A (writing) contract with myself

Six weeks ago I enlisted the help of a dear friend and fellow writer, Jen, to hold me to the terms of a contract. I drew the contract up myself – no, I am not suddenly a lawyer – so that I would be accountable for working as a writer. I got this idea from Aimee Bender’s article in Oprah, Why the Best Way to Get Creative Is to Make Some Rules, which  you should really check out if you are a writer, or you want to hold yourself to any sort of disciplined pursuit. Around the same time, I also came across this article in Redbook by Sandy M. Fernandez, Join the Accountability Club.

Both articles give great advice:

  • Set a clear, attainable goal
  • Tell others about it
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for attaining your goal
  • Check in regularly
  • Attain goal


So, with these two great minds in mind I created my writing contract, phase one of which concludes today. It goes a little something like this:

Dates: September 17th to October 31st 2012 (1 ½ months)


  • Write every day for minimum of one hour
  • Can include: Book proposal; Book revision/new content; Blog post
  • Permitted: 5 ‘vacation’ days
  • Aim for 12 hours per week
  • Check in with Jen every day via text message: “Done” = completed at least one hour; “Vacation” = took the day off
  • Jen replies “Check” for each message

I am happy to report that I took only 3 vacation days, two of which were while I was actually on vacation in Napa Valley, and the last one was on the day I hosted a dinner party for 25 people.

I am also happy to report that I aimed for an hour a day, but averaged 2.5!

I am further happy to report that writing is now something I now do every day, because I am not only accountable to Jen, but more importantly to myself. As a result, I have completed a total overhaul and re-draft of part one of my novel. I started with a travel (auto)biography and now I have a work of fiction. In home renovation terms, I tore done all the internal walls until I was left with just the foundation and some structural support and completely rebuilt, refurbished and redecorated it.

I am additionally happy to report that I am close to having a dynamic, well-crafted book proposal completed. This will then go out to agents and publishers.

I am lastly happy to report that Jen and her hubby Nate welcomed their baby daughter, Ellie, nearly a week ago. And brilliant as she is, Jen was still my accountability bud while in labor and just after Ellie’s birth – a her own insistence.

Many, many thanks to Jen and to the other writers I  have in my life for your unwavering support and encouragement. Thank you to my non-writer friends and family members who have liked my Facebook updates on the progress, and support my endeavor to finish this novel. And thank you to Ben and Lucy for allowing me to lock myself away for hours at a time.

Nearly there…

We need another song, Helen Reddy

When I was a young woman of 22 I returned to Australia from the United States. Not long after my return I was sat down by the Bishop of my church, the Mormon church, and asked why I wasn’t married yet.

The conversation went something like this:

Bishop: I am concerned that you are not yet married or engaged, and that you haven’t as an alternative applied to go on a mission.

Me: I don’t want to go on a mission.

Bishop: Why not? You are over 21, and you’ve no imminent plans to get married. Do you?

Me: No, I don’t. Actually, I am going to university. I start in February.

Bishop: Why do you want to go to university?

Me: To get a degree, so I can build a career and look after myself.

Bishop: But you don’t need to have a career. Your greatest calling is to be a wife and a mother. If you are not seriously considering going on a mission, I would like you to think more seriously about marriage. I know that you’re dating (he shall remain nameless) and he is a good man, just returned from his mission. He would make a great husband and father.

I was dumb-founded. I excused myself from the meeting and never went back to church again.

I converted to Mormonism after my mother did, when I was nine years old. At the age of 21 I attended BYU in Utah for one semester. There I dated two guys, both of whom proposed after the third date. I declined; I was only 21.

BYU was rather expensive and it was a blessing in disguise when I was essentially forced to leave the U.S. and return to Australia to complete my education there. It was also a blessing in disguise that my Bishop called me into his office that day, as it forced me to play a hand I knew I needed to play. I left the church, and I have not looked back. It was the first time I took a stand against that kind of limited thinking.

To be clear, I have nothing against Mormons or people of any faith for that matter. I do, however, take issue with institutionalized misogyny or anything that remotely resembles it. I also have nothing against motherhood or marriage for that matter, but neither were things that I wanted at the age of 22; I wanted to go to university.

A few weeks ago, along with many of my Australian friends, I ranted about the appallingly disrespectful behavior directed at Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Under the guise of disagreeing with her policies, she has been subjected to systematic and hateful behavior. It culminated in her asking for the resignation of Tony Abbot, leader of the opposition and a man guilty of perpetuating and allowing this behavior by members of his own party. He declined to resign, not surprisingly, but I loudly applauded that she called him out for his hypocrisy when he claimed to be offended by another politician’s behavior.

