SPARK: The Path of the Creative Seeker

Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired by the idea of how we progress in our creative journeys.

ADAM

There’s a creek at the bottom of the street where I grew up and is traversed through the Australian bush and my brother and I would spend many hours down there with our dog. We would follow the path alongside the creek, sticks in hand to sweep away spiders’ webs and keep away the snakes (not that we ever saw a snake – I did see an eel in the creek once).

Australian summer can be hot and in the cleft of the valley the heat would sink in, offset by the coolness of the water when you passed under the shadow of the trees. I knew each bend in the path. I recognised the same fallen trees, the growth of ferns and grasses.

It was also a place I liked to walk alone.

I cherished my solitary explorations, even if I trod the same path frequently. It was about the wonder and the exhilaration of walking and watching, listening and observing.

The external is often a metaphor for the internal and in the last few years of working with Rus and Jodi on various projects, discussing our own works and visions, we have a shared, and very varied, perspective on the creative path we walk, how we approach it, how we work through the cycles of our own creativity.

But perhaps in walking this creative path we are not so much forging new ground as making a map of where we are and where we have been in order that we can expand the boundaries of our understanding. And in the unknown sections we can write, “Here Be Dragons” until we decide whether we need to confront them or domesticate them.

For me, the path of the creative seeker is a journey of discovery that is internal.
It seeks to map out a sense of purpose: What do I want to say?
An understanding of form: How do I want to say this?
An awareness of audience: Who am I creating for?
A perspective of the heart and mind: What is it that drives me?

I am mapping my progress, tilling the soil of creative projects, watering the plants and taking long walks down the toilet paper aisle of the supermarket. If I can mix my metaphors for a moment, maybe I am not following a path established by others but wandering through a library of creatives’ work so that I may ponder and consider in order that I can make my own library for others to come and browse.

Drop in. I’ll have the kettle on.

RUS

I love telling others about my days in youth when I would take long walks in the woods, many under the light of the moon. The meandering along the oft-neglected paths allowed me to open my mind and heart to my surroundings. I found myself, time and time again, immersed in the unknown, alert to accept any sound, or sight, or experience around me. I made it a priority to put myself on that path, to expose myself to the what-ifs and the unknowns that always existed.

How easy it was for me to choose to be there and witness, experience, capture a world that existed beyond my prior knowledge.

As I got older, and as the world of domesticity crept in around me, my days on trails diminished, and I found myself recalling those sounds and sights more from the ramblings in my journals than from new experiences.

The Creative Seeker’s path is no different, is it?

Again- when I was younger and free time tipped the scales in its favor more easily than now, my creative journeys and jaunts were more frequently taken, though probably also more frequently taken for granted. While I allowed myself to go deeper in my creative explorations, I didn’t always appreciate the gold that I found in those hours.

What I have learned in my later years is that my time on the trails in the woods and immersed in creative excursions is more important that it ever was. Each journey holds a deeper meaning, but I must also force myself to be present in both worlds more ferociously. I cannot succumb to the temptations of putting either on the to-do list, the if-I-have-time backburners. Instead, I remind myself every day of the importance – absolute and essential – in opening the journal, of stepping on to the path, and of showing up to immerse myself in to the unknown, where I can learn of new scenes, characters, and conflicts that need to be seen and heard – first by me, and then for all of you.

The path of the creative seeker exists for each of us, right now; what makes the difference is your desire and effort to step on to it, with open mind and heart, and to accept all it has to share with you, no matter how old, or how complicated, your life might be.

The path awaits. Seek it out.

JODI

Truth and Understanding

While I haven’t quite taken the usual path (ie. international travel or higher education) of a sun-sign Sagittarian, the quest to know and understand drives so many things in my life, like a heartbeat that’s always there, though general aware isn’t always. Writing is a unique place to explore the higher expressions of my Sagittarian nature—mostly because it gives me a chance to ‘leave’ while staying at home. Because a lot of what I write is channelled, I get to see the world intimately through very different eyes; it’s walk a mile in someone else’s shoes on amphetamines often. It has given me an appreciation for the uniqueness of the individual but also the ways in which humanity’s common needs and desires collectively bind us. It engenders a deep empathy for even the most crooked, broken or evil individual. To understand how someone came to be as they are today and what that possibly means for the future.

Through writing I am able to seek and connect with people in ways I might not otherwise be able to—at least not at the moment, bound to my current home and life.

Pushing the boundary

If standard metrics for creative seeking existed, part of me thinks I would fail on all of them. I rarely, actively look for new ways to explore creativity and if something does pique my interest, there is a laziness in me that holds me in my own inertia (which means I’ve never been to a life drawing class, I’ve never searched out a replacement singing group for the one I lucked into a decade ago, I’ve left my guitar sitting abandoned in my room for years and I still wonder what it would be like to learn to paint with water colours/do pottery.) Often a new door of creative inquiry and expression opens serendipitously when someone says: hey, did you know about (flash fiction/cut-up poetry/suminagashi) or a few existing ideas combine in a brand new way (Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mixed tapes anthology/Piper’s Reach/The Jar). Having found my way into that space, I then set about doing everything in my power to push the absolute boundaries of that creative platform—to continually reimagine what is possible in that space, seek the dark spaces and hop-skip-jump merrily out of the margins.

