October 10, 2017

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I’ve loaded up on new music recently and one I’ve really been enjoying is Newton Faulkner’s latest album, Hit The Ground Running. His albums can be a bit hit and miss, but this one is a real winner. The first couple of tracks are upbeat and fun, and then it dips into some almost funk and blues songs that really work for me. This is one of the upbeat ones, entitled: Smoked Ice Cream.

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Current chain of writing days: 2

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For the past two weeks the Lady Holly have been making our way across Malaysian Borneo. It is a hot and humid place thanks to it’s proximity to the equator, full of jungle, quick and heavy tropical rain, noodles, and unfortunately quite a lot of palm plantations.

Borneo, for any who don’t know, is a large island surrounded on four sides by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the lower half of Vietnam — and is made up of three countries; Malaysia Borneo, Indonesian Borneo, and the very small nation of Brunei.

My first introduction to Borneo came when during a flight to Europe last year we stopped over in Brunei and I had no idea where we were. Some quick research dispelled my ignorance, I learnt some basic facts about Borneo (those listed above), and then forgot all about it as we were already on one adventure and weren’t needing to plan our next one just yet.

That was until months later, when attending a friends book launch, the Lady Holly picked up a lonely planet on Borneo. She flicked through, showing me one amazing photo after another, and by the time she had made it to the back cover we were in agreeance that, yeah, we were going to go there.

Holly did a bunch of research and put together an itinerary of one amazing activity after another. I did nothing, maybe I cooked, either way, she rocks and planned us a killer trip. We booked it all in and then had to trudge through a half year wait until we could finally get on that plane and dive into the photos that had won us over all those months ago.

Now, I could go through out whole trip and tell you each incredible thing we did one after another, but I have the feeling that that would be more fun for me than for you, so, in short: We visited humid rainforests dripping with wildlife, peeled leeches from our ankles while trying not to freak out, floated down kinabatangan river spotting monkeys and birds, drank beer while watching the jungle soak itself with rain, scuba dived and snorkeled through island reefs brimming with fish and sea turtles, and ate, and bused, and sweated, and watched movies, and waited in airports, and read books, and discovered something new every day. It was magic.

Because that’s what travelling does, it exposes you to the new, and when that happens you can’t help but learn things.

So, I thought I’d finish by jotting down the… 

Things I Learned in Borneo:

  1. I’m fairly terrible at keeping up my writing while on holiday. I started out strong, but then got quite sick, then had activity filled days, and in the end I decided to just lean into it. I don’t think it’s the worse thing. While I like having a big number for my consecutive days of writing, some time off can be beneficial, and has left me extra keen to jump back in.
  2. Something will always go wrong. This is my mantra for any time I travel. If you’re expecting to travel and have everything go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s too many factors involved, too many ways something can and will go wrong. By acknowledging this fact it means that when it does you can simply say, ‘I knew this would happen,’ and get on with it, rather than get disappointed. Works for life in general too, but that’s another blog. For this trip, I got sick. I actually had gastro the day before we left, then contracted a flu two days in. It was a bad one, I can’t remember the last time I felt so rotten. I could barely get out of bed, was sweating and delusional, and I couldn’t even hold onto a thought during the worst of it. When it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I took some antibiotics and quickly started improving. It’s the first time to my knowledge that I’ve taken antibiotics and wow, they’re awesome. I got out of bed and back on track. Not to say it wasn’t upsetting but in the long run it was a small setback to a great trip.
  3. Fortune may favour the bold but it also favours the prepared. E.g. the antibiotics I took we had on hand because we’d seen a travel doctor before going. While things will go wrong, being prepared minimises the effect. 
  4. Noodles are literally good for any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  5. Plan a holiday around seeing wildlife and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. That’s a more personal one. Nature and wildlife may not be for everyone, but for me it meant I always had something beautiful and interesting to look at and photograph, as well as providing us with that recharge that only nature can provide and that I miss by living in a city. It’s also cost effective.
  6. No matter how hard I try I am destined to always break a pair of sunglasses while on holiday. Always. Sometimes multiple times.
  7. I should read more. While I didn’t write as much as I thought I would I did read a bunch. How much? Five and a half novels in two weeks, my friends. It was bliss. By allowing myself permission to disconnect from my phone, as well as having plenty of down time, it meant I could commit to reading as much as I usually want to, and was so much more beneficial than scrolling through apps on my phone like I usually would. One of the books was Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he says aspiring writers need to do two things; write a lot and read a lot. He’s not wrong, and I’m hoping to bring back this renewed passion into my usual routine.
  8. My beard is quite good at protecting my face from sunburn; my thinning hairline, not so much. You can read that one any way you like, but I choose to see it as; things always even out.
  9. You should go visit Borneo. Honestly, there was so much to see and do, the people were friendly and relaxed, never pushy, and getting around wasn’t a problem. It’s a wonderful part of the world and one we’re hoping to get back to one day.
  10. Holly’s the best. You should get yourself a Holly.

