Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert at Seymour Centre (Sydney Writers Festival)

One of my favourite Sydney Writers Festival events so far is Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her honesty, wisdom and humbleness when speaking to an audience of hundreds at the Seymour Centre. I must admit I tune out and am no longer a fan of those who are arrogant and think they’re better than the average person because in reality, we’re all part of the human race and experience the same emotions, fears and even life’s ailments! But with Elizabeth Gilbert, she never fails to inspire.

 

I particularly enjoyed hearing her thoughts on creativity, embracing it and facing the world with courage and not fear. At sixteen she made a vow to herself, it was the day she got married to writing and committed herself to a life of writing. She said, “I will support you and you will support me. I will take care of us.” Elizabeth feels that everyone starts off being creative. “Everyone is curious. If you put Lego in front of a child, no child is going to say, I’m not into this today.” The result of someone not being creative is partly due to the fact that someone earlier on in their lives put them down, perhaps a teacher or a parent, or friend. And usually when the person re-enters their creativity again, they start where they’ve left off as a child. They start writing or painting or drawing where they’ve left off. Elizabeth says, “There’s no good reason to not do it. Nothing else makes you feel connected to people. Choosing a life of creativity is a path of curiosity not fear.”

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She then went on to explain that there are two levels of creativity, one that is driven by ego, who is competitive and is never satisfied and the other that is unfolding something that is soulful and content in one’s own path of curiosity, no one else’s. To be creative, you’re in “the zone” – being engaged in the flow or stream. Also it is “a break from the anxiety of who you are. That is Big magic!”

Elizabeth encourages people to do something creative for thirty minutes a day, and eventually, “maybe not the first day but maybe on the 10th day, big magic will happen!” When writing, Elizabeth writes as if she is talking to one person. She feels that if you are talking to everyone, no one will hear you, but when you are writing as if you are talking to one person, everyone will hear you. With her first book, Eat Pray Love she is writing as if she is talking to her friend – Darcy.

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When a person in the audience asked her, “I’m worried about my friend making a the wrong creative decision in her life…” Elizabeth answered, “You should be only worrying and focusing on your own path, not your friend’s. She has her own path to learn and make mistakes from.”

Another audience member asked, “I want to start writing a book but I’m worried about what a family member will think.” Elizabeth replied, “You should ask yourself if that’s an excuse playing in your mind to not want to start writing and do the work, because most of the time, the thing you think someone will be upset about will not be the thing the person is upset about.” Elizabeth gave an example of how someone was upset about a reference that they had size 11 feet, nothing else but just that! The crowd laughed.

“Do you still meditate?” one audience member asked. Elizabeth replied, “I take silent baths which replaces my meditation.” Everyone laughed again. “Some people may call it napping but I call it my ‘silence bath’ and afterwards I feel much better and ready to be creative.”

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Who better than to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak – the creative guru herself! They always say, life’s about learning. That was one good creative life lesson jam packed into an hour session. Thank you Elizabeth.

Big Magic is out now at all good book stores.

Fabulously Creative with Walter Mason

Walter Mason did a wonderful Fabulously Creative workshop for writers this week at Ashfield library.

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Walter’s first book, Destination Saigon was published at the age of 40 and says, “Anything fabulous can happen at any age in your life!”

He started the workshop with us closing our eyes and we had to think about our intentions for the workshop, “What I want to do is…” and then after a minute or so Walter rang a beautiful sounding bell, reminiscent to the bells you hear at temples. The beautiful sound echoed through the room, I felt like I was being transported into a Buddhist monk retreat.

