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It’s nearly that time again

It’s nearly that time again

New Zealand writers! A gentle reminder from your friendly Headland editorial team that our submission deadline for Issue 12 is fast approaching! Where did December and January go…? If you’re polishing up a story or just starting one, keep Friday 9 February in your mind/diary/list/phone/heart/whatever-place-you-use-to-keep-track-of-this-stuff and send it us. We’d love to read it, and you know that we’d give it a happy home. If you’re like us and sweltering in the New Zealand ‘heatwave’, you’ll be familiar with this list. We hope you have #1 and #7 on yours too. Click here → for our full guidelines.  We recommend you have a good read of them.

Happy summering (and wintering if you’re joining us from the Northern Hemisphere – we’re sending you some of our high temperatures), and reading and writing too.

(Oh, and if you’re looking for some excellent summer reading, it would be remiss of us not to point you to our newest Issue 11, and our awesome back catalogue also).

Guidelines

 

The Young Country

New Zealand-ness?

The final word in our series about what makes a New Zealand story, well, a New Zealand story goes to Andrew Stiggers with his own take on this tricky question. You’ve heard from R.L. Nash and Stephen O’Connor already. We’re delighted that Andrew was able to share his thoughts on this, and we thought his perspective as an immigrant to this country offered a really interesting angle.  Andrew’s story ‘The Book Parade Prize’ appears in Issue 11.  Andrew lives in Auckland. His short stories have been published, or are forthcoming, in various anthologies and literary journals, and his achievements include being the winner of the 2017 Global Ebook Awards (Short Stories category) for his historical-fiction collection: “The Glassblower’s Daughter and Other Tales from Southwest Germany”. He was also the winner of the Trisha Ashley Award 2017 for best humorous story, and a finalist for the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2015. More information about his writing can be found on www.andrewstiggers.com.

Thanks for reading our Issue 11 series, we’ll be back for Issue 12 with a brand new curly question.

 

The Young Country

Without a doubt there are far more capable writers than I who can provide an informed insight into understanding “What makes a New Zealand story feel like a New Zealand story?” And so it is with some trepidation that I offer my thoughts…

I think the answer lies in delving at the heart of the question – feeling. And how the writer conveys feeling connected to New Zealand and New Zealanders across to the reader using storytelling elements such as setting, style, character and theme.

That’s my safe answer. Objective. One which I could expand further by examining use of each element and making reference to our literary heritage.

My alternative answer is more personal. Takes courage. And involves facing the truth, as Katherine Mansfield once wrote.

I believe it’s about writers, from all walks of life and backgrounds, to open up, bare themselves to the world, and share their experiences and emotions as Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, Asian and other New Zealanders. And yes, this includes us blokes (for whom I know emotion is tough to share, to express), and us immigrants too, often seen and treated as an outsider in global society, particularly more so at this troubling time. I still can’t shake my accent even after twelve years living here in Auckland.

It’s about recalling what we have witnessed or have been told about or imagine could be – from the many nuances to the more stereotypical make-up of New Zealand and New Zealanders, of our way of life, the good, the bad, and the in-between. Footprints in the sand along the deserted beach and memories of childhood spent by the pohutukawa tree. The worshippers gathering outside the Tongan church, dressed in white and grass skirts, all smiles in the sun. The veteran plumber providing free advice to the young couple about what really should be fixed. Fish and chips and ice cream on the weathered lakeside jetty.

The discovery by the boy of the ancient waka on the muddy riverbank and his fight to save the canoe from the elements. A family who have lost everything in the earthquake, and are now starting again, brick by brick. The smirking thieves – loaded with pies – being chased out the shop by the fierce old owner who’s hurling drink cans at them with all her might.

Tin toys gathering dust in the rundown bach. The teenager in the hoodie giving up his bus seat to the elderly widower. Whānau sleeping rough in a convoy of parked cars during the long, cold winter. Traffic held up by the fireman who is rescuing ducks trapped down a drain. In the darkness of the bedroom, struggling to say your final goodbye. The meth house explosion that’s destroyed the neighbour’s motorbike he’d spent years restoring.

The tramper lost in the nearby bush and the herculean effort spent by the local pub regulars to find her. The city worker who complains about the restaurant that only displays signage and menus in Chinese but admits the meals are the best he’s ever had. The childless, third-generation farmer who has toiled on the family land all his life but has no one to pass it on to.

The crumbling façade of the Masonic lodge in the middle of nowhere, and the hidden mysteries within waiting to be uncovered. The Aussie-born builder who takes a ribbing from his mates about the rugby until the most recent match result…

It’s about searching deep within oneself for the raw essence of what it means to be a New Zealander – what drives us; our values and beliefs – and shaping it into an emotional, cohesive force that pervades the story. And in my case, as with other diverse immigrants across the generations, this story concerns a new beginning, a new life in this “young country” (as described by the government minister in my story from Issue 11, ‘The Book Parade Prize’). It’s a story about belonging, embracing the place and its people, becoming one of them, adding my background and upbringing to the mix. Understanding what they, we stand for.