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It’s good to be back.

Talk soon

Damian

February 20, 2017

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Music today is from Will Varley. I oddly discovered his music on an ‘Easy Listening’ inflight radio station while travelling 40,000 feet up on the way to England last year. Which is appropriate seeing as he’s English. But mostly, who knew plane radio would actually have a great undiscovered gem? This one, entitled ‘This House’ is one of my favourites.

It’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, possibly my longest absence since I started writing this blog. This is due to life being pretty crazy. I mean, life’s always crazy, but lately it’s been dialed up a few notches and not necessarily in a good way. It’s been busy, that’s the main issue, and busy with the things I’m not passionate about. My non-writing-pay-the-bills work is where most of this has taken place. A number of factors have aligned to make it so my eight hours each day in the confines of the laboratory/office are packed full of things to do to the point that I’m rushing through lunch and skipping my usual coffee break, and as I write this I’m thinking these are first world problems. Which they are, but problems are still problems and these are mine.

The main issue here is time. It used to be that I could slip in the occasional writing break at work with no one the wiser but now that’s been taken away which makes me increasingly more tired at the end of each day, giving me less energy to write even when I’m not at work. The thing is I also don’t want to burn myself out. I like to think I’m pretty disciplined. I get up at 5:30 most mornings, go for a six kilometer run, write for half an hour, and ride to work. I then work, ride an hour home, get whatever little tasks I can get done before making dinner, then it’s usually an episode of tv with dinner, read for a bit, and bed. Other nights can also involve socialising, usually with my writing mates, or with others I haven’t seen in forever because life gets in the way; which is great but ultimately all bills come due and so the extra hours I use those nights get subtracted from the following day. Weekends at the moment are likewise full. If I try to plan a catch up with someone at the moment I’m currently looking four to five weeks in advance. Not a lot of time left over to get thick slabs of writing done. And like I said, I don’t want to burn out either.

I was telling some friends of mine, Nice Guy Sean and his lovely girlfriend the Angel Belinda, about this schedule of mine last Friday night. I was at their housewarming and it was around twelve thirty at night (or in the morning depending on how you look at it) and I had gone over there after picnicking/watching a musician perform in the Melbourne zoo grounds with the Lady Holly and her friends as part of their zoo twilights line up. After telling Sean and Belinda about my routine Belinda asked ‘But, how are you here?’ It was a good question. As I was driving home later thinking about the conversation I realised that if I simply stayed awake for four more hours I would have been up for a full twenty four. She went on to ask how I kept going doing all of that every day? And didn’t I get tired? I told her I did, but that I really want to do all those things (the writing and exercise, not so much the work), so that’s what it takes.

It may come off like I’m bragging here but to be honest I’m not sure it’s really something to be proud of. If anything it’s a bit of a family flaw. I’ve seen my Dad go weeks with only five hours sleep a night and then wonder why he gets sick. I’ve seen my sister manage a schedule far fuller than the one I’ve just described until she inevitably crashes, hard. And I saw it in myself when I was driving home and realised I’d almost been up for twenty four hours but hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out.

Work/life balance is an ongoing challenge for all of us to manage and I think doubly so for people pursuing creative careers. There’s always more that can be done and the ability to do the work is with you all the time. I once read a description of choosing to be a writer as assigning yourself homework, forever. I think the important thing here to note is that since the writer is their own disciplinarian and task master they must also be their own manager of time; which means they have to take care to set aside large periods of time for recreation. I’m learning that even if you like to write, it’s still work, and shouldn’t be included in your recreation time.

