A left-brainer does poetry

Right brain

I know nothing about poetry. I never read, studied or had any interest in it. I blame my glutinous left hemisphere. And my lack of patience. To read – and appreciate – poems you need to be the type of person who stops and smells the roses.

Yet, here I am taking a short course in poetry.

Why? I don’t know why. But I’ll take a stab. A microscopic crack let a sliver of light seep through in 2017. That sliver was Rupi Kaur. A poet who became famous through instagram. I appreciate Rupi’s succinct delivery of truisms. Plus, her style was easy for my logical mind to digest. And thus a seed was sowed.

Writing poetry, though, is another matter. It started last year, with just four poems. And I have written a handful since. They’re not great. I know this. They might not even be considered poetry.

These poems spilled out organically. I later realised why. Writing in stanza offered me something that writing in prose didn’t: An easier way to express emotions. I found that charged stuff got bogged down in the many words of prose. And I wouldn’t be able to come out with what I wanted to say.

In the first week of the course, I was introduced to a definition of poetry:

Poetry is expressing the inexpressible.

The crack widens each week. Good poetry is, to put it in my teacher’s words, “distilled language”. It also needs to be “evocative, associative and allusive”. And that for a reader of poetry “the beauty of not knowing the meaning makes it alive”.

Verbs are paramount for creating distilled language. To paint this picture, we were given 12 verbs to turn into a poem as a writing prompt:

  • dancing
  • pressed
  • collapse
  • disappeared
  • order
  • worry
  • sliding
  • humming
  • playing
  • raking
  • suturing
  • cauterising

Here’s what I came up with:

Dancing in the sky
I pressed myself against clouds
they did not collapse
but I disappeared
in which order
I do not worry
sliding / humming / playing
I find myself
raking clouds
suturing not cauterising
puffs into a blanket
buffering my being
from all that is dust

I giggled while writing this. I could picture myself having a good ol’ time in the clouds, but at the same time, it does hold a philosophical meaning for me.

My right brain is chasing the tail of my left. It might just catch up yet.

Liane Moriarty and the writing process

Last Friday, making our way to Chilli India in Melbourne’s CBD for dosas, my friend Art asks me about my book idea. We had just seen Toni Jordan interview Liane Moriarty for The Wheeler Centre in a jam-packed Athenaeum Theatre.

Liane, Toni tells us as she introduces the no.1 New York Times bestselling author, is one of Australia’s most famous novelists, having sold over 14 million books worldwide. Her breakthrough book was The Husband’s Secret, and the book that first lifted Liane from the page onto TV was Big Little Lies, with actresses Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in the lead roles. All seven of the author’s books have now been optioned for the screen.

Humbled by Liane’s gift of storytelling and ability to craft 3D characters with words, I struggle to answer Art. I mumble something about wanting to write a memoir. In reality, my book idea has no backbone. No scaffolding from which I could comfortable perch myself and shape a piece of art. But, at the same time, if I hadn’t just heard Liane speak, I might’ve quashed the idea altogether.

Toni gets into the nitty-gritty almost immediately and asks Liane about her writing process. The author tells us a story: If you had asked my husband this question a few years ago, he’d have told you that I research and plan my book chapter by chapter. This is what he had told other guests at a dinner party that I had not attended. But when he returned home and reported back on his discussion, I quickly corrected him.

But that’s not what I do at all; I’m not a planner.

Maybe you should be, so you’ll become famous – and I can get my Maserati?


For each new book Liane’s begins, she buys a notebook. It must be pretty. Hardcover. Beautifully bound. Then she heads to a café to make some notes. But in reality, she acknowledges she needs to head home and just bang the words out on her computer. (I liken this – the notebook, the café – to a ritual. The oiling to get one going.)

While Liane isn’t a planner, it doesn’t mean, she tells us, that she is a ‘vessel through which words flow through her fingertips and onto the computer’. It’s still a struggle. When she gets stuck she goes for a walk – walking helps to unblock the writer’s block. And when she’s not writing, Liane is always thinking about her characters and how their stories will unfold. Usually, two-thirds of the book gets written before she knows how the story will end. (Hearing all this is a relief!)

Now that she’s a full-time author, Liane likes to write in three-hour blocks. Her one rule is to write at least 500 fresh words in that time – otherwise she finds herself chiselling away at what’s already written, and the story doesn’t move forward. (This hits home. Lately, I’ve taken to writing my first draft by hand in a bid to override the editor that takes over when I’m tapping away on laptop.)

Earlier in her writing career, Liane looked towards other authors’ methods for ideas. Her favourite novelist is Anne Tyler. And when she discovered that Anne uses index cards to write her books, Liane bought a pack too. But then she didn’t know what to do with them. When her one of her novelist sisters – Liane comes from a family of writers – told her she uses highlighters, Liane added those to her writing kit too. Again, she didn’t know how to use them.

Before Liane had the luxury of writing in three-hour blocks she had a full-time job in marketing and advertising with ‘a corner office’. It was here, all those years ago, that she recalls receiving a phone call from her sister Jaclyn, informing Liane that her first manuscript was just accepted for publication.

Of course, I was happy for my sister, but I was also filled with envy.

It was the proverbial kick that she needed to get started – otherwise, Liane informs us, that she might still be in advertising with no books to her name. To get a jumpstart, Liane enrolled herself into a Masters course, which required a 30,000-word thesis.

But I was a show off and wrote 100,000.

That thesis became her first book, Three Wishes, and she hasn’t looked back.

In any case – no matter how famous you are – the message is universal: just write. It is only through writing you discover your process; that you get anything written; that you improve your craft. Do whatever it takes to get you going.

Sure, come and listen to me talk, but instead of attending writers’ festivals, you should be writing.

The aspiring authors in the audience laugh sheepishly in recognition of this truth. I think I’m laughing the loudest.

How often do you create?

I’ve just finished reading A man without country by Kurt Vonnegut. I’d love to quote the whole book, but that’d be plagiarism, so here’s a quote on creating that stood out for me:

Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

This got me thinking: how many of us create stuff in adulthood?


In an industrialised world it is the norm to consume rather than create.

Take me for example.

I don’t grow things. Neither do I sew. Or make art for that matter. Not even any crafts. Nope, no singing either (I’m tone deaf).

I do make a lot of my own food, though. Create recipes, yes. And I write.

Oh, and I LOVE to dance, but I haven’t done much of that lately. (Perhaps that’s the missing ingredient? Better get onto that, Bollywood style, of course.)

But the balance is askew. I consume much more than I create. Which, I hazard a guess, is the reason why many of us feel lost or empty.

The soul needs to grow. But it needs the right food to grow. Creating is it.

So I’ve been inviting the idea of sewing. Very basic things, like simple skirts. And growing things to eat. The easy stuff, like salad greens and silverbeet. And some daffodils, too, for decorating the home (inspired by a dear friend).

These ideas need to percolate, though, and seep into the cracks of my brain before I feel ready enough to begin. Starting little by little, fitting it in bit by bit. Otherwise, they will never happen, no? (I think I’ll start with the daffodils first.)

Kurt Vonnegut in the chapter “I’ve been called a luddite” (incidentally, my favourite in the book) illustrates with his stories how technology has taken away creative work that has given many people purpose and becoming.

Technology is helpful, yes, but it’s up to us to use it intelligently and mindfully, leaving plenty of mental and physical space to create.

So, let’s not forget to create for soul’s sake.

What do you create or wish to create?