Facing Fears

Following on from J K Rowling’s excellent speech (see previous post) I have been thinking a lot about taking risks over the last week. It is so easy to look back on the past risks of successful people and dismiss them as being minimal. But the truth is it takes a brave person to turn their back on safe and head into the unknown.

Every time you send out a manuscript you are taking a small risk. You are putting your work out there and seeing if someone likes it enough to publish it. You risk being told you can’t write, you risk being told your story is lame, you risk being told to give up. But these are all very small risks, and if you can’t take these, then you have no place in the world of publishing.

It is becoming apparent to me that these days if you want success in publishing, you need to take bigger risks. You need to fund your own marketing, you need to be prepared to get out there and push your book, you need to become more IT savvy.

I’m ready to take those risks, so to that end sometime before the end of this month I’m going to move my website and blog from my current ‘copy-paste’ templates to a new platform that I design and maintain. So please stick with me, there may be glitches, I may lose all my current content, but keep checking back if you suddenly find that I’ve gone off line. I will be back!

And do stay tuned, I have some exciting big risks coming up and I would love to bring you along for the journey. Life belongs to the brave, and I’m at the point where the fear of everything staying exactly the same has finally outweighed the fear of failure.

So let’s take part in a challenge, do one thing this week that you are afraid of, and please tell me about it. I’ll do something too, and it won’t just be turning off my website template. Let’s be brave together!

Happy risk-taking!

Nat

Taking risks, if Little Chef can do it, so can we;

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All writers are great

Yes, it sounds like something that would be said by a member of the generation that were given participation awards at school, but I can assure you that I’m firmly in the Gen X category where the ribbons only went down to third place and sometimes a wooden spoon was handed out for coming last so you had a memento of your humiliation. However the statement about great writers is true. But perhaps I do need to tack a little bit on to the end of that… All writers are great to someone.

I am amazed at how often I can be glowingly recommended a book which I cannot force myself to finish, likewise a book I love is slagged by others. It is uncanny how often a writer taps into the global ‘love’ list while also squeezing themselves into the dreaded (but apparently profitable) ‘hate’ list as well (Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, anyone who has a number 1 bestseller basically).

So what am I saying? That you don’t need to try, someone will love the words you chuck together? NO! What I’m saying is that if you love your stories, then others will too, just not everyone. Rejections will come, people will slag and stories will be placed forever in the bottom drawer… But someone will love your work, someone will want to publish your work and someone will silently thank you for inventing a story that resonated on such a personal level with them. It might just take time. After all, there must be some truth to the oft’ quoted saying (attributed to so many people that I just had to pick one from a long list):

“There is a word for a writer who never gives up; published.”

                                                                        – J. A. Konrath

Finally, love her or hate her, I think J. K. Rowling wrote some great books and here is a commencement speech she gave at Harvard University in 2008. If you haven’t seen it I think it is well worth watching:

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The Curse of the 5th Chapter

May has been a month of deadlines. One of these deadlines was for a novel development program, open to any genre. Keen to get advice from other writers and editors about how to write a better book, the first decision I had to make was which partially written novel to submit.

This was a bigger challenge than you might expect given how many novels I have started over recent years. I kid you not, I have six novels actively on the go right now. They are in different genres, aimed at different readers, written in very different styles. The one thing they do have in common is that they all stop after the fifth chapter. Why? Because for me, that is when it really starts to feel like a novel and I begin to fall in love with it. So naturally I become terrified that I’m going to stuff the rest up and will find any excuse not to go back to it.

I have long known of this is a particular affliction of mine, and I have read other blogs by other writers who have similar problems, but at different parts of the book. But gratefully for this novel development program I could ignore the bits past chapter five and just pull together the first few chapters for my submission.

Here was my surprise. The first five chapters weren’t great. In fact the first five chapters weren’t even good. They were actually crap. I had spent three years avoiding this book because I loved it so much that I didn’t want to bugger it up, and it turns out that by neglecting it that was exactly what I had done.

What was meant to be just a weekend of work turned into about 25 hours of re-writes and hard edits to get my chapters up to scratch in time for posting on Friday. But what’s even better is that I’m raring to go on chapter six and beyond! So even if the development program doesn’t come through for me, at least I now stand a chance of finishing this book!

So now I guess I have nothing to worry about… Until I hit the curse of the ¾ mark –where you become convinced that your novel is crap. But we’ll cover that in another blog.

Happy Writing!

Nat

The Horrors of Homonyms

Someone recently asked me for some advice about writing and getting published. I know, get back on your chair, I was surprised too! But I wanted to take this seriously so I had a long think about what pearls I could pass on. I know I am no expert, but I have read enough books and spent enough hours with writers to have picked up a thing or two, so I tried to think about the most important ‘rules’.