 

He shared with us “fabulous people” who inspired him as a writer. They include:

  • Rabelais (1483-1553) who came to Walter in a dream and was a writer, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, master of crude jokes and songs. He was a monk who often wrote about getting drunk and many other salacious stories. The lesson he learned from him – “Write warmly and take delight in everyday life.” A wonderful Rabelais quote was, “Wisdom can’t enter an unkind heart.” I really love this quote.
  • Ouida (1839-1908) was the pseudonym of the English novelist Maria Louise Ramé. She lived at Langham hotel in London and ran up huge hotel and florist’s bills, and commanded soirees that included soldiers, politicians, literary lights (including Oscar Wilde, Algernon Swinburne, Robert Browning and Wilkie Collins), and artists (including John Millais), “A little scandal is an excellent thing; nobody is ever brighter or happier of tongue than when he is making mischief.” The lesson learned – “Go to the places that inspire you.”
  • Baron Corvo (Frederick Rolfe) (1860-1913) was an English writer, artist, photographer and eccentric. He often carried eccentric and peculiar notebooks and pens and often had a story to tell for everything he had. Lesson: Write extravagantly and with style, and always keep eccentric notebooks.
  • E.F. Benson (1867-1940) An English novelist, biographer, memoirist and represented England at figure skating. He was a precocious and prolific writer, publishing his first book while still a student. Principally known for the Mapp and Lucia series about Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp. Lesson: “Observe the world minutely and always look for stories in people and the places you encounter each day.
  • Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a British poet and critic and the eldest of the three literary Sitwells. She often spent one day of the week in bed! She had an ostentatious style due to her costumes and was an outrageous person, born with a twisted spine. Lesson: “Be noteworthy.”
  • Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) was an English poet, novelist and garden designer. Lesson: “Cherish every moment in life and write about it. There is never a perfect time-all stages of life are worth celebrating.”
  • Elinor Glyn (1864-1945) was a British novelist and scriptwriter who specialised in romantic fiction which was considered scandalous during her time. Lesson: “Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.”

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We then did some fabulous writing activities. They include the following:

  • 50 words – CREATIVE BLURB ABOUT YOU

Walter asked us to write a 50 words blurb about ourselves within 5 minutes. There was however one other small restriction placed onto us, and that was that we had to include one special word – one that was pulled out from his blue bag filled with typed words. My special word was, DROP!

So I wrote – Joy Hopwood’s a creative who works in the arts and entertainment industry. She founded the Joy House Film Festival and does creative kids workshops in schools as part of her “Kindness is for Free” workshops, an anti-bullying and racism initiative, with her DROP dead gorgeous Wong Side of Life puppets.

We all read out our blurbs and some other people had to include words such as “damage,” “bang,” “bake,” “pumpkin,” “chase” and so on.

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  • RECALLING YOUR WRITER MOMENT

We then had to write down a time in our lives that made us think we were writers.

I recalled a time in year 7, at school, when our class had to write down procedures of looking after our pets. I wrote about my pet goldfish and at the end of my story I wrote, “This is how I look after my goldfish, even though he died last week!” After reading it out loud, the classroom erupted into laughter and my teacher said, “I always enjoy reading your work Joy, because of the honesty and humour you put in your stories. Your stories often put a smile on my face.” This was the first moment in my life that I thought I could be a writer.

  • WRITE DOWN YOUR FEARS

Walter made us all address our fears and told us of an incident when one writing teacher told her class to get their names printed on business cards with one word job description underneath – “WRITER.” This affirmation made the class think differently about themselves. One of my favourite activities was when we all had to draw a vertical line in the centre of our pages and write down our fears on the left side and then a positive counteraction on the other side. For example on one side of the page I wrote, “My writing is untidy,” and on the right side of the column I wrote, “My writing is neat,” and so on. After everyone wrote down their lists of fears we were then instructed to tear off and throw away our fears and have our positive affirmations displayed near our computers or writing place. Walter stressed that it does matter how we talk to ourselves and that he once completed a 12-step programme of, “Fake it until you make it!”

  • FLASH FICTION

Writing and telling a story in 300 words is called flash fiction. By starting the story off with the action makes the story immediate and dynamic. Many flash fiction stories omit the set up of the story, and just went straight to the action.

For example, “My bird flew out of hands and dived into a world of the unknown…” or “He walked out on me after I confessed…” and so on.

  • PROMPT BOX

Walter told us about Twyla Tharp’s prompt box. Tharp is a dancer and choreographer who’s produced over 130 dances and ballets over the last 40 years. She believes that creativity can be learned and implemented for the world to savour and enjoy and often uses the “prompt box” technique. Twyla Tharp explains her filing organisation/ creativity project started system: “I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me. he box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.”

