Thursday 30 January 2014

7 Ways to Help us Reach Those Long-Term Writing Goals, with a little help from our friends, #Hemingway and #StephenKing.


I've read plenty of posts from bloggers/writers/authors sketching out their resolutions for 2014, promising that this will be the year they're going to write more, submit more, get that novel finished...

I always have a creative burst at the beginning of the year, no problem, but maintaining that creativity is the problem. I don't speak resolutions out loud, knowing I'll break them for sure, and I'd feel more of a failure that way. I've been called a 'quiet achiever' by those who know me well, and I quite like that handle. I have my goals firmly in sight, but I don't like to articulate them, even to myself at times!

Writing goals take months, even years, to accomplish, and it's hard to keep that initial enthusiasm burning brightly over a long period, isn't it? Here are some tips I've discovered recently that may make achieving our goals easier:

  1. Focus on the writing process rather than focusing on a long-term goal which makes it harder to reach the end point. 
  2. Have a well-articulated goal in mind; it will then be easier to get to the keyboard/notepad and start writing towards that goal. Writing a five-minute outline each day before tackling your writing can help. (Hemingway said he never stopped writing each day until he knew where he'd start next day.) Perhaps jot down a short outline so your mind has a map.
  3. Learn to embrace the process - get satisfaction from doing the things that make up your writing career, rather than focusing on where it can take you long term.
  4. Make your writing satisfying. Take pleasure in the routine. Improve your daily word count; this will move you towards your end goal.
  5. Track your word count visually - you could put a progress meter on your website. This is part of the success of NaNoWriMo - daily word counts push participants towards the end point. If you can write 1,600 words daily for NaNo, you can certainly write 500 each day! This is a little more difficult when you have more than one project cooking! I'd have a half dozen progress meters clicking away!
  6. Have a regular check in. This is another reason for NaNo's success - writers form communities and gather writing buddies around them to shout about their up-coming novel, or bemoan the fact that they aren't reaching their daily word count. Writers need other writers to share their successes/failures with.
  7. Up your creativity by considering Stephen King's comment - " is not a support system for art; it's the other way around." It's through living and working and struggling and thinking and feeling that we develop those aspects of our personality that seek expression through writing. Write, by all means. But don't forget to live.  
And for a great article on the Goal of Writing go to Karen Woodward's site

A sculptured writer in a Paris gallery in a little street off the Champs Elysee. Getting on with the task at hand.

One goal I always have front and centre is to write constantly, as this is the way to improve. As Ray Bradbury said, we all have millions of bad words to get out before the truly inspired ones begin flowing. I write short stories and travel articles for magazines and the occasional newspaper profile. I've written several novels while learning the long-term  process of novel writing - only one is finished, but I've embraced the whole experience and I'm not in a hurry to submit until I know it's the best it can be (You don't get a second chance to make a first impression...)

To keep writing I need fresh motivation. I find that by hosting/writing for Write...Edit...Publish, the permanent monthly blogfest hosted by Yours Truly. This way I am challenged to stretch myself, write in genres I wouldn't have dreamed of otherwise, and receive feedback from other writers. To me it fulfils No 6 - it's that regular check in.

If you're struggling to keep writing this year - you're welcome to join WEP. It's like a monthly NaNo - those who post flash fiction or non-fiction or poetry, are writing upwards of 1,000 good, proofread, edited, polished words a month that they probably wouldn't have written otherwise. Some of those stories may form parts of a WIP, some written solely for WEP may be improved after feedback, broadened, then submitted to magazines etc.

Here are six month's worth of Write...Edit...Publish challenges. The next challenge - What's in a face? can incorporate Valentine's Day themes if you wish. Join us on February 14 with a story, a poem, an artwork, a photograph or two...whatever strikes you as appropriate for the theme. Visit the WEP website to learn more. The linky is up! You can sign up here in my right hand sidebar.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Write...Edit...Publish entry for NEW BEGINNINGS...Martyrs...a Paris love story in more ways than one.