It’s a story about welcoming, accepting others. Having good old-fashioned manners and common decency. Letting everyone have a fair go. Respecting the land, the water, the air around us, one another. Being honest, down-to-earth; realising that our richness lies in the immaterial. It’s about looking up to our older, bigger siblings who have been telling their own stories for millennia but also learning from their mistakes, and stepping up to take our own stand on what really matters. Being innovative, with a can-do attitude. Doing the right thing. Overcoming obstacles together, crossing wide rivers and deep lakes, traversing whole coastlines, climbing the highest mountains across distant seas.

As an immigrant writer I am at the start of my own journey across this young country. I have a long way to go, sure to lose my footing, stumble and fall, but I’ll pick myself up and push on with steeled Kiwi determination. Explore the country as the early Polynesians settlers once did. Ask questions. Discover more about this place, my home, and the people I encounter. Speak about my experiences. Struggle on with my current writing whilst still hopeful of getting my previous work published…

One truth I have already found along my path, and which I have shared in my story from Issue 11, ‘The Book Parade Prize’, is that the future for this young country lies with our children – of all shapes and sizes – and that we must support them to be whatever they want to be in this “white-clouded wonderland,” this New Zealand.

***

Read Andrew’s story and nine other gems in Issue 11.

The Setting

A Sense of Recognition

What makes a New Zealand story feel like our story? Makes it recognisable to you? What does ‘a New Zealand story’ mean to you? These were questions we put to some of our Issue 11 writers. In the previous post, R.L. Nash ruminated in Writing Aotearoa that it’s many things that add up to this sense of belonging  and recognition in the story. For Stephen O’Connor, writer of ‘Red Rock Creek’ it’s firmly rooted in the setting. His story takes place on a New Zealand farm, something he has first hand experience of growing up. Stephen is a lecturer who takes his mind off things by trail running with his border collie.

 

The Setting

 

Do you like to be alone? It’s an odd question to ask and usually prompts negative answers. Growing up on a sheep farm in the Wairarapa, there was a lot of space and time to be alone. The place was big enough not to meet neighbours on a regular basis and many of the ongoing menial jobs like fencing were predominantly solitary. When I consider my childhood, I find myself thinking of the craggy hills and plains that influenced my family in how and what we did. In other words, my values have taken shape and were tested and adjusted by this setting.

I feel that because of our closeness with the landscape, New Zealand literature would be pretty much unimaginable without their settings. It has influenced not only the characters and their actions, but the tone and style of the writing. This would include not only the farm or the bush, but also the suburbs in the cities and towns. I can still remember some favourite short stories and poetry introduced to me while I was in high school that I enjoy re-reading. Witi Ihimaera’s Yellow Brick Road reverberated with me in how central the symbolism of Wellington as Emerald City was to the overall development of the story and effects on the characters. Even though Wairarapa wasn’t Waituhi, it sure felt like it at the time. Katherine Mansfield has many themes in her story The Garden Party, but the Sheriden family’s house and garden paradise helped to shelter and isolate the children from the have-nots down the road. Even with our poetry, Denis Glover’s The Magpies ensured a bitter lesson for all the farmers – the land endures no matter what we do. It is this isolation and its relation to the geography of the land that really sticks in my mind and was the reason that I made the setting the centrifugal force in my story.

Throughout the story of the father and son, I have highlighted certain aspects of the setting in order to evoke the isolation and the enduring power of nature. The kea, rather than just an observer like the magpies in Glover’s poem, acts as the initiator of the farmer’s problem, and it really personifies nature as it appears throughout and endures with success at the end, taunting the farmer, changing the relationship dynamics. I tried to also use other objects in combination with the sounds and the language used to build up a vivid picture of the isolation. The shovel making a ‘dull thud’, the land rover- a workhorse for the rugged country in New Zealand, the twine- a hardy string, and even the shears – portable for usage in isolated places when not in the shearing shed. Even the setting of the late 1960s be-spokes a more simplistic time, without all the technology that can make us feel less remote. The conversation between the father and son is at a bare minimum. The age difference and also the close proximity of working together day in, day out encourages a simple familiarity in their dialogue brought about by the context of isolation.

This father and son relationship on a farm is special. By the end of the story, I endeavoured to show how close the bond can be between the two and how it changes. At the beginning, the landscape and what it throws at them puts obstacles in place that allows us to observe the contrast in character between the sensitive boy and the more pragmatic father. However, by the end of the story, there is a sense of understanding and a shift in the responsibility between the two, brought about by the actions of nature and their reactions in response to it.

