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Becoming a Minority, a memoir.

It was never my intention to make myself a minority. I always had a chip on my shoulder about my upbringing – as does any teenager who gives up their weekends for their parent’s business – but it never drove me to intentionally seek uncommon pathways. Yet, growing up in business is the very reason I plunged head-first into a pathway without considering the cultural and social peculiarity of my decision. I believed I was capable, that was all the consideration I needed to push off from the start line. This left me running a race without knowing where the finish line was or what I wanted it to look like.

Did I have the endurance to reach the unknown depths of the future?

I didn’t ask myself this question until I was running, and by then it had already begun, and I wasn’t the type to give up.

This strange race and my movement into a minority group began with a work experience opportunity.  Transitioning into a new school to begin year ten alongside my peers, I was ripe with excitement about the new environment and the ‘adult’ expectations of the faculty.

“This was it,” I thought. “These were the years I read about in books. I am finally mature enough for real adventures.” But I made a misstep out of my eagerness to explore. I raised my hand after attending a presentation from a local employer about trade careers. I was one of a dozen girls in the classroom. Out of the dozen girls, most of them attended the presentation to get out of class for half an hour. Trades were a “man’s job”, there was no reason for more girls to attend. Yet, I watched the presentation (without fully comprehending the opportunity offered) and raised my hand to sign up.

I could have left it there. A week later when I’d heard nothing back about the work experience opportunity I could have let it die. They’d forgotten I put my name down. But, it was never in my nature to forget. It wasn’t in my nature to let anything slip through the cracks, so I hunted down my career advisor and formalized my work experience with Cummins. At the time I had some idealized image of working on cars for a week like a sexy Megan Fox in the first Transformers movie. I was convinced working on cars would make me more desirable… Right?

It was a moot point. I hadn’t signed up to work on cars. Cummins was an engine business… A truck engine business. When I learned the true nature of my work experience, I immediately thought: “No way in hell can I do that.”

I imagined a dirty, greasy, male-dominated environment. Not even considering my gender, I had a small build and was short. How was I going to achieve anything on equipment with tires that were taller than my hips? I wasn’t even interested in mechanical work and knew nobody in the industry.

Yet, neither of my parents went to university and they ran a very successful small business, Pizza Party Hire, catering wood-fired pizzas. They insisted that there was no harm in trying. It was one week, and the work experience program was mandatory – I had to do something, so why not fix truck engines?

When I arrived at the workshop that dreaded Monday morning, I was extremely nervous. I sat in the tiled reception area watching a video play on a loop about the application of the Cummins engine. The video showed mining trucks as tall as houses, small boats, and ferries gliding across choppy water, and trucks towing shipping containers down the freeway.

My only thought was: “What am I doing here?” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking that.

Upfit into blue and orange overalls that were twice my size, with the legs rolled up three times each and wearing safety boots which were heavier than any shoe I had ever worn, I made it into the workshop. The service manager, an impressive woman with a distinct Scottish accent, led me to stand in front of the supervisors, fidgeting with my over-sized sleeves. They were as surprised as I was by my attendance, yet that said nothing. They assigned me to a technician and sent me off into that strange new world.

It wasn’t as dirty and greasy as I imagined. The truck tires were big but there were steps to climb onto them safely. Yes, I stuck out like a sore thumb as the only female in the workshop, but no one treated me any differently.

For that entire week, I learned the names of tools as I passed them to the technician. We were carrying out a major repair with one of the first-year apprentices, a boy nicknamed ‘Hingy’ from his last name ‘Hinge’. The entire engine needed to be disassembled and rebuild due to internal damage. I learned about pistons and con-rods, about movies like ‘Happy Gilmore’ with Ben Stiller, and heard a few scary stories that taught me there was the potential for injury in the trade, but if I was vigilant, I would be safe.

It was like being introduced to colours for the first time. It was like there was an underwater world hidden inside the engine. Complexity existed inside the big red box in a way I could never have imagined.

I don’t remember any time I felt as exhausted as I had that week. I was hooked. That one week shaped my entire high school experience. I sacrificed one of my VCE subjects to sign up for an automotive class in my school and attended more workshops as I tried to find my place.

I learned a few things as I branched out into the mechanical industry:

  1. Car mechanics complain more than truck mechanics.
  2. Car mechanics earn less money than truck mechanics (their favourite complaint).
  3. Majority of car work (in a workshop) involved servicing, and that can get boring very quickly.

Before I had even made my decision, I was decided. It was a common conversation for me to tell my parents what the break times at Cummins were even as I completed my year twelve VCE. Despite being ‘undecided’, I never signed up for university courses – I didn’t even google courses – and by midyear, I applied for an apprenticeship.

That one week of work experience led to me becoming the second female apprentice in the branch despite completing VCE with results in the top 5% of the state. Even now, it is the most life-changing decision I have made, and I would never go back.

I joined a minority group. Not only was I a female in a male-dominated industry, but I was also a female and academic in trade.