Hello all!

Here is my flash fiction piece for the Write...Edit...Publish challenge for January. I'm writing this on my travels. My strongest influence is Paris and its street life. One of my other obsessions is 24-hour news, so I think you might guess where part of the story comes from if like me, you're a news junkie. On a side note, all names in the story come from the Paris Metro Map which is always in my pocket when I'm in Paris.

If you'd like to post either a fiction, non-fiction, photo/graphs, artwork...for the prompt, or for future prompts, you are most welcome. After reading my story, you might like to click on some of the names in my sidebar list to see how others have interpreted NEW BEGINNINGS.


Blanche St-Ouen was once a premiere dancer at the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Now she had lost her job. She was nothing, nothing.

She stumbled down Rue Des Martyrs, ignoring the tears that washed her face. The name of the street suited her well. 

Hearing a familiar croaking voice, she absentmindedly dropped a euro into her favourite homeless person's basket and patted the blond chihuahua in the lady's lap.

Blanche looked up at the blue and white street sign. She'd always  been a martyr to her beauty, now her beauty was fading and her services at the Moulin Rouge were no longer required. All she had to fall back on was her nursing training which she'd never used, having been lured by the bright lights of the stage. 

Marcel's words exploded in her head as she lurched on down the street, away from the artists at the Place Teatre at Montmarte who always wanted to paint her likeness; all she wanted to do was to shut out images of the dance hall that had been her life for the past ten years, but she couldn't shut out Marcel, never could.

"Moulin Rouge is not your whole life, Blanche, it's just an experience along the way. Your life, your calling, the best, is yet to be revealed."

"My life is here; it's all I ever desire, Marcel, no matter what you say."

"Don't you desire me, dancing girl?" He'd held out his arms and she'd willingly embraced him. He had his way of diffusing a situation, and his way was exciting.


It was a warm Spring night. She sat at her tiny table in the Chat Noir, not far from Moulin Rouge, sipping an aperetif, watching the evening crowd on the street. While she watched, darkness fell and the lights came on, electrifing the Pigalle district in exciting reds and blacks. How pretty it looked, all dressed up for Christmas. But her Christmas would be bleak. 

She'd lost everything that was important to her. What would Marcel say to her now? He'd always been negative about her choices. He couldn't understand her fixation with her dancing career. He'd had a fantastic career himself at the Moulin Rouge, caring for and training the animals used in the show. The snakes were always his favourite. She liked to think it was because she swam in the tanks with them, but she knew it wasn't that; Marcel just loved all living creatures. 

"Snakes remind me of the countries I want to travel to," he'd said. "I want to work, to help those less fortunate than I am, as corny as that sounds. As soon as I have my medical qualification, I'll be gone."

"Oh, Marcel, that is so dangerous. I don't want you in one of those field hospitals in some Godforsaken land. Can't you be happy in Paris? With me? I'm never leaving Paris. It is everything I want."

Turning her back on Marcel, she'd tossed a euro into the homeless woman's basket, reaching down to pat the head of the tiny dog which looked up at her, hopeful-eyed.

"If only you could see yourself, Blanche. Your heart melts for Paris' homeless who are relatively pampered  when compared to those in war zones in Africa and elsewhere...and a spoilt dog that will get sick of getting nothing but pats from you, but your heartache doesn't extend to the real suffering in the world."

"What else can I do to help the refugees in the Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, Syria for Christssake? The whole world has gone mad! You know I donate to World Vision and Medicin sans Frontiers. On a dancer's wage, that's a sacrifice."

"You could come with me to the Sudan to actually work with Medicin sans Frontiers. You're a trained nurse. Why not? You could do so much."

"My life is here in Paris. It always will be. That fierce sun would dry up my skin, suck the life out of me. I'd lose my looks."

