Seven tips to tackle* writer’s block

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When your words are getting stuck somewhere behind your frontal lobe, and your fingers just won’t produce prose, there are options. Grab them.
1) Research is important. Dive into Google and look up stuff related to your novel. For instance, your 19th century dining room scene may need fleshing out with, well, flesh (on the plates) and napkin ring details. What WAS happening on January 25, 1874? What might your characters have been wearing? Before you know it you’ll have spent hours collating valuable information in your head, and probably taken in some fantastic cat videos to boot.
2) Listen to your muse(s). Some writers insist that their characters talk to them. So perhaps your inability to write is simply the voice of your muse telling you what you need to know. Your character doesn’t want to sit at a desk. Your character wants to go to Burgerfuel and eat a Hamburgini with cheese and a milkshake and maybe grab some doughnuts to eat on the way home. Yes, even if your character IS a vampire and normally unable to dine on anything but human blood. Listen to it. Listen to its voice! Feed the muse!
3) Get some fresh air: It’s not healthy to sit at your desk all the time, and a brisk walk in the outdoors is bound to kick-start ideas anew. Get out there into the nature. Marvel at the subtle beauty of a grey day. Splash in puddles. Get your socks soaked through with icy winter water. Go to the shop to buy new, dry socks to stave off any possible pneumonia or frostbite complications.
4) Read. The only way anybody learns to write well is to read a lot. If the words are getting stuck somewhere behind your frontal lobe then clearly you haven’t read enough. Read a book. Read twenty. Read a best seller AND a critically lauded new release. Compare. What features led to these books’ success? Read some old rubbish just so you know what really bad writing looks like. Read the Daily Mail. Feel superior to anybody who writes for the Daily Mail. Wish you could get a gig writing for the Daily Mail, which you know you could do better while drunk and asleep. Cleanse your Mail-tainted mind with a graphic novel or seven. Now watch the telly because you’re too tired to do any writing today.
5) Feed your mind. Those muses above (see 2) might be your characters talking to you, or they could just be manifestations of your body’s need for fuel. A hungry brain is not a creative brain. Your brain needs toast. No, wait. Your brain  needs ice cream. Don’t stint. Give it the finest gourmet ice cream. Give it several kinds. Use the flavours to inspire you. Jot down descriptions of your ice cream for later. Who know when you might need a character to eat ice cream?
6) Artificial stimulants. Look, loads of famous authors took tons of drugs and/or drank like fish. Burroughs. Coleridge. Bukowski. Behan. They lived hard and they wrote hard. If it worked for them it will surely work for you, right? Take your laptop to a bar or opium den right now and get stuck in. (CAVEAT: none of these writers had access to the internet. It’s conceivable that if they had not been confined to pens and typewriters, they might just have been really good trolls.)
7) Exercise. Nothing makes the ideas flow like a structured movement class. I’ve been writing a blog post about my yoga class for MONTHS. It’s still in my draft folder and so far comprises the phrase “I should go to yoga more often”, but I’ll totally get round to finishing it one day soon.
 For some genuinely useful tips on how to beat procrastination and other writerly woes, check out Susie Lindau’s Wild Rider Magazine.
* I said tackle. I didn’t say CURE.

 

In which I Smash up my free time

I had a plan. I was going to sit down and write a bunch of thoughtful, sometimes elegiac, sometimes funny, sometimes just plain useful things, and post them on this blog while I had the time. Instead I sat down, opened up Lightbox and started watching ALL THE TV I have missed in the past few years of night work and no cable.

I’m still not free. I may never be free. The worst part of it is, I keep having awesome thoughts about shows nobody cares about any more.

I started by watching the breathtakingly good Breaking Bad, in as near to a single sitting as was physically possible, and then went out and bought the first two seasons on DVD even though I’m supposed to be watching my budget. I may share my thoughts about that some time, but not today. No. You see, the thing is, I like brilliant, brainy, complex television. But I love trash more.