For myself, I’m now actively looking for a part time position. Preferably one where I can do the money earning for half my work week and writing for the other half. I’m blessed enough to be in a situation where this is possible, and hopefully it should leave me with my evenings and weekends set aside to do nothing. Or everything. Even more writing if I really want to. It doesn’t really matter as long as I’m listening to my body and ensuring I give it what it needs, whatever that may be.

For now that’s to eat some dinner, give my rabbit a pat on the head, and watch some tv with the woman I love.

I suggest you do the same (although perhaps not with my rabbit and woman)

Talk soon

Damian

January 2, 2017

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I thought to mix things up this year I’ll add a song that I’m currently enjoying to the start of every blog that you can listen to as you read, if you’re so inclined.

First up we have a Melbourne band called Woodlock whose music is all so excellent I had trouble choosing a single song, nevertheless I did because I’m a warrior.

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I feel conflicted over new years, the idea of resolutions in particular. I’m a firm believer that if you want to change something about your life you can do so on any day, any hour, any minute – not specifically at the end of December 31st – and that delaying until the end of the year is just that, a delay and an unnecessary one. However, I also believe that it’s easy to forget about making changes. It can be very easy to continue life without evaluation and therefore never even think about any changes you might want to make, let alone start doing anything about them. It’s for this reason that I like new years and it’s resolutions because it provides us all that opportunity.

For myself my hopes for the new year are much the same as they have been in recent years; write more, stay healthy, and be good to the ones I love. This blog is a way to ensure I keep up the first, not only because to publish it I need to write but also because I know there are readers who will continue to expect new posts and badger me if they aren’t forthcoming; these people are my parents – bless them. I also have a second system though to ensure I keep writing. It comes from some advice I saw floating around the internet earlier this year that originated from Jerry Seinfeld. You can read the original article here but the setup of it is that when a young comic was learning the ropes he had an opportunity to talk to Seinfeld and asked him if he had any advice. Here’s what he said, and I’ll simply quote the article here:

“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it. He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”

You can guess what I’ve done. One of the benefits to working in lab is that you use a lot of equipment. This equipment needs to come from somewhere and so you then get salesmen and women coming to the lab to buy you coffee and talk about their products. These salesmen and women will also bring knick knacks and doodads with their company’s logo and products printed on them. At this time of the year those doodads include giant wall calendars like the one detailed above. So, I have placed said calendar on a wall in my study and I plan to start crossing days off one by one, starting today. Admittedly, I was going to start yesterday but after a lazy morning at our friends house and then driving a very hungover Lady Holly and I the two hours back home only to realise I hadn’t come off as easy as I thought from the night before I decided to leave it until today. Starting a new year’s resolution on the first is cliche anyway, although I guess breaking a resolution on the first is equally as cliche…either way I now know breaking a resolution straight way certainly takes a lot of pressure off of it.

That’s my plan for the year, I don’t expect that I won’t break the chain at some point but I do expect to get some mighty good runs in.

Remember: The trick is to get a little better everyday.

Talk soon

Damian

December 1, 2016

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November has come to a close and with it NaNoWriMoers around the world stop their fingers over their keyboards and breath a sigh. It’s been twenty days since I last wrote a blog and in that time I turned thirty, had a week of celebrations with my brother, and completed NaNoWriMo.

My birthday was predictably fun, full of love, and over in a flash. The lead up to the event, especially a landmark one such as this that completes not just another year but another decade, was slow but unstoppable. My excitement rose by the slightest margin incrementally with each passing day and was doubled not only by the thought of birthday fun but also by once again being visited by Brother Jonathan. It’s weird and more than a little sad that I now get “visited” by my brother who since birth, and arguably even before that being twins and all, has been relatively accessible to me pretty much whenever I wanted. However, he now lives in London and half, if not more, of his life also resides in Austria. The day was over quickly being full of activities, friends, and family; and even Jonathan’s trip went by all too fast as he really only had five full days in the country. We made the most of them. Jonathan is now back ensconced in his life on the other side of the globe and unfortunately, life being what it is, it’s unlikely that we’ll see each other until we’re both thirty one.