At the start line, I had no idea how an apprenticeship or full-time job would shape me into the woman I am today. I never signed up expecting the opportunities I have received throughout my apprenticeship. I’ve spoken at business events, school conferences, and on-camera to advocate for women in trade careers. I earned the nickname ‘Super Apprentice’ within the first few months of employment because, despite my small stature, I had a great attitude towards learning.

No one held my hand at the start of my journey and told me how valuable I was as a woman in trade. Instead, I share that message for others in the community who need to hear it regardless of gender, skill-set, academic success, or physical build:

“Just because you carry out the work differently, doesn’t mean you are less valuable or capable.”

I performed my job to accommodate my weight and size, and that didn’t hinder me from completing my apprenticeship seven months early.

I joined a minority group, but that status is changing. Gender diversity in trade is increasing. Women in trades is a growing reality here in Australia, and the minority is not afraid to share their message:

“You are capable.”

Do Not Suck It Up.

I learnt the hard way that ‘sucking it up’ doesn’t work. Not long term. Whether it is a physical or mental ailment, eventually all that hard work pushing through the pain will return. When it comes back, it won’t just knock on your front door, it will burst open the door and you won’t have any choice but to address it…

The notion of a ‘mental health day’ is an increasingly prevalent concept with more societal awareness of the reality of mental ailments. It is something that I have encouraged many times with family and friends. Whether it’s the extra hours of sleep to feel rested and mentally capable, or a needed break to unwind after weeks of mounting stress, wellbeing is something I have learnt to value. It goes against the old-school mentality of ‘sucking it up’ and prioritising work over self-care, but it is essential. Often, people need the push or permission from someone within their circle to take that break due to the guilt of not attending work – a self-generated idea born from the old-school thinking. I have always done my best to be that push or person for others, but sometimes it can be hard to be that push or person for yourself.

This article may be the most raw and vulnerable I have ever publicly shared. While, in hindsight, I can see that I have shared many glimpses of my mental health, I also know I have always been careful to not fully disclose the extend of my own personal mental health challenges. This is due to the old-school mentality of valuing hard-work and feeling that I must leave my personal life ‘at the door’, like work is not one of the biggest aspects of our lives.

I have been working on unwinding these old-school beliefs to prioritise wellbeing over work for more than a year now. It has been a gradual process as I have dug deeper and deeper to the real root of my challenges. It started as fortnightly breakdowns, then progressed to gut health imbalances. From there, COVID hit, and I allocated my depressed mood to the living restrictions in place during Victoria’s lockdowns. After each hurdle I overcame, I thought: ‘Finally, I have figured it out. I am better.’ I couldn’t see that the race wasn’t over yet, and there were still hurdles ahead.

I am sharing this because I know there are others out there who need to hear it. I was fortunate that I have family and friends who are extremely supportive and weren’t afraid to tell me their story so that I could see past my own doubts. As I struggled with my mental-health I was constantly worried whether the mental anguish was self-inflicted. If it was, then that meant I was weak. I had all the tools, had spoken to psychologists, and in every emotional spiral I knew that I wasn’t myself and wasn’t thinking rationally. Yet, I couldn’t get myself out of the spiral. If it wasn’t my own fault, then what else could it be?

I am not clinically diagnosed with a mental health condition. I am not depressed, and I do not have anxiety, but I do experience them. The biggest mistake I made regarding my mental health was assuming I had to be ‘depressed’ to benefit from anti-depressants. After speaking to a family friend, I was enlightened to the broad application of anti-depressants as a support for mental health. Despite applying all the tools I have learnt from professionals to help when I fall into a six-hour or four-day emotional spiral, I have never been able to disconnect from the mental chaos until it has drifted away on its own accord. The combination of my personality and my life circumstances has left me chemically depleted in my brain, and until I have the right medicinal support to improve my mental health, no matter how many tools I have to help myself, they won’t work. Even though I am completely well and feel capable of handling life’s emotional challenges 90% of the time, the 10% that I don’t, I need support that I am not able to provide myself and that others aren’t able to offer me.

As I write this article, many of my family and friends still don’t know that I am working with my doctor to find the right medicinal support for my mental health. I’ve been unsure about whether to share my truth out of a sense of unnecessity and fear of judgement. Why should I share a deeply private challenge when I don’t want pity or want to burden others with it? Yet, after struggling through a week away from my usual support network, I have come to realise that taking the jump and trusting others with your challenges is a deeply relieving experience.

The reality is, against the old-school mentality, work is a huge part of our lives and we cannot just stop experiencing life because we are at work. Sometimes we cannot just ‘suck up’ our pain and get on with it. Opening up to friends (and even superiors) at work has allowed me the relief that I have people who will support me when life and mental health comes up at work – which it will.

While the old-school mentality may be planting doubts in your mind telling you to keep your challenges to yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised, like I often am, by the subtle kindness that exists all around you. We are all human beings, we have all experienced or know someone who has experienced mental health challenges. You can value work-ethic and professionalism and still be vulnerable as a human being. Do not suck it up. Your wellbeing is worth more than a day of work.