I like the notion that our setting in New Zealand has a strong connection to our physical geography. Whether you were a writer in the 1920s or a flash fiction writer in the present, our physical space here in Aotearoa is extremely enduring and makes it easier for the plots and characters to write themselves into the stories.

 

***

Read Stephen’s story and more in our current issue: Issue 11.

Writing Aotearoa

What makes a New Zealand Story, well, feel like a New Zealand Story

“What makes a New Zealand Story, well, feel like a New Zealand Story. Is it setting or style, character or theme? Or something else entirely?” 

This is the question we put to a few of our Issue 11 authors to mull over. First up with her take on this is R.L  Nash. Her story ‘The Porcelain Cat of Bordertown’ is set in Australia, but retains its Kiwi flavour through her New Zealand character, a contractor working long stints away from home. R.L is a Dunedin writer. Her short stories featured in Takahē magazine while she was studying speech and language therapy. She has a novel manuscript looking for a home and is drafting another.  In between bouts of writing, she’s kept busy mothering, working in unglamorous admin, and sewing wonky seams.

Writing Aotearoa

Quite the puzzle and since people have been telling stories in Aotearoa New Zealand in a mixture of ways and forms for a very long time, to attempt an answer I must first narrow my focus. So, in an optimistic bid to keep this meaty topic simple, my context is written NZ stories that are contemporary fiction in English for adults. But I am not good at riddles and my list of ‘to-be-reads’ is always growing. Clearly, I would need advice.

 

 

I started with a quick informal survey of friends, librarians and other random people but after a few strange looks it all played out like some sort of NZ Lit Housie: Have you got: “Isolation”…“Postcolonialism”…“Location”…“Jandals!…“Space – but not as in, like, astronauts” and then: “I have not read one.” Ouch – unhelpful but not untypical.

Well, lesson learnt, I would ask a prolific reader. I’d ask my Mum. I’d be general. I’d ask about the vibe.

“Depressing”, she said

“Charming,” I replied.

“No, not that.”

Bingo, the ever present darkness in all our bright southern light chestnut. Except I read a lot of genre novels written by NZ authors which I’ve enjoyed too much to fully embrace that theory. Then again, there’s an abundance of crime writing and literary fiction from these shores – there’s bound to be stylistic similarities and uniting biting themes beyond the potential mention of custard squares. However, as there are observers and courses a-plenty attempting to sum that up and track social commentary, and since it deserves research, foot-notes and name-checking of people described as eminent, I’ll leave that one alone.

 

 

Location was mentioned (and more than three times) in my survey and it is tempting to say setting is the main marker of a NZ story. It’s a definite contender and can be as broad as our landscapes. Scenic drive scenery, small town dairies, the Auckland CBD at 3am, the way up Bealey Spur, forgotten suburbs – all of that and more. But then does it have to be set in NZ? Survey says: Yes. I’m not so sure.

I identify with the travelling New Zealander and he/she crops up a lot when I write – to the point I’m wondering if it’s high time I confiscated my characters’ passports and made them stay put for a change. Perhaps having a Kiwi abroad character is almost cheating? The nationality they take for granted is suddenly overt, you’ve isolated them and they will think of home, it’s inevitable. My characters are always looking back, one way or another.

But I wonder, does a writer sit down at their desk/kitchen table, crack their knuckles and announce to the curtains/fruit bowl: “And today, I shall write a Neuw Zearlaund story”. I hope not, because I believe whether something feels like a NZ story has far more to do with the reader than the writer, and trying to define what makes a NZ story feel like one is like trying to define a New Zealander. What feels like an authentic NZ story to me might not resonate at all for someone else. Aotearoa New Zealand is a complex, layered nation and our perspectives and stories reflect this. No one reads the same story the same. Luckily, I’m not aware of any rules – if a story feels like a New Zealand one to you then, for you, that’s exactly what it is.

For me, realistic dialogue helps a lot but it really comes down to that moment when I think: I know people like that, or of people like that. I work with them, they’re my whānau, my neighbours. This could be happening/have happened across town or along State Highway 1. When I feel a connection to a place or a piece of history – a flash of recognition of something shared. That’s about now or that’s about here. It’s taken more planning, less whim, but since my resolution to read more New Zealand writers, the novelty hasn’t worn off – whether it’s observations from a new immigrant or someone with history in this soil, from the perspective of two friends struggling to run a Northland café or a pensioner doing the groceries in Timaru, I appreciate these stories more because there’s some little stitch linking them all together, though I’m not entirely sure why.

 

Detail from a dress by Jill Bowie, made from broken CD cases. The dress won the recycled Category in the 2016 Hokonui Fashion Design Awards. Image used with permission of Jill Bowie.