It is why I love collaboration; the possibilities are infinite and there is nothing like going on a quest with your most favourite companions to see what’s over the next ridgeline… and the next… and the next…

By Map and Dice

I have had this desire for almost a decade. It involves a car, a handful of writing friends, a map and a dice. In this perfect scenario of a literary road trip, each morning we take out our map, we mark 250-300km in six different directions and roll a dice to see where we go next. Along the way we stop in small towns. We explore colonial cemeteries, museums and antique stores. We bushwalk to waterfalls and lookouts and other places of interest, guided by the green road signs. We stop and eat lunch in small town cafes, bakeries and dusty milkbars, or from basic picnic-styled sandwiches we’ve thrown together that morning. Eventually mid-afternoon we arrive at our destination, check into accommodation and then sit to write for a few hours, before finding somewhere for dinner and to share ideas and read aloud from what we have written. In the evening, we collaborate on other ideas, read, or quietly hangout under the stars. To wake in the morning and do it all over again.

I yearn to know what would come out of such a road trip—how far we’d get. Of the places we’d go. Of how we’d know each other differently at the end. Of the ideas we’d generate, share, and grow across or a week or ten day. And if we’d choose do it all again the following year.

5.3 The Next Story – Rus

Every time I publish a piece of writing with a larger audience, one of the most common questions I hear is “What’s next?”

It’s a loaded question, for sure, especially with Fossil Five releasing to the world in a matter of days. Most people don’t really care about the behind-the-scenes writing I am doing on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis. What they really care about is what I plan on releasing to the public in the near future.

I have several in the running for the next six months. There’s the creative nonfiction piece about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and my research disputing the young mayor’s death being ruled a suicide. I firmly believe he was murdered, and I’m on a good track to prove it.

Then there’s the new novel idea about a small-town college that shuts down in the late sixties after a series of unsolved murders on campus. The abandoned college receives a financial windfall from an anonymous donor, and when it reopens for artists in 2020, the murders resume. The story follows several students who begin to unearth the secrets of the college’s bloody history, leading them to become the primary targets for the killer’s next victims.

I also have an inspiring series of essays in the works on living a more fulfilling life through authentic journaling.

The truth is, though, that the “next” story is whichever one rises from the myriad ideas, scribbles, and drafts that I have been collecting in my journals for the past 4 decades. In other words, when you sneak a peek behind the writer’s magical veil, there is no official “next story.”

In addition to the three titles that I listed above, I’m working on stories that matter the world to me, but may never see the light of day in my readers’ worlds.

These are just a few of the ideas ripped from my daybook’s pages. Some of them are developed more than others.

  • Sail Away– a novel about a time portal in the basement of a family’s house that leads to the late 18th century, where some of the individuals of yesteryear have come back to cross-populate the two worlds over a three-century period.
  • Daily Prompts of Inspiration- I have written and shared many hundreds of writing prompts to lift up, inspire, and encourage others. This would be a journal where each page begins with a new thought, and plenty of blank space to reflect.
  • Anthology of Ghost and Horror Stories- I have always loved the genre of terror, and over the years I have written enough short stories to put together an anthology of horror. It’s quite antithetical to my inspiring posts and essays; I guess that’s what makes them all the more interesting.
  • My Poetry- This is something that I have very, very rarely shared with anybody, even my closest writer-friends. I think this would take the most amount of courage. As vulnerable as I feel about my fiction, I keep my poetry very close to the vest. One day, that will change.
  • The Memoir of Rus- I thought about doing this when I turned 50 (my writer-friend Bernadette did this as a series of reflective pieces, and it resonated deeply with me), but it never happened. I don’t think I need a particular anniversary or milestone birthday to share these; I do think, though, that I need to finish and share these essays comprising a larger picture of me sooner than later.

And then, of course, there are the collaborative works with Jodi and Adam here at the JAR that are always in line to be “next.” The Glass Marionette with Jodi is ready to embark on an adventurous turn as we surrender the continuation of the plot to the universe. The JAR Story with Jodi and Adam is nearly complete and ready for the world to enjoy in 2020. I’m also teaming up with Adam on a new work of fiction that evolves around metaphysical labyrinths.

The “next story” has always been, and will always be, in the works. Writing is not sterile, clean, or tidy when it comes to finishing one project and then beginning another. As Fossil Five makes its debut in this world, it just opens space for the next story to rise, much like a newly discovered patch of light in a forest of competing stories. Which one will reach the light first? Fill the space with outstretched leaves soaking up the sun and the energy to be the next?

We shall see. For now, I give light to all my works, and see each of them as having an equal chance to be “next” for my readers. If anything, I know — as I hope my readers do as well — that I will never stop writing, or sharing, my stories with the world.

 

5.2 The Next Story – Adam

The Next Story

Part 1

How long has it been since I have written anything from start to finish?

Too long.

Far too long.