Ashley

Disclaimer: I am not trying to advocate for anti-depressant medication, as there are many avenues to consider prior to seeking medicinal support. My advice is to talk to your doctor if you are struggling as I have done with mine. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to others about your challenges. There is more support around you than you may realise.

Orca.

Waters lapped,
Currents swirled,
Beneath my feet a world
Blossomed ripe
Liked a fruit for plucking.
Scattered light twirled
In an iridescent shower
Over the surface
Of my body, a flower
Floating on the ocean,
Drifting in the bloom.
I was alone yet
I was whole in the womb
Of the water.
I tread lightly as the spirit
Rose highly,
Black and white and
Right and mighty.
The orca of my dreams,
Gliding within arm’s reach,
A guardian for my mind
And it’s beach.

Ashley

My Transition from Automotive to Mining

This year I made the transition from the automotive industry to mining. Translation: I have gone from working on 4.5-tonne trucks to maintaining earthmoving equipment the size of houses!

In case you need a visual representation of the scale of the earthmoving equipment:

I left behind my work friends, product knowledge, network, and reputation to start in a new industry. Not only that, I am now working in a different state. The career change came as a shock to many, similarly to how becoming a diesel mechanic shocked many of my high-school teachers. Yet, as I progressed through the mine’s recruitment process, I knew I was acting from a place of self-knowledge, even before I have consciously decided.

While I was not planning on changing industries, when the opportunity arose to apply for a job in a Queensland mine, I put my name down so I could find out more information. I had been qualified for a few months and was content in my role. Yet, in hindsight, being content was not a positive indicator for me and my personality type.

My life (along with every other Victorian at the time) was quite turbulent due to the strict COVID-19 restrictions placed on the state. This made me extra cautious, as I did not want to make any decisions too guided by emotions that would eventually dissipate. I managed to pull myself together enough to impress during my official video interview but had no expectations to get the job.

Mining has a reputation to employ mechanics who already had mining experience, and I was still fresh out of my time as an apprentice. So, when I received the call in mid-December (with state borders still locked up against Victoria and no idea whether the end was in sight) I said ‘yes’ while trembling on the phone with anxiety, excited for my new role, yet terrified of COVID-19’s agenda. (Fortunately, conditions improved in Victoria, and Queensland opened their borders again before my first week, so I was able to fly in to my new job for my first seven-day swing.)

It was a big decision to leave the automotive industry. The sector helped mould me into a truer version of myself. Yet, through-out my apprenticeship there had only ever been two options for me after qualifying:

  1. Stay and climb the corporate ladder.
  2. Leave and diversify my knowledge and skills as a mechanic.

While the departure from the heavy vehicle industry was outside what others expected of me, it was a move that was true to me. I have never been a complacent person. Contentment is not an emotion I value in my professional life. Being mentally stimulated at work comes from constant learning and new experiences and challenges. While there is always more to be learned, even in a workshop you have known for four years, the frequency of new lessons and experiences does reduce as your work becomes more familiar.

Despite being faced with my first official resignation, the transition from automotive to mining has proven to me the value of listening to my gut and ignoring the mental doubts and external concerns. I was open to being wrong and having to accept mining and fly-in-fly-out was not a lifestyle for me, yet, inside, I knew that I was saying goodbye permanently.

More than just a change in industry, mining has provided a lifestyle change. Instead of working two thirty-eight-hour weeks in a fortnight, I am working one seven-day-week of twelve-and-a-half-hour days. While the contrast between work-eat-sleep and rest is extreme, it provides me the freedom to invest more time into my passions. I have more energy to commit to business and writing and wellbeing (and cooking is less of a chore now that I have more time at home!).

Through-out my apprenticeship I was never interested in mining, similarly to how as a kid I had no interest in being a diesel mechanic until I accidentally signed up to work experience. In both decisions, I had surprised the people around me and gone against their expectations by knowing and trusting myself. Choosing to enter a trade instead of attending university has always been one of the best decisions of my life. If my patterns are anything to go by, mining could be my next ‘best decision’. Only time will tell!

Ashley

The Exit – Short Story

She had it sealed in an envelope in her bag. It had been finalized and printed weeks ago, but the time to deliver it hadn’t yet arrived. So, it stayed there, resting like a caterpillar that had crawled into its cocoon expecting to die but came out as a butterfly.

No. It came out as a moth.

In hindsight, she would wonder if it would have been easier to let the caterpillar die.

She’d been minding her own business, just trying to carry out the day as usual despite her leaden heart and her jumpy mind – did Derrick know? He’d been glancing at her more than usual. Did she look stressed? She had practiced an easy smile in her car’s rear mirror, but maybe she wore her poor sleep too blatantly in her eyes.

Yet, the jumpy mind didn’t improve her boss-radar. When she finally ran into her boss, she nearly squealed aloud.

“Amy.” She sighed, resisting the urge to place her hand over her anxious heart.

“Good morning, Emma,” Amy smiled, her hair still straight before the day’s stresses caused it to rise like static wind had stirred inside the office building. “How was your weekend?”

“Good, good,” Emma answered absently. “How about you?”

