Writing full time

I once read an interview with an author who had recently given up her day job to focus on writing full time. In it she said she was amazed that she didn’t seem to be writing any more words than when she worked in another job full time. This scared me a lot and put me off the idea of quitting work to write.

Now, taking WorldCon and other commitments out of the equation, I have been writing full time for three days (so can confidently call myself an expert). I can now see how it can feel like you write less, indeed I thought I had written very little until I actually accounted for all the words and saw there were a lot more than I had realised.  

Sticking to the ‘write every day’ rule (which I think all of us have adopted since WorldCon) I have so far managed to write a full short story from start to finish and I planned out the next steps in five of my writing projects. These things alone would have taken weeks in my ‘old life’ so three days is quite a feat! And to think that it still feels like I’ve done very little just makes it that much better. Imagine what it will be like when I have a week where I feel like I have worked hard?!?

The thing is, writing full time does not mean sitting down and banging at the keyboard or scratching away on a pad from 9am – 5pm every day. It means giving yourself time to think about the plot problems and story development and then being able to write the solution as soon as you have the answer. It means writing every day, and once you hit the flow nothing breaks you out of it. But most of all, it means exploring everything you want to write, not just limiting yourself to the things you think you should finish first.

Happy writing

Nat

Finding your giant goldfish

The difference between a book that sells a million copies and one that doesn’t sell out of its first print run can be so negligible as to be unpredictable. Sales do not necessarily reflect good writing or originality as much as they indicate a book being at the right place at the right time.

Right now a photo is circulating on all the news services of a man who has caught what essentially looks like a giant goldfish. Had the story come out half a week ago it would have been bumped by the New Zealand earthquake, a week later and maybe someone else would have caught a giant octopus, so it would be passé. It is all about timing. Only problem is, no one ever knows when the time is right for the story they have to tell.

This is the world in which publishers must operate every day. People supposedly didn’t want to read about magic when the Harry Potter books blasted away all previous book sales. There were probably hundreds of failed magic books before Harry that proved this, but Harry had the fortunate mix of an entertaining story coupled with finding the readers at the time when they were ready to read about magic.

So how do you land your own giant goldfish? I wish I knew. The publishers wish they knew too. To me this indicates that there is no point setting out to catch the giant goldfish, just do what you love and hope that others love it too. Besides, today it is a giant goldfish that everyone is talking about, but tomorrow it might be the alien chip found in Napoleon’s skull. We are an unpredictable species, I guess that’s why our stories are so entertaining.

Happy fishing,
Nat

Aussie Con 4

Aussie Con 4: five days of discussions about speculative fiction. The panels, the lunches, the dinners, the bumping into people between panels, it is amazing! There is not only a lot to be learned at the sessions, but the chats you have with publishers, editors, writers and others between sessions can be invaluable.

The wonderful thing I have found with all the writers’ festivals/conventions that I have attended is how approachable writers and others in the business are. They can be very generous with their time and their advice; after all they were once unknowns and still remember what it was like. Something you also learn very quickly is that publishers WANT you to succeed, they are not the enemy. In fact they are actually really nice people.

And the beauty of a con for those who are not normally social bunnies or networking gurus is it is very easy to meet industry insiders. You can go to one session and watch someone give a great insight into writing and then find yourself sitting next to them at the next session. If so, strike up a conversation with them, they won’t bite!

In fact, even if the person next to you is simply another want-to-be author, talk to them. Finding like-minded writers can be hard in day to day life, and the more of them you can collect the better! No one understands the joy and pain of being a writer better than other writers, so you need to have a network.

So don’t be a shrinking violet at a convention. You are surrounded by friends and this is a great opportunity to plug into the writing community. So what are you waiting for? Aussie Con goes until Monday, so get on down to the Melbourne convention centre because you don’t want to miss this chance.

See you at the con!

Nat

A new season

Today is the first day of spring and was my last day of work. That is to say it was my last day of ‘office work’ where I go in and get paid by someone else to do stuff. Starting tomorrow I’m paying myself, so knowing me I’ll actually end up working longer hours.

So what better way to begin such a journey as attending Aussie Con 4 –the World science fiction convention being held here in Melbourne? I’ve got my highlighter ready to paint my program and I’m hoping a few of the events will have been moved since I last saw them listed so that I don’t have to borrow Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner to attend all the things I want to see.  

I’m going to miss the people in my office, but I am so excited about what is ahead of me now. No more excuses, I have to write, and you can all hold me accountable. So as of hour 5 of my new found freedom I would say it has been a great move. I wouldn’t suggest all of you quit your jobs and follow my lead, but I would say that you should start your savings account so that one day you will have the option. I started mine a year ago. After all, these spontaneous life changes take some planning.

See you at the con!

Xox

Nat

Slipping on genres

I have a bad habit. Well, they tell me it’s bad. I have a tendency to slip between genres, sometimes within the same story. My stories can be spec fic chick lit, or horror-fantasy. What’s worse is that some of my stories stray completely away from spec fic genre altogether and are just plain stories.

The belief out there in writer-world is that writers, particularly new writers, are not meant to do this.

Oddly this ‘rule’ does not seem to apply as much to other artistic pursuits. It is acceptable for a movie maker like James Cameron to come up with a movie about killer robots (Terminator), followed by movie about killer aliens (Aliens) then a love story on a sinking ship (Titanic) and a spy thriller comedy (True Lies). William Goldman writes a western (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and then creates a comedy-fantasy (The Princess Bride) and no-one bats an eyelid.

Even the heaviest of the heavy metal bands have at least one ballad on their album. So why is it writers of books or short stories are told to stay within the box of their first successful publication?

Fortunately the cross-genre novel is starting to get a customer base of its own thanks to novels like ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ (literary science fiction romance) and many of Margaret Atwood‘s books (literary science fiction). However there is still the problem about which shelf to find them on in the book shop or library.

I don’t know what the answer is, but there are a couple of sessions at Aussie Con 4 (which starts this Thursday) that will be addressing this topic, along with about a million other topics. If you haven’t got your tickets or booked your time off work yet, do so now. Aussie Con 4 is the 68th WORLD science fiction convention and it will be a great place for any writer –spec fic, new or otherwise.

So if you see me at one of the sessions, be sure to come and say hello! And let me know what your opinion is of writers who slip through the genres!

Happy writing,

Nat

My story was getting boring

A girl gets up, goes to work and 8 hours later comes home. She gets up the next day, goes to work, comes home again. Not a very intriguing story is it? If I was writing that she would do something interesting, like resign with no job to go to.

Guess what I did? I spiced up my story and handed in my resignation.

I have no idea where I’ll be 12 months time, but I do know that by Christmas I should have a big chunk (if not all) of my completed novel edited, and all those short stories that are begging to be finished will have their wishes granted. I have taken a vow of poverty to breathe life into my characters, and I cannot express how exciting that is!

The wonderful thing about wanting to be a writer is that you are the only person on earth who can make it happen. If you want to be a writer, you write. It also means that no one else can stand in the way of your dream, if you want to be a writer, you write!

Of course, as soon as you start adding on the qualifiers, then you will depend on others a bit more; I want to be a published writer, a best-selling writer, an economically viable writer. But for me, those can wait. Right now I want to be a writer, so that’s what I’m going to be.

So, a girl gets up, writes a book, book gets sent out, publishers read book. Of course I’m a spec fic writer, so the girl would probably then get eaten by a giant spider or start dating an alien or something, but at least she’s doing something different!

The story can go anywhere from here…

Nat

The writing blues

I wanted to write this entry when I was not actually suffering from the writing blues, because I didn’t want to be a miserable sad-sack, as there is too much of that sort of thing on the net already. So today I’m feeling sufficiently neutral to give it a go.

The writing blues can sneak up on you, usually when a chapter or story is not working, and you know it’s not working, but you have no idea about how to fix it. Or you can get a gut-punch of sudden depression, usually brought on by a spate of rejections (or just one really nasty one) and you feel like you have made a giant mistake pursuing this whole writing thing.

The only advice I can give you for when a case of the woe-is-me-I-can’t-write-to-save-myself hits is that it is completely normal. Not only do we ALL go through it, but we all claw our way out of it at the end, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to do so. The key is to not let your blues stop you from writing! That won’t help anyone and is more likely to make you feel worse, not better.

Humans love a bit of drama, and this is a very survivable one, so allow yourself to wallow a little –just for the masochistic pleasure of it. But set a time limit, preferably less than fifteen minutes, and once you reach it put the worries out of your head and sit down and start writing. That is what makes you a writer.

There is no better cure for the self-doubt than the salve of words on a page. I know what you are thinking; this is all very easy to say when I’m not in the cold grip of the writing blues, but the truth is that several previous posts have been written at exactly such times, and by the end of them, I’m ready to move on and get back to work. So don’t let the blues get you down, fight them with words instead.

Happy writing,

Nat

The cutlery of writing

In my house we have no dishwasher, or conversely you could say we have two dishwashers, and we both pay rent. When we have used up every cup and plate in the house and can go no longer without washing, it is the cutlery that is the most heartbreakingly tedious part of the task.

Self-editing is the cutlery of writing.

Many writers hate to edit their work, especially longer pieces of writing, and a lot of new writers are tempted to skip it altogether. That is a great decision to make if you are a) a genius, or b) trying to increase your collection of rejection letters. For the rest of us it is not a good tactic.

Aside from the typos and homonyms that you will leave behind, there will be superfluous words, repeated words, tense changes, point of view slips or even character name cock-ups (yes guilty, I had Brent and Brant in a story and they were actually the same person). The only way to find all these problems is to edit your work, edit it again, put it down, let it rest, mature, ferment and then… edit again.

Many writers set time limits on how long they need to wait after finishing a piece before they can send it out to ensure they have distanced themselves enough to give it a proper edit. Others actually set numbers of edits required (7 I’ve read for a lot of novel writers). When starting out you don’t need to be that regimented, but more than one edit is a must, and at least 24 hours of sitting time is also mandatory! But more on both accounts will only improve your final product.

Don’t sell yourself short, it takes a lot to finish a story, so don’t undermine all that hard work by putting it out there before it is ready. You can burn the perfect market or worse, you can have your substandard work published! It is much better to have a clean manuscript that is ready to send out a few weeks later, than a flawed one that is ready to go now!

Happy editing (and give thanks for your dishwasher),

Nat

The reading writer

I’ve mentioned before that I believe you should read lots to become a better writer. In fact I’d probably say it was one of my golden rules of writing, but what I have failed to say is that writers should read widely and outside of their comfort zones. So if you are a science fiction writer, read a romance, read a classic, read a thriller or read a book on financial intelligence.

I generally try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, as well as sampling a good mix of biographies. Books that have been highly recommended or books that have been on the best seller list will also make it onto my reading list, no matter how uninteresting I find the topic. Those books you read to understand what it is about them that won them such a special place in their reader’s heart.

Many writers say they don’t read because they don’t want to influence their writing style or inadvertently steal ideas. The thing is, reading other people’s writing has so much it can teach you. Fictional works can show you styles and techniques that you might not have considered, non-fictional work gives you plenty of material for story ideas, and biographies help to give you ideas for realistic, complicated and well developed characters.

So I’ve thrown a few links to non-fiction books below. These are non-fiction books I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from, but the list is endless and your local library will allow you to freely sample books to which you might be otherwise disinclined to commit.

Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie – Slow death by rubber duck
Simon Nasht – Huber Wilkins the last explorer
William Goldman – Which lie did I tell? More adventures in the screen trade
Stephen King – On Writing

Hubert Wilkins
Which Lie Did I Tell? More adventures in the screen trade

So remember; read widely, read recklessly and read openly.

Happy reading,

Nat

Fact or Fiction?

The truth is, as a first time writer you are more likely to make money out of non-fiction writing than fiction. And if you write genre fiction (horror, sci fi, thriller, crime etc) then your chance of either getting picked up or making money drops even further.

Many fiction writers don’t consider non-fiction as an option for an alternative income stream. They would much rather slog away in an hermetically sealed glass building dodging office politics all day. Also the propensity to downgrade the value of anything you know a lot about, just because you know about it, means you might be cheating yourself out of a great second income.

If you pick up your local writer’s market guide you will see that there are significantly more non-fiction publishers than fiction. Their print runs and advances might be smaller, but they take on more books than some of the small fiction presses, and highly target their markets, meaning that when they print your book it will be more likely to sell.

I know you are thinking; but who wants to read a book on ‘making up excuses for getting to work late’ –if you have found a need to get good at something, there is a big chance that there will be others who also want that skill. I would recommend steering away from ‘serious’ topics (self-help, medical etc) as these require you to have recognised qualifications (obviously if you have the qualifications then go for it).

The other thing to consider is that non-fiction books are the big sellers in the self-publishing arena. Self-published books that have put their authors on the best-seller list include ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, ‘What Color is Your Parachute’ and ‘4 Ingredients’ –all non-fiction!

And what better way is there to meet publishers than by getting published? Just remember, you need to enjoy what you write if you want to write well, so choose wisely.

Happy writing,

Nat

The journey of a spec fic writer.