The thing that kept coming back to me is every rule is there to be broken. I could tell of the pitfalls of point of view slips, the danger of dangling modifiers, the crime of clichés or even how trite it is to marry adjectives to nouns based on them sharing the same first letter. But the cold, hard fact is that I could also show you countless number-one bestselling novels that do all these things in abundance and no one gives a rat’s patooty.

But there is one error that many first time writers (myself included) make that will preclude you from the best seller list; the misplaced homonym. Here are some examples:

  • She drew an ark around them – what, a picture of a boat? That would be arc.
  • The waves crashed on the beech – unless a tree was growing on the beach you want to swap the ‘e’ for an ‘a’. 
  • He was such a boar – unless you are trying to say he was a pig, it would be bore.
  • She lifted the vile to her lips – the contents might be gross, but the receptacle itself would be a vial.

I could go on, but there are smarter people than me who have dedicated full websites to this, so I’ll leave you to explore them. The point is, spell check does not pick them up, even fancy new Word doesn’t get them all. So keep an eye out for these little devils because they can pull the reader right out of the story, and anything that pulls the reader out is working against you.

Now eye knead two go and do sum righting…

Nat

PS My online story is brewing; if you would like to register to receive the updates please send me an email (including your email address) via my website (click here).

Be careful what you wish

Yes, after a week that flew past faster than a rumour spreads in an all-girls school, this week the minutes dragged by. Don’t get me wrong, data modelling and report writing is fascinating stuff (pick the parts of the blog post written in case my boss is reading), but I had so much to do at home this week that I just couldn’t get through the days fast enough.

So I guess the good point to take from that is that I’m back into a writing frame of mind. I’m editing a lot and writing quite a bit of new stuff, so that’s as much as you can ask for, even if the cost is a working week that drags by so slowly you can count the milliseconds and model some data between each one.

On Tuesday I’ll be going to a web writing course. Besides learning that all my blog entries are wrong, I’m hoping to get some new ideas about how to publish some of my stories on line. It is the future after all (well, at least the future until some global cataclysm sends us back to the dark ages of technology). So check in next week for the launch of my online foray into the wonderful world of online publishing.

Finally I would like to make another plea to any of you want-to-be writers out there to get yourselves into a writer’s group. I met up with mine for brunch yesterday and it was just fantastic to spend three hours talking books, story arcs and novel writing problems with a group of like minded people. If you don’t have one yet, go out and get one!

Now, just to get a few gratuitous laughs off someone else’s brilliance, check this out. It made me laugh…

Nat

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Who broke my time-space continuum?

We all partake in a little bending of the time-space continuum now and then; where an hour at work takes three times as long to pass as an hour at home. I was well aware of this phenomenon, but until recently had no idea the extent to which it pervades our lives.  

Nearly two months ago I made the move from part time to full time work. To spice things up my day off each week usually occurred on either a Tuesday or Thursday, which meant I had a ‘mini’ weekend during the week. This addition of quality me time, which always included at least two hours of proper writing, meant my week went for twice as long. It is only now, as I watch five days of my life blur away each week that I find myself asking ‘where the hell has the first half of 2010 gone?’  

This dilemma has sent me to the only place I know to seek answers; Excel. I did some very scientific calculations (complete with graph), and discovered that over a 45 year career, given the above phenomenon, you are only likely to experience about 15 years of life (holidays, public holidays and weekends). That seems like a bit of a raw deal.

Of course shortly someone will pick up one of my novels and I will be able to spend all my time doing something I love (I’m referring to writing, NOT playing FreeCell), but for everyone else trapped in this real life matrix, is 15 years enough? I’ll leave you to ponder that as I start working on my letter to request part time hours again…

Nat

PS I did try to insert my fantastic 3-D pie chart, but even after putting it through Photoshop I couldn’t make it compatible with the blog software, so you’ll just have to imagine it!

Watching ER doesn’t make you a doctor

When in school, our teachers always told us to write what we know –meaning we should write our real life experiences. Having a natural bent towards speculative fiction, I didn’t have much one on one time with vampires, flesh eating nematodes or alternate realities. So I just dismissed this advice as not being applicable to me.

That was until yesterday.

For the first time in my life I went horse riding where I actually got to hold the reigns and tell the beast where to go. Now it is true that horse riding has not starred much in my stories, but I’ve seen enough movies to know they are placid, big, dumb creatures without a thought in their heads, only too keen to do our bidding as our knee clamps and reign pulling dictates. This rule, my friends, is false. It only applies in TV-land.

Mum, if you are reading this, skip the next two paragraphs… I got the trotting bob thing down pat, I was directing my horse like an extra from The Man from Snowy River, it was easy, just as I expected. Then we got to the beach. Turns out my horse did have a mind of its own, and in that mind waves were scary. The waves yesterday were BIG. My horse went from a walk that was barely enough to hint at movement to a full gallop. No, there was no trot and the ‘canter’ thing was completely bypassed. We went from standing still to full gallop in one quick splash of a wave. Did I mention I’ve never ridden a horse before?