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  • CREATIVE SHOPPING BAGS

Walter also told us about his creative teacher, Jan Cornwall who has “creative shopping bags.” Each bag holds items that inspire the writing process. Walter said that his teacher has one bag titled – My memoir, another – My creativity and so on. This is another wonderful creative idea for story and writing stimulation.

Like myself, Walter has journals. He says journal writing stimulates a part of our brain into action. By writing one page a day, in bullet points is a great start; you can use it for articles or for writing a book. To conclude the workshop we wrote down our future dazzling successes, in five years time.

I asked Walter what gives him joy in his life and he replied, “It gives me joy doing the thing I want to do. It gives me joy helping other people, realising and reaching their dreams. I get really excited when I see other people doing something they want to do and if I can help them in any way it really thrills me. It gives me joy being with people I love and it gives me joy to be loved in return. It gives me joy that I have done something that makes someone happy.”

Destination Saigon   Destination Cambodia

Walter has two books published, Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia, I strongly recommend them. He writes with great passion and humour. He has a few talks and workshops coming up. Here’s the link http://www.waltermason.com

Enjoy!

Q & A with Australian screenwriter / producer / director Tony Ayres

Tony Ayres (born 16 July 1961) is a Chinese-born Australian screenwriter, director in television and feature film. He is most notable for his films Walking on Water and The Home Song Stories, as well his work in television –The Slap and teen adventure series Nowhere Boys. He’s Executive producer on Maximum Choppage (a six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and The Family Law (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).

Tony Ayres

Q. When you were growing up who were your role models on Australian TV & Film?

Tony: When I was a kid, I actually avoided Australian film and TV.  There was nothing that I watched, except for getting the occasional guilty glimpse of “Number 96” or “The Box”.  Perhaps it was because I felt a typical Australian cultural cringe?  Or perhaps because there was no one on the screen who represented “me”?  Or some weird amalgam of both.  The shows I loved were mainly American TV shows.

Q. What made you want to break into Australian TV / Film?

Tony: I had always loved words and wanted to be a writer, but half way through my university degree, I realised that academia was killing my passion for literature.  I ended up changing to a visual arts degree at the Canberra School of Art.  If I had found a creative writing course, I probably would have done that.  Film and TV for me was never a driving  passion, more a logical deduction.  Words + plus pictures = screen.  It was only when I started getting into the area that I grew to love it.

Q. How did you get started in your career? 

Tony: After film schools (both VCA and AFTRS), I started work as a TV writer, and was fortunate enough to get work from the start.  Lucky, because I entered the industry relatively late (my late twenties).  Those were the days when SBS was starting to produce scripted drama, and there was a greater appetite for multicultural stories.  I wrote a number of TV plays for a number of anthology series- “Under the Skin”, “Six Pack” and “Naked-  Stories of Men”- which gave me a grounding in writing drama.  As well, I started directing documentaries and short dramas which gave me a taste for directing.  I feel like I was at the right time at the right  place because I was able to make an early career out of the marginal identity politics which I was personally grappling with-  being Chinese, being gay, being Chinese and gay.  I think that’s harder to do these days.

Q. Do you see a positive change to colour blind casting in Australian TV / Film and Theatre and do you incorporate this method of casting in your own productions? 

Tony: Honestly, whilst I think the rhetoric has evolved, in the scripted area  I don’t think that there has been a substantial change in terms of colour blind casting.  Every few years a non-Anglo actor will do a significant film or TV role and in the press junket raise the question of diversity as a public issue.  There will be a flurry of associated articles, and these days a bunch of “likes” on Facebook, but soon after the status quo will settle again.  The network mental “default” will still to be to white.  Non-white cultures will still be massively under-represented.  It will be just as hard for non-Anglo actors who attract attention through a breakout role to sustain their careers.  Diversity for the Australian entertainment industry is like “gay marriage” for Australian politics.  A lot of people believe in it, but few people are prepared to cross the floor to vote for it.