Another question to end with, but an important one I think – if something is thought to be a New Zealand story does that then narrow its appeal? Should we even care if it does? Well this at least I have a firm answer for – No, because you can only ever be yourself, even when you’re trying to tell somebody else’s story. You can never forget where you come from.

**

Read ‘The Porcelain Cat of Bordertown’ and more in our current issue.  Want to become a Headland alum? Submit your work for consideration in Issue 12 by February 9. Check out our guidelines for more information.

 

 

Announcing our Headland Prize Winners for 2017

We’re thrilled to announce our 2017 Headland prize winners! Our hearty congratulations to:

Conrad Smyth, winner of the Headland Prize for Best Story 2017 ($500) for his utterly compelling story ‘147 Days and Counting’ about a recovering drug addict running the New York Marathon (Issue 11). Conrad told us “Headland is a fantastic publication for lovers of quality writing. It’s extremely gratifying to win the Headland Prize”.

Simon Middlemas, awarded the Frontier Prize for Best Story by a Previously Unpublished Author ($250) for his quietly stunning creative nonfiction piece, that touched us all: ‘Mi Mujer Maravilla’. (coincidentally also Issue 11). Simon said: “Being published for the first time was a great feeling. It was a very personal piece of writing, about my journey through IVF with my wife, and so I am pleased people related to it. Thanks to Headland for their support”.

 

To celebrate, Issue 11 is on sale for a limited time – read Conrad and Simon’s stories for the bargain price of US $2.99. Get it now, and find out more about our prize winners here.

It was a tough choice with 35 high quality stories published in Issues 8-11 this year, and so many amazing previously unpublished writers submitting.

Thank to you all who have submitted, published and read with us this year! We couldn’t do this without you and we love our Headland community.

When The Rain Set In: Rudolph In Conversation With Herself

Issue 11 Extras

Another Issue, another round of bonus content. If you’ve already purchased our latest offering you’ll have spotted the story, ‘Maelstrom’ by Stephen Coates. If you’ve read it, you’ll know why we chose it. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. As Amanda, one of our Headlanders, said “the more I read it, the more I loved it”. And if you haven’t got Issue 11 yet, get to it.

Allan Drew, Headlander and Headland alumnus, chatted to Stephen about his story and Stephen has produced this fascinating coda to his story, a conversation by one of his characters with herself. We get a peek into the mind of Rudolph. Something Extra, if you will.

Stephen Coates comes from Christchurch but is currently living in Japan. He has had a few (very few, OK, three) stories published in Landfall and Takahe.

 

Stephen Coates, author, ‘Maelstrom’ in Issue 11

When The Rain Set In: Rudolph In Conversation With Herself

Are we going to light the candle tonight?

Shrug.

No?

I’m not bothered. It’s not the same, is it?

I guess. So, good day?

No. Yeah. Sort of. Same old.

Snort.

Jeez, tell me how you really feel.

Shut your face. Anyway, you were there.

Silence.

I’m going to light the candle.

Suit yourself.

But you’ve got to promise, no Elton John.

As if.

Scritch of a match, brief flare in the darkness, pale flame wavering in the draught.

Actually, I thought it was fun.

Disbelieving pause.

You? You never think anything’s fun.

That’s not true.

You haven’t had fun since.

Since?

Since.

Since when? Go on, say it.

Bugger. All right then, since this afternoon.

Told you so.

Rustle of plastic, as of a packet of biscuits. Or chocolate. Honey-roasted peanuts. Dried banana.

We had a conversation.

Yeah, I guess we did.

Almost a conversation.

With a senile old man and a drunk guy.

So?

Though he did give us beer.

See? That counts.

I wouldn’t get carried away, though.

What do you mean?

I bet tomorrow will be crap again.

Sigh. And another sigh. Click of bottle against glass. Or perhaps not.

You’re probably right.

I usually am.

You asked for it.

What?

Here it comes. I can feel it.

No, you promised.

And it seems to me.

Shut.

That you lived your life.

Up.

Like a candle in the wind.

Giggle.

 

(235 words)

 

***

Read Stephen’s story ‘Maelstrom’ in Issue 11.

 

Extras: ‘The Caretaker’ with Sally Christie

Extras: ‘The Caretaker’ with Sally Christie

Every issue we take a closer look at a story or author – providing you with something extra. Extra insight. Extra content.  For Issue 10 we zoom in on Sally Christie’s story ‘The Caretaker’. All of our editorial team agreed that Sally’s story achieves something that makes it difficult to forget. We asked her to elaborate (spoiler-free) on some of the characteristics that make her story the spine-tingler it is.