"Blanche," he'd said sadly, "beauty isn't just what you see, but what you are inside. Helping others is a thing of beauty."


She looked up from her aperitif just in time to see Varenne and Iena walking arm in arm, giggling, heading in the direction of Moulin Rouge. Why did she torture herself sitting here, watching her friends make their way up the street? How she would miss the excitement of the dance. How she would miss the rehearsals, the costumes, the make up, the make believe. But most of all, she would miss Marcel.

She and Marcel had been together for three years, but they'd never shared an apartment. He needed his own space for studying when he wasn't at the theatre, he'd said. As soon as he'd qualified as a doctor, he was gone. 

The voices on the bar television soaked into her consciousness. She swivelled around in her chair and watched refugees trudging along the dusty road in the Sudan, trying to escape the latest atrocities. Their meagre belongings bounced on their bent backs. Tiny children clung to their mothers' bright skirts. Some were crying, some were laughing as they danced down the road.

As she watched, a spokesman for Medicin sans Frontiers came on the television, giving an update on the millions displaced by the latest outbreak, asking for donations for the cause. She leaned closer as the image panned to a close up of Marcel's face. 

"We won't claim that working for Medicin sans Frontiers is without risk," the spokesman said, "and the recent death of Marcel Maubourg proves this. We mourn the death of our gifted young surgeon who is a martyr to our cause, who was kidnapped and killed by insurgents while carrying out operations in our local field hospital. But Marcel would not have wanted his death to dissuade anyone with the desire and skills to help our mission here. These people are desperate. They have nothing, nothing. I beg you, if you have any medical training, consider joining us. We need you."

Blanche wiped her tears away. Her new life, her new beginning, was opening up before her.

She pushed aside her aperitif, placed her tip in the little metal tray, and walked out of the restaurant. It no longer felt like her special place.

Outside on the street, she dropped a euro into the homeless lady's basket and patted the dog which startled her by jumping up and snapping at her face.

Blanche withdrew her hand and laughed...and laughed...and laughed.


WORD COUNT: 1087 (sorry I'm over, but I'm rushing to schedule this in case Google wrecks my connection as has been happening to some.)


In these times of global unrest, Médecins Sans Frontières is often the first on the ground to help. It has become one of my chosen charities and I support it in any way I can. I hope you have learnt something from my story... 

  • Médecins Sans Frontières

  • Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, is a French secular humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, best known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases. Wikipedia

  • Founded1971

  • AwardsNobel Peace PrizeIndira Gandhi Prize

  • Tuesday 14 January 2014

    Farewell to Andalucia, Spain, the land of Flamenco.

    Hello all!

    Well, my 5-week Grand Tour is just about over, and very soon I will be winging it home, ready to face lots of work and the challenges of a new year. I am spending the last week in Spain, visiting Morocco, then 2 more days in Paris, then I fly home. Thank you to those of you who followed my travels both here on my blog and/or on facebook.

    In honour of Spain where we've spent a total of 2 weeks this visit, I thought I'd post about flamenco. Andalucia, the region where we've been staying, is credited with being the birthplace of flamenco. I caught a wonderful show in Madrid on a previous visit, and this time I was fortunate enough to catch a show here at the resort on the Costa del Sol. The music is wonderful, the costumes are so unique and colourful, the dancing is so energetic, made more so by the throbbing, thrumming guitars and boot slamming. It brought back memories of a story I wrote for RomanticFridayWriters for a prompt in 2012 - The Perfect 9.5, which I decided to re-post today with a few edits. I hope you enjoy my story, inspired by a visit to Madrid in 2011.

    The Perfect Dance

    The women danced. Their dresses, bodices decorated with jewels, shimmered in the semi-dark. The movements began slowly, the dancers moving like fish floating across a luminescent ocean. Soon the slow dance became a crescendo of whirling, twirling patterns across the barn-like room. This was excellence, the best of the best.

