Writing Magic: an Elixir to Happiness

We have only a few weeks left on Te Papa Tupu programme. I am still grateful to have been picked for this programme and know that these six months have given me the tools and insight I need to be a writer for life.

I spent quite a bit of time over the past ten years reading about writers, attending writers’ festivals and writing a little bit. As much as that was fun, I know I was hoping to stumble on some magic potion that was going to turn me into a real writer.

In a roundabout way, I have found several of the ingredients that may help to make up the potion, but I now know that it has to be mixed fresh every day and that some days, I’m just right out of what’s needed.

So what have I learnt?

Being totally committed to the project was invaluable. I wanted this book to be finished by 3 December, and at the beginning, even though I had no clue how I was going to get to that point, that was my challenge.

Having a mentor has been like having a secret weapon. At the start, I was all over the place, like when you ride your bike for the first time without the trainer wheels. But when I looked behind, I had Renée shouting at me to keep pedalling; just keep pedalling, you’ll get there. I wish I was rich enough to have one for every writing project.

To be a writer, you have to write. Regularly. For some reason, this constant writing changes how you write. Sometimes I don’t know what it is that is wrong with my writing, but because of the consistency, I know it is.

I have a friend that exercises most days. She said that when she doesn’t, she feels grumpy and pissed off. I am beginning to think that writing might be the same for me, but it does feel like it’s time for this project to be finished.

An invasion of teenagers has started to arrive for the summer holidays. Apparently something called Christmas is looming, and a house that hasn’t been cleaned properly for six months needs my attention.

My dream is to spend most of my days writing and hopefully make a living from it. This last six months has made me feel that much closer to my dream.

How Coincidences Mean More Than You Think

Often this month, I’ve questioned, why am I doing this?

Not so long ago, a New Age–shaped world view would have me think, oh, but writing seems to have chosen me. Now, I can’t be so sure.

Back then, I might cite the time I went looking for guidance on what I thought was an original idea, a novel comprised of short stories. I’d written a bunch after an eventful summer and saw they could link together. First bookshop I visit and my eye catches my surname. I share it with Robert Burdette Sweet. Above his name, imposed on a broody youth was the title White Sambo and A Novel in Stories. The structure of the book was what I was looking for and the themes in our stories uncannily similar.

That’s synchronicity giving a sign, I told myself. Keep on writing.

Now, I have the opportunity to finish a book with a publisher who’s taken an interest, and I’m near paralysed at times by doubt – the nemesis of synchronicity.

Carl Jung explained something profound and universal when he coined the word synchronistic to describe those events that seem like providence. My first conscious experience was on my thirty-third birthday. I was in the middle of making a life-changing decision: whether to stay in Aotearoa or take up an offer overseas. If I stayed, I wanted to make a veggie garden, and it was already spring, so hedging my bets, I went to the garden shop and bought lime, and blood and bone, and probably some seaweed magic. The cost was thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents on my thirty-third birthday. I didn’t listen. Instead, I spent a miserable year in Taiwan.

A few years later, I read The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler where he explained Jung’s theory of synchronicity. I was sceptical, because although God wasn’t in the theorem, it still assumed an invisible hand. I talked to an uncle about it. He didn’t have an opinion. Then I told him I had a friend coming to visit me from Scotland. He asked where from, and I told him Loch Fyne. He said, ‘Jeez, I had a girlfriend from there when I lived in the UK. What’s your mate’s name?’ It turned out my uncle’s old girlfriend was my friend’s aunty. I gave him the book to read.

… a day has passed …

Driving home from town this afternoon, I heard an interview on the radio about China celebrating the birth of Confucius for the first time since the Revolution and how the new leaders are allowing a high degree of freedom in religious practice after fifty years of suppression.

Could this be synchronicity? My book is set in China, and a major theme is the preservation of the Daoist arts during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution. The interviewee talked about the tens of millions of Chinese openly declaring their faiths, unheard of even ten years ago.

So I gave praise to Carl Jung for quelling my doubts long enough to get on with the writing.

Hunting for Truth in History

Writing a true account of history is no easy task. Bias and perceptions may influence the story and, to some extent, can change the historical record. Unfortunately, this bias will sometimes be replicated and assume a place in history as fact. As a researcher, I look for several references to an account of an event. I enjoy the hunt for information and finding new evidence to an event is always a relief.

Essentially, the information sought by a writer of history exists in landscapes, memories and literature. The difficult task is providing a fresh approach and using new information to inform a description of a historical event. In my experience of researching past events and people, the gathering of information can be an endless task. At some point, the research stops, and the hard work of writing up the findings begins. Importantly, a filing system of documents and notes gathered saves precious time for references as losing vital information to a sequence of work is frustrating and time-consuming.