About Sally Christie: Sally is a graduate of the Advanced Fiction Writing course at The Creative Hub. She has written an as yet unpublished novel and some short stories.  She has also written for online blogs.  She is crossing off countries on her travelling bucket list.  She can be found living in Auckland for now, gathering steam for the next adventure.

 

 

Headland: Your caretaker, Alicia, is a bit of a voyeur. She seems most comfortable controlling her surroundings, and those of others, and participating from a distance. Can you tell us a bit more about her? How did she end up on the outside looking in?

Sally: Alicia definitely is more comfortable from a distance. She’s retreated from the society that bullied and belittled her. She feels she doesn’t fit in. She wants to protect herself from hurt. But it’s impossible to live a pain free life. Part of life is to deal with pain and inconvenient intrusion. The point of difference for Alicia is that she’s a curious creature, so this is her compromise. I’ll be in the background, watching, living through people rather than with them. But that comes at a price. Loneliness. Isolation. Distorted thinking.

 

Headland: “But what you can’t have you can live through others”. There seems to be a kind of longing in Alicia, she almost wants to be Millie. Is she a little bit in love with Millie too do you think? Or at least in love with the idea of being Millie?

Sally: Alicia thinks because she’s not perfect she cannot have a nice life like Millie’s. So why bother? She sees people are jealous of Millie, and that makes her protective. Underneath the perfect princess persona, Millie is just as lonely as Alicia, and Alicia notices that too. She wants Millie to have the perfect life. Yet when the perfect life threatens to unravel, so does Alicia. She can’t handle reality. She is obsessed with keeping the illusion alive I think.

 

Headland: We see the guests at the bach, and Adam and Millie, through Alicia’s eyes. It is fascinating to see a relationship play out from a third party’s limited perspective. Even more so with an unreliable narrator. Did you set out to create one? How is Alicia like other unreliable narrators in literature?

Sally: I didn’t think about Alicia being an unreliable narrator because she certainly doesn’t think she is. This is her truth, the world how she sees it. I find it easy to absorb yourself into a character that way, because you aren’t presenting fact. You’re presenting cognitive dissonance. I do love how unreliable narrators see the world so differently. It’s fascinating looking at what, how, and why people think what they do. Especially if they are odd like Alicia. You can really dig into them, find out what makes them tick, what happened to make them that way. On some level, we are all unreliable. In Alicia’s case, she takes it a step further.

 

HeadlandYou build great tension in your story, and the hairs on the back of the neck seem to gradually stand up until you aren’t entirely sure how you feel about the situation as it progresses. Is this your first time writing a story like this? How did you layer unease in your story?

Sally: I wanted to build it in, step by step with a slow sense of unease, a creepy sense that something’s not quite right here. So thank you for saying that. It’s hard to know if you get the balance right. If it’s too subtle or not. That’s where my writing group and other peers are great. They let you know what’s working. You have a story about a disintegrating marriage, people getting older, their dreams and hopes fading into ordinariness and dishonesty, and then you have a weird woman watching it unfold. I think most of my stories have deeply flawed or quirky characters. I seem drawn to imperfection in people. In that sense, it’s not my first time writing a story about those sorts of people, but it is my first time writing a thriller.

 

 

Headland: When you finish the story (and manage to breathe again) you think about the whole story in an entirely different way, especially the beginning, and how Alicia ends up living alone in the bush at the lake in the first place. Are we as readers mistaken here or are there hidden clues? Without giving anything away, can you tell us about the foreshadowing in your story?

Sally: Alicia couldn’t wait to return to the bush again, to be ‘enclosed once more in her branches’. She hated being ‘pushed out into that life beyond the deck.’ She did what she had to do to survive. Keep your head down, take a job, pay the bills, keep to yourself, bide your time. She doesn’t feel comfortable out there in the world. To some extent, she endured life until she could disappear again. When her parents died, she saw a chance to do that. She’s not materialistic, happy to live in a shed. But she fears disillusionment and to some extent, people. She doesn’t like being seen – although in the end she wanted Millie to see her. To know she was there. She got drawn into Millie’s story, obsessed by it, because she hadn’t led a life of her own. She’d rather take care of other’s lives, by any means necessary.

 

HeadlandIs there anything else you’d like to share about your story?

Sally: Yes. The owls tell us a lot about Alicia. They are also my favourite birds. If Alicia can’t live happily after, she wants everyone else to. It was great to slip into her mind, figure her out. She can’t handle life on life’s terms, that’s for sure. What else is she capable of? Who knows …

Intrigued? Read Sally’s story in Issue 10, available now.

So you think you have writer’s block? Think again.

Writing through it

We’re continuing our series looking at writing through creative challenges. We recently featured ‘Drawing Blood From Stone’ by Kate Joy Tobin.

