Friday – Writing Tips from Successful Authors

alphabet-15461_150With thanks to Time Out New York for publishing great tips from successful authors. My pick of the bountiful crop.

Reza Aslan (rezaaslan.com) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, $27) “The best advice I can give an aspiring writer is the one I received years ago: Nobody cares about you or your work like you do. Your agent, your publisher and your publicist are all wonderful people who work their hardest for you to succeed. But in the end, your success as a writer depends almost wholly upon your own tireless efforts to promote your book and make sure it gets the attention it deserves.”

Edwidge Danticat (facebook.com/edwidgedanticat) Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf, $25.95) “It might sound corny but listen to your heart. Let that inner voice guide you, the one closest to your truest self. The story you are most afraid to tell might be your truest one, your deepest one. Don’t let neither success nor failure deter you. Remember the excitement of those first days, those first words, those first sentences—and keep going.”

Ben Dolnick (bendolnick.com) At the Bottom of Everything (Pantheon, $24.95) “Get a kitchen timer. Writers are ingenious at redefining what qualifies as doing work (‘If I just spend this morning cleaning my desk…’). A kitchen timer tolerates no such nonsense. Set yourself a daily writing quota (as little as a half hour is fine at first), set the clock and get to work.”

Anthony Marra (@anthonyfmarra) A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, $26) “Read widely. Write for three hours a day, six days a week. Throw out the red pens and retype your work. When the frustrations accumulate and you want to give up, keep in mind that your solitary struggles to shape language into meaning will become the most profound moments of your creative life. Enjoy yourself.”

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Left brain Right brain

Neuroscientists found that when they dumbed down the analytical side of the left-brain hemisphere – the right brain, which provides us with insight or intuitive responses, was clearer sharper and demonstrated enhanced creativity and innovation.

It seems that simple steps like brushing your teeth with your weak hand, travelling a new and different route home or eating foods that you have never tried before will stimulate and improve our overall brain development.

But can we improve our insightful  thinking (what I would call creative intuition) without an attendant neuroscientist zapping half of our brain with electrical impulses to temporarily still our left-brain’s predictive course of thinking?

Can we grow our well-spring of creativity?

When I write, I’m single-minded, totally focused, in the zone. If I was in an MRI scanner I’m sure it could be seen that both sides of my brain would be contributing.

But the most valuable moments of creativity for me frequently occur after  I have had time out.  After I meditate, take a walk along the beach focusing on the ocean, reflect on a good movie, or take an adventure break by going somewhere new.  Seeing things as though I was seeing them for the first time. The light bulb moments come when my brain is not busy with the grey chatter of the day or  my  treadmill thinking. They come when  my neurons are having a break from firing along their well trod pathways.

For a few years now I have deliberately practiced developing my intuitive ability. At first I found it hard not to indulge the analytical side as it could and still can be extremely persuasive in the case it presents.   But over time and many personal development courses I have found ways to disengage the finger wagging left brain and increase the  ‘yeh baby’  creative moments.

Inner ChildThis is where this picture on the left plays its part.  Meet little Me, aged four’ish.  My inner child.  I see her shy but triumphant smile as she tries to ride her older sister’s bike.  I identify with her trusting quality of innocence; she simply does not recognise that she is not big enough to fully reach the peddles  to make the wheels turn. She is in the moment of loving being able to ride the bike unconcerned that the bike will remain stationary.

My inner child image is my express route to my intuition. I visualise  her proudly sitting on her two sizes too large tricycle and this  curbs  my busy left-brain. In this quiet well of connection I set my intention to receive whatever guidance  I need, may be its a plot snag or a character’s flaws. As I continue to focus on this specific image of my inner child I find I experience once again  her  moment of elation and feel her joyful innocence. It creates the same mind flora as  the aftermath of time out but with more purpose. I find my intuition gives up guidance and answers like slices of golden toast in a pop-up toaster.

A mental image does not have to be a picture of you as a young child that is just my way of leaving the wallpaper behind and soaring to different places. For you it could be something from nature, a loved pet or any  image that allows you to identify with a joyful experience and importantly captures that feeling of innocence – seeing things as though you are seeing them for the first time. 

It is a simple technique but so effective. Similar to developing any part of our muscular system it requires regular practice to access it at will and determination to trust what you receive.

Try it I think you will be amazed.