The activity of writing is the moment when all is revealed. In my case, I have learned from experience the value of structure or a clear outline for a historical account of an event. In this instance, I consider myself very fortunate to have a very erudite and experienced mentor, Daisy Coles, who has impressed on me the importance of a progress spreadsheet and organiser to assist me in achieving my goals. The spreadsheet also works as a tool to help me focus on the manuscript’s content and what I need to do to achieve outcomes for each chapter. My sincere thanks to the Huia Publishers staff for this opportunity to write an important account of history featuring brave and courageous men and women.

The following is an account of World War Two that threatened to change our society with devastating consequences worldwide. Essentially, some events of World War Two are constantly changing as new evidence is uncovered and old perceptions of World War Two are interestingly challenged. I have chosen to share some of my research concerning the Nazi ideology of women. There is nothing new in my account as I used references to compile my evidence and thus gain an understanding of German women’s society in the 1930s.[1] [2]

During Adolf Hitler’s rise to political power in the 1930s and the increasing influence of the Nazi Party in German society, the aspirations and dreams of higher education and individuality in German women’s society were eroded away by the formulation of the Nazi ideology of women. In the 1930s, German women were compelled to study domestic science. Physics, foreign languages and science were the subjects for men alone.

The women in Nazi Germany were encouraged to become childbearers, and to achieve this, they were forced to maintain physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Hitler introduced incentives to produce babies by giving women public recognition in the form of honour and medals. Young couples were also given government money to start a family. The breeding programme included a medical examination ensuring a clean bill of health for the woman and a system of selecting male breeding partners from Hitler’s military ranks, the Shutz Staffel (SS)[3] and generals. Hitler’s grand plan for Germany included increasing the German population, and underpinning the breeding programme was his desire to build a large army and thereby achieve world domination.[4]

A ban on cosmetics and nail polish was a restriction introduced to further suppress German women’s individuality. The Nazi government had adopted a campaign against cosmetics and make-up in World War One. This ban was extended to include French and United States women’s fashions.  Mothers in the SS were forbidden to wear make-up and nail polish, and women who did so were publically ridiculed. The Nazi theory of the ideal woman was a peasant wife devoted to work on the land and caring for her family. Women in the Nazi Party were encouraged to devote their time to working for Hitler and the Party as helpmates. Hitler’s innate theory of men as leaders in management jobs and public affairs further confined Nazi women to the home and reduced their position in society as second-class citizens of the Third Reich.[5]

Hitler enjoyed public forums where he could speak to the multitudes and promote his ideals for a greater German society. On 8 September 1934, Hitler addressed the National Social Women’s League[6] convention informing the members present of his plan for women:

 ‘… the women must be a complement to man, so that they can prevail as real fighters before our Volk and for our Volk with our sights set on the future … the two sexes will traverse this life fighting together, hand in hand fulfilling Providence: … the blessing of the Almighty will rest upon their joint struggle for life.’

Whilst he acknowledged the leadership role of women in the National Socialist Movement, he also reminded the women that ‘there were innumerable women who remained unshakeably loyal to the Movement and to me'[7].  Hitler’s determination to increase the population of Germany through childbearing was paramount, and through his speech, he exhorted the women to focus on his agenda and on a ‘single item and this is the child, this tiny creature who must come into being and flourish, who constitutes the sole purpose of the entire struggle for existence’.

It is probable that Hitler directly assisted in the formulation of the Nazi ideology of women although he claimed that this stemmed from the concepts of Nature and Providence. Hitler placed importance and value on the idea that German women (who were of Nature) contributed to German society in helping the men (who were of Providence) achieve their objective. The differences between the sexes guided the roles that they played in society. In reality, these ideals did nothing but take away the individuality and freedom of thought of German women and thus subordinate and demoralise them, condemning them to the tenet that by her nature the woman was home merely to the power of feelings and the power of the soul.[8] In Hitler’s philosophy the man was home to the power of recognition, the power of toughness, of resolution and of fighting morale; man strove for heroic courage on the battlefield, and woman was there to give eternally patient devotion, suffering and endurance.

In effect, Hitler’s ideology of women reflected his inability to see women in diverse roles. It is probable that Hitler may have based his ideas on gender roles from the philosopher Rousseau’s “But for her sex …” the Domestication of Sophie,which presented a model of ‘Emile’ (man) as soldier, public office holder and landowner and ‘Sophie’ (woman) as protector of moral values and educational practices, confined to the home.[9]

Personally, I have found that education is a perpetual learning experience. The human brain is like a microcosm of the universe that is forever growing and creating new stars of knowledge.