    Jose cast his eyes to the stage. The musicians stood tall, their faces gleaming, sweat dripping from their black curls. They played the trembling guitars, stroking the strings with a thrumming like a thousand fluttering winged birds, softer now, then louder. Their white shirts were blue under the light, their tight black high-waisted trousers gleamed and shone. Cowboy boots were glittering glass as they stamped to their own beat.

    Mirrored lights swirled over the dancers, silvering the sequins on the flounces of skirts as the frills vibrated with the dancers’ steps. It was a kaleidoscope of red, purple, yellow and white, checks, polka dots, stripes. Jose counted the heavy, clacking beats as the black dancing pumps met the timber floor, shaking the room. A hundred shoes in perfect time as the dancers followed the thrum of the five flamenco guitars.

    But there was only one dancer on the floor who set his blood boiling.

    Her auburn ringlets, her lithe body clad in a slash of brightest red, her waist an invitation for a man to span with joined fingers. His Angelique. Her lower body kicked yards of frills, revealing slim legs in satiny black stockings. Her arms held above her head, the clicking fingers, were a perfect sculpture of beauty and tension. His eyes followed her every movement. How could the judges fault her? Did she miss a beat? No, every call of the sobbing guitars was met, every whirl perfection, every stamping foot in perfect timing.

    Soon it was only a competition between two – Angelique and a fiery redhead who looked imperiously at the judge’s table each time she shimmied by, daring them to eliminate her. She was perfection herself, her body screamed. Find a fault if you dare! I’m the perfect 10!

    Angelique was asked to leave the floor. How could they send her away? Only he saw the tear she brushed from her eye. He half stood in his seat, mortified.

    ‘9.5!’ The judges score his Angelique.

    ‘They might give you a less than perfect score,’ he thought to himself, ‘but to me you’re the perfect 10’.

    Photo my own, taken in Madrid 2011.

    Please join me and several other enthusiastic writers/authors, who will be posting to the NEW BEGINNINGS prompt at Write...Edit...Publish on January 22 - a bit earlier or later is fine. Sign up in my sidebar, or visit Write...Edit...Publish.

    Monday 6 January 2014

    NEW BEGINNINGS - some quotes to help you get 2014 underway on a positive note.

