For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing Rituals

'Rituals demarcate sacred spaces and times. They set our actions apart from the normal course of everyday life. They help us to slow down and focus, to be mindful of what we are doing.'
Jill Jepson, Writing as a Sacred Path

The days between Christmas and New Year are strange ones, almost outside of time, as if the clock has paused and the days stood still. Yet throughout this year time has been flying faster and faster, the pace of life becoming unbearable for many, with simmering anxieties turning into outright panic. But now with this sudden halt, it is difficult to know how to relax. I feel listless and lethargic, with a hint of anxiety, as if there is something I need to be doing but I don't know what. Behind this anxiety there is a welcome sense of peace and completion. It is the end of one year and the beginning of the next, a time of closures and a time of new beginnings, a time to reflect on the past and form resolutions for the future. A time outside of time in which to contemplate. In ancient Celtic culture the calendar revolved around the solstices and equinoxes, 360 days in total, leaving five days of festivity around these punctuation points in which to celebrate and revere the cycles of nature.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is also a good time to clear out our spaces, whether they be physical, mental or emotional: and this is what I am doing. A few weeks ago I wrote that I was 'still walking around the fringes of my new novel, testing its boundaries and understanding its depths'. This has changed. Now I am walking around the physical space of my writing life, making room and clearing debris. I'm also seeking a way of carving a time to write during those crucial and daunting first weeks of a novel when it is easy to be frightened away from the task, to lose concentration and to lose faith. In the past year I have been caught up with editing my novel Flight, which will be published in a month, and my PhD exegesis. Aside from the posts on this recent blog, I have written very little. During this time my writing study has gradually filled with junk and now needs to be purged, so I put on old clothes and begin carrying out boxes, an ironing board, my son's saxophone, a shopping trolley, an eski and the picnic basket. I return them to their rightful places, find a garbage bag and fill it with unwanted papers, then sort through my books, making space on my shelves. I wipe down the blinds, dust the surfaces and vacuum the floor. It takes all day but it's an important ritual, a reclamation of my space and a statement that I am about to begin.

In our contemporary and secular society we have become uncomfortable with rituals, associating them with religion or with primitive peoples. The few rituals that are left have become (for many) hollow, empty customs that we connect with only superficially. Yet rituals can be positive markers of passing time, ways of connecting with each other, with the cycles of life and with the numinous. Now that I am ready to begin my novel I want a ritual, something to mark the movement from one thing to another, to say yes, you've started, you are now writing a novel. The act of writing is in itself a form of ritual. As Jill Jepson explains in Writing as a Sacred Path, 'sitting down to write requires us to still our bodies and minds and shift our attention away from the activity going on around us. Setting up small rituals is an important way to segue into your writing, to honor your sacred work and to bolster your courage.' Rituals helps us to train our mind to recognise the signs and slip more easily into a writing state, almost a self-hypnosis.

Each writer will find their own ritual/s. Isabelle Allende begins writing each book on a particular day - January 8th, I believe. In this way she makes a date with the creative process. Maya Angelou writes in a hotel room away from her house. She takes everything off the walls and leaves a Roget's Thesaurus, a dictionary, a Bible and a deck of playing cards on the bed. I'm not so specific and find it hard to pin a starting point to a day, or at least to a date that I will keep, but over the years I have become more astute at reading and interpreting my own behaviour as I circle closer to a date with my writing. At first I distract myself by cleaning the entire house, catching up with old friends, answering long forgotten emails. . . until slowly I box myself in a corner. That's when I turn my attention to my writing room, which I spring clean as I have been doing this week. Once the room is ready and I have removed any traces of other work, I burn some essential oils, ask the muses for inspiration and a safe journey, make a cup of tea and sit at my computer, hoping that this is ritual enough and wondering if there isn't something more powerful, some invocation that will set the words flowing. Then I begin typing. If I'm lucky the magic comes, shifting me into a waking dreamlike state. My tea cools. Hours pass without my knowledge and I am excited by the words on the page. If I'm not so lucky, I struggle; forcing words into awkward sentences and sentences into jolty paragraphs. I drink my tea, check the clock, stare aimlessly out the window, then eventually finish with relief. Either way, I have begun.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giving and Receiving

'Unless the work is the realization of the artist's gift and unless we, the audience, can feel the gift it carries, there is no art'.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.

I believe that one of the greatest lessons in life is to learn how to accept a gift with grace and gratitude because in that acceptance lies the true art of giving. To deflect or deny a blessing, a compliment, a teaching, an act of kindness or a material gift, is to deny the giver and to deny yourself. It blocks the free flow of energy that is giving and receiving. Lewis Hyde wrote a wonderful book called, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, in which he explores the value of creativity and the idea that a gift must keep moving, though not necessarily in the same form. When I was a student in Sydney and found myself struggling financially, a friend gave me $200 to help me pay an essential bill. I was embarrassed and grateful, and told her that I would pay her back as soon as I could. 'No,' she said, 'I don't want the money back but perhaps one day you could do the same for someone else.' I found this profoundly moving. Instead of a debt she gave me a lesson in living and an opportunity to become a giver myself, not necessarily financially because we do not all have abundance in this area, but in whatever way I could. Since then I have tried to give to others, both through the cultivation of everyday compassion and through the telling of stories.