“Fine, thank you,” Amy said, in a tone that indicated that was all the chit-chat she could afford.

Emma clasped her paperwork against her chest as if to shield herself as she followed Amy the three steps she had moved on by. “Actually, Amy.” She gulped. “I have something for you.”

“Oh,” Amy said, surprise clear in her voice as she stopped her urgent parameter-check through the hallway. “What-”

“I’ll go get it from my desk.” Emma said.

“Alright,” Amy nodded once, her face instantly composed as she attempted to conceal the mental list of possible outcomes she was developing based on Emma’s tone and appearance. “Meet me in my office.”

“Okay,” Emma said and then fled from the conversation. She had started the process; her caterpillar was about to come out of its cocoon.

She bustled to the end of the hallway before the heat of her freshly printed paperwork dissolved and tried to take a controlled breath. Derrick had definitely sensed her weird energy. He was peering over the top of his cubical with unfiltered curiosity.

“Hi Emma,” Derrick said, always one for the verbal dance. “How are you?”

“Fine,” She replied, flatly. She pulled the envelope out from her bag, still crisp and untainted like her warm paperwork. She knew she couldn’t allow Derrick to ask his actual question otherwise her face would reveal the depth of her nerves, so she ended the conversation. “Sorry, I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

Before Derrick could reply Emma was already turning away, the envelope clutched in her hand and her heart pounding in her throat.

When Emma joined Amy in the office, Emma didn’t dare speak.

“Oh,” Amy said again, the list reducing in her mind as she saw an envelope – the ‘gift of appreciation’ that she had crossed her fingers for couldn’t be in that skinny piece of folded paper.

Emma just handed over the envelope and stood with her hands casually behind her back. She watched in quiet terror as Amy ripped open the envelope and exposed the contents. Yet, when Amy finally returned her eyes to Emma, the terror was replaced with relief. The event had occurred, there was nothing left to anticipate, Emma had completed her side of the exchange.

“Oh, Emma,” Amy said with a sad smile on her face. “I’ll be sad to see you go.”

“Me too,” Emma admitted. “This place has been my home for years, but it was time for a change.”

Amy nodded, and glanced back at the paperwork in her hands. “Have you told your supervisor yet?”

“No,” Emma shook her head. “I wanted to come to you first.” Emma had known she only had enough courage to prepare for one person, so she had decided it was easier – because it was more official – to start with Amy.

“Alright. Well, I will notify your supervisor and the HR team. The HR team will email you themselves. Otherwise, it is work as normal for the next two weeks.”

“Of course,” Emma said. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Amy didn’t reply, instead she just turned to her computer as Emma left. Her leaden heart had melted, and the cocoon had been delivered. She could breathe easily again. The hardest part was done. At least, that was what she had believed.

*

The first week after her resignation had drifted past normally. The word had travelled around the office, but it was as if she bore the Mark of Cain because no one approached her about her resignation.

Emma was unsure how she felt about it, but it had felt unnatural to tell people when they already knew, so she had continued as normal.

The second week was when the cocoon of her resignation began to open, and it wasn’t the pretty butterfly she had expected. It would be a dusty, ordinary moth.

The nerves of leaving and knowing that her new job was sneaking closer had plagued her erratic dreams all weekend. Even though Emma assumed the whole office building knew it was her last week, she felt that it was necessary to announce it formally for herself. In an attempt to be positive and grateful for the years she’d enjoyed working with her team, Emma wrote a polite email titled ‘farewell and thank you’.

That was when the weirdness began.

The people she had trusted to reply to her email with well-wishes performed as expected, easing some of the email-apprehension for Emma. Yet, Derrick, whom she had sat opposite for the last six months, didn’t even peer over the cubical when she sent the email.

Emma wondered: had she been distasteful?

Yet, with another positive reply she let the concern drop.

“Emma,” a voice announced itself at the edge of Emma’s cubical after lunch a few days later.

“Aisha,” Emma said, swiveling in her chair to face her co-worker.

“I saw your email the other day.” Aisha said, propping her arm on the top of Emma’s cubical, indicating she intended to talk for more than two minutes.

“Yeah.” Emma said, unsure how else to reply to Aisha’s declaration.

“Where are you going?”

“To the new department on the other side of the city.”

“Oh, so it’s like a promotion?” Aisha said, smiling.

“No.” Emma said. “It has a different parent company, so it’s run as an independent organization.”

“Oh,” Aisha said, her distaste only evident from the subtle drop in her tone. “Why are you leaving?”

“More experience.” Emma nodded. She had been proud and confident in the rightness of her decision to grow and challenge herself in her career, but Aisha tilted her head.

“You couldn’t have got that here?” Aisha asked.

“Well, yes, but-” Emma explained.

Aisha had just been the beginning. Through her last few days, Emma had been approached by numerous co-workers and bosses. Many whom she’d only interacted with on the rare occasional. They all asked the same questions, and Emma felt her self-esteem shrivel in the insecurity.

Why did she feel like she had to justify her decisions to these people?