For there to be substantial change, I think that it’s about the people who are genuinely invested in the issue of diversity (ie people from diverse backgrounds themselves) becoming the decision makers, the commissioners, the network executives, the makers.   I guess I’d look at my own work as an example.  Diversity is important to me because I have personally felt the effect/damage of growing up Chinese in a white culture.   So, it’s one of the determinants of what I do.  My kids show, “Nowhere Boys” has a recurring role for a Chinese Australian actor (and the actors playing his family).  I’m currently executive producing “Maximum Choppage” (six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and  “The Family Law” (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).  And I’m also EP’ing a feature film, “Ali’s Wedding”, a Muslim romantic comedy.

Q. What changes do you want to see happen in the entertainment industry?

Tony: In terms of diversity, I’d like the Australian government funding bodies to take this issue seriously enough to create some kind of quota system in terms of representation.  The US and UK industries have both found relatively benign ways to legislate for diversity, and I don’t think it’s harmed their products or their share of the world market.

Finally what projects are you currently working on? 

Tony: Aside from the shows listed above, I’m also executive producing a new show for ABC Drama called “Glitch” which is the ABC’s first supernatural TV series, and EP’ing and co-writing the feature film version of “Nowhere Boys”.   There are some exciting new projects in early days as well, yet to be announced.  But a recurring theme of diversity can be traced through them all.

Q and A interview with Benjamin Law about diversity

Benjamin Law and Joy

Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter, and has completed a PhD in television writing and cultural studies. He’s also member of M.E.A.A. as a freelance writer.

Benjamin is the author of two books—The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012)—and the co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say (2014) with his sister Michelle and illustrator Oslo Davis. Both of his books have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards.

Benjamin is also a frequent contributor to Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age).

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What made you want to write your story – The Family Law?
I’d been writing personal columns for frankie for a while, and I noticed the ones that made reference to my family – especially my mum – got a great response. Which isn’t surprising, really – my mum is pretty hilarious, unique and baffling, in the way that only mothers can be. And after I wrote longer pieces for an anthology called Growing Up Asian in Australia, my now-editor approached me, asking if I had a book up my sleeve. Part of what motivated me to write The Family Law was this idea of writing a book I wish I’d read as a teenager. One with a hilariously dysfunctional Chinese-Australian family.

 

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After writing your story, what steps did you take in order to get your story / screenplay seen by a network or producer?

I didn’t actually seek out screen options myself. I think my publisher would’ve had chats with production companies, and the book was also on people’s radars after a certain point. But when I heard Matchbox Pictures and Tony Ayres – whose work I’d admired for years before we even met  – were interested, I knew they were the ones for me.
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Your screenplay will obviously open doors for diversity…however will your screenplay also be open for “colourblind casting?” 

I’m only on the show as a writer, so I don’t get to call those shots.
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Can you reveal how many roles will be Asian? 
What I can say is that roughly 90% of the cast is explicitly written as Chinese-Australian, so we’ll need the majority of actors to have Asian faces. There are a handful of other roles which are specifically for Eurasian actors, and some roles are definitely white. As for the other roles, I reckon that can and should go to as many different actors as possible!

 

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When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models on television and / or film and why? 

 
There weren’t a huge number of Asian faces on telly when I was growing up. My family and I used to point at the TV and scream in excitement if there was an Asian on TV: “THERE’S AN ASIAN ON THE TEEEE-VEEEEEEEE!” But there was definitely celebrity chef Elizabeth Chong, on Good Morning Australia, and Dr Cindy Pan on sex/life, and I remember seeing Clara Law’s beautiful feature Floating Life, which affected me a lot. But I’d usually look overseas for Asian representation on screen. I mean, I watched The Joy Luck Club A LOT. But it’s getting better nowadays, and reality TV has done heaps to reflect how diverse Australia actually is. You see a lot more Asian-Australians in local comedies and dramas, but not nearly enough.
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What are you looking forward to in the future on Australian television?
I’m really looking forward to Lawrence Leung’s kung-fu comedy Maximum Choppage on ABC2 next year.
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