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Tread the boards – lightly. Breaking Bad fanart: Jens K Styve

So my next binge was Smash. An all-singing, all-dancing, cameo-encrusted story of Broadway and the battle between two would-be stars for a career-creating leading role in Bombshell, a musical about Marilyn Monroe. One, Ivy: a theatre-seasoned triple threat with a decade of hard graft behind her, but inexplicably, no big break. Played by Megan Hilty, an actual theatre person who is pretty amazing. The other, Karen: that one really pretty girl who was on American Idol  a few years back. No, wait – I mean, a bland ingenue from Iowa whose raw talent and fine cheekbones inexplicably captivate all who see her. Played by that one really pretty girl who was on American Idol a few years back.

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Why do I care about these people? SMASH — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Jaime Cepero as depraved assistant Ellis, Anjelica Huston as sassy producer Eileen, Jack Davenport as snide director Derek, Katharine McPhee as Mary Sue Karen, Megan Hilty as Ivy, Debra Messing as housewife show writer Julia, Christian Borle as Julia’s BFF and writing partner  Tom. — Photo by: Mark Seliger/NBC

Smash was by all accounts a critical failure, which I learned after watching two episodes then succumbing to the urge to Google. I could see why. I could see the dropped and overstuffed storylines, the irritating Mary Sueishness of Karen, the increasingly wacky and at times straight-up embarrassing nature of the non-stage musical numbers. The overuse of quirky woodwind. The awkward cameo appearances by Real Theatre People. But there is plenty to love. The singing! The dancing! The Marilyn impersonations! The tiny insights into how musicals are made, and how much of what ends up on a stage is about commerce and making things work, rather than some pure and lofty vision. There’s Debra Messing, who I’ll watch in anything. Anjelica Houston! Bernadette Peters! Jack Davenport! Pretty much all of the cast, even Katharine McPhee, are enjoyable. The  numerous gay characters are just there being humans, instead of providing Teaching Moments (although it would be hard to have  a show about Broadway without them, let’s face it.)

And there are so many more things about Smash that are terrible, and yet somehow glorious. Things like  Anjelica Houston’s over-soignee Broadway producer falling for rugged, martini-making crim-with-a-heart-of-gold Thorsten Kaye, who more importantly is also New Ridge on The Bold and the Beautiful. Kaye is so radically different in look to Original Ridge (Ronn Moss, who looks like a waxwork Paul Stanley in 80s fashion drawing form) that there is no way one can accept him as the same character. Now, in my mind, when Ridge left Forrester Creations for a year or so he worked in NYC, moonlighting as a bartender and gaining criminal connections. And was murderered and replaced by a guy whose $7 martinis, when thrown in people’s faces by Anjelica Houston, have the power to  alter perception. (Houston throws martinis a lot.In one episode alone she does it three times.By season 2, she’s doing it in the opening credits.)

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Megan Hilty: nothing like Marilyn at all. Image: Shutterstock

And there are things like how people bizarrely decide that tall, thin, brunette Katharine McPhee could be better at pretending to be Marilyn Monroe, in a Broadway musical, than Megan Hilty. “She’s got something …. like TV audience recognition.” And, that a Rent-lite musical made up largely of what sound like Shania Twain songs, with a Lady Gaga-style “Diva” added to create something resembling dramatic tension, will end up a) being described as “edgy”, b) playing on Broadway ten times faster than Bombshell did, and c) both sweeping the Tonys AND being a “cult hit” because its book writer conveniently got hit by a car while bemoaning the songwriter’s betrayals. In song. And, that the “bad boy” songwriter From The Streets™ composes on a piano. For musical theatre. Because when you are On The Run® from your abusive family and gritty drug-dealing past, you can count on there at least being a piano lying round the place on which you can Expunge Your Angst In Song™ and think about staging.