The exit interview was worse. She hadn’t been worried, because she couldn’t mess up an exit interview – could she? Yet, when it was done, she stood in the bathroom with the door locked behind her and just stared at herself for a few minutes. Why was it so hard to just explain: she had made the decision for herself?

By the last day, Emma was dreading the final goodbyes. What she had assumed would go smoothly had become a weird confusion of pretend-normal. Whenever she acted upbeat and positive, trying to make easy jokes about leaving, she could taste the rubber of her shoes in her mouth. The colours of her butterfly had fallen off. She just wanted to be gone.

In her last hour of employment, she was called back to Amy’s office.

“It’s a bit late to fire me, isn’t it?” Emma joked.

Amy didn’t reply, she just smiled. Except, it wasn’t a proper smile. It was more like a grimace or a cringe than a smile.

Emma felt like crawling into a hole. If only she’d known how humiliating resignation could be, then she would have quit more dramatically – only to avoid resuming work post-resignation.

“I’ve just invited you in to formally say goodbye. I don’t expect you to continue working your last hour, so I’m happy for you to begin packing up your desk.”

“Okay,” Emma said, her attempts to maintain ‘normal’ banter deflated – she had finally accepted she was doing a terrible job at tasteful normality in the face of resignation.

“I wish you well in your new endeavors.” Amy nodded her head once.

“Thank you,” Emma shifted on her feet, wishing that Amy would drop eye contact so that Emma didn’t have to sustain looking into her eyes. She felt like she was a giant zit on the face that people couldn’t help but stare at.

“Feel free to say your goodbyes to others on your way out.”

“Okay, I will.” Emma said.

Amy smiled one final time. “Good luck.”

“Bye,” Emma said and left. On her way back to her desk she stopped by her co-worker’s desks, offering only the bare minimum conversation required. When she reached her desk, Derrick was the only ‘goodbye’ left.

Emma and Derrick made eye contact, but Emma decided it would be less awkward if she could say goodbye and then leave, rather than say goodbye and then awkwardly talk to Derrick until she actually left. So, she tidied up the few possessions that she hadn’t emptied from her cubical: her planner, her pencil case, and her draw tidy. She had already passed-on her work to her co-workers, so there was no paperwork to relocate.

Emma shut down her work computer for the final time. When she stood this time, Derrick feigned consumption in his work.

Emma walked around their divider until she was standing at the edge of his desk. Still, he only glanced at her.

“Hi,” Derrick said.

“I’m leaving now.” Emma said. “I just wanted to say goodbye.”

“Alright,” Derrick peeled his eyes from his screen. “It was nice working opposite you.”

“Yeah,” Emma said, jostling the box in her arms.

“Well,” Derrick scratched his face. “I guess I’ll see you around.”

Inside, Emma was thinking the contrary, but she nodded and mustered a smile. “Yeah. Well, bye ‘til then.”

Derrick returned to his screen and Emma walked away, finally. With a sigh, she was finally at the exit. Good riddance.

Why Perfectionism is Killing your Characters

In life I strive to be a better version of myself. ‘Better’ can look like:

  • Happier
  • Mentally stronger
  • Physically leaner
  • Great decision making
  • Less mistakes
  • Time efficiency
  • Indestructible patience
  • Financial security
  • Prettier house
  • Prettier Instagram feed

The list goes on. In the above list I can identify flaws in my way of viewing ‘better’ and the superficiality of my ‘success’ measures. Where is the “less-stressed” or “more grateful” desire? Where is my “self-love”?

But the contents of my list are irrelevant. Whatever your list looks like, it also doesn’t matter. It’s the underlying desire that kills your characters – the ideal to be better. The ideal to be ‘the best version of you’ twenty-four hours of every day for your entire life.

Right now, you’re asking: How? Why are the two topics – perfectionism and story characters – even related?

Let me tell you: Perfectionism kills characters by making them uncomplex and unrelatable.

If you’re shaking your head right now, there are two reasons for your disbelief:

  1. You know you write incredible and complex characters, and have been told as such.
  2. You know that characters need flaws, and you’ve given your characters plenty.

It’s the second point that is addressed in this article because not all flaws are equal.

I invite you to think back on your characters. When you think of their flaws, would you describe them as any of the following:

  • Tidy
  • Easily forgivable
  • Noble, or
  • Non-detrimental to story events.

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above then your desire to be ‘better’ is hindering your characters. (Don’t feel bad if you did answer ‘yes’ to any of them. I answered ‘yes’ to all of them.)

Why?

Because the best characters in stories are the complex characters. The characters with messy flaws, that make messy mistakes and create messy events, are the characters that are the most engaging. Life is messy, and when our characters have some of that mess inside them, we can relate as readers.

‘Mess’ inside a character is when characters have conflicting beliefs and ideals within themselves that they are forced to challenge or choose between. It is in these moments that we can get a true sense of who they are.

I’m not talking about choosing between the desire to ‘avenge a friend’ and the belief in ‘protecting others’ – that’s not messy or ugly. They are honourable flaws. (I know, because I wrote an entire novel about a protagonist with this “dilemma”.)