This round we have some thoughts from Jenna Heller, author of ‘For The Love of Andrew Mehrtens’ in Issue 10: Jenna, originally from the US, now lives within walking distance of a swimming beach in Christchurch, New Zealand, with her partner and their two teens. Her writing has been published in various journals including Popshot, Takahe, Poetry NZ,*82 Review and Flash Frontier.

So you think you have writer’s block? Think again.

No matter how real it feels or how debilitating it appears to be, I fully believe writer’s block is a complete illusion. A myth that has been handed down through the writing generations and perpetuated time and time again by people using that phrase to explain their lack of creative progress or output. As though writer’s block was a condition or illness like chicken pox or the flu, something you catch in a reasonably mysterious way and something that will eventually pass once it has run its course.

I don’t buy into that.

Author, Jenna Heller

Writer’s block is a trick that your mind plays to distract you from writing. It’s like a funhouse mirror that draws you in and makes you question what you know to be true, makes you think there’s a problem, gives you an excuse to not write when actually it’s just YOU getting in your own way. And the longer you look into that funhouse mirror, the less you’re able to see the truth.

Let me explain.

If you believe that your creativity is something that requires you to be in the mood, and that this mood is as fickle and unpredictable as the weather, that it comes and goes on a whim, then more than likely, you’ve experienced some form of creative wasteland and called it writer’s block.

The only time I ever experienced anything remotely like writers’ block is when I was in my early-twenties and full of unrealistic expectations. I sat down to write when I could afford the time away from my studies and other commitments and because I had no idea when the next block of time would materialise, I put all sorts of pressure on myself to perform: Write a story! Make that poem blush on the first draft! Pull beautiful phrases out of thin air and send characters spinning into snowstorms of events that require virtually no editing!

This type of thinking was so debilitating and my belief that my creativity would be unexpected and fleeting meant my writing was sporadic at best.

There’s a slightly different version of this experience that stems from being overly concerned with a grand outcome. It goes like this: You sit down to write and you think you’ve got something really good, something that might make you the next J K Rowling or Witi Ihimaera. You imagine life as a Writer with a capital ‘W’. A writer like Cormac McCarthy or Marie Howe. But you just don’t seem to be able to make any obvious progress.

You fiddle with a few words here and there and with each day the anxiety builds around your ability to actually write the story or the novel or the poem. Your mind begins to search for an explanation and suddenly it’s staring into the funhouse mirror: You tell yourself that you can’t do it, that you’re ideas appear to have dried up, that you aren’t sure what to write next, that you’ve got writer’s block.

You see how that works?

If, however, you approach your writing as a practice, a discipline, a craft to be worked at and developed. If you approach your writing as an end in itself, then writer’s block ceases to exist.

You simply show up day after day at roughly the same time in roughly the same place and you write. You don’t expect virtuosity. Instead, you write for your own pleasure and you keep showing up, trusting that the good ideas will come.

How long do you write for? Until.

So for me, writer’s block is a mindset and a mindset is something you can change. Here are a few ideas to help you shift a writer’s block mindset:

  • Think of your writing as something you do for you and only you. Remove any attachment to the potential outcome (that what you’re working on will be accepted by a publisher or that maybe this piece will make you the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen King).
  • Change the genre that you’re working in. If you typically write poetry, write a short story or vice versa. If you typically write romance, try your hand at science fiction. Working in another genre or even another medium like paint or clay can really reignite your creativity.
  • Write down your dreams – Maria Konnikova wrote about writer’s block for the New Yorker last year (2016) and in her essay, she writes about two researchers who both recommend dream-writing as an excellent way to help people breakthrough their experience of writer’s block. 
  • Experience something new. This could be as simple as going for a walk in a place you’ve never been before or it might require a bit more planning like taking a 6-week archery course. Putting yourself in a position where you’re forced to have a wholly new experience can rapidly trigger new ideas and renewed focus in your writing.  
  • And finally, if you find yourself sitting in front of a blank page, get up and do something that involves movement. This type of response is like hitting the hard reset button when your computer freezes. Go shoot some hoops. Get into the garden. Change the oil in your car. Do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen or a blank page. And do it for at least half-an-hour and return to the page to write. It’s impressive how well something simple like this works.

Read Jenna’s story and more in Issue 10: buy here.

 

Drawing Blood From Stone

Creatively Challenged?

Welcome to another blog series for a new issue!  For Issue 10 we’re looking at creativity and how to deal with a rut, writers’ block, slump. Whatever you want to call it, for there are many terms and forms of experience. First up we have Kate Joy Tobin sharing some wisdom for dealing with creative challenges.

Read Kate’s story ‘The Kind of Light You Drown In’ in Issue 10. Kate is a professional dressage rider and coach, Massey AgSci student, and writer on the internet, all of which are less fanciful than they sound. Because her jobs are all hobbies, she is confined to doing taxes for fun. She is based in the foothills of Wellington’s Rimutaka Ranges.