Yes, there’s a lot to mock about Smash, and it was cancelled after two seasons, but everyone can sing (OK except Huston), most can dance, and who doesn’t adore a bit of theatrical escapism of a winter’s night? Like [spoiler] poor, deceased season 2 Kyle, I’ve got a soft spot for a flop. Roll on my next trashy binge!

Why this is a terrible blog

Blogging properly is not just about writing some stuff and putting it on the internet in a handy WordPress template. Here, BRIGID KELLY tells you exactly what is wrong with THIS blog … and why!

1) It lacks a clear focus.

OK that’s not strictly true. This blog is all about ME. ME ME ME. But more importantly, this blog was largely intended to be a space where I could stretch my writing muscles again, and/or post examples of the kind of work I can do. Part of the reason for that is because most of my archives were lost in those damn quakes.  As a result, it’s all over the place – listicle here, schmoozy self-plug there, colour piece ici, vaguely political pontificiation la. A good blog can be varied… but it needs things to hold it together. To wit:

2) There are not enough pictures, pull quotes or subheads.

Nobody wants to read a wall o’text. And this blog is one mighty wall.

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A random picture of my fave boots.

When I set it up, I was still working in my day-night job as a newspaper subeditor and the very LAST thing I wanted to do while sitting up in bed of a night was more layout. Also, I was sitting up in bed with a blanky across my knees, tippity-typing in a dimly lit room, longing to go to sleep and eager to press “publish” rather than delay till I had time to make the post look all beautiful and ensure it was SEO-ready and stuff.

3) The articles are mostly too long.

See above. People mostly don’t read past what fits on their screen when they browse the interwebs. In fact you may not even be reading this far right now. Not unless the picture of my boots drew your eye down further. That is why high-impact web content is generally pretty bite-sized (or is that BYTE-sized? AHAH. I’ll wait till you’ve stitched your sides back together.)

4) Nobody can find it.

Actually, that’s not strictly true either. Google my name and “flaneuse” and you’ll find one entry.

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Not Original Brand Brigid Kelly, despite also being a lefty with great brows and a penchant for green.

Google “flaneuse antipodienne” and you’ll find more, including a place where my content has been cheerily copy-pasted to some random dating site.  But unless you know what you’re looking for, the chances of finding content by ME ME ME sinks beneath the waves, and also the growing profile of a (hopefully) nice Democrat lady in Ohio. I had this name first by the way, lady. It’s about time I started using it on everything, am I right? It could also do with better keywords and  categorisation that’s less personal, more designed to get others a-clicking.

5) It’s a snob.

This blog would do much better if it just got off its arse and talked to the people, you know? Like that Ohio hopeful lady probably does all the time, because she is a politician. This blog should be commenting on other blogs and inviting interaction by offering polls and other fun clicky things. This blog has not gone on its ceilidh for quite some time. It’s acting like it has agoraphobia, which it assuredly has NOT. It needs to get itself out there.

6) It is updated infrequently.

No one likes a blowhard, but similarly, no one remembers a one-hit wonder. Blogs need regular updating for two reasons: one, to keep your readers engaged, and two, to ensure there is lots of older content on it to entice new readers to stay and look around.

7) It is a wuss.

This blog has been too scared to just jump in there and bash out a few lines, even though those are precisely the sorts of entries that readers appear to like the best (according to WordPress’ handy stats feature). It has been all “oh no I better not blog now, I am tired and do not have time to make it super cool and perfect enough for potential employers to see. It might not paint me in a good enough light. Mopey mope mope.” It has been told in no uncertain terms that this is no kind of strategy for living, and that it should just own itself and jump out there, warts and all. After all, what is my brand if not… eclectic?

What do you like in a blog, readers? What mistakes have you made when creating yours?

FLASHBACK: Love ‘n Lazers

In 1988 I was a young, inappropriately dressed reporter on the  Southland Times. When not making cop calls, wrangling unionists and dozing off at  Southland Education Board meetings, I wrote soft and smart-assed colour pieces. Today, unexpectedly – since most of my paper archives met a mouldy end during the quake times– I found some clippings…

It’s Invercargill. It’s the 80s. Internet dating has not been invented. And a reporter – who would subsequently fix changes made by subeditors to her precious copy, in biro – is at the town’s hottest club as Southlanders make … a love connection.

Love Connection goes live

by BRIGID KELLY

In the smoke and dazzle of a sweaty Lazers Cabaret, eight hopefuls are looking for a shipboard romance.

The DJ’s booth is now the wheelhouse of a luxury liner.

On the back wall an orange sun sinks dreamily behind a cluster of palms.

The bar staff sport crisp nautical uniforms. And on deck, our hosts are reading the rules of the ship.

“Anybody who is not drunk by 10.30 will be thrown over the side!”

Welcome to the Love Boat and to Lazers’ Love Connection.

It’s Wednesday, May 15 and a restless nightclub has packed the small nightclub, eager to see the first episode of Invercargill’s newest dating game.

Afternoon telly fans know the format – contestant A chooses from three potential mates (with help from the audience), goes on a date and then returns to tell them all about it.

Tonight’s crowd won’t hear any gory details, but they do get to help the contestants along, laugh at their mates, and maybe strike it lucky themselves. 

The dance floor clears as MC Dave Connors calls forth Misses A, B and C to the stage.

Giggle

It’s early yet and they hang their heads and giggle. A screen is lowered and we are introduced to Mr X, whose data sheet claims he looks like Mel Gibson.

He doesn’t.

He too is placed on a stool on the stage, after Dave and sidekick Alan Davis raise the screen just high enough for him to view the misses’ legs (“Whooeer! Should’ve worn a shorter skirt!”)

Mel and the misses are separated by a second screen, the “blind date” approach adding spice to the proceedings.

Unfortunately, Miss A has caught sight of Mel and doesn’t like the look of him. She gives calculated passion-killer answers to all his questions.

“What do you consider the role of a man to be?”

A mentions dog collars and bank accounts and B refuses to answer. Miss C, a demure but sincere sort of woman, replies, “Himself.”

Rapturous applause. Mel is keen but is intrigued by the evasive Miss A. However, that tentative attraction wins through and Mel and Miss C, who will dine romantically at “Highlights” as part of their sponsored date, meet at last.

Neither quite knows what to do. They separate for the safety of friends as soon as they reach the audience.

The lads brush down their acid-wash jackets. straighten Dad’s best tie and leer hopefully around the dance floor.

“Have you ever made lurve in the back seat of a car?” drools a frustrated singer over cowbells and disco beat.

They look embarrassed.

Warmed up

“The next batch will be better,” Dave Connors confides during the break. “They’ll have warmed up more.”

Contestants fill out a personal data sheet which details hobbies and interests as well as vital statistics. The contest organizers try to match “picker” and “pickees” on the basi of what is on these forms.

The next batch is better. This time Miss X is to choose from a bevy of boys, and they are all much more relaxed.

Except Mr B. 

Miss X is in this for laughs – she reveals that friends bet her she wouldn’t – but she asks some tough questions.

Mr A, a compulsive giggler, hopes to meet someone nice.

Tense young Mr B, who immediately wins the audience’s sympathy, is on the lookout for “a relationship”.

The affable Mr C has also entered to have a good time and a bit of a laugh.

“How would you feel about meeting a girl’s family and friends?” asks Miss X.

“I wouldn’t mind, so long as they weren’t girls,” says the motorbike-rider in the line-up.

Audience

The audience roars for Mr B, who looks close to fainting. 

But tonight the “Cs” have it and the jokers are united, shy but brave.

All the contestants win flowers, smellies, passes to Lazers and suntan vouchers for their trouble. 

And tonight’s pairs return for the second time in three weeks’ time to discuss their dates.

Later Miss X is seen dancing with Mr A. But Mr C is handing her her flowers and sitting with her friends.

Will attraction bloom for awkward Mel and Miss C among the candles at the Kelvin Hotel? 

Will Miss X and Mr C leave off joking and find true love at Lazers? Or will Miss X run off with Mr A?

Tune in next time….

 

 

I was a beer wanker. No wait. Make that AM

I come from a family of wowsers*, but my father – a member, at least in theory, of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association  – was a hard-working man and not averse to an occasional beer on a hot day. We would line up to sip the froth off the top. Thus began my love affair with the brown beverage.

I don’t remember what brand Dad’s beer actually was, only that it came in large brown bottles and, to my infant tastebuds, seemed slightly bitter with a sweetish aftertaste. I can be 100 per cent certain that it was made by either Lion or DB, because that was all you got in New Zealand in those days. It was probably DB Bitter or Double Brown. It was quite a few years before I actually started drinking alcohol in earnest, and while I gravitated towards gin and tonic, fluffy ducks and the infamous Pink Chardon like other girls, I always had a sneaking soft spot for beer.

In London in the 90s I traumatised young men by ordering pints. Apparently women were not supposed to drink them. I stunned them more by drinking pints of bitter. I figured that if I was in England I should at least try their famous warm beer and it tasted all right to me. But before long I was back on the lagers like everybody else, though the power of a good advert won me over to Boddingtons, and obviously I drank Guinness, because it was food and better for you than chips.

I returned to New Zealand to find everybody drinking Speights – formerly of “drink Speights, lose your mates” renown – and something called Canterbury Draught which had apparently been drunk in my province since the dawn of history. Close perusal of the label revealed that CD was in fact Wards. Wards was what old drunk men in pubs had sipped while we pranced about quaffing our trendy Rheineck. In the late 90s, marketing made the least cool beers very cool indeed. But something else had come to the party by then. Proper wine.

Now, I do not have a particularly good palate. My sense of smell is compromised and I can barely tell a fine pinot noir from a scuzzy merlot out of a box. Still, I like a nice tasting drink, and most red wine is palatable enough. (Unless it’s Veluto Rosso. That stuff shouldn’t still be allowed.) So I went through a wine phase. But wine is not low in alcohol and sometimes gives one a headache. It’s also horrible on a hot afternoon. So beer was always an alternative. And just at the point where wine was starting to pall, beer hit back -with a thing called craft.

The rise of genuine craft beers in New Zealand coincided with a rise in my bank balance and a job that kept me out till the wee hours. Primed by pilsner and the occasional foray into Weird Stuff They Have At The Supermarket, I was soon devoted to IPAs and APAs and just about anything hoppy. I revelled in red ales and forked out for $15 pints of fancy things. Beer with chilli in it. Chocolate beer.  Beer that tastes like an Anzac biscuit.

A recent change in fortune means no more $15 pints for me, at least not right now. Frugality is my new buzzword. But nobody should deny themselves completely. A couple of days ago I completed a couple of new, unfamiliar classes and, on a post-teaching high, decided that, much like That Man, I deserved a DB. As it happened DB was all that was available, so I went the whole hog and bought a pint of draught.

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It was hideous.

At lunchtime today I ordered a mainstream red ale. It was also hideous.

I’m sitting here looking at an empty bottle of Mike’s Vanilla Coffee Porter and there’s a Rex Attitude in the fridge to enjoy later.

I may have a little bit of a budgeting problem.

 

*OK apart from all of the ones who are not

A little cafe reading

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Longing to see the latest cafe reader  but too far from any cool participating cafe to be able to grab a copy? Now you can buy online!

One of the delights of May was receiving my copy of the Phantom Billstickers Cafe Reader vol 10, which features, among other things, a short story by me. This absorbing little quarterly zine can be found in select venues around New Zealand and periodically in random places around the world, where  Jim Wilson, like a  Johnny Appleseed of Kiwi writing, has scattered them. Jim’s work putting New Zealand writing, and particularly poetry, on the street (sometimes quite literally) is to be applauded.

As a sometime professional editor, I was delighted at the careful and collaborative process by which my short story made its way to print. I received two print proofs by email and even a check on a word choice from a fellow contributor who was proof-reading the issue. And the contributors are paid. Seriously old-school and so appreciated. Would contribute again.

Vol 10 is now available in a Kindle edition at Amazon. The small cover price goes to covering the costs of producing the readers and supporting New Zealand artists. Check out some past editions too!

It’s been far too long since this blog was updated.  Many things going on in Flaneuse-world that have conspired against me. But I hope to be able to blog a lot more frequently soon.

Call it leveraging

We have  professional homeless people in Christchurch these days. They set up pitches outside shops and malls and ply their trade with small cardboard signs atop hats or ice cream containers. They are usually men, frequently Maori, and usually, it appears, in cahoots.  Men on the streets! Getting cash donations just for sitting there! People are outraged.

I’m not. These men are only doing what a neoliberal  society has been telling them to for a long time now. They are monetising their situation. They are leveraging off their misfortune. They are taking something they are good at – living rough, looking rough, being addicts, being mentally ill perhaps – and turning it into a job. Really, we should be pleased. We should congratulate them on their entrepreneurial initiative. If I were Mike Hassall  I would be negotiating rights with Bravo for a reality show called The Real Homeless Men of Christchurch, which is the obvious next step.

But but but, he’s on a benefit, you say? So are a lot of  working people, who need and get top-ups for accommodation, childcare and other necessities of life. But but but, he’s not paying tax on all the money people give him! Neither is Google. Neither are some people with offshore trusts. Neither are tradespeople who do cashies for pals.  LOTS of people avoid paying tax. LOTS of people resent paying tax. LOTS of people who resent paying tax comment on articles like the one I’ve linked to, expressing their fury that grubby men on the dole drink alcohol and take synthetic highs while taking additional coins from the public. Chances are these Furies, or their bosses, drink alcohol and take synthetic highs – or organic ones – on the weekends. Highs that they buy with the money they earn with the sweat of their brows. Just like these guys.

Begging is not an easy game. Begging is a performance. Begging is sitting on a hard footpath for hours, in burning sun or freezing rain, looking needy. Begging is watching people avoid your eyes. Or pity you, or judge you. Begging is knowing someone more criminal than you may do you over and take your day’s earnings. Begging is having conversations with people who want to know why you’re not at work and whether or not you spend all your money on booze and smokes. Begging is laying it out on the line: I am a useless waste of space. What will you do to change that? To make me go away? To make yourself feel better?

Of course some of them are going to be dodgy. There are dodgy people in every profession. But I think we all know that most of them are just plain inadequate. They are life’s losers. They’re not very good at toeing the line. They have been dealt a bad hand with a few cards missing and they’re just doing what they can – perhaps all they can.

I like to think that once, we were a more compassionate society. I’m probably wrong. But back then the rights of the individual fell below the needs of the many and the callous disregard I see for these men’s wellbeing and fury at their visibility seems to reflect  a society that now celebrates  success for the individual at any cost. That means minimal controls. We want freedom to do whatever we want. To dress how we want, say what we want, buy what we want, see what we want. If  a non-regulation haircut, say,  or  a spot of accidental racism are no big deal, then  nor is a bunch of untidy fellows parking up outside Ballantynes with a dog and a kitten. They are exercising their rights to do what they want in their pursuit of happiness and a living. They are poverty entrepreneurs seeking angel investment. If they are offending or frightening Ballantynes’ customers, well, maybe the customers just need to be less sensitive.  Right?

Meanwhile so many of us continue to say no to welfare, except maybe a little bit for the deserving, saintly poor who don’t smoke or drink or have kittens and dogs to feed. We say no to tax, and no to beggars in our back yard. We want all the coins. Actually we need all the coins, because there are few protections left for us if we lose them. But let’s not think about that. Let’s watch reality TV instead.