I have a love/hate relationship with the written word. She has been a mentor to me since I can remember, showing me the world page by page.  I love to read when I can and where possible I indulge in my favourite genre YAF (young adult fiction).  The hate aspect of the written word comes to the fore when I try to write.  I struggle through my sentences, editing and re-editing, until I feel the familiar heat of frustration rise.  But I keep coming back for more.

How To Steal An Article Idea And Get Away With It

I had a bad case of writers block last week.  For the life of me I couldn’t think of a single thing to write.  We have all been there and we all know how frustrating it can be.  Most of the time we just soldier on and distract ourselves with the mundane until inspiration visits us again.  I call this the Duality of Writing: the pain and the ecstasy.

But sometimes we don’t have the luxury of waiting out writer’s block.  Sometimes we have a deadline beating the door down.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

So, I stole an idea for my article.

‘Thief!’ I hear you cry.  Well, I did mention I was desperate right?  And I didn’t steal an article.  It was just an idea.  Not word for word but the core idea.  The gist of it.  You can do this too and it isn’t plagiarism.

Think of it as a seed.  I stole a seed.  It may have been someone else’s seed but I took it and planted it.  I watered the seed and protected it from scavenging crows.  I nurtured the seed into a seedling, through frost and midday sun, until it grew full size.

The work was all mine but is that enough?  Let me give you the sordid details.

Read more: How To Steal An Article Idea And Get Away With It

New Beginnings

When I was 14 my parents dropped me off at boarding school. I remember watching them as they drove away in the family car. I was nervous and I suppose afraid. Alone, in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people I didn't know, I remember that moment vividly because I was at a crossroads. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I was in no danger at all. In fact my years at boarding school were some of the best I’ll ever experience. It was like a sleep-over at a friend’s house; night after night after night.

But at that time I didn’t know that.

I still remember that scene vividly: A white picket fence enclosing the school cricket oval and the family utility driving off down the street. It is memorable to me because of the tension I felt. It was plain old, sweaty, stressful tension. The feeling was familiar and yet unfamiliar all at once. The hard knot in my stomach like a friendly face I couldn’t place.

The feeling was familiar because I was actually well prepared for that day. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced an abrupt new beginning. I had been introduced to changes in my comfort zone at a very early age. My father’s work meant that from Grade One through to Ten I changed schools almost every other year.

Now I know that the tension, strain and fear of the unknown I felt that day was a precursor to the thrill of expectation. Now I recognise those emotions instantly. Now I know that so much good can follow from a fresh start.

Change. You could say I am addicted to it. Now I seek out opportunities to experience that feeling. Again and again. Now I thrive on change. I love the thrill and anticipation that change and a new beginning brings.

A new town, a new job, a new school, a new class. Whatever. New beginnings are like a bugle call to the soul. A call to arms. A summoning of energy and will.

I believe change and the new beginnings it brings has helped make me the person I am today. Now, I not only recognise but expect that tension and thrill every time I embark on something new. Every time I stand on the precipice of the unknown I feel familiar emotions lurking nearby. Hope, tension, fear, resolution and awkwardness can all present themselves. What makes me different, from the child in my memories, is that now I’ll always be ready for these negative feelings.

Let me be clear, you never get used to the fear. And the tension can make you almost ill at times. But those negative feelings are momentary. They will pass. And after they pass come the good times: the reward for stepping outside of your comfort zone.

And yet despite the rewards it is no wonder many people avoid change like it is a disease. New beginnings can come with an air of finality to them. There is no going back. A decision made means consequences are sure to follow. Our imagination loves to colour our fears with intricate detail.

How did I cope with so much change in my life? The key thing I do now when presented with change is to accept it. Actually, I say do more than that. Embrace it.

Look forward to the opportunities change will bring. Without my days at boarding school I wouldn’t have the memories, friends and perspective only a boarding school experience can give you.

Here at ChookScratch I am embarking on a New Beginning of my own. I am pushing my writing skills into the public realm and I can feel that familiar feeling in my stomach yet again. The unknown future is beckoning once more, and yet, I know things are going to turn out just fine. In fact I’m excited!

Lessons High School Taught Me About Writing Pt2

This is the second installment from the article Lessons High School Taught Me About Writing.