A few years ago in an interview with Boekenkrant in the Netherlands, I was asked if writers are special. I replied that 'we all tell stories. Stories are everywhere: in books, the cinema, television and the internet; passed around campfires; and swapped over coffee. . . . A writer consciously sets out to create stories but writers are not extraordinary. The stories they write are a gift, to them and to their readers. It is the responsibility of the writer to be true to themselves and to that which inspires them. Otherwise, I believe the only prerequisites for a writer are a love of language, a need to express themselves, self discipline and a fresh way of looking at the world. Everything else is technique and can be learned.'

There is an art and a craft of writing. In the craft of it lies the technical skills, the tools we need to produce a successful story or poem. Learning the craft is not always easy but it is fundamental because it enables expression. In the art of writing lies the gift. This gift is not ours to keep but rather to use as best we can, to hand on to others, for as Hyde writes, 'there is a sense that our gifts are not fully ours until they have been given away'. Recently I have been asking myself what it means to be a writer, and in an abrupt turn around a few days ago, I realised that I am not so much a writer as someone who seeks larger truths and that for me writing is a medium through which to express what needs expression and to seek what needs to be uncovered. Writing is a way of holding a mirror up to myself and in learning how to see myself, to then offer others the gift of seeing themselves. I have been blessed with an ability with language and bestowed with the gift of storytelling, so for me writing is my means of expression. What I have understood is that what is expressed is far more important than the medium through which it is expressed. Reaching out to help someone who is hurt, creating a business, singing a song or dancing a dance . . . these are mediums for creative expression. It is up to us what we express through them. Perhaps that is where our responsibility lies. A gift is a responsibility and it must be used. Hyde writes that, 'once a gift has stirred within us it is up to us to develop it. There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent. The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return.' In short, we must use it or lose it.

When we write we are inspired, a term that refers to a divine influence and to a drawing in of breath. When we are inspired we are breathing in the spirit of the gods. I am not a member of any religion but I do have a strong sense that the universe is a far deeper and more mysterious place than modern science would allow. My own experiences of the numinous are personal and profound, reinforcing this sense of mystery and creating a certainty that there is a deep connection between all of life. I have no doubt that writing is a gift that brings with it a responsibility. We must cultivate this gift and respect it. We must develop our understanding of the craft of writing to the best of our ability and be open to receiving the inspiration that turns our gift into art. In the acknowledgment section of my novels I am always moved to thank the giver. Once again I do so, with humility and a deep gratitude.

Have a joy filled Christmas.

 Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Banishing The Fear

'We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path: and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; and where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; and where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.'
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

There's no doubt about it, I'm afraid to begin my new novel. This happens to me every time I am about to launch into a new project. Perhaps it happens to everyone, I don't know, but I do know that the thought of sitting down and committing words to paper sends my stomach into somersaults and my heart rate soaring. Perhaps it is a simple fear of failure, the fear that this time I will have nothing to say, or no proper means to say it. The fear that my muse/s will abandon me, that inspiration will dry up and I will be left with empty words. Or perhaps it is a reluctance to mark the page because each mark is a choice and each choice closes off other choices, so as a new story begins to expand, paradoxically its potential begins to contract. Perhaps it's a fear of the commitment, which once taken will absorb much of my life for a period of time, turning me into a distant figure to my family and friends. I know from past experience that I will once again become immersed in the world of my story and the characters who inhabit it, and begin to resent any intrusions into that world. However, my reluctance to begin doesn't just relate to the time it will take to write this novel, or the immersion in another realm that is inevitable; it's also the journey itself that frightens me, with its peaks and troughs, because although this novel is a work of fiction it is filtered through me. In order to write it I will once again be forced to venture deep into the underworld in order to face my demons and bring them out into the light.

In Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood states that she believes all writing 'of the narrative kind. . . is motivated by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.' As I see it, the underworld represents our unconscious selves and the journey to it, a delving into what is long buried. Writing a story for me is a way of reclaiming the pieces of myself, of my soul, that have been lost, either given away or stolen. It is a way of gathering myself back together again - of making myself whole.

These journeys into the underworld are an initiation of sorts, into a deeper form of perception, a new esoteric understanding of the deeper laws of the universe. In Shapeshifters, writer, storyteller and healer, Luisah Teish describes a personal life changing experience: 'When I talk about the me that I was before that experience, I find myself saying, “she,” a third person. I understand that it's my personal history. It's not like a slate was wiped clean, but everything that plagued me before has been turned into compost out of which the new me was growing.'

Whatever their genre or medium, many contemporary stories mirror heroic myths, both in their structure and in the elements that make up their plots. Each story involves a character leaving the safety and stasis of their ordinary world and being plunged into a new and dangerous world, one in which they don't know the rules and where they must undergo a series of adventures. The second stage of the journey involves accepting change, stepping into the abyss with no idea what lies ahead. Like birds we must be willing to fall in order to fly. Risks are taken, and if successful there is a reward of some kind. The final stage involves returning to the 'ordinary world', understanding and integrating the reward and using it as is appropriate. A new status quo is reached and the protagonist has changed in some way.

When I complete a novel, in a sense I have become a new person, as have my characters. According to Christopher Vogler, in The Writer's Journey, 'The Hero's Journey and the Writer's Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys and rewards of the Hero's journey. . . Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one's soul and bring back the Elixir of experience. ' The act of writing changes the writer. To write a story is to descend into the underworld with only a few clues and no guarantee of a way back out again. It's a dangerous process, exhausting and filled with apprehension, but it's also a magical journey. This is what I must remember as I embark on my new novel, because although it is natural to feel fear, it's not okay to allow ourselves to be limited by it. And if I'm honest with myself, this fear I'm feeling is mixed with a delicious anticipation. . . It is time to begin.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Are Writers For?

'Great art and literature give a sense of patterns, of laws operating beyond conventional thought.'
Jonathan Black, The Secret History,

Sometimes, in those down moments when the letterbox is full of bills, the children need new school uniforms and birthdays are imminent, I begin to question my choices in life. Not just why I write, but also what writers are for. As writers, are we responsible for what we write? Does that responsibility extend beyond ourselves to our readers? And does the content of our stories help in some way to shape the world in which we live, for better or for worse? These are, of course, loaded questions and difficult to answer clearly as there are numerous internal and external pressures on writers. Internally there are can be self imposed constraints, such as fear of failure (more on that in a later post) and sometimes limitations generated by a need to learn more of the craft behind storytelling. Externally, the state of our finances, as well as publishing trends and deadlines can at times play too great a role in the choices we make as writers.

In the wake of Roland Barthes theory of the 'death of the author', some claim it is no longer the author who is responsible for a novel. Instead it is the reader who must claim responsibility for the material he or she reads. It is the reader who, in a sense, creates the story. Certainly each reader does bring a unique personal, cultural and historical context to a story, which means in a sense that the reader 'completes' the story and enriches it with their own interpretation. However, in my mind anyway, there is no doubt that the writer still plays a major role in the construction of stories and I believe that in taking on the role of writer we also take on a responsibility to society, meaning that whatever our intention, our stories do help to shape the world in which we live. I believe too, that as readers, as viewers and simply as individuals, the choices we make in our lives and the stories we tell ourselves also have an effect on the world around us. The question then becomes – What sort of world do we wish to shape?

I am frequently shocked by just how damaged our world is, not only physically, but socially too. Much of our media celebrates violence and cynicism, anger and betrayal. A premium is placed on ugliness, and stories that 'tell it how it is' receive accolades from critics. When I began writing  Flight, I too was telling it how it is, depicting a dysfunctional character in a dysfunctional and disintegrating society. The world I created for Fern was a weary one, pessimistic and dark. However, as the story progressed and Fern discovered the existence of a metaphysical world, a note of optimism began to creep in and I found myself tending more towards telling it 'how it might be'. There are risks involved in this: the risk of putting one's head in the sand in order to hide from the truth; and the risk of being ridiculed, because words such as love, heart, empathy, compassion and soul, are so often labelled sentimental and derided in our society. And yet it is in the journey of the soul, in learning how to love and in discovering the capacity for compassion, that Fern remembers her self and in so doing, finds truth. Fern's journey is both actual and metaphorical. It is a journey into her self, plumbing the depths of her memory and retrieving what has been lost in order to become whole. It is a journey of remembering. A journey to truth. And ultimately to a vital and connected life.

Almost inevitably, fiction writers live on the fringes of society. In part it's for financial reasons, as so few writers actually find a publisher. Mostly though, the fringes represent a position from which to view the world, a position that is at once privileged and lonely. I believe it is our role as writers to do more than merely reflect the societies in which we live. Instead we need to question them, as well as attempt to break free of the constraints placed upon us by constructed truths which emphasise differences rather than commonality. We need to step outside the structures we take for granted, to 'see through' society, to be willing to turn our minds upside down and inside out in the quest for understanding. Our role is to question, document and sometimes even to foresee, and in the process, to create powerful and entertaining stories that are guides to life. Living stories that help us to evolve as human beings.

In her conclusion to A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong writes that 'a novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see the world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight into our lost and damaged world.'

Perhaps these are grandiose claims but I would like to think there are moments when as writers we reach out beyond ourselves and beyond the restrictions of language and culture and context, using story and metaphor and symbol to express what cannot be expressed merely through language. We cast spells with words, breaking through cultural programming and questioning the very basis of our lives. And in so doing, perhaps we make the world a slightly better place.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website: