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

Lost and Found

Isn’t it funny how you can have something taken from you, and at the time you miss it keenly, begrudge the injustice of your loss and fondly remember a time before it was stolen. But then much later, upon its return, you find you have moved on. You no longer miss it, indeed you resent having to make the room in your life to fit it back in.

Today the powers that be returned the hour they took from us at the start of daylight savings. They intentionally gave it back on a Sunday so that we could crow excitedly about the extra hour in bed that is free of guilt or consequence. But today the sun will set an hour earlier, which when I go back to work next week will herald the beginning of my vitamin D deficiency with no foreseeable cure much before October.

I just have to face it… Winter is on its way. I write much more in winter, in no small part because the computer keeps my lap warm in much the same way as a cat does in a non-rented household. But I would still like to give back my hour and come home in the daylight. I wonder if they are open to negotiations?

Nat

The Hidden Broccoli

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.

Happy writing,

Nat

Clusters of Fortune

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!

Happy reading,

Nat

Always writing!

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…

Nat

The Holiday is Over

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!

Nat

Adelaide Writers’ Festival

It’s day one of my give-me-holidays-or-I’ll-quit visit to the Adelaide Writers’ Festival, and so far it has been great! On a sunny day worthy of the last day of summer, and with the occasional falling leaf to remind us of what season begins tomorrow, I was lucky enough to hear Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry) speak. Audrey is refreshingly normal, very entertaining and gratefully not hung up on genre.

Today the festival has taught me how important it is for a writer to also be a confident speaker. Many people in the audience will not have read the authors who speak, so the fifteen minutes at the podium is essentially the closest a writer gets to a ‘coming soon to a cinema near you’ type ad. Those writers who make you laugh, or bring a tear to your eye are the ones who will be making sales in the book tent. Today, for me Jim Crace is the author who made me laugh, made me nod my head as if he was speaking directly to me, and made me want to hear a lot more from him. So I have no idea what he writes, but you can guarantee I will be reading it soon.

So I guess I’d better get to work on my public speaking skills, or at the very least expand my repertoire of jokes beyond what’s long, brown and sticky? A stick.

Until next time, happy writing!

Nat

The journey of a spec fic writer.