World War Two and winning the war through the sacrifice of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives has given us the freedom to shape our individual destinies – and let’s not forget the liberty that contemporary German women enjoy beside us.

 

 

 


[1] URL: www.educationforum.co.uk. Retrieved from the Internet, 16/8/10.

[2] Lawrence Rees, BAFTA-winning BBC TV series, The Nazis: A Warning from History. London: BBC Worldwide Limited, 1997.

[3] Shutz means defense, and Staffel means echelon: Hitler’s SS was an elite private army and secret service. W L  Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History Of Nazi Germany. England: Book Club Associates, 1960, 120–121.

[4] Martin Kitchen, Nazi Germany At War. London: Longman, 1995, 142, 143–144.

[5] Third Reich was Nazi Germany 1933–1945.

[6] Nationalsozialistische Frauenschaft: W L Shirer, 1960, 120–121.

[7] M Damarus, Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations 1932–1945. London: I B Taurus, 1990, vol, 1, 531–535. [Bismarck readings 148–331], 531.

[8] Kitchen, Nazi Germany At War, 1995, 136.

[9]  Excerpt from Jim MacAdam, Michael Neumann and Guy LaFrance (eds), Trent Rousseau Papers, 1 35–45. “But for Her Sex …”: the Domestication of Sophie.

When the Writing Flow Starts to Congeal

Robert Louis Stevenson was quoted as saying ‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.’

At the moment, I am planting lots of seeds, but when I look at my fields, the crops seem like poor specimens – undernourished and not able to stand tall against strong winds.

I am in the middle of my novel, and this is the bit that I find hard. When something is hard, I don’t want to do it.

Last week, Renée kindly gave me the week off. I had a funeral as well as other things that needed my attention. I thought the break would do me good. Not so.

This week is even harder. I have had to glue my bum to the seat. I have had to wrestle every word, sentence and page and am still not finished. Even writing this journal entry. I suspect myself of procrastinating, again.

Half of me wants to find the easy way out. But, another part of me yearns for original and unique. I suppose it serves me right too. Up until this point, the pages were just flowing. Easy even. People have been asking how is the writing. Fantastic. Loving it. No one has asked this week.

Writing, I now see as a relationship. I was happy when everything was running smoothly, but now we’re being tested. For better or for worse.

So, I have to go back to the drawing board. Put in the effort and trust that I’m not just a fair-weather girl.

Must go. I have writing to do!

Suiting the Taste of a Target Audience

We are nearing the halfway mark of our journey, and I have just completed the manuscript in its rawest form – the unformed clay if you will.

My mentor has allowed the following week to go over this first draft and begin the editing process, so I am a bundle of nerves. Even now, I am finding some of its words distracting and some themes underdeveloped, but I wonder if anyone else would feel what I feel when they read the book.

Would Michelangelo find fault in the Sistine Chapel? Probably … but could you? This is the lonely and painful art of writing – and with it comes an age-old problem – taste.

I have written my book with a target audience in mind and the dream of attracting people who normally wouldn’t read that particular type of novel, but books are an acquired taste – what reads well for some does not often read well for others. There will be detractors of your work and fans alike.

I had dinner with friends the other night, followed by a glass of wine. I commented on its taste and how much I enjoyed its flavour, but one friend told me that it was too sweet, and another said it had a strong taste of blueberry.

I swirled the wine about in the glass and asked myself, ‘What do I know about wine?’ and the honest answer was – nothing. I did not find it overly sweet, and I certainly could not detect the blueberry – but I was adamant about one thing – I certainly enjoyed the glass and quickly poured myself another to prove the point.

It is the same with books. I know as much about wine as I do books – all I know is what I prefer. No matter how much a book is recommended, there will always be a polarisation amongst its readers. There are those who rave about Treasure Island … and there are those who, like me, have not got past the first chapter.

Like wine – given time, we will discover if my book fulfils the desire of my intended audience – I only need to bottle it. When the cork is popped, I have to be satisfied in my work.

Learning New Tricks (and Old Ones)

This last month has been such a roller coaster ride, but I’m loving it. I’ve had to learn to be self-disciplined (I’m forty-six and have never felt the need for it until now). I’ve learnt to say no to people when they want me to do something (something I should have mastered years ago) and that self-doubt is a thing to embrace.

Rollercoaster
© Jimmy Lopes | Jacquie finds the writing programme is like a roller coaster ride.