The connection between reader-and-character is the blood pumping through your book. No matter how creative your story idea is, if the blood isn’t pumping the story is going to suffer a quick death.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT in the following paragraph.

My current read: A Court of Wings and Ruin (‘ACOWAR’ for the fans reading this) has incredible characters. A prime example of ugly flaws existed in Rhysand. He provided sexual services to a woman he despised for years to protect what was important to him. It’s a messy back story, but it’s an aspect of his identity that revealed much of his beliefs. It revealed he was willing to sell himself, willing to be misunderstood by outsiders and willing to suffer. All to protect others. The sheer messiness of the situation that formed his back story made the understanding of him as a character deeper. And this is merely a nugget of Rhysand’s character.

My recent enlightenment to my own ‘tidy’ characters has forced me to re-evaluate my character development. I know that in order to connect with readers I have to create characters that people can connect with.

I don’t expect it to be easy, but I know it is necessary. Strong character development is necessary of any writer. Especially, if you want to reach into the hearts and minds of others and forge an unseen relationship with them.

So, if you’re reading this and feel:

– Your characters are ‘tidy’ (and/or)

– Your desire to be ‘better’ has you writing flawless character

I challenge you to forgo perfection. You can continue to work towards bettering yourself without cutting the ‘character’ out of your characters. I challenge you to write messy characters.

The world will thank you for it and you will thank yourself.

Ashley

How to Overcome Scene-Paralysis

Are you stuck on how to begin writing the scene you have lingering somewhere in your mind? Have you got a ‘notion’ of what you need to write but no idea where to begin?

Congratulations! You are only one step away from being a writer! All that is left is to write.

But, how?

There is never one solution for every writer, or for every creative idea that hasn’t learnt to walk yet. As you write and practice overcoming creative hurdles you will learn your own creativity hacks and catalysts.

I was recently stuck trying to start a scene in my book even though I knew the events that needed to occur. As a way to ease the overwhelm of writing that first sentence, I opened up google.

Key point: google is never a good first option for overcoming creative hurdles. The internet can be a creative trap!

Once I had avoided the problem for some time, I was still no closer to writing my first sentence. So, I continued to option number two. The second-best option is obvious: I opened a word document and created a table with five columns.

If you’re confused now – good. I’ve got your attention. The exercise I am about to share with you was inspired from a lesson I received in a writing workshop. While it is helpful, it will not write your first sentence for you. That, only you can do. Yet, this exercise can create more direction transferring your creativity from you mind to the page – which is helpful.

Activity: Immerse the five senses.

The senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) in writing create the layers that bring the images to life for a reader. Every writer and genre will utilise the senses differently to create different experiences, but they are equally important in each.

Example one: pay attention to how Rick Riordan included smell into his story telling.

“He smelled bad, all right – but ocean bad. Like hot seaweed and dead fish and brine.”

  • Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan

By describing the smell (of ‘ocean bad’) through similar smells (‘hot seaweed and dead fish and brine’) without even smelling anything as the reader your sense of smell has been included and you further engage with the story.

Example two: pay attention to how Cormac McCarthy included hearing in his description.

“The water was the color of clay and roily and they could hear it in the rips downstream.”

  • All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy doesn’t try to tell you what water sounds like; he leaves it up to you to fill in the gap. But he does tell you that the characters can hear the water, so he engages your sense of hearing into your reading and keeps you included in his world.

So, how does this help you write your first scene?

In the word document I opened, I titled each column with a different sense:

TOUCH

TASTE

SMELL

SIGHT

HEARING

Then, with the scene in my mind and not yet on paper, I began to imagine the senses my character would experience in the scene. The only information you require to start the exercise is: where will your scene take place? Once you have answered that you can begin to solidify the scene in your mind through the five senses.

P.S. Check out my ‘tools’ page to download your own exercise sheet!

By starting your creative engine and beginning to write your scene without the first sentence you are priming your brain and creativity to find a way to get from sentence-one to the sentences you’ve half-written for the scene. Engaging the five senses for yourself to transfer your idea from mind to paper can help you overcome scene paralysis – it may even improve your writing!

Happy writing!

Ashley

Why you need a Writers Group

For many years, writing was a solitary process. It was a solitary passion. Whether I was sharing content on social media, my website, or Wattpad, I felt a lack of community. My readers were my family (after I annoyed them enough to read my content) and occasionally my co-workers. Despite the number of writers I engaged with as a reader, writing was an activity I participated in alone.

That changed when I attended my first Writers Group meeting. The benefits were immediate and inspiring, and I am going to tell you why you need a Writers Group if you are serious about writing.

Reason 1: I gained a community.

My Writers Group ranges from ten-to-twenty people per meeting and we meet once per month. At the age of twenty-one, I am the youngest by a few decades in my Writers Group. Yet, the diversity of writing experience cannot be calculated in years.