On to NaNoWriMo. It’s been a hell of a ride. I detailed some of my thoughts on the experience in that last post and so will attempt to avoid repeating myself and instead focus on the things I noticed in the second half of the challenge. Firstly, that it’s not the worst idea to write myself into a corner. The first twenty to twenty five thousand words I wrote were largely exploratory and world building which meant that the actual plot got fairly neglected. I was setting things up but not really pushing them forward as I was too caught up telling myself the ins and outs of my world and characters; a fairly easy thing to do since I had done minimal outlining before the month and had a word count to reach each day. Aware of this I purposely sought to push the plot forward after reaching the halfway mark of the fifty thousand word deadline. The only problem was I didn’t really know where my plot was going. I had a hazy idea of an ending somewhere in the future but all the bits inbetween, and all the mysteries I had been setting up, needed answers and I didn’t have them. I pushed on regardless until I wrote myself as far into a corner as possible, literally to the point where one character was asking another character for an explanation that I didn’t have. I found out that at that point something miraculous happens. I wrote something down. The character responded with an idea that came from some desperate and last minute part of my brain and I then built upon that. Even more amazing, the idea wasn’t half bad. This happened a number of more times as the days of November passed by and always with the same result. I’d hit a wall, brain would kick in with an answer from nowhere, and I was off and running again. It was really exciting because while I knew that I would scrap most of the words I was writing at the end of the month, as it was fairly terrible writing, I wouldn’t scrap the ideas. With each new gem of an idea I was once step closer to a second draft that actually had some substance.

I hit the end word target, fifty thousand words, two days before my birthday. In the week leading up to my birthday, with these fresh ideas popping up, I got into a groove and my daily word count jumped from around two and a half thousand per day to around five thousand, which meant I was barrelling towards that fifty thousand goal even faster than I thought I would. I had a plan to slow down and purposely write that fifty thousandth word on the day I turned thirty, November 20th. Except on the 18th I got another fresh idea and decided to write it out, thinking I would still be a few hundred words away from the target. When I was done I checked the word count and found that I had instead passed the illustrious goal. It was odd. I had stumbled across the finish line almost by accident, without noticing, and without any fanfare. After the shock passed elation kicked in and I was too happy to care that I had ruined my own plan. It turned out to be a blessing because rather than get more writing done in my week off with Jonathan I got less, almost none to be exact. This was due to the combination of being blessedly busy as well as getting sick, which was undoubtedly the worst present I got this year. I finally rallied again after a few days of rest and I finished out the month yesterday with somewhere just over sixty one thousand words and a self filled out certificate proclaiming I was a winner of NaNoWriMo.

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The story isn’t finished but I realised pretty early on that it wouldn’t be by the end of the month. That’s okay, it was getting to the point where I had actually found my story and so all the early muddling about was distracting me from writing good stuff for the finish. My plan is to leave it for the next month then starting January 1st reread what I’ve written and scrap it for parts. I’ll take all the good story points, characters, and world elements that I liked and use them to start a detailed outline for draft two; ditching all the other superfluous stuff. Once that’s done and I have a pretty good idea of the whole arc of my story then my plan is to open a fresh document and start writing again from page one.

I was planning on including in this blog all the things I’ve learnt from NaNoWriMo but seeing how I’ve gone on a bit already I might save that for tomorrow. Instead I’ll leave you with this.

http://community.sparknotes.com/2016/11/30/did-nanowrimo-slay-you-read-this

It’s an very well written article by Sara Benincasa on the overall point of completing NaNoWriMo, and how all writers out there should be proud even if NaNoWriMo got the best of them.

For now me and my writing buddies, Sean, Gabe, Tom, and Alyce, who also successfully slayed NaNoWriMo this month and also supported, encouraged, and provided competition for me, are going to go get drunk.

Remember, there’s nothing new in this world, which means anything you create has been done before. Rejoice in this fact because it means there are others like you out there.

Talk soon

Damian