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Friday Tips – Travel Writing

Grand Palace Bangkok
Grand Palace Bangkok

What is common to both good fiction and travel writing?  Read Benji Lanyado, Guardian writer and blogger’s valuable advice on  what should be every new writer’s mantra Show Don’t Tell.

‘My golden rule when writing a piece is to include as much visual description as possible. It’s easy to presume a lot, but your readers don’t know what you’ve seen. So explain it as vividly as possible. Don’t ever describe something as “characterful” or “beautiful” – this doesn’t mean anything to anybody but you. Describe things as if you were explaining them to a blind person. To say a building is “old” isn’t good enough; explain the colours, the peeling stucco, the elaborate, angular finishes on windowsills, the cleaning lady in a faded blue smock who was leaning out of a second-storey window with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. There is a thin line between elaborate, colourful, evocative writing and pretentious tosh, but it’s better to lean towards the pretentious tosh side of the spectrum than to be dull and presumptuous.
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Travel – Fun for all ages in Dubai

 The falcon was a distant blip in a sand gauzed blue sky. The afternoon sun in the desert was biting hot as we watched the falconer spin the feathered lure high.  The bird circled eyeing his prey, then folded his wings and dropped at missile speed to pluck the lure mid air. The demonstration was our introduction to one of Dubai’s most popular attractions – the Desert Safari.

This desert experience proved to be our family’s highlight in our five-day stay.  The roller coaster ride in the 4 x 4 vehicles as we surfed the sand dunes was wild. A bit pulse racing at times as we roared to the top of what looked a small mountain of desert sand only to drop safely over the other side. The children aged ten and eight years, particularly loved the camel rides. My daughter was at one with spiritual quietness of the desert starlit night and my husband and son-in-law could not fault feasting on barbeque lamb while watching an exotic belly dancer. Me, well I was imagining being scooped up by a handsome  Omar Sharif look alike and taken off to his Bedouin camp for a night of ,,,,,,,,,,,.  Ahhh, there is something about those Sheikhs in their white kanduras.

Four decades ago Dubai was a small fishing village. The towering landmarks now stand where once it was sand. It is a city on steroids growing daily, a vision of its engineering and architectural feats. Shopping malls and luxury resorts provide the landscape for the jewels in the Dubai crown.  The tallest man made building in the world the one hundred and sixty four floor Burj Khalifa that almost eclipses the awe of the iconic luxury hotel Burj Al Arab rising like a ship’s sail from the ocean. To this fantasy are the offshore artificial islands that can be seen clearly from space, The Palm Jumeirah and, still under construction, The World, a sand dredged archipelago of a map of the world.

IMG_4223We took a hop on, hop off bus tour on day one. The Big Bus Tour covers two routes, the city and the beach. If you do both it will take over four hours, without any stops. The open-air double-decker bus is air-conditioned on the lower deck and partially on the upper deck and provides complimentary earphones to plug into the excellent commentary as you tour.  The buses run every twenty minutes so it as a convenient way to experience the city sights and there was sufficient hop off attractions in our day to keep the children happy.  But if you know where you want to go the Dubai Metro is the more efficient way to travel. Its clean and cheap providing you don’t mind the long walks from the stations to the city attractions.

Water sports were high on the children’s list but time was too short to do justice to either of the legendary waterparks of Aquaventure Dubai at the Atlantis Palm Hotel or the Wild Wadi Waterpark.  Both parks’ competing to provide the ultimate watery thrills and spills.  Top white knuckle experience is the Leap of Faith ride where you can plummet the six stories high ride in less than a second before finding yourself zipping through the acrylic tunnel surrounded with sharks and rays, depositing you in yet another shark filled pool.  Both parks offer day passes and a generous variety of rides and wave pool experiences. Our young ones opted for the open ocean, their donut ride while pulled behind a speedboat seemed to fit their degree of thrill spill needs.

Atlantis The Palm offers double daily ticket deals so that you can visit the Lost Chambers Aquarium with its 65,000 marine animals but for us we chose to visit the Dubai Aquarium at Dubai Mall. The mega aquarium, equivalent in size to fifty soccer pitches has the world’s largest viewing panel onto the Mall. You freely watch the marine display glide past or you can pay to walk the acrylic shark tunnel eleven metres under water and experience the thrill and closeness of sharks as they glide over and around you.  Aquarium ticket options provide additional attractions with the underwater zoo, a ride in a glass bottom boat or for the scuba divers in the family an aquarium shark walk.