    Write...Edit...Publish is beginning the New Year with its first challenge - to encapsulate NEW BEGINNINGS, something many of us are thinking about, or seriously making resolutions for in the New Year. I was trawling the net for inspiration on the topic and came across the following quotes and explanations from the MindBodyGreen site. It appears to be open domain and able to be readily shared.
    SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
    Do you ever feel like every area of your life is changing so fast and you're just standing in the middle of it all, confused and directionless? Yup, I’ve been there, but through applying the quotes and tips below, I’ve been able to feel less anxiety and more peace about the uncertainty that comes along with those inevitable life changes.
    1. “Rejection is protection and redirection.” - Earl Purdy
    I find comfort knowing that there’s always more than one way of looking at any situation. When we're rejected, we have a tendency to go straight for a fearful idea, such as, “I’m not good enough.” But we can just as easily choose the opposite. We can choose to see the rejection as a positive thing.
    2. “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do.” – Byron Katie
    This is a major perceptual shift from playing the victim card to owning your personal power. When we start to use our power instead of giving it away, we’re capable of miracles. Miracles are shifts in perception from fear to love.
    3. “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” – C. S. Lewis
    Whenever I know deep in my heart I need to do some forgiveness work, I start with willingness. Willingness to forgive someone or some situation is all it takes to create healing. Start with a simple mantra every morning and night such as, “I am willing to forgive.” You can even take it back a step and start with, “I am willing to be willing to forgive.”
    4. “It’s not about 'what can I accomplish?' but 'what do I want to accomplish?' Paradigm shift.” – Brene Brown
    When everything seemingly falls apart, it’s more important than ever to get clear on the direction you want to go in as you move forward. Focus on how you want to feel in every area of life and then start doing activities that create those desired feelings. This is about you. What do you want to accomplish?
    5. “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” – Robert Henri
    Any time I’ve moved homes, started new jobs, ended relationships, joined new activities, or travelled abroad, those feelings of anxiety and doubt seemed to crop up. There’s nothing “spiritual” or “positive” about hiding your feelings. Instead, it’s very important to feel your feelings in a constructive way. For me that’s blogging, mountain biking and creating new yoga classes. The point is to feel your feelings and express yourself as you forgive, set new directions and move forward.
    6. “When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It's to enjoy each step along the way.” - Wayne Dyer
    Anytime I feel uncertain about life or want to try something new, my go-to reaction is to immediately try and control everything in an attempt to create some sense of order in my life. I want to see the whole path and know for certain that each decision is "right" before I take action. With this mentality, I spent years thinking about doing things, but never actually taking the necessary steps to create the life I dreamed of. Instead, just try taking one step and trust that when you need it, the next step will be revealed. In truth, there's no certainty.
    7. “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” – Antonio Banderas
    When we have tons of expectations for what should happen in the future and how people should act, we set ourselves up for judgment and disappointment. Speaking of judgment…
    8. “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.” – Swami Kripalu
    We tend to be our own worst critic. As you’re making life changes, it’s more important than ever to be gentle with yourself and not head into fear-land by thinking about all the things you should have and could have done by now. You’re exactly where you need to be, remember?
    9. “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” - Cicero
    We often let our actions be directed by the opinions of others. We seek approval outside ourselves, and as a result, lose touch of our own likes, dislikes and desires. Each of us has our own internal guidance showing us the way through the confusion. Those buried passions and the strong desire to create something are coming from your Inner Guide.
    10. “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” – Steven Pressfield
    Risk it, because in my opinion, not doing it is often riskier. The “it” in this case might be quitting the job, speaking your mind, finally walking away from an unhealthy relationship, starting a food blog, saying no, or going all in on your new business plan. You always have an inner guidance system that you can tap into at any moment through prayer, meditation and listening. With that guidance, there’s nothing to fear.
    One thing I know for sure is that we learn about ourselves through new experiences. So whatever the ending and new beginning is for you right now, allow yourself to be swept away by the sweet freedom that comes with it. Growth is around the corner.
    Photo Credit:
    TRAVEL UPDATE: I have left Portugal and am now back in Spain for the final week of the holidays. Highlight of this week will be a trip to Tangier, Morocco.
    So if you'd like to think about NEW BEGINNINGS and share with us at Write...Edit...Publish, please feel free to write fiction, non-fiction, share some photos, some artwork...anything that could be categorised as NEW BEGINNINGS. 
    You can sign up in my right-hand sidebar, or go to the WEP website. Thank you! And Happy New Year!

    Thursday 2 January 2014

    Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises - Travelling with Ernest Hemingway - and eating a meal in Paris' Latin Quarter.

    Happy New Year!!

    'You are all a lost generation.' Gertrude Stein

    'One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever...The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down and hasteth to the place where he arose...The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually...All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.' Ecclesiastes
    The above taken from the forward pages to The Sun Also Rises.

    I like to travel with a novel that says something about the country I'm seeing. Last trip to Paris I used Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and followed his walks around Paris. I also learned that he always put his writing first. He claims he wrote every day from 5 am - 12 noon, when he put down his pencil (but not until he knew what would happen next), then meandered downtown to meet literary luminaries such as Gertrude Stein, Scott F Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound et al, and discussed his work/their work, helping each other's art. (Pretty cool critique partners!)  