 

Drawing Blood From Stone

Sometimes I write like I’m bleeding out onto the page. Sometimes I could stare at the page – empty – all day long, and not put a single word onto it. Because I have better things to do than that, I’ve figured out a variety of ways to make writing happen for me when it really, really doesn’t want to. If you also have better things to do then you might find some of them useful for you.

Write your interests. If you enjoy the complexities of high fantasy, write about that. If you like to write something close to the heart or something that once happened to you, write about that. If you’re keen on world travel, write about that. If you’re a male literary professor contemplating an affair with a student, write about that, and you’ll probably earn an award for it.

Change what isn’t working. If something in particular is sticky, swap – I like to swap point of view, in particular, or skip sections to write later. I don’t like to blindly commit myself to works or ideas that aren’t flowing or that I don’t enjoy writing. One of the biggest issues for me is boxing myself into what I think I should be writing, so a focus of mine is approaching the problem as laterally as I can.

In the same way, linear isn’t always best. Even a short story can be broken down into smaller chunks. Start with the easy parts and then progress outwards from there until you’ve put the whole thing together. A story is a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, and it needs to be constructed as one.

Don’t commit yourself to the idea that writers need a perfectly quiet environment to work in. Find what works for you instead. I have the attention span of an excited golden retriever. Actually, that might be a little generous – and maybe unkind to the dog. I listen to music, I flick between writing and reading and Tumblr and Facebook and whatever else, and I’ve still written more than 200,000 words so far this year. Practice until you find the right method for you. If complete silence and stillness works, do that. If writing in between sending work emails and listening to Demi Lovato works, do that instead.

In terms of sensible medical advice that we can also apply to writer’s block, don’t run on a broken leg. If you are struggling, break writing down to its component parts. Write a line, and then a paragraph. Don’t set out to write a novel. The concept of rehab is as important for blocked writers as it is for anyone with a physical injury. Even though I’m a very bad poet I like to write poetry when I’m blocked because it’s a more compact package that can grow into something bigger.

Rest is useful if you’re burnt out. Procrastination is not. Don’t break yourself trying to get the words out, but don’t avoid a piece ‘until ____’ because ‘until ____’ will likely never come. Know your own limits and push them only where it’s helpful, and always remember the purpose of your work. If you’re writing for fun, for example, make sure the process is actually enjoyable. If you’re writing to improve, don’t lose heart when the first step shows minimal improvement. Practice makes perfect. If you’re writing to win a prize, stick to the literary-professor-student-affair storyline and you’re golden.

Perfectionism is a slow poison. Don’t let it wreck your writing – never edit as you write, never delete anything, and let ‘good enough’ be enough in the draft stage. Turning it into something better is what editing is for.

Don’t be afraid. Fear of criticism, of putting yourself bare into the world in the form of words, is another killer. Tell yourself you are writing first for yourself, because you are. Editing is also for making a story you wrote for you into something for other people.

Write anyway. Write like drawing blood from a stone. Write whatever word you want and build on it until you make something of that blank page.

Issue 10 is available now for your reading pleasure.

Extras: Jack’s List

Extras: Jack’s List

Each issue, we bring you an extra, something that gives you insight in to one of the stories. For Issue 9 Headlander Allan Drew chose Daniel T’s story ‘Sanctuary’ featuring Jack, a young music producer, navigating his industry and life Auckland, producing “beats and tracks for people”. Jack also loves classical music and jazz, and is a skilled pianist which adds something special to this story:

I like the feeling. Muscle memory. Nostalgia. Remembering how Chopin’s études feel on my fingers. I wonder what’s in the playing that captures me. What’s in the stave that makes it all worth it? There’s so much promise here. Can it counter what I see in Michael’s tripe? This feels like the beginning of something good. My teachers taught me about the promise and the marvel of an overture. This is mine.

Here Daniel’s character Jack talks about what he’s been listening to, and how he connects with the music.

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Neutral Milk Hotel – Naomi

Quintessential indie hipster tune. Play it for the first or last five minutes of any film about a geek or anything geeky and it totally fits. For some reason, whenever I hear this, I think about the books I read in my late teens. Bertrand Russell essays and the like.

Ekali & aywy – Contempt

Slick ambient tones and crisp clicks and hi-hats. I don’t mess around with music samples, I sort of have a rule about that sort of thing, but this Let Me Love You chop is sweet.

What So Not – Gemini EP

The tracks Gemini and Oddity are dangerous, man. These guys recorded a car revving, a jug of water being filled, and what I think was a putter sinking a ball. Dope sound design.