DON’T BE AFRAID

So much of High School is spent worrying about what others think. This insecurity holds most teenagers back and prevents them from putting themselves out there. The Internet has created a level playing field of sorts for the time being and there is no better time to put your skills out into the real world. In high school we have the financial and emotional support of family and teachers to back you up and we find out very quickly the friends that choose to follow you and support you are the sort of people you should be surrounding yourself with anyway. The same goes with writing. Put yourself out there – it literally can’t hurt.

AVOID DISTRACTION

When I was in my senior year I sat next to a kid who had no interest in the subject and who couldn’t care less if he passed or failed. In fact he seemed almost intent on dragging me down with him. And I let him. The boy wasn’t even a friend of mine and yet I didn’t have the guts to tell him to go away: to leave me alone, to grow up. The consequences weren’t good. Writing, like study often requires a distraction free environment. Friends, social networking, the television and so on, can drag us down. Avoid such distractions.

BE CREATIVE

School hasn’t changed much since it was invented during the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago. Today society still gathers together groups of children and places them in front of a solitary teacher. A situation like that requires strict behaviour control and severely restricts opportunities for to demonstrate individual flair and creative energy. Writing is restricted only by the boundaries of our mind and we have the scope to create far beyond what the classroom gave us. We should avail ourselves of the opportunity.

THE BEST TEACHER IS YOU

Teachers are nothing more than guides. They help shorten the time it takes to walk a path but the destination is still of your choosing. A great student with initiative and drive will succeed regardless of the teacher they have. Great writers are just like great students, they don’t just rely on someone else for their research, skills or advice. The ultimate responsibility for our words comes down to us.

FASHIONS COME AND GO

I am sure most of us look back on our school years and remember, with a shudder, the trends that came and went. The fashions and the crazes that swept through our classes were as powerful as they were brief. As a writer we can try to ride the fickle waves of writing trends and experience the crazy highs as well as the shuddering impact of being dumped on a coral sand bar. Or we can stick to the timeless classics and utilise consistency and style that has proven its worth over time. The second option will win out time and time again.

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Lessons High School Taught Me About Writing Pt1

High School, or Secondary School depending on where you come from, is a melting pot of hormones and ‘traumatic’ experiences.  People typically divide themselves into two camps where High School is concerned: those that want to forget the whole experience and those for whom it was the best time of their life.

I am oversimplifying things of course but there is a reason why our High School experiences haunt us.  It was a time when most of us became conscious.  It was a time when we started to learn about the wider world, not just in terms of bland facts and figures from a text book but about human nature and what we as humans are capable of.  Most importantly it was a time when we came to know ourselves and loved or despised what we saw (sometimes with equal measure).

Read more: Lessons High School Taught Me About Writing Pt1

The Duality of A Writing Life

Those who don’t write can have a romanticised view of writers and what we do.  It is probably our fault.

We like to wax lyrical about the words we weave.  We portray ourselves as guardians of language, philosophers and word-smiths.

While we like to perpetuate the romanticism associated with the writing life, and tout the rewards that writing for a living provides, there is an uncomfortable and frustrating reality to the writing life.

Writing is really hard; very hard.

In reality the words don’t come easily.  Like statues chiselled from stonewriting tends to not only be slow and tedious but tiring as well.

When the words dry up writers often eek out an existence planning, brainstorming, note taking, drafting and editing.  Then the pressure of deadlines, word counts and our own heady ambitions and standards can weigh us down further.

It sounds like a dismal existence doesn’t it?  It may even sound depressing, but the rewards of drawing upon creativity’s elusive well deem our efforts more than worthwhile.  When the words do flow, writing is a joy; an elixir we jealously guard and prolong as much as possible.

With a muse perched upon our shoulder we can create not only quality words, but beauty itself.  Our words can spread ideas like a wildfire, provide food for thought and inspire readers.  We also wield the powerful privilege of engaging an audience.

Knowing how to induce that inspired state of mind, where perfect words just flow onto paper and screen, become a writer’s number one priority.  Everything is analysed; physical surroundings, moods, relationships, even diet.  A writer’s life can become all about optimising the conditions to encourage that productive state of mind.

