Last month my home internet was disconnected for 18 days. Eighteen days.

I am a home-based freelancer. I rely on my home internet connection. Earlier this year I reduced my mobile data limit because I barely used it. Last month I used it up in a matter of days, even with rationing. I took my wi-fi only iPad (3G not necessary around here) to the library for work and used the public PCs but with time and content restrictions there is only so much you can do away from home.

It was nights and the days I was at home with my son that I really noticed it. I still picked up my phone to check updates and remembered – no internet.

And then something started to happen. I stopped caring about Instagram updates. About people’s kids and renovations and weekend plans on Facebook. The times I had access and checked the social accounts for a few minutes, I found myself scrolling through the news with boredom.

I did miss my news source, Twitter. Mainstream news runs so much slower and I am able to find information on the things I am actually interested in through my Twitter contacts.

It was actually quite nice being able to leave my phone behind and play with my son without the nagging in the back of my head that I was missing out. I stopped taking carefully set up photos for future uploading, and stopped mentally composing status posts.

I felt less stressed, a nice change from the constant anxiety I live with.

I know this has been written about by many people covering myriad topics and although I have found the subject interesting I have never really taken it to heart. Experiencing it for myself I was able to see the benefits in switching off.

I did however feel nervous. I was disconnected. It was a huge inconvenience in terms of work and every day life – I rely so much on being able to look up something I don’t know.

Once the internet was reconnected I went to my old sites and felt empty. There was new content but I didn’t care. There was nothing there for me. Nothing had changed on Facebook. So I changed my habits. I became involved in an online writing group. I started reading that science news site I’ve been meaning to check out. I’ve become aware of when I am wasting time online, and I stop what I’m doing immediately.

Maybe a forced detox was good for me.

The standout panel for the festival was a meeting of science fiction authors and science communicators, discussing the impact the two have upon each other.

Are scientists influenced by science fiction? Of course! Was the resounding answer. How many desks at NASA, CERN and some of our other greatest scientific facilities would have a TARDIS, Klingon Bird of Prey or Tie-Fighter sitting on them? How many computer and mobile phone engineers would have been the early-day communicators used in Star Trek and William Gibson’s novels and dreamed about building their own?

Science fiction gives scientists a warrant to think big, says science journalist and non-fiction author Antony Fenell (sp).

But how much does writing science fiction rely on an understanding of and currency with scientific research? Not that much, say the authors.

Because science fiction is about social change.

A book about flying cars and hologrammatic gadgets might be interesting for a little while, but it is the people engaging with their environment that holds a reader.

In this post-capitalist society it may be difficult to see where we are headed. We have had religious, artistic, educational, industrial and economic revolutions. We have had world wars – are we ever going to see another one? It seems like the world is simply focused on economy, and even that isn’t working. What are we going to do – just keep upgrading out iPhones?

The speakers urged us to move on from the current phase science fiction is in of destruction and apocalypse and to look to what the next big social change will be. This makes for the most compelling material as both a writer and a reader.

This year at the Brisbane Writers Festival there were a number of sessions centred around the discussion of science and its communication to the public.

I am not a scientist. My background in the field finishes at high school and picks up again with the not-so-factual field of science fiction.

But I love science. I would much rather read about the latest development in the lab than what’s happening in Hollywood.

One of my favourite science communicators Dr Karl Kruszelnicki gave his usual energetic presentation of facts interspersed with some excellent tips for writers. His crusade, he says, is to fight the forces of ignorance. To liberate people from what holds them back. This is the very reason I want to write about science despite my lacking background.

The approach is simple. You need to be able to tell your idea to the slightly inebriated guy at the pub. If he is still interested, you have a story.

Quirky stories are best – as the media tend to only be interested in breakthroughs or weird science – and this is where you can sneak in some informative material.

However he warned against perpetuating incorrect or misinformed sources. Google Scholar is the bible. If you can’t go to the original source, don’t write the story. It is also a good idea to wait for experts to respond to the findings; peer review is crucial.

Dr Karl’s story formula:

Say something amazing.

Present analysis.

Follow with the punchline.

Before I became a mother I had plans of spending my son’s early days getting plenty of writing done. Let me just say it didn’t happen.

I scoured the internet for tips on how to write with a baby in the house but it felt like these people didn’t actually know what it was like to live with a baby.

Write when the baby sleeps! Stay up late! Get up early! Write when you breastfeed (which had been my plan)! Keep a notebook on you and jot down notes throughout the day.

Apparently Nikki Gemmell wrote The Bride Stripped Bare while her young children napped. It is distinctive for its snippet-style chapters. That’s pretty impressive. But not everyone can do that.

The problem was, I was so tired (oh and I had my arms full).

My baby was a catnapper. He slept for 40 mins at a time, after an hour of breastfeeding. He woke at the slightest sounds. He cried for hours on end. I spent my days rocking, patting, walking, feeding, holding him. Turned out he had reflux.

As you can imagine, if he was asleep then so was I. On the rare occasion I found myself with writing time, I spent it staring at a blank page. My brain was empty.

Sleep deprivation is not good for creativity. Neither is depression.

One thing that did help during that time was reading. I was sitting in a chair for an hour at a time, eight times a day. It worked up until he was about six months old, when he was intent on grabbing at my book.

Reading during breastfeeding was so good for me. It allowed my to not feel guilty about not getting any writing done. I was able to read so many books.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

The Ottoman Motel – Christopher Currie

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

Machine Man – Max Barry

Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks

Eisenhorn – Dan Abnett

Without Warning – John Birmingham

Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean

So my advice is when your baby is little, don’t push yourself to write. Put a dent in your reading list.