Each week, I send my pages to Renée (my mentor) for critiquing, and each week, she sends me back some positive feedback and then writing that has red marks all over it. The red marks are not expressions about how wonderful my writing is but points to address. Every week, she’s been right.

She is urging me to go deeper, more detail, show me don’t tell me. The ‘show don’t tell’ is a writing technique that has been around for a while and one that I thought I had mastered a few years ago. On closer inspection of my writing, I see that this is not the case. Learning something and remembering to use it all the time are two separate things.

I also thought that the story was not about me. The characters are different, the things they do are so removed from me, but it actually comes down to universal truths. If I had to sum up my story, I would say it’s about authenticity and loss. The main protagonist loses herself in grief and isolates herself in an obsessive compulsive disorder. Even though the characters are different from the ones in my life, I share with them grief, shame and hope.

For me to write well, I really have to take myself to those places. It’s not nice but necessary. The lovely gift is that it’s also quite cathartic.

The tapestry of life still unravels around me. If I’m honest, I would rather be writing than doing all the other things that are expected of me, but that is not how it works. I am learning balance. I know this week I will struggle to find any time to write, but this course means I will.

I am in awe of people who have written books without a mentor because after only one month, I am so grateful to Renée, who is my mentor, and don’t want to ever let her go.

If you can, run out and find one!

How Jekyll and Hyde Help Refine Writing

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde I am experiencing the dual identities of writing – which I affectionately think of as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – two different personalities sharing the one body. I refer to writing for pleasure – a sudden rush of great ideas in a story that lives and breathes as it passes from your imagination to the page, and the editing stage – the realisation your text is riddled with cliché and characters are short on personality – that some ideas will die horribly, to be removed from the document forever.

I was always aware of the schism but never fully understood the eternal struggle of keeping both egos on a tight leash. Both characters are essential to completing my project, but they compete for attention, and however hard I try, I always favour one over the other – no matter that both personalities have something beneficial to offer.

I prefer Dr Jekyll – he may appear to be civilised and mannered, spending many years and large amounts of money training to become a doctor so that he can provide a service to the community. However, there must be an underlying madness in one who allows their mind to be subject to experimentation – and such is the way when you start out writing. You have the best intentions to craft an enjoyable book – ideas and words flow forth and your fingers furiously tap the keys, and days pass and pages mount. Yet in your heart, you know your ideas are out there – that deep down you have created a story you can no longer contain – so you develop a formula to help.

You call this formula editing.

It’s at this point we release Mr Hyde – the beast in its truest form. He is free from restraint and cares little for the world you develop – casually destroying ideas going nowhere and removing characters who add nothing to the storyline. Yes, he appears uncontrolled, but he is the only side of your personality that speaks true. Very few people care for Mr Hyde, but it’s only his hideous appearance that creates the fear – how he reacts essentially distils bold ideas back to their purest form.

In essence, we should really fear Dr Jekyll, knowing that what appears on the outside is merely a shell that houses a disturbingly twisted and unrefined story.

Still, I know which friend I will be calling when a good story pops in my head … Am I wrong?

Until I write again …

Jeremy Latimer and the Joys of Writing

Well – here is my first journal entry, and for the first time, I have no idea of what I want to write.

Oh, the joys of writing!

Jeremy Latimer
‘The joy of writing never truly fades, it just changes direction from time to time.’

The whole experience has been a bit of a whirlwind affair, and the prospect of having a ‘completion date’ is daunting. It’s funny to think that I have dreamed of this experience all my life – and now that the opportunity is a reality … I am terrified.

I have had good feedback from my mentor, and I know her ideas and direction will strengthen my story, but I am still in awe of the whole idea, and my fellow writers – where will we be come late December?

What will the reading public think?

Here is a taster of the revised version of my draft:

‘The wind-swept sands of the lonely desert caked the bloodied sword – its notched steely blade shimmered in the blistering midday sun, clutched in the grip of a masked warrior. Dressed in splendid silk-robes, the boy was barely in his teens, yet destiny had brought him to the edge of the oasis, where he faced his greatest rival. Standing opposite the boy was a dark assassin of immense size – covered from head to toe in black fabric that clung to his brawny frame to reveal a hardened physique – the enemy was none other than the “Scorpion Monk”.’

Yes – my mentor approved of the opening lines, and my ego came alive – but it is still early days, and the workload continues to mount, but the joy of writing never truly fades, it just changes direction from time to time.

Well – there truly is no rest for the wicked, and new ideas and possibilities are swirling madly about my head, waiting to be written and revised.

Until I write again …