“Post Marked Piper’s Reach” was published in July this year. It was written seven years ago.

What has happened in-between? Between 2013 and 2018, the grounds lay fallow. I started a verse novel. Began the drafting and ideas for a novella. Started collaborating with Jodi and Rus on a novel. At the end of 2018 I finished the draft of a novella that will exist in the Piper’s Reach world but be separate from it. It’s now awaiting an edit. And in-between all of this, I have penned scraps of sentences and handwritten pieces for Instagram, and random poems for Twitter and Facebook.

I have not sat down to write for a variety of reasons: moving house, ill health, work commitments. Other personal reasons. I read books. Kept a record of what I had read and challenged myself to improve on it. Kept adding to the compost heap.

But nothing complete or completed.

Looking back on the past few years it appears I’ve been throwing manure on the compost heap in the hope something other than tomatoes will sprout from the pile of grass clippings, vegetable scraps and garden trimmings. At some point you have to turn the soil, keep turning it, shovel it around the base of an idea and see what grows.

Those works in progress mentioned above have sat idle but I return to them occasionally, turning the soil and adding more thought to them.

Part 2

The question is always of, “What next?”

This year was a focus on getting Piper’s Reach into the world and to an audience. Publication was the end of the cycle and a new cycle has to begin.

But where to begin with that new cycle?

In my head, and in my planning, it is the novella, followed by the verse novel and working with Jodi and Rus to finish our collaborative novel, plans for a collaborative novel with Rus, and thinking of another collaboration with Jodi.

Left to my own devices I have to think about the next story. Snippets of sentences and half-formed paragraphs are easy. Bringing them to fruition is difficult. I write better in collaboration as iron sharpens iron. But I had to prove to myself I can do it by myself. The novella was the first step. My verse novel will be the next step after that. For myself, I am unsure. The horizon is a long way off.

Part 3

But I see a way forward. Beyond plans for completing and finishing, there is the desire to write again. I have felt blocked lately in writing but I think I have a way forward: writing my way into it.

I’ll start by writing anything.

With abandon.

With reckless care for sense or understanding.

To write without fear or favour.

To play with language and experiment with words because no one else will see it.

The freedom of not having eyes to cast a glance and question the structure or word choice.

Part 4

But there is something else that sits with me in terms of thinking about the next story: Why do I want to tell this story?

This is what is pushing me lately. I have a couple of unfinished works on my computer and I circle back to them from time to time to ask why do I want to tell this story? Have I worked out what the story is in order to tell it? The same question applies to my novella and verse novel because the question will help frame the narrative and edits in the future.

The “why” will be the driving force to keep me throwing compost onto the heap and tilling the soil.

The next story will always be there.

5.1 The Next Story

I have been plotting the next story (or stories as the case may be here) since June last year when I decided I wanted to invite a small number of friends, former collaborators, readers and creatives into an intimate group which I ended up calling The Belief Trust. I wrote to them all and asked them if they could provide an energetic net of support for me while I worked out how to be a writer again. It was an enlightening process — handwriting the 13 handmade bi-fold postcards — which helped me to better understand what I was actually asking for.

This year when I wrote my update, I included a blank handmade postcard; these postcards were the backbone of my FireStarter Project. I asked each member of The Trust to send the postcard back with a set of prompts: a song, a year and a socio-political-cultural event. These would be the catalyst of a new set of short stories.

A week later, the Australian cards began to land in my post box: my next stories were arriving!

I was so excited reading what I had been sent. And then nothing else happened. The prompts flatlined.

I am being a little bit of a drama queen. They didn’t so much as flat line but were given a number and asked to stand in the very, very long line with other stories waiting their turn at the counter.

As it turns out, it has not been such a bad thing. The slow maturation of these postcard prompts is allowing something far juicier to emerge.

In 2014, I wrote a short story for the Strange Little Girls anthology. It didn’t make the cut and when I shopped it around, one of the rejections I got said I had to make the story shorter, or longer; at the current length of 4500 it didn’t work. I knew I could not make it shorter and I was at a complete loss at how to make it longer. Sometimes you have to be patient across years and wait for a homemade Velveteen Rabbit postcard to arrive with the year 1961 and Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love nominated on the back, to know what to do with a story.

And I loved that the first song I was gifted was Funnel Love as it is on a playlist I made for The Starling Requiem (the cover from the Only Lovers Left Alive). Little moments of synchronicity like that light me up.

When I get to my next story is debatable because while The FireStarter project is my next story in spirit, I first have to complete the current revisions of my birthpunk novella ahead of passing it to Rus for editing mid-month and its publication in December. Then there is the completion and editing of The JAR Story novel, ready for March 2020 publication. Plus Rus and I are both seriously drawn back a story we started in 2017 called The Glass Marionette.

However…

There are no tumble weeds rolling through my creative life. There haven’t been for a quite while. My creative life is the most fertile, expansive and actionable it has (perhaps) ever been. I look forward (rather than backward) knowing that everyone has their time and my time is now and there is never a time that is not now. The Next Story is really this: living my best creative life every day with the JAR Writers’ Collective at my back, making it all possible.