Tag Archives: Writing

Notes on writing

Wham, bam, thank you spam

“Life, no end to this there will be bonded, finally, it will reach the heights of success. Love you could also gift your soul mate diamond…”

Yes, it is very nearly a coherent sentence, but doesn’t quite get there. This is a quote from one of my recent spammers. I get these sorts of things all the time and would dearly like to lift them and put them into a story. I read these little snippets and smile at the idea of a computer getting a chance to be creative. Okay, it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it almost does.

Of course computers becoming sentient has been done to death, and done really well (Terminator is one of my favourite films of all time). It’s up there with meet the devil or win the lottery for ‘no more please’ stories. But that is like a red flag to a bull for me. I want to find a different angle and I’m sure if I keep reading my spam, I will see it there one day.

I have a terrible habit of setting my brain a subconscious task (yes, I know I’ve told you to work on the novel, but hey while we’re sleeping you have all that spare time on your lobes) and it almost always delivers. There is a magical Eureka! moment when the story, fully-formed, pops into my head.

So let’s see how long this one takes. The clock starts ticking today. Maybe the clock knows it’s ticking? Maybe there is no clock? Honestly, who would want to live in my head!?!

Top 10 writer things to do – go to writer talks

If you want to feel like a writer, you can’t go past attending writer talks. I have an amazing local library (Mt Barker) which organises fantastic meet-the-writer sessions for many well known local and international authors. But if you are not so lucky to have a library like that nearby, many book shops and universities will sponsor them as well. So let Google be your friend on that one.

When listening to a writer talk about their process of writing, you will be amazed at how often you find yourself nodding and thinking ‘yes, I find that too.’ At the Adelaide Writer’s Festival this year I listened with amused familiarity to a few authors discussing the merits of pantsing vs planning vs plantsing. I loved that I knew exactly what they meant, while many around me had clearly never heard the terms before. I totes felt like a writer that day.

These talks will also often cover the author’s journey to publication. I think it is invaluable hearing these stories, because the ones you read about in popular news are nearly always the overnight sensations who had just started writing six months earlier. For many authors there is a ten+ year slog, poor first book sales and countless low points where they nearly gave up (before they realised that there is no such thing as giving up, our writer daemons won’t let us do that – EVER).

These talks also give you an opportunity to meet writers who have succeeded. I find most of them are really keen for a chat at the inevitable book-signing, and it gives you a chance to see how normal and very much like you they are.

And let’s not forget the final benefit; there are a lot of unpublished writers also going to these talks. So this puts you in a situation where you can mix with many other writers and potentially expand (or start) your writers group.

Facial Recognition

I’ve got terrible facial recognition. I might know if I have seen a face before, but when seen out of context I just assume they are from the bus or a former workplace. I actually did a facial recognition test and got the exact average score, so all I can assume is lots of other people are terrible with faces too.

Last weekend I discovered that my next door neighbour works in my office. There are only about 50 people in my office, and I’ve been there for over six months. I think that gives you some idea of how bad my facial recognition is. (No wonder he never waved at me when I spotted him from my driveway – I must always be blanking him at work).

This got me thinking about my writing. I rarely, if ever, describe what my characters look like. I have an idea, but unless it is necessary to the story, I’ll let you fill in their height, weight, hair and eye colour. Obviously these things are just not that important to me. I would love to know if writers who do describe their characters in lots of detail (to the point where we even know what clothes they are wearing) what are they like with facial recognition?

Oddly, I see ‘faces’ where there are none. Below are two recent examples of faces I managed to capture, but I see them in trees, stones on the footpath, and in clouds. The one thing all these faces have in common is that they are non-human. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that in my writing I love to describe my monsters.

StudyJoeySmall

Lists

I love task lists. Their big brothers are Excel spreadsheets, which I also adore, but task lists hold a special kind of magic for me. They are a promise of achievements yet to come. Just writing the list gives you a taste of what it is like to complete them.

I have an ongoing list of stories I want to complete. Each title has a box next to it for me to tick (in red so it stands out) when it is completed, and a space for the date. This list is constantly growing, but also looks very nicely actioned. That’s probably my favourite list.

I also have a weekly list of 20 tasks; 10 personal items, 10 writing items. Anything not completed by the end of the week gets rolled over to the following week. I try to always achieve a pass mark, but sometimes I only scrape a ‘C-‘. I’ve been doing these task lists for over 10 years.

This week I ramped it up a notch. After writing my 20 tasks I divvied them up into daily tasks and allocated them to each day of the week. This was in an effort to stop me from getting to Sunday and finding I have 15 things to complete (as is often the case).

I still have one day of the week to go, but it has worked brilliantly! Even on days when I thought I had my evenings free, but then they turned out not to be so, I still completed my tasks. I skipped out on most of my usual TV viewing for the week, and got to bed a little later than usual on two nights, but the tasks got done.

I won’t lie, it was a lot of work and a bit of stress, but as I ticked off those tasks at the end of each day, I had an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Not only that, but for the first time in months I’m going to be getting at least an A level pass even if I do nothing for the rest of Sunday –and that feels fantastic!!!

For those not used to task lists, a good way to set them up is to think about your major goals (finish writing your novel, go back to Uni, whatever) and then break those down into smaller and smaller steps toward the big goal (write novel plan, find academic transcript etc.). Those are the steps you put on your weekly task list. If you find you are not getting around to ticking them off, break them into even smaller steps. It is amazing how much you can achieve. Try it!

A title is the ultimate flash fiction

I sometimes have a problem coming up with titles. I pretty much know that if the title hasn’t come with the idea (which sometime does happen), then I’m going to struggle with it. Titles are important for conveying a little bit of what the story is about, so you need to get them right.

I have heard a few writers say that if they can’t come up with a title, then it means the story is not working. I think that is just one of those quirky superstitions that writers like to embrace. I’m not bagging them, I’ve got a million crazy superstitions around my own writing, but ‘trouble with titles as an indicator of value of story’ is not one of them.

Thanks to Adelaide writers’ week, I now know that other authors also struggle with the title. One mentioned that she came up with about 50 titles and all were rejected by the publisher. I’m impressed she managed that many, I normally give up at about 10, 15 tops, and then I pick the best of the bad bunch.

My approach to the title is similar to how I attack flash fiction or Tweeting. First I write down everything I want to say, and then I work on making it shorter… And shorter… And shorter. If I can get it down to one word, fantastic, but I think I’m doing well once it under three words. It may have lost some of the meaning by then, but I hope it at least gives a hint of what the story is about.

I think a really good title can pick up a few readers you might not otherwise have nabbed, but I think the title would have to be pretty woeful to divert someone who might otherwise have checked it out. But given my last three publications were entitled ‘Glide’, ‘Glow’ and ‘Life’ you might do better to get advice elsewhere when it comes to titles.

Why YA novels?

Just in case you missed it, I had another PUBLICATION this week! It is an eco-horror tale and, as with most of my short fiction, it is aimed at an adult audience. Yet I have four completed novels and three of them are young adult. The next two that I’m planning are also YA – so why the different audience?

Nearly ten years ago, when I really first started writing seriously, I noticed a change in published speculative fiction. It started to get dark. Where previously a murder was mentioned or glossed over, the books now seemed to go into a lot of graphic detail. This was the same for intimacy scenes. Where once the door was closed, now it was open… wide open.

I know I might cop a lot of criticism over this, but I don’t like to write that. I don’t judge you if you like to read it, I just don’t want to. I know some of my stories, particularly the horror tales, get gory sometimes, but I like to think they never get gratuitous. I show as much as you need to get the picture. This idea doesn’t seem to sell adult books.

Young adult novels are exactly what the name suggests; aimed at young adults. This means I can write adult themes, deal with mature concepts, and (even better for me) I can mash-up genres BUT I can also get away with toning down the graphic bits. I’m not saying all YA novels are soft, there are a lot of very dark, very graphic YA stories, but publishers don’t demand it of you as a writer.

So I am happy to spend 60 or 70,000 words exploring my speculative theme with slightly younger protagonists than my short stories. I don’t feel like my wings are clipped at all. If anything I feel like I am able to take my writing wherever I want to go with a YA audience.

It was YA that first made me realise that novels could be just as entertaining as movies. I remember reading Lois Duncan for the first time and thinking to myself ‘this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ It’s been a while since then, but I’m finally fulfilling that wish.

 

Top 10 Writer Things to Do – Get Published

Yeah, I know it sounds obvious, but not everyone tries to get their stuff published. This can be for a number of reasons. Two of the more valid ones in my opinion are 1) if you only want to write for yourself, and don’t want others to see it, or 2) you don’t want to be told how or what to write. The editing process, when getting published, can be all about telling you what to change. So you may want to avoid that.

Then there are a bunch of other reasons why people don’t get published which, in my opinion, are not so valid. Sometimes people are too lazy to read submission guidelines, so submit poorly formatted stories to completely the wrong market. Some people are terrified of rejection, so never submit anywhere, but still carry a hope of magically getting picked up. Then there are those people who have such confidence in their writing that they only ever submit to the top publishing houses or magazines.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m envious of people who have such self-confidence. Most of them actually write really well, which probably bags them some jealousy points from me as well. But I believe we have to cut our teeth somewhere, and learning the ropes on the no-pay or low-pay publications is a great place to do that.

Obviously I’m talking more about short stories here. If you only have one novel in you, then perhaps you need to hold onto it for as long as it takes to get the publisher you want (but even that I would question). But for me, nothing feels more writer-ly than people reading your work. If you don’t get paid for it who cares? If your reason for writing is to earn lots of money then you are chasing the wrong dream.

Low or no-pay publishing opportunities are usually run by dedicated people who want you to be successful, and for that I think they deserve all the support they can get. One of my favourites is Antipodean SF. Every month Ion “Nuke” Newcombe puts out a professional e-zine of flash speculative fiction with an antipodean bent. I love it, and for as long as I write flash fiction I will be sending my stuff to him.

Getting your writing published means getting it read, which can mean getting fans. When you get contacted by someone you don’t know telling you how much they liked your story, it won’t matter that you are still slaving away in the 9-5 and haven’t earned enough from your writing yet to pay for a coffee, you will feel like a writer.

Silencing the voice within

I’ve just started reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’. I’m literally one chapter in and I’m already rebelling against it. Chapter one is all about silencing the voice in your head. As a qualified hypnotherapist (scarily that is true, I don’t make this stuff up) I know that silencing the negative voice in your head is an important and healthy thing to do. But this book suggests we silence our inner voice altogether!

That voice is my best friend.

I share all my politically incorrect jokes with that voice. Together we pick out ‘most likely to be a serial killer’ from the patrons on the bus, not to mention ‘who would you hook up with if we were suddenly transported to another planet where we were the only humans’. Sometimes the winners of those two categories are the same person. But see, this is all the stuff that I usually only share with the voice in my head, not my blog readers. Looking back on the last paragraph I think maybe that is the way it should stay.

And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the role of that voice when it comes to my stories. That voice is the first one to translate the ideas into words. That voice inspires me to sit down and spend hundreds of hours writing and editing each year. That voice dreams with me about a day when we’ll get one of our novels published.

Sure it also tells me I have cankles and suggests maybe I’m looking a bit too old to keep pretending that I’m 35. But I’ve got to be honest; it might be onto something there.

I’ll keep reading the book, and hopefully it will tell me to befriend my voice again in later chapters. But for me, at least, I won’t be silencing my voice any time soon. We have way too much fun together.

Where don’t you get your ideas?

My friend and I have dared each other to ask every author at Adelaide Writers’ Week where they get their ideas – just so we can watch them roll their eyes. The truth is neither of us will have the guts to do this because it is just such an embarrassing question. Writers get ideas from everywhere! Usually the problem is deciding which ones you will let in and which you will ignore.

But it has made me wonder about the rest of the population. Do non-writers really not get ideas for stories? Do all their fantasies revolve only around them and other people they know? Or (and I refuse to believe this assertion) do some people actually not make up any stories in their head about anyone?

I watch a news story and I start imagining the fallout of events, I read a book and I think about where I would have taken the story, I listen to a song which might ostensibly be about the basic boy and girl falling in or out of love and I can turn it into a dark paranormal novel, maybe even a trilogy. Doesn’t this happen to everyone on some level???

If I was to list my top five favourite things about being alive, making up stories would be on there. If, and I hope I’m talking to no-one here, you have never made up a story after you left school, try it now. Even if you need to fan-fiction it and lift someone else’s characters and setting, try it (there are no copyright breaches when it stays in your head). You may just find you like it.

2016 – a look back

The week I turned 30 I decided I was going to properly ‘try’ to be a writer. I joined a professional writers group and I made the decision to finish my novel. That was over ten years ago now (or six if you use my online age). Strangely 2016 is the first year where I have truly felt like a writer.

It has been a great year when I look back on it, even though it feels like I haven’t done much. That novel I wanted to finish back when I was 30 took over ten years to complete (all up). Last year I wrote a novel in four months, this year I wrote one in three months. I’m also on the cusp of finishing a novella. This is definitely not just a hobby.

I was made redundant from my day job in June and I enjoyed four glorious months of full-time writing. Any fears I had about the lonely life of a writer were well and truly dispelled. This is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I now have managed to land a part time job which lets me continue to write at a rate I couldn’t have imagined three or four years ago.

I know I may never get a publishing contract for a novel, and my self-publishing may never hit the $ values required for me to actually get a cheque, but I love to create and explore and disappear into these worlds. 2016 has shown me that this is something I can give to myself, no matter what the publishing houses of the world may say.

I have learned a lot about myself and a lot about writing over the past year. The thing I would like to share, which applies equally to writing a novel or any other goal in life, is that you just need to do it. Say ‘no’ to lounging in front of the TV, let the dishes build up sometimes and make your goal a priority. That’s what my decade+ has taught me most, and it seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

I hope when you look back on your 2016 you can see all the things you have achieved and celebrate them. I also hope you can light your passion for completing even more in 2017. Happy Christmas and have a safe New Year!