While I enjoy writing science fiction novels and dabble in some non-fiction and poetic writing, by joining a Writers Group I had the opportunity to engage with writers who have a diverse range of experiences, including:

  • Poetry
  • Short stories
  • Non-fiction
  • Auto-biographies
  • Fiction
  • Teaching writing to children
  • Teaching writing in university
  • Publishing in anthologies

It was a mind-expanding experience to physically meet successful writers who existed in a multitude of careers, with different levels of engagement with the industry.

Within one meeting, I was no longer a solitary writer. I had connected with people who shared my passion for writing and I was able to contribute to that community simply by showing up, listening, and sharing objective feedback. Even if this was the only benefit from joining a Writers Group, I still would advocate for more writers to participate. The benefit of being a part of a community is that you no longer feel alone. While consciously this may not impact your day-to-day life or even impact your writing, joining a Writers Group can provide you with a greater sense of purpose in your writing because you’re now a part of something bigger than yourself.

Reason 2: I gained a passionate support network.

Every meeting, each member of my Writing Group has the opportunity to share some writing that they would like feedback on or want to celebrate with the group. This support network can improve your writing. Through objective feedback and a variety of opinions, others can help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses in a supportive environment that encourages you to better your writing, rather than belittle you for your mistakes.

As a solitary writer, without objective feedback, you are ultimately guessing at how to improve your craft. Alternatively, you have to pay for professional criticism. By joining a Writers Group you have the opportunity to receive constructive feedback in exchange for participating in the community.

Being in a Writers Group with writers more experienced or successful than yourself also provides you an opportunity to receive more individualized support and feedback for your written work. There is the potential you may connect with a writer who has experience in your specific genre or career stage. By connecting through a Writers Group you have the opportunity to request one-on-one support with others. This can be a huge catalyst for growth as a writer and is another benefit of joining a Writers Group.

Reason 3: I gained inspiration.

Writing can be a chore. I find it easier to imagine a new world in my mind than I do to carry out the actual work of creating it through words on paper. For the majority of the time, we need disciple and momentum in write. At other times, inspiration can be the kindling we need to start a fire.

The night after my first meeting I went to bed itching to start typing away on my current work-in-progress. That energy was still with me the next morning when I woke. As soon as I had finished breakfast, I was starting up my computer and scanning through notes to reconnect with a story I had left gathering dust for the last three months.

Being a part of a community and having the opportunity to read my work out loud to a small audience was an exhilarating feeling. As a writer, my purpose is like a coin. On one side, writing is a way that I express myself and my creativity. On the other side, writing is a craft I aspire to share with the world. Despite having the larger ambition to publish books that are read and enjoyed by the masses, reading my work out to my Writers Group gave me my first taste of authentically sharing my work. This feeling ignited the passion in my chest and created the incentive to write. I wanted to share more with my Writers Group, and I also had people I was accountable to. I didn’t want to arrive at the next month’s meeting with nothing new to share.

By joining a Writers Group I gained inspiration and incentive to write. That creative energy is extremely valuable and when put to use has the power to motivate anyone to commit themselves to their passion – even when it requires work.

You need a Writers Group.

If you’re reading this now and wondering whether or not you should join a Writers Group, then I insist you try it out for yourself. Not only do you get to feel inspired and contribute to something bigger than yourself, but a Writers Group will boost your growth and accountability. We don’t have to feel alone when we’re typing and sharing writing from different parts of the world, divided by screens and different time zones. Joining a Writers Group is like a breath of crisp air on a stiflingly hot day. If there aren’t any established Writers Groups in your local area, utilize your screen and google an online community or even start your own!

If you’re a serious writer, you will never underappreciate the benefits of a Writers Group. I know I won’t.

Ashley

How to create shared savings in a relationship.

Photo by Michael Longmire via Unsplash.

There will be a time when you and your partner are ready to commit to a financial goal outside your daily capacity. Whether it’s a fast car, a fancy apartment, your fantasy holiday or the forever-house, saving money becomes necessary.

Please note: this is not an article about how to start saving, how to manage your money, or how to create a daily budget. This is an article about how to preserve your relationship when you begin saving together, as two individual people.

When I went through this transition with my partner, it became apparent to me how quickly the discussion could dissolve. We had different ideas about money, different ideas about saving, and different financial situations. How could we ever save money together when our circumstances were so different?

My financial situation:

– Recently moved out of home.

– On apprentice wages.

– Increased expenses due to living alone.

– Earning more.

My partner’s financial situation:

– Still at home, rent free.

– On apprentice wages.

– Very few expenses.

– Earning less.

Even though I received the larger fortnightly pay check, because of my living circumstance I had less money left over each fortnight than my partner. Did that mean my partner should contribute more to savings?

I didn’t think that was ‘fair’. He agreed. Yet, realizing this didn’t bring us closer to the solution.

So, what is ‘fair’?

From a young age I have appreciated how unreliable ‘fair’ is as a concept. This is because ‘fair’ is a matter of opinion and therefore different for everyone. Yet, it is still a notion that directs us to create a situation that is agreeable between two (or more) people. It is essential when deciding on saving with your partner to honor the notion of ‘fair’.

