It is overcast in Melbourne today, so my brain has switched over to winter mode and I’m cooking pumpkin soup for lunch. It is immaterial that the temperature is going to get to 31°C, we just don’t do overcast and warm in Melbourne, so this climate-change induced weather phenomenon has still managed to trigger my soup making behaviour.
Why am I babbling about soup? Whenever I cook I always try to hide some good stuff in the food, especially green good stuff. So true to form I have just diced up some broccoli and dumped it in the pot with all the yummy carb-filled ingredients which make up the majority of my pumpkin soup (plus a little curry, a couple of Vietnamese mint leaves and a dash of chilli –try it). The point being, no matter how bloody delicious my meals are, they always contain at least a hint of healthy stuff.
And so it is with my writing. I will always try to sneak at least a little bit of ‘good’ into everything I write; be it a horror story, a humorous flash fiction piece or even a blog entry (note the climate change remark earlier). The main thing is to try and keep it subtle. If people can taste the broccoli they won’t eat the soup.
Am I an expert? No way! But I think it is important to try. Published writers have so much power, they can talk to hundreds of thousands of people at a time, getting into their heads and hearts so deeply that they have the opportunity to shape belief systems, to make people care. Some do it beautifully; Robert J Sawyer, Jennifer Fallon. Others are a little more clunky, but we forgive them anyway. The point is they try.
So when you get published remember; you have an opportunity to use your power for good. Imagine if we all snuck a little broccoli in each time we wrote. The world could be a much better place.
For some strange reason writing rejections always come in groups. I find I manage to shrug off the first one pretty easily. But the second one, which always follows just 24 short hours afterwards, always delivers a bigger blow than it should (especially when the reason for rejection is that the reader believes it is too hard to find a 100 year old oak tree in Australia. Never mind there are heaps of 100 year old oak trees here, never mind that I never said the story was set in Australia. Never mind it’s not even important to the story. Not bitter, not bitter, not bitter…). We won’t even talk about what the third rejection does (and you always know that one is less than a week away). That is the cluster rule of writing.
But there is an upside.
Acceptances, too, come in groups. I told you of the recent hold request. Just a day after that I had a story accepted. Irrational superstition forbade me to tell you about it until all the pieces of paper were signed and the proofs approved. But the excitement of receiving good news so hot on the heels of good news is as uplifting as the second rejection is crushing. It makes you believe there is a future for your writing after all.
I’d like to say that is why we do it. Why writers write. But the truth is we write because there are stories in our heads that haunt us until we put them on paper and give them to others to read. It is a personal exorcism. The frustrating part is how difficult it is to get your babies read.
So please, read abundantly, read openly and read dangerously. You never know where you might go or what you might learn. And the more people read, the more magazines will print stories and the more clusters of acceptances I will get in my inbox!
I had big intentions of writing lots of great stuff today. But then this glorious Melbourne autumnal day snuck up on me with its luminous blue sky, perfect temperature and sweet-caress breeze, and next thing I know it is 5pm and I’ve done almost nothing at all.
The birds were singing, calling me out to play. The bugs (while avoiding the afore mentioned birds) also knew the day was grand enough to warrant rubbing their legs together, or wobbling their bums or doing whatever it is that bugs do to make their ‘isn’t it a great day’ noises. It seemed that everything that could herald a beautiful day was doing so, and who was I to ignore this? Isn’t this, after all, what life is all about?
But here is the fantastic thing about being a writer; even when I’m being as lazy as can be, when my biggest act of writing for the day is to push out these 386 words for my blog, even if I was to watch back to back episodes of Oprah for the entire day (which on a day as beautiful as this one would be nothing short of a crime against nature) I get to put it all down to gathering material.
So I gathered material while reading a book in the sun, then I went down and gathered some more material over a yummy lunch at a cafe in Camberwell. After that I strolled down to the shops, gathering material at numerous retail therapy outlets, before concluding with a walk home (via the long way), with much material gathering occurring along the way. And just when you thought that I would not be able to fit any more material in, I gathered six games of FreeCell material before opening Word to write this blog entry.
So you can see, so far I’ve dedicated this entire day to writing. One could argue that I’ve even earned a break! Okay, that might be pushing it. There are still a few good writing hours left in the day, I might get that next chapter started yet… But the sun is still out, maybe I should go for just one more walk? The cats come out about now and they do enjoy their belly rubs…
Flying back on the day that Melbourne hosted a mini-cyclone (complete with golf ball sized hail) was, perhaps, not the highlight of my trip, though memorable could certainly describe the experience. After just a few hours of delays, and a flight where I made more promises to God than I could keep track of, I was finally back home, safe and sound.
Oddly enough I was not so much inspired by my time at Adelaide’s Writers’ Week as comforted by it. Many of the writing stories the authors relayed were akin to my own experiences. The one that resonated most closely was the 8 year novel being made up of 7 years of Solitaire (though in my case, it would be FreeCell). By the same token the whole not waiting for inspiration, permission to write a bad first draft, not knowing where your characters are going and forcing yourself to put words on the page, were also very familiar stories.
So while I may not yet be published, and I may not have a huge following, at least I know I am getting into the habits of a writer. Something great that did get mentioned again, was the advice to write for yourself, write what you want to read. Do not write just for the market. You can tweak later, but if you don’t believe in your story, no one else will either. So it looks like I can shelve my project about a vampire who uncovers Christian-based mysteries by solving a series of puzzles and word games after he gets kicked out of wizard school. Thank goodness.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of Adelaide Writers’ Week. It is such a fantastic event, which brings writers and readers together from all over the world. What is most amazing is that all the daytime events are free. And given the big-bucks in fiction writing in Australia (particularly short fiction), that is something welcomed by all struggling writers.
Thank you also to Mum, Dad and my sister for feeding me so well. It wasn’t just extra books that weighed me down on the way home!