    My critique partners aren't travelling with me, but nothing suits my travels better than a Hemingway novel. Not everyone is a Hemingway fan - heck, he didn't write fantasy, sci-fiction, steampunk etc, genres that have huge followings today and are of the type many bloggers like to write. He wrote mainly chronologically, with sparse back story. He said he sweated over every sentence, every chapter, ruthlessly deleting any superfluous words. Some find his style sparse, but if you read and re-read his carefully-crafted stories you continue to find layers you previously missed. This is well expressed by the Evening News when they reviewed The Sun Also Rises -

    'Hemingway captures atmosphere by reticence and breathes life into his characters by pages left unsaid...It is American; it is literature; and it is a first novel by a genius.' 

    Hemingway stuck to realism with a dash of dystopian. I'm no huntin', fishin', hard drinkin' kinda person, but Hemingway's always been my favourite author for reasons I can't possibly articulate. He's real and gritty with no frills, which I'm sure he learned from his journalistic days and his passion for the short story. He wrote about the world he knew, the world in which he lived and played. It is hard to separate him from his characters. I find Jake in Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, impossible to separate from Hemingway himself. As they say, many early novels are partly autobiographical.

    I decided to make this novel my current travel companion, as it stars Paris and the louche characters that moved within its bars and restaurants, planning their next big adventure. The big adventure in this novel is, of course, the 'fiesta', the bullfight, in Spain. I've taken more notice of the bullrings in Spain this trip, and listened to the bullfight history enthusiastically propounded by locals and tour guides. In my ignorance I thought bullfighting had been banned, but it turns out it's only banned in Catalonia, capital Barcelona. The 'fiesta' is alive and well in the rest of Spain and the year seems to be dictated by where/when the next fiesta takes place. Madrid, the main bullfighting city, has a whole month of fiesta. 

    I've photographed many bullrings, but I don't know about you, I'm sure I couldn't stomach attending a bullfight.

    To the main point of this the excellent how-to writing guide - Manuscript Makeover - the author suggests as a writing exercise to find a paragraph from your favourite novel/author, and re-write it your way...

    I was reminded of this exercise when I read a few paragraphs in Chapter 19, p.204, of The Sun...when the main character Jake is having dinner in Paris. I decided to re-write it using my own experience of a dinner in Paris in the Latin Quarter...with apologies to Hemingway and vegetarians...

    'The restaurant was all reds and blacks. It wrapped its dark arms around me, welcomed me back after a long absence. The meal was typically French - plain peasant's food - mussels marinated in red wine which were dealt with quickly, then I was eating onion soup with soaked garlicky bread and long, stringy cheese which stuck to my chin. But what could beat the shot of sweet onion fragrance on a bitter winter's night? I wanted to live in the bowl, to be revived by the nourishing juices.

    The waiter offered a free cocktail. I held the tiny jewelled glass against the light. Then I held it close to my nose, took a sip. It tasted of rose perfume, a sweet flavour that clashed with the onion. I pushed it aside and ordered a rosé  to accompany the Beef Bourguignon which was delivered to my table. The sharp aromas of tiny roasted onions, carrot, and rich, red stomach danced. The onion soup was already a distant memory. I adjusted my linen napkin on my lap and inhaled before I lifted my fork and speared a cube of tender meat. The flavour of the red wine mixed with onion and herbs revealed to me, if the mussels and onion soup hadn't already convinced me, that I was back in France.

    It was pleasant beyond words to be drinking good wine and eating excellent food - a bottle of wine and a plate of comforting food is always good company.

    The attentive waiter saw I was immersed in my food and drink and left me to my joys.

    It was good to be back in France.'

    I enjoyed writing this and it proves that I do actually write while travelling, but apologies to Papa who would have slashed and burned many of my descriptions. To give you an idea of what I tried to emulate -

    'I went in and ate dinner. It was a big meal for France but it seemed very carefully apportioned after Spain. I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was a Chateau Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company...' etc

    How are you travelling? I wish you a wonderful 2014. Whether you make New Year's Resolutions or not (I don't), I invite you to join me in writing or illustrating something that could be classed as New Beginnings for Write...Edit...Publish's first challenge for the year. Sign up anytime from now until the 22nd...