Categories: Blog

Twice in as many days I have read motivating pieces on the importance of switching off as part of the creative process.

I am an information vacuum. If I am interested in something I must research it to the point that I lose all confidence in my ability to contribute – everyone else out there is either more knowledgeable or more creative than I am.

Author Nike Sulway talks about the value in doing nothing. To shut off from the world, be still, even neglect your writing until you can’t take it anymore and have to write.

That’s one way to silence the voices that so many creatives hear saying you’re not good enough and reminding you of all the rules you have to follow for success.

I don’t know about you, but success to me is writing something I can be proud of (yes I am in the naive early stages of being unpublished).

It is pretty hard to be creative sometimes when you are busy being concerned with absorbing information. There is a lot to be said for gleaning tips from those who have paved the way before us, but how are you going to come up with your own ideas when you are filling your head with everyone elses?

Writer Belinda Weaver has incorporated an inspiration day, once a month. This is a day for visiting the art gallery, observing a new neighbourhood, perhaps attending a lecture. It is a day for absorbing and listening to that other little voice inside, the one with the ideas and for switching off all other input.

Of course here I am serving up advice, contributing to the noise. I’m going to schedule in an inspiration day. You should too.

Categories: Blog

I left my job yesterday.

It was a difficult decision to make – something I deliberated over with great intensity. The decision was ultimately presented to me as a problem. Basically my work wanted more of me; my husband’s work wanted more of him and with a toddler in the house we were all getting tired, stressed and sick. Our family life wasn’t functioning effectively with both parents working (albeit me working part time). I was feeling unfulfilled in my job and unhappy with my writing progress.

With a little guidance I did a values audit and assessed what was really important in my life. My husband and I both agreed that our frantic, stress-filled lifestyle wasn’t working for us.

So we decided I should leave my job. I stressed over the prospect of being out of the workforce for the next five or so years. Of losing my skills and contacts. Of no longer contributing to the household. Of all the ‘what ifs’ – what if we split up and I have to start from scratch? What if one of us (my husband) is injured or dies and we haven’t been making as much money as possible to prepare for that?

I was obsessed with the issue of being dependent on my husband. Not that people would judge me for it but that I have always been a firm believer in being able to look after myself.

The thing is, we are a family. We are a team, meant to help each other and yes – rely on one another. I had dealt with that in my mind but was still wary about the whole concept when I discovered something.

In order to continue to receive the government subsidy for sending our son to daycare (the Child Care Rebate) I had to prove I was working, studying or training during my week. This is when I got excited.

The intention had been for me to continue my one day a week for journalism and then fit in whatever writing I could around the housework, errands and appointments I needed to conduct sans-toddler. But now that I had to prove I was working I had no excuse – I had to write, and take it seriously! This was all the motivation I needed to start my journalism-copywriting business plan.

In my usual way I started to obsess over the details. I have high standards so of course I was expecting everything to be perfect. I have had to remind myself repeatedly of the original reason for taking this new direction. I am making things easier for myself and my family.

The bonus though, is that I get to explore my writing voice in a variety of ways, with the support of a husband who wants me to do this and is happy to continue working to allow me to do so.

I am excited and nervous but most of all humbled by his faith in me.

Today I wrote to Kevin Rudd. I’ve been stewing about the new asylum seeker policy for days now and I decided I needed to do something about it.

I was getting particularly worked up about it one morning as my son played at my feet and I thought, how would I explain this situation to him if he was older (he’s currently 22 months old and would probably understand ‘boat’ out of the whole conversation)?

 

And I know that I need to teach him to stand up for what he believes in. So that’s when I decided I needed to write the letter.

[I also wrote to my local MP]

 

Dear Prime Minister

 

I am writing to you regarding Labor’s new policy on the processing and resettlement of asylum seekers into Papua New Guinea.

 

I feel it is my duty as a citizen to speak up when the my government – the very government I voted in four years ago – is not performing in my interests.

 

I am concerned that we are sending people to a place that people are already fleeing from as refugees. I know that the issue of people smuggling is a complicated and costly issue. Like you, I do not believe the answer is a clear one. However sending these desperate people back to an environment that has its own dangers – dangers that we know about such as ethnic violence and disease – is definitely not the answer.

 

Perhaps this policy has been developed to gain attention. To appeal to the voters. Or to get people thinking about the issue. I truly hope it is the latter.

 

I know that you are an intelligent man, Mr Rudd. I also know that you are a loving husband, father and grandfather.

 

I have been lucky enough to be born into such good conditions. Many people have not. I am thankful that my husband and I are not starving, or facing persecution and that our little boy does not have to face the daily fear of guns or mortar attacks. I love living in Australia. But should that change; should my family’s survival or safety come under threat I would do anything I could to fix that.

 

Under the UN Refugee Convention I know that Australia has agreed not to turn away those seeking genuine asylum. Why then are we sending these people, who want to come to Australia, to a place that could well be just as bad as their origin?

 

Mr Rudd I ask you to think about the people, the families you are affecting as you implement this policy. They are not just numbers. They are simply desperate.

 

Yours Faithfully

Alana Malkin

 

So you know what you should do now? Write to your MP and Kevin Rudd too. GetUp! makes it really easy. They have pre-addressed email forms for you, and if you are stuck for words they provide you with five key points as food for thought [on the MP form].

Write to your Prime Minister

Write to your Member of Parliament

PS. If you want to know the correct way to address your ministers