For shopalics there are multiple malls and souks but the Dubai Mall ticked all of our family boxes and the day spent there only scratched the surface of its attractions. Designer and luxury shops to explore, an incredible choice of high quality restaurants and cafés, it is Metro accessible and the children’s entertainment wishes are well and truly met. Late in the day we made our way through the Mall onto the restaurant fringed forecourt of the Burj Khalifa Lake to watch the Dubai Fountain performance, think of the famous dancing fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and you have it.

KidZania on the second floor of Dubai Mall is a safe and fun haven for children between the ages of toddlers to sixteen years old. Parents can leave their children in the care of capable and qualified staff. The concept of KidZania is to offer children an opportunity to mimic the adult’s world. The centre is a kid’s size city with a hospital, TV station, shops and cafes where children can experience different jobs by role-playing. Fun of course but here they learn more about the world they live in.  Here little pilots fly planes, chefs make food, firemen slide down the pole and TV announcers speak to camera.

The Dubai Mall also has an ice rink but if that does not appeal, kids of all ages will love the Sega Republic the Japanese indoor theme park. The park offers cutting edge games of skill and adrenaline rush rides.  The park kept the men and the children happy for hours while my daughter and I window shopped our way round Galleries Lafayette, designer boutiques and Tiffany’s.

What a blessing if your trip coincides with a Friday, the beginning of the Emeriti weekend. You can join locals and expats for the legendary buffet brunches that offer guests the ultimate dining and wining experience. Most hotels stage these but if I were to choose it would be the glamorous Al Qasr.  The hotel is one of two that make up the Madinat Jumeriah resort. The hotels and its facilities resemble an ancient Arabian citadel. Enhance the Sinbad ambience by sailing in a traditional Abra as it glides through the resorts landscaped waterways and after brunch take a gentle walk through the lantern lit hallways of the Madiinat Souk to browse the range of fashion, jewellery and antique shops.

Scratch the surface of Dubai’s glitz and glamour and you find pure gold. We  enjoyed the attractions but all loved our brief insight to the Arabian culture. It is not cheap but boy it delivers.

Mary Atkins -2013

Absolute Bollywood!

vbsd0070_ntscEvery now and then when I am writing, my mind seeks a diversion from the  task of smoothing back story, building plot and fleshing characters.  I wander, flick through the DVDs. Should I ? The movie Slum Dog Millionaire  is in my hand, why not you deserve a coffee and a break.

I know a movie break is simply my way of resolving my creative tension.   It does not help overcome my impasse.

I read the synopsis; the word BOLLYWOOD captures me, now that’s a sound with a chipper rhythm.    Balderdash/Bollywood both trip of the tongue so nicely. It’s a word that surely has a broader appeal than simply a noun to describe Indian movies.  An encompassing adjective I think.

‘That’s sheer bollywood,’ said the lawyer jamming his wig hard on his head, his eyes flinty with anger.

‘Naughty, naughty you keep your bollywood to yourself,’ she said with a saucy smile.

I see white letters high on a hill in Bangladesh surrounded by expensive homes or is that sheer bollywood in my thinking?

And I’m back in my world again wanting to write but first I think I might go up and get into the belly dance outfit and jiggle around the lounge.  That’s all for today, that’s your bollywood lot!

Friday Tips for Writers

alphabet-15461_150I ain’t Scott Fitzgerald or JK  but I am a writer, albeit with ‘L’ plates.  I think if you scratch the surface of any writer they will tell you they are still learning with each new work. The old maxim remains true ‘it is never too late to learn.’ Stephen King wrote in his non-fiction book  On Writing – a must read for all new writers – If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Read: Stephen King reads between 70 to 80 books a year and says  it’s not to study the craft; I read because I like to read…. Yet every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones

Write: Do you want to write? Then discipline yourself to write every day. In between writing the final para of Losing You and starting on the next novel squirreling away in my head, I set myself a 75-Day intuitive blogging challenge publishing it on a Facebook page. Each morning after a short meditation that set my intention to receive a topic, I wrote whatever first came into my mind. Most were obvious topical issues or my personal soap box rants but others, like ‘whirling dervishes,’ ‘fields of glory’ and ‘Petula Clarke’s number Colour My World’ came out of left field. If you are not sure what to write, not ready to write then try this intuitive writing exercise, it stretches you and teaches you a lot about your  relationship with writing.