I used to only go into a booth to record sounds I didn’t have. Marbles clacking, paper rustling, the spraying sound from a cologne bottle, the sawing sound of a knife cutting a can. Now I’m in there on upright pianos or taking mics to record a grand piano in a hall.

Eminem – My 1st Single

The dude had diarrhoea noises in a song, man. It’s a throwaway track that he did for fun when he was probably high as hell. I heard this when I was young and getting into music and I wished I could make music without caring. And then I started to. Make music, I mean.

Chick Corea – Spain

A friend of mine is really into Chick and that old Return to Forever sound. Most times I see him with his sax he plays the riff from this song and takes me back to school uniforms and performance practice.

George Benson – Affirmation

My old man had this on wax and he played it to death so the version burned into my brain is a grainy one. The melody translates well to brass for those that don’t know. It’s the kind of track that transforms a place.

Sonny Rollins – St Thomas

I nearly broke my own code and sampled this song. Then I had dinner at a McDonald’s with a saxophonist. St Thomas has the same transformative property that Affirmation has. I’ve never been to the States, so this’ll sound stupid, but this song can make Queen Street feel like Frenchmen Street.

Miguel – …goingtohell

When we weren’t working in the studio this track was one that Link’s crew would play. The cover of the album this song is from inspired the art for Link’s mixtape. The influence is clear in the music video for Sharks.

Tyler, The Creator – Sandwitches

Tyler knows his mixes suck but he doesn’t care. He has bars. Back at school, when I wasn’t practising piano, I’d be with the boys and Tyler’s lyrics became a kind of chant. I’d play the chords and the boys would shout the words.

Cos I ain’t got no home meal to come to

So if you do I’m throwing fingers up screaming ‘fuck you!’

It’s a tricky thing making songs when you’re angry, because every subsequent song is like calming down. The tracks I made in my own come down periods were the ones that got me work with Gen and The Shells.

Kanye West – Spaceship

College Dropout touched a lot of people and this song stands out to me. Maybe because it’s a rap song in six-eight time. Probably because I used to work at a clothing store and I hated my boss.

ScHoolboy Q – Fuck L.A.

Probably one of the roughest voices in hip-hop and he’s representing gangsta rap. Link’s a massive fan and he wanted to show it with the ‘H’ in his mixtape title.

Future – Shit

This is the stencil Link drew himself with. It flows like fast deep breaths.

When you listen to a lot of trap type beats right in a row you start to notice how a lot of the sounds are compressed. The loud bits don’t change but the quiet bits are boosted. Which only means there aren’t sounds to go looking for in the back corners of the track.

Chief Keef – I Don’t Like

A popular banger. The running hi-hat gets the crowd going. People don’t want depth, don’t want volume from a hi-hat, so we compress it to hell. A hi-hat is clenched teeth. It’s the whirring of the anvil that’s about to bury Wile E. Coyote.

Flume – Skin LP

I think Harley’s a saxophonist. I know he’s classically trained. This whole album is amazing but the production in tracks like Lose It and Take a Chance really stood out to me. He engineered the best kicks and hi-hats, and the way those kicks cut through the synth is incredible. The dude sidechains reality with those kicks, man, it’s like a ship hitting waves when that drum bumps and the synth dips.

Albums like this are why I’m still making modern music with VSTs and sample packs. I’d be a straight Luddite if Flume and his ilk weren’t cooking.

Yuna – Unrequited Love

Since I’ve started making ‘my own’ music, I’ve had to put myself in the position of being the biter. The sampler. The copier. I played this song for Gen, my partner, and she felt like this was the perfect middle point of where our tastes met.

The percussion has a delay, the bass ebbs like fluid, and Yuna harmonises with herself. It’s a good style to model yourself after.

Marina and the Diamonds – Numb

Gen might not have Marina’s range but she tries. We sometimes lie down on the floor of the studio listening to tunes like this.

Beautiful work with the strings in this piece, though I would like to know if the pizzicato is real or a VST. Not that it matters. I mean, it matters to me, but that doesn’t really matter.

Frederic Chopin – Etude No.9 in F minor, Op.10

I might’ve given myself a bit too much credit when I tried to learn Scherzo. Shorter songs are more my speed. Those marathon pieces are difficult when you don’t have a skinny, sixty-year-old man, wearing a forest green sweater and brogues, telling you what to do.

 

I wasn’t planning on this list being a trip but I guess it turned into one. From country flannel jackets, to ‘where-ya-at’ bandanas, to plain coloured thousand dollar shirts, back to ‘where-ya-at’ bandanas, and then turbans and liquid pen hearts on cheeks.

Anyway, that’s me. That’s what’s in my head.

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About Daniel: He is 22 years old and, having grown up in Auckland, the city often tends to be the setting if not the focus of his writing.

Read his story and more in Issue 9 of Headland.

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