say differently. At times, when I’ve felt overwhelmed by insecurity, I imagine I’m someone else who I worship, like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, and then once I’ve begun performing I forget to imagine and remember that I’ve got something to give as well”

(source: mercedes-benz)

Social media, love letters and being real

I strongly believe that one of the points of being on earth is to make connections with each other. To feel belonging and understanding. To grow together.

Right now, social media communities feel really draining.

There’s a tipping point where a social network moves from being a safe place for a small-knit community that shares what makes us human, to a larger venue filled with people standing on pedestals.

There’s a mental shift that happens from “This is what I am feeling, this is what I’m doing” to “How do I get my community’s attention? How can I angle myself in such a way that I get nods of approval?”

What we end up with is a composite of highlights; food, friends, babies and booze.

I can see that Facebook and Google are trying to recreate that safe community feel through private groups, hang outs, close friends that are auto-selected, but the overarching product association of “Look at the fantastic stuff I’m doing” is a powerful thing to break once it starts.

When we are creators in these mediums (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram etc), we create content that is easy to consume, that is designed for a skim format. For example, a picture of a smiling person will get more recognition, more pats on the back, than a photo focusing on shadows or an image that requires more than a glance.

Does that mean we unconsciously create our content to be easy to digest? Does that mean we stop digging deeper, stop presenting gnarly, tangled things that require more thinking and pauses?

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”

Henry David Thoreau

What’s the cultural, macrocosm effects of this?

I want to celebrate the little day-to-day amazing things, like drinkable running water, a smile from a stranger, a kiss from a friend. The way the sun feels on your skin.

How can we have a culture that is geared towards more self-exploration rather than self-promotion?

You can’t truly explore who you are, what life is, until you’re in a safe environment. How can we have a community that says:

“Come here to talk crazy ideas without judgement. Come here to be vulnerable. Come here to belong, not brag.”

I try to foster this in my love letters, a sense of vulnerability, belonging and digging deep. You let me know if you have your own way of doing this and how I can get involved.

Three pens I use every day

Here’s three pens that I use all the time, for writing, drawing and sketching. I carry them around with me everywhere.

Three pens I use every day

For writing

An old out of stock parker pen.

My Dad was gifted this 20-odd years ago and he lent it to me on a whim. I’ve had it for the last 10 years and use it for all of my creative writing.

It’s all the more sentimental because of I’ve had it for so long and used it for so much of my best work.

Funny story, I thought this was a cheap $20 pen and recently got it repaired for $60 (the lid had gotten loose and the nib was scratchy). As I was walking out, I commented on the difference and the pen dude said it’s actually a $150 pen.

Have a look on eBay for cheap, nifty parker pens. I can write for hours with mine.

For sketching

An extra fine lamy pen.

I use this pen for sketching and note-taking at work. It’s a great pen to get an idea drawn out fast.

The extra fine nib means you can get in alot of detail, and can build up big lines.

I got a blue plastic body, but after shoving it into spiral notebooks and general banging it up (my stuff gets a proper work out), I’d pay the extra amount for an aluminum body.

For colour:

I use copic markers for adding colour to my sketches. So does the rest of design, it seems.

Every time I went to the U.S, a friend that’s a comic book artist would ask me to bring back colours for him. And if he can do this with them, I’m in.

And guess what? Totally refillable. Almost everything on the pen can be replaced so yay for longevity!

A general note on pens

It’s great to get high-quality, refillable pens. Not only do you work with better materials, which causes you to respect your craft – you also save the planet from some more landfill.

Fountain pens are a sheer delight. They’re not that hard to use at all.

One of the joys of my life is opening an ink pot and refilling an ink cartridge. When most things are prepackaged and automated, there’s such a satisfaction that comes from drawing ink from a well into a cartridge and refilling something. It’s on par with replacing your own tyre.

What’s your favourite pens and tools of the trade? Get a love letter and tell me more.

Writers enter the same creative flow as musicians and athletes

Neuroscientists have started using fMRI scanners to track the brain activity of writers as they create a piece of fiction.

The professionally trained writers had brain patterns that were similar to other artist that required complex actions, like musicians and sports people.

Which makes sense. Writers do have to practice hard at their form until they reach a point where they hit flow. They do get tired after a good writing spree. And they do feel absolute bliss when they get into a groove*.

During the thinking process in the MRI scanners, the visual-processing region of volunteers lit up, which means they are visually imagining the scenes they’re about to write about.

The hippocampus, the part of our brains that holds memory and spatial thinking, light up as well. The writers actively weave bits of their facts and memory into their stories. It makes sense when you think about how certain writers have flavours. I’m thinking about how John Grisham, a lawyer, writes legal thrillers. Or Stephen King writing about the same kind of person.

The interesting thing is the study found that new writers think in visual patterns while experienced writers think in regions that involve speech, as if they’re narrating the story with an inner voice. Cool huh? You can read more about the study in the New York Times.

*Side note: I love the idea of getting into a groove. I always imagine how a record player feels against your fingers when it slots into the right place and music starts pouring out. So enjoyable.

How to revive energy and focus by moving locations for each task

Idea-creation needs space and time. When you just need to get shit done, break down your ‘doing’ sessions into tasks and try a method called ‘workstation popcorn’.

It’s super simple. For each new task, move to a new location. It doesn’t have to be down the road, it could be as simple as the next room, or the couch.

Here’s the thing: move your ass to that couch and don’t get up or do anything else until that task is done.

When it’s done, move on. On to the next one.

Designer James Victore does something similar as well.

“[I do all my sketching on] paper, and not in the studio. I’ll go to a bar or a restaurant. When I did my book, I left the studio every morning and I went to the park and sat for an hour, hour and half. I brought an idea, and I wrote longhand in one of these big sketchbooks. Then I would come into the studio and work during the day. Afterwards, at 4 or 5 o’clock, I’d go to my bar, sit with a beer or two, and refine it. Or write on a new idea. So it became this really nice process of every day. And it became a habit.” (source)

When I’m at work, I do my sketching somewhere with natural light so that I can stretch out. My desk is for talking to people and mock ups.

At home, I go to the kitchen table or anywhere else that’s not a usual procrastination area to get writing and editing done.

All you have to do to make this work is only do that one task when you’re in the new environment. Move. Repeat.

I’m beginning to think that it’s these productivity ‘tools’ that work best, the ones where we focus. There’s no app involved. There’s no real process. It’s just an idea that you carry out.

Which is funny, because it’s so deceptively simple.

You just pick something to do, you commit to it, you move to a new spot and promise yourself that you won’t do anything else until it’s done.

Then you get up and (literally) move on to the next thing.