This past week in the United States, yet another Republican politician has made a highly offensive gaff when addressing the topic of ‘rape and pregnancy’. The list of blatantly stupid and offensive comments about this one topic is horrifyingly long, and even the President is taking the time to address them and labeling them as ridiculous. Tina Fey, respected comedian/actress/writer and all-around super smart woman, took these men to task this past week during an appearance at the Center for Reproductive Rights Inaugural Gala. Great work, Tina.

One of the greatest advocates for controlling reproductive rights for women is Paul Ryan, the Vice-Presidential nominee. He (strongly) supports a bill that would abolish the right to in vitro fertilization. To be clear, if this bill – or any bill like it – is ever passed, in vitro would be illegal. The same bill would require a rape victim who becomes pregnant from the rape to deliver the baby, rather than opt for an abortion.

My thoughts on reproductive rights, let alone other women’s issues, such as economic and professional equality, can be explained by the following flow chart.

‘nough said.

Behind Closed Doors

I was reading an article about marriage in a women’s magazine about a decade ago and there was a quote from Angela Lansbury – yes, that one, the “Murder She Wrote” lady. She said that the secret to a long and happy marriage was a closed bathroom door and that she never let her husband see her put her pantyhose on. Of all the quotes about marriage I have heard over the years, this is the one that sticks with me. What it says to me is, ‘maintain a little mystery, even with the person who knows you better than anyone else.’

I consider this great advice.

Ben is away at the moment for work reasons, so at home it is just me and Lucy, the cat. When Ben is away the bathroom door is typically open when I am, ahem, using the bathroom (as the Americans like to euphemize). Lucy thinks this is grand and seems to think that the times when I am, ahem, using the bathroom, are good moments for her to seek out attention and be told how pretty she is.

When Ben is here, we consider this activity strictly a closed-door activity.  I know that there are couples out there who will disagree, but there are just some things that should remain a mystery. I have slipped a couple of times on the whole pantyhose thing, but every time I am putting on tights, or leggings, or pantyhose and Ben is home, I think of Angela Lansbury and try to do it behind closed doors.

10 Question Meme

I was looking back over some previous blog posts and I came across this Stolen Meme, which I first posted in March 2008. I had forgotten about the two confessions at the beginning, but in reading them I feel warm affection for my former self. Whenever we watch the Inside the Actor’s Studio, I will ask Ben to give his answers to the 10 questions at the end, and then – of course – I will give him my answers (whether he wants to know or not).

They are quick, so here they are:

  1. What is your favorite word?     bridge
  2. What is your least favorite word?     bitch
  3. What turns you on (creatively, spiritually, emotionally)?     talented people who mentor and share their talent with others
  4. What turns you off?     mediocrity passed off as excellence
  5. What is your favorite curse word?     f*cker (an oldie but a goodie)
  6. What sound do you love?     a cork releasing from a bottle of wine
  7. What sound do you hate?     car alarms
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?     baker
  9. What profession would you never want to do?     join the military (I bow down to these men and women)
  10. The (stupid) pearly gates question.     I decline to answer; I don’t like this question.

I also found this 10 question meme:

  1. Describe yourself in seven words     creative, whimsical, clever, loyal, loving, stubborn, and an-awesome-dancer (played the hyphenated-word card)
  2. What keeps you awake at night?     wondering about the future and replaying the past
  3. If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and why?    my sister. I think it would be cool to experience what motherhood feels like – but just for the day. : )
  4. What are you wearing now?     yoga clothes
  5. What scares you?     big, hairy, horrible Aussie spiders
  6. What is the best and worst thing about blogging?     LOVE getting my thoughts down on the page. HATE that I don’t have time to read all the other amazing blogs out there.
  7. What was the last website you looked at?     Indeed.com
  8. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?     I would like to focus more on living in the present.
  9. Slankets – yes or no?    No. They are the death of human dignity.
  10. Travelling alone or with someone?    With Ben – always.

Whidbey Island Retreat

The night was dark and stormy…

Saturday night I was snuggled in my little corner room of the Captain Whidbey Inn while a storm raged outside. A screen door on the ground floor kept slamming in the wind, waking me throughout the night. Fellow guests had talked about the two ghosts that haunt the inn while we ate dinner.







But I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone – not even my boyfriend who was winging his way to sunny Australia.







I was on retreat, and what better place to lock yourself away for a weekend of writing than an old inn on the water, and backing onto the forest?









