Monday, February 17, 2014
About a month after we met, I turned up to meet the members of the ad hoc writing group. There were four of us, and each had brought a few pages of our recent work to share. The group leader was serious about writing, having completed the entire Curtin University writing course part-time while also working. 'Show don't tell,' she said to me. I didn't know what she was on about. 'Don't use so many descriptions after dialogue. He said or she said is better, and even leave them out if you can.' There were lots of good tips. At the time I didn't want to follow them. There's more than one way to write. We're writing in different genres. What does she know. I'm reluctant to admit that all these reactions were swirling around in my head. It was fun to meet with other writers. I'd found it hard to keep focus doing it all alone. Writing is done alone, but eventually it's meant to be shared with readers, and it was nice to share the experience. We planned to meet each month. One benefit of doing it this way was we each had a deadline, and aimed to have done at least something before the next meetup. It's easy to let a month or two whiz by with nothing written, when it's just you keeping check, and when life and the job that pays the bills gets in the way. I really like the idea of the writing group. In theory. I just wasn't so good at it in practice. After being told lots of useful hints that my hostess had gleaned across an entire, and reputable, writing course, I still wasn't convinced that they knew better than I did. But what I was most keen for was their critique of my work in progress. I brought a sample to our second meeting. When we swapped each other's samples, my heart was in my mouth. Getting feedback from other writers, this was what I was really here for. I couldn't wait to be told how funny my stories were, or how well I'd worded a paragraph, or how entertaining it was. I'd have a long wait. When the samples were returned, we went through our feedback in detail. It was an interesting process, until it got to my chapter. 'I think you need to show more, there's too much exposition,' said one. I didn't even know what that meant. 'I think you could add some dialogue, to break it up a bit,' said another. 'You've got a rough draft, but I think you need to start again,' said the third. In my head, my reaction was WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW. I was affronted. Offended. Riled. Disappointed. I didn't let on how outraged I was at their attack on my perfectly fine chapter, but I did look deflated. When I got home that evening, I swore I would never again bother going to that group. Who needed them? What did they know? And so I didn't. I stayed at home on the monthly Tuesday nights. But another thing I also didn't do - I didn't write anything else either. I was stymied. I didn't know how to go on with it. Plus I didn't feel like it. There was already a book about touring out there, so what was the point wasting my time trying. Then around about seven months later, it occurred to me that maybe, if I wanted to get writing, I needed to talk to people who knew how hard it was. And I needed to make minigoals, like we had when we set targets to achieve for our next meeting. And if I wanted to improve my writing, and widen my target audience, maybe just maybe the other writers had something they could teach me. I texted the hostess out of the blue, and asked if I could come to the next meeting. She replied to say fine, and it was on the following week. Knowing it was so soon, I went off and started to dabble with a few sentences. And when I went back, the other writers in the group were so welcoming, and so helpful, that I realised their advice had been constructive criticism after all. I had a lot to learn. But I'd already learnt the first, most important lesson - to open yourself up to criticism, and grow a thicker skin, in order to try and do better. I'll always be grateful to them for their comments, but also for not commenting on my absence while I was being a sullen cow. So go grow that thicker skin and get writing!
Thursday, February 13, 2014
I returned to Europe for my second summer season in 2000. Foot and mouth had broken out across the UK, leading to cancelled parades for St Patrick's Day in Ireland, and millions of culled sheep and cattle. On tour it seemed that everyone had a special diet of 'no red meat' and chicken became the norm for most meals. Once again I didn't keep a personal diary during the season, but I did have my work diary, and I jotted down a few points to remind me of the funnier - and stranger - parts of my season. I was ready, set to return to Australia at the end of the season, write it all up and publish my story. Then bloody Brian Thacker came out and published his story. About life as a tour manager. In Europe. Published by Allen & Unwin. Read by everyone on tour and all road crew. He'd beaten me to it, damn him. I remember reading his book and really enjoying it; double damn. What's the point, I thought to myself. There's no need for me to write up my stories anymore, he's done it all. When I got back to Australia I halfheartedly typed up a couple of pages of headings, prompts about different stories. Then I left it. That would have been the end, except for one little thing - I don't like giving up once I get my mind set on something. So every year after that, at the end of the season, I typed up a few more pages, the briefest of notes, simply to jog my memory. I left it at that, and focussed on having a fantastic time on tour. The fantastic times were hard to say goodbye to, and I didn't manage to tear myself away from touring life until the end of 2004. With a place in a university course and a plan to start afresh in a new field, not returning to my pre-touring life as a lawyer, I was set. Then I started to struggle. Moving back to Perth was like the worst way to move to a new city. It was quieter than Melbourne or Sydney, where nightlife doesn't evaporate just because it's a Monday. It was a place I felt at home, because it had been my home - but in the meantime, the six years I'd been away, the friends and family I'd left behind had not been in stasis. Instead they'd lived their lives, lives which right now didn't have much room to fit in a post-travelling, still-partying 30 something who couldn't sit still. Where were my group of 50 buddies to go out with on a Tuesday? What was I thinking, coming home, chucking aside that amazing lifestyle? I stared at the walls of my flat and felt glum. Then, one of those friends, who was very busy with her family and kids, had a night out. One of my friends was eager to know how I was getting on with all the stories that I'd said I would one day write up. 'Have you started your book yet? I'd love to read it,' she said. She was sitting next to a random new friend of the birthday girl, and she mentioned that she too was writing a book. 'I've got a couple of friends who meet up once a month to review and critique each other's work. It's basically an excuse to drink wine. Would you like to come along?' I would. I did. But what happened at that first meeting led me to sulk for the next 7 months, until eventually I was ready to listen.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I did keep a diary during that first season on the road, but it bore more resemblance to my Year 4 'Fed the chooks. School' diaries than to my London hostel journal. During the training trip from hell, our diary and planning was drilled into us. It helped. With so many factors involved in every trip, having a checklist meant less chance of stuffing up and ruining a tour for clients. It meant that two weeks after the tour began, we'd arrive at a campsite and they would have the right number of beds for us, or feed the three strict vegetarians, or have the right number of seats reserved for an optional dinner out. The downside was that it was purely utilitarian. I didn't add in any notes about nutbag clients or fights with drivers or crazy things that happened that day. I meant to but I was so busy with my planning diary that when I finally had some time on the coach where I wasn't writing or spieling or planning with my driver or chatting to clients, all I was good for was looking out the windscreen at the scenery whizzing by. However I don't regret that, as clearly I needed a mental break whenever I could get it, and perhaps that contributed to the longevity of my touring career. It also meant that although I wasn't smelling the roses from inside the travelling coach, I was soaking in the scenery. And what a varied and picturesque range of landscape there was. I never got tired of looking at it and it's imprinted on my memory. None of this helps much when it comes to writing up my memoir. It helps for the ingrained details, the things that I'll never forget, but it doesn't help for the day to day incidents that are fun to rant, write and read about. Luckily I'm a ranter from way back. I can put up with most things, provided I get to have a private conversation with a like-minded individual, preferably over a glass of wine, and rant and rave about all the kooks in the world and often on my tour. I found the ideal person in other road crew, particularly other tour managers. Having practiced telling my more outlandish stories, when I returned home to Australia at the end of that first season, I practiced some more. I regaled friends and family over my summer down under. They were suitably shocked, impressed and entertained. I had some free time, mooching off my folks (back in that same country town I'd worked so hard to get away from), and borrowed my sister's computer and started writing. At first I wrote a list of chapter headings, the main crazy stories that I had been sharing with friends. Then I went further, and started writing them out in full. As much as I could remember. This time I included details, especially the bits that my local audience had enjoyed, and I also included how I felt. Emotions. By the end of that summer, I had fifty pages written. Fantastic, I thought. Once I finish touring - I planned to do one more season then return to work as a laywer - then I'll write up all my stories and publish a book. Easy. I'd always wanted to write, my early diaries were followed by more and more short stories that had been a pleasure to write and got me good marks and extra readers all through high school, but like what had happened with my journal, once I'd reached university and was having such a wild time (relatively speaking) away from home, I stopped creative writing and merely wrote essays. Finally, a lifelong dream was within reach. Or so I thought. I was a very long way off. I didn't know it, but it would be a decade until I published my first book and it would be a difficult path to publication. I would do it, I would fulfil my dream, but I had no idea what would be involved.