This quote from Cormac McCarthy captured the importance of ‘fair’ in his interview with Oprah Winfrey while discussing the nature of his writing:

“You know, you always have this image of the perfect thing which you can never achieve, but which you never stop trying to achieve. But I think … that’s your signpost and your guide. You’ll never get there, but without it you won’t get anywhere.”

Cormac McCarthy, 2007.

The solution.

We needed a solution that could be transferable across the numerous chapters of our lives. While I earned more when the discussion first came up, I knew that could never remain the case indefinitely. To save ourselves the discussion every time a pay check changed (which was fortnightly due to overtime hours we both worked) we created one simple rule.

The rule: contribute the same percentage from our individual paychecks every fortnight.

This rule can be easily adjusted for your financial situations by filling in the following sentence:

Contribute the same percentage, [__%], from our individual paycheck every [pay cycle].

All that is left is to determine what the percentage is.

This required an awareness of our recurring expenses, spending habits and expect-able income for each pay cycle. We each calculated the income and expenses in each pay cycle and determined the amount left over. Room for personal spending was included in expenses, creating enough breathing room that the percentage remains ‘sustainable’ and doesn’t generate unnecessary stress on either party. Once we had both calculated the numbers, the remaining income was converted into a percentage.

For example:

Person 1:

Income per paycheck: $2,500

Expenses per paycheck: $1,800

Remaining amount: $700

Percentage remaining: 28%

Person 2:

Income per paycheck: $1,600

Expenses per paycheck: $1000

Remaining amount: $600

Percentage remaining: 37.5%

Whichever percentage is lower becomes the percentage both parties honor. The reason for this is to create sustainability for both individuals. Setting a percentage which is unreasonable for one person while comfortable for the other disregards any notion of ‘fairness’.

The key points:

– Calculate your income and expenses allowing for personal spending and breathing room.

– Contribute the same percentage from each pay cycle towards savings based off the lower percentage.

– Watch your savings grow, together.

– Bonus points: set a financial goal to create further incentive to honor saving arrangement.

Following this arrangement means each person is contributing the same portion of their income to a joint cause. Saving via a percentage also honors each person’s individual freedom to their own income. Any additional contributions towards the joint savings then comes from an individual’s free-will, free of expectations.

With this arrange we can minimize the tension between ourselves and our partners when breaching the topic of joint savings.

Share this article with any couples you know who are beginning this chapter of their lives!

Good luck, and happy savings!

How to be original as a writer.

As a writer, both of non-fiction and fiction works, I am often challenged with my own nagging voices of doubt. As most of my fiction writing is a collection of incoherent notes, random images in my mind, and barely-started manuscripts, it’s easy to feel isolated in my passion. Reading other works offers inspiration, but can also offer the double-edged sword.

What if I don’t write well enough? Or, what if my ideas aren’t original enough?

I struggled with this idea prior to finishing my first manuscript in high school. Yet, I determined a conclusion for myself that didn’t fuel my doubts. Instead, my new perspective dissolved the doubt of ‘originality’ entirely.

It started with a simple question: What is originality?

Photo credit: dictionary.com

Naturally, I stared with a definition: the quality or state of being original. Yet, this answer led me to further my question. I thought, “Maybe, it’s better to ask, ‘what is original’?

In hindsight, I can determine what ideas were un-original in my youth. Those ideas were re-writes of my favourite books with a name change – maybe – and a few “new-ish” ideas. That was back in the days I didn’t know to start a new paragraph for dialogue. I also failed to detail who was speaking – let’s just say, those works are ineligible to me now.

In this day and age, the ability to preserve mediums is better than ever before. There are more books, movies, shows and productions, with much wider access. How is anyone meant to think of anything original?

I learned it was all about perspective!

If we reduced every movie, show or book, we engaged with into five words, there would be a lot of forms with the same descriptions.

Love, war, friendship, sacrifice, bravery.

The first series that comes to mind is: A Court of Thorns and Roses (my current read). The second is: The Hunger Games (my boyfriend’s current read). I could go on, but I imagine you have more examples yourself, which proves the point.

Imagine if any of these authors stopped writing because their ideas were similar to someone else’s. I know there would be a lot of fans devastated by the worlds that would cease to exist – including me.

Looking at any idea, or any story, in the macro, there will always be a lot of competition. That’s why I stopped looking at the macro level.

Every writer has their subtle nuances, both in writing style and in the pure creativity of their worlds. I came to recognise that it was the smaller details that impacted whether I loved a book or merely enjoyed it. The micro of any writing is in the characters, the world and the relationship you develop with the text. At a micro level you will find something original, even if the only original aspect is the new relationship you have formed.

When this idea dawned on me, all doubts regarding originality dissolved. Sure, there are more doubts to fill in the void – they don’t go away, but you stop giving them as much of your attention. But, when it comes to originality, I don’t worry.

At a macro level, the similarities are good. They allow you to connect with people and communities that enjoy common topics and literary genres. At the micro, that’s where your originality will shine – even if you can’t see it yourself yet.

So, if you’re an aspiring writer and you’re reading this, trust in your own writing. Don’t let doubt cloud your creativity. There are people out there who want to read the words you have to share!