What an incredible weekend! I was part of a wonderful group of creative women, Anne, Thea, Lea, and Beverley and we had three incredible writing workshops with three diverse and exquisitely talented authors:

Stephanie Kallos

Bharti Kirchner

and Terry Persun

As well as my immediate group, I also met Megs, Kate and other gifted and passionate writers. I loved the collaboration, the camaraderie and the incredible amount that I learned. I have seen my own work with a renewed and critical eye, which means I can take another pass at it with particular attention to the following:

  • Differentiation of character (there are a lot of women in my book – are they all distinctive from each other, or do they bleed into one?)
  • Fleshing out the antagonists (‘bad guys’ have feelings too!)
  • P.O.V. shifts (oops – slap my hand)
  • Setting (the oft-neglected child)
  • Depth (short-shrifting the reader will only piss them off – thanks Stevie!)

Bharti made this great point that some authors get to the end of their book and realize that the characters never eat. Mine eat, but it is a detail that can evoke setting really effectively, so I need to ensure that I have given it the right amount of attention. Much of my action in part two takes place on a coach and I know that I can spend more time on developing the sense of claustrophobia that develops on a six-week trip. Stephanie told me that chapter one intrigued her, but that she was pissed off because I start after the crucial, catalytic moment. This is a great point! I am now working on a prologue to see if that addresses the issue. Of course, chapter one, which I am in love with by the way, will now need a major re-write. Terry’s workshop highlighted for me that one-note characters are boring. My villain in part two needs nuances and I have just the scene to bring his out.

I am so very excited to get to work. And I have a hell of a lot of it to do!


Retreating to move ahead

Today I will be retreating to Whidbey Island for their Writers’ Association “Lockdown” Retreat. I will be locking myself away (voluntarily) with other writers – authors and poets – for two-and-a-half days on my absolute favorite of Puget Sound’s many islands.

My aims:
•    To get some ‘objective’ feedback on my book (the people attending don’t know me, so can only react to what is on the page)
•    To engage in meaty conversations about writing, prose, poetry and all things literary
•    To spent the weekend wearing Ugg boots and big chunky sweaters, drinking tea and whiskey (not at the same time)
•    To write, write, write
•    To learn everything there is to know about everything
•    To be challenged to be more innovative, more creative and to stretch myself artistically
•    To learn more about the business of books
I am retreating to move forward. I can’t wait.

The world is watching

Four years ago I lived in Sydney, Australia. Four years ago I was part of the ‘watching world’ as we held our collective breaths waiting for election day in the United States. Like many of my peers, colleagues and family members, I was so pleased and so relieved, when Obama was elected in what we considered a landslide decision that I had tears in my eyes when I watched the news on television. In my mind America – and the world – needed a BIG change. And, although McCain seems like a truly good person, I agreed with the majority of Americans who decided that he was not what the country or the world needed. Obama was.

I would wager that many Americans would be surprised by how many people outside of the U.S. watch the presidential race with keen interest and investment. America – as it is also known around the world – is still a super power, despite, well too many things to name. The decisions made and the actions taken in America more-often-than-not affect everyone else in the world – either directly, or through an international trickle-down. For that reason, America please know that the world is watching very closely as we inch towards the upcoming election.

The running gag is that most Americans are unconcerned or uniformed about what happens overseas. Having lived in the U.S. for nearly four years I would argue that many Americans (now) know all about what is happening overseas. In this era of social media and streams of information feeding us non-stop and immediate updates, it is difficult to remain uninformed about the Arab Spring, for example. As an Aussie I still, however, get asked ‘dumb’ or weird questions about Australia, but many people in my immediate world know that our Prime Minister is Julia Gillard – or at least, that she is a woman.

To all my non-American readers, know this: Americans are not dumb. I know, I know, this contradicts the stereotype, but I will go all ‘Mama Bear’ on anyone who says otherwise. Half of my family are American, the man I love is American, many of my dearest friends are American – even my cat is American. And having lived here for twelve years of my life I can speak from a place of authority when I say that the stereotype may be perpetuated by terrible reality TV, but ask yourself, how many Aussies actually say, ‘Crikey’, and bounce about playing with deadly animals? About two – and one of them died in a tragic accident.

But I digress…

Last week was the first of the presidential debates. Romney kicked Obama’s ass, which he could have done simply by staying awake. Upon reflection and some research about his ‘facts’, it turns out that he spouted a barrage of non-truths. That said, who is to say that his economic plan will or will not be any more effective than the stuff that Obama has been trying for the past few years? Neither of them can predict the future and even economists can’t agree, so how will the American people decide?

Note to Mitt: Asserting something with all your might doesn’t make it true. Your guess is as good as anybody’s, but let’s call it what it is – a guess.

So, I along with other ex-pats and people around the world will be watching this election with great interest. The world is watching America, so please guess right.