Now it didn’t take me long to realise I had lost complete control of the animal and that my fingers were slipping from the death-grip they had on the saddle. And between the blessed moments of logic which told me to take my feet out of the stirrups before I fell off and when I actually went through with the plunge down to the gloriously soft sand, I had the thought that it wasn’t meant to go like this. What was that based on? The rules of TV land!

So now I am bruised, but fully functional, and also aware of three things that I will keep in mind when writing about horses; 1. You can never trust the creature to do what you tell it, 2. You must always be on the lookout for that moment of rebellion, with a plan to counteract it, and 3. When you fall off a horse you do not simply get up, brush down you jodhpurs and pop back up again ready to sword fight or run down some rogue; it hurts and it freaks you out!

So maybe those teachers (and countless ignored-till-now writing books) do have a bit of a point. When you write, if you are basing your logic or assumptions on something you have seen in fictional TV shows, no matter how heavily ensconced in the law of TV land, do some research and find out if it is true. After all, how often do you hang up the phone without saying goodbye?

Word Counts; what really counts?

Okay, so I promised a word count (oops, nearly made a hilarious but very rude typo there, no I’m not trying to distract you). But seriously, this word count reportage is not nearly as easy as it seems.

What can I count as words written?

Obviously not the hundreds of emails I send a week at work (of which at least half actually pertain to work) and none of the memos, briefs and manuals I have to write there either.

But what about the web content I helped my partner with (1200 words)? True, it is non-fiction, but I had to get creative to try and make deodorant sound exciting! Do I count the book review I wrote for the blog (270) not to mention this blog entry (271). I also wrote out a plan for yet another YA novel that I want to write (1,267).

Then there is the whole edit factor. I finally edited a short story I’ve been avoiding for weeks (9,097), but I didn’t track how many new words I wrote, and then do I have to take them away from all the old words I edited out? Finally I wrote a little bit of new stuff on another short story that is currently haunting me (487).

So, depending on your point of view, over the week I have either written 12,592 words (wow), or just 487 words (ugh). Maybe this is why I have never reported before.

On a completely unrelated topic, I’m currently sitting on 99% on FreeCell! I wonder if they have a world championship that I can enter?

Building Worlds

Sorry for the late post, I’ve only just now got home from my ‘world building’ workshop with Jennifer Fallon. I was lucky enough to attend with 4 fellow writers, all of us at different levels with our writing and we got varying degrees of help from the course. The one thing that did seem to happen to all of us was our imaginations went into idea generation overdrive.

I don’t know if it was the close examination of the different world types that suggested story possibilities (don’t worry Jennifer, Terminator meets Titanic is still all yours) or if it was just being able to immerse ourselves in 4 hours of talking about writing that did it, but I just could not shut my imagination up! Nor did I have any desire to.

So there you have it, for those who always ask the question ‘where do you get your ideas’ the answer is simple: no bloody idea at all! Maybe the question should really be ‘when do you get your ideas’ to which I would say, ‘when we finally shut up all the outside minutiae and let the ideas flow in.’

So let’s see if this inspiration spills over into the rest of the week. I’ll give you a word count next Sunday.

Nat

To blog or not to blog…

It seems like everyone I know has recently started a blog. Most of us are trying to stick to a theme (mine is meant to be the journey of a writer, just in case you’ve missed that). But about six weeks into it you suddenly find you are writing about your cat, your impending high school reunion, or your inability to embracing the move from daylight savings time. The theme gets a bit lost. So when is it okay to deviate from your theme?

As I said in an earlier entry, every action in a writer’s world can be put down as gathering material, likewise all writing can be passed off as ‘exploratory creativity’ –but when does a blog move from sharing your views on a theme to gratuitous ‘me-ism’? And does it matter? After all, would readers rather hear about my success on Saturday when I forced myself to sit at the computer until I wrote a page and actually ended up with five (true story). Or would they rather read about the challenges in making six fingered gloves, complete with false fingers, so I could attend a ‘P’ party as a person with Polydactyly instead of a pirate (of which there were eight).

The first story, while it gives me the warm-fuzzies and fits well with my theme, won’t ring many people’s bells as a story. Conversely, the six fingered gloves have nothing to do with writing (despite the apparent benefits, they didn’t improve my typing speed) but probably piques more interest.

But I think it is important to keep with a theme, so here is my writer-ly advice for this week; write. Sit down, allow for no excuses, and put words on the page. It has always been my last line of attack when I don’t want to write, and it always works. Only once you have those precious (even if they are crap) words in the computer can you waste your time on other endeavours, like building six fingered gloves.

Happy writing!

Nat

The journey of a spec fic writer.