Perhaps the truth is that writing is a balancing act; part skilled trade, part inspiration.  One nothing without the other.

This duality is exactly what freelance writers deal with every day.  Accepting this dual nature of writing, rather than fighting it, could help make our writing lives not only more enjoyable but maybe even a little easier.

Finding The Time To Write

All those that see themselves as writers want to write but not all of them do.  Instead a cavalcade of excuses distracts and prevents.  The reasons may vary but most of the time there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  For most writers the hardest part of their art is finding the time.

Work, health and domestic commitments eat up the hours of our days and leave scant time for the keyboard or pen.  And so unless we are actually in the position of make a living from crafting the written word writing is most often done in a writer’s spare time.

Read more: Finding The Time To Write

Letters From Iwo Jima: A Review

War movies often highlight the futility of war as a side dish to more palatable themes of glory, heroism, nationalism, and of course action. Letters from Iwo Jima, however, delves deeper than its brethren. This film focuses on the experiences of Japanese soldiers leading up to and throughout an allied assault on the island of Iwo Jima. A few mainstream films of late have found Japanese history fertile ground and portray snapshots of Japanese culture and history – The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha come to mind. The soldier’s experiences in Letters from Iwo Jima offer another perspective and provide a telling account of the cultural pressures Japanese troops faced in that era.


It is easy to get sidetracked by the messages this powerful piece of cinema presents. This is a beautiful film which is quite an achievement considering the desolate surrounds of the Iwa Jima island. The choice to avoid colour for much of the film adds weight and mood to the circumstances and highlights the stark existence of the final days these soldiers lead.

Viewers follow two soldiers in particular; a man of rank General Tadamichi Kuribayashi played by Ken Watanabe and the second a ‘commoner’ Saigo played by Kazunari Ninomiya. You won’t really see Americans in this movie outside of memory sojourns and a couple of brief scenes toward the end of the film. This lack of American presence or perspective is what makes this film account startling in its believability. I found myself studying the American troops, when they did appear, with intent curiosity to observe how the ‘enemy’ would behave. This immersion, after all, is exactly what we get in other war movies - only usually from an allied perspective. The decision by Eastwood to focus on the Japanese perspective is a brave move. The Japanese suffered more than just a military defeat in WW2 but in the annals of History as well. They have a barbarous reputation stemming from this conflict that ranges from Kamikaze attacks to POW camp atrocities. Eastwood’s film moves to add perspective to what History and propaganda often serve up for us.

Don’t get me wrong, Letters from Iwo Jima does not attempt to put Japanese culture up on a pedestal. In fact the film hands viewers the opportunity to see that the Japanese were just as human as the Americans, both for better and for worse. This is what makes Letters from Iwo Jima more than just a war movie. The film’s themes range from war and class through to racism and cultural ignorance. Eastwood strives to break down the cultural stereotypes many of us perceive to be truths and reminds us that we are all human regardless of the side we fight for. Eastwood serves up these reminders in spades.

The Japanese soldiers in Letters from Iwo Jima initially discuss their enemy and brag of impending victory before the allied onslaught. Then as the battle closes on them and they suffer heavy losses, their predicament dawns on them. In the face of defeat many attempt Seppuku, ritual suicide, to retain honour in preference to surrender or dishonourable death in the hands of the enemy. Others choose to fight on and are judged adversely for their choice by many of their peers. Simply, the viewer is shown how ordinary men react when they confront the same demons generations of soldiers, the world over, have endured when they stared death in the face. We see the soldiers learn that there are no answers, just as there are no answers in life. Eastwood shows Saigo, General Tadamichi and their fellow soldiers struggle with their perceptions of what loyalty, honour, bravery and courage are. They question how an honourable Japanese soldier should die. The result is ugly and tragic but Eastwood helps us learn from this. We learn, of course, that war is futile but also that to cast a net over the Japanese nationality and its cultural sensibilities would be ignorant.

This film is a message to all of us that, for all the differences we perceive in each other, we are all really the same. As gruesome and sobering as war is, it is ironic that war itself is what it sometimes takes for nations to realise this truth. The last stanza of Kenneth Slessor’s poem Beach Burial sums up this very notion.

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